Madrid and Toledo

Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

We arrived at our hostel on Madrid to find it in the heart of the city.  Only steps from the famous Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.  We couldnīt have picked a better spot.  Similarly to Portugal, the cost of things is relatively low as well.  We walked and explored our surroundings before stopping on Plaza mayor for tapas.  Plaza mayor is gorgeous - surrounded by beautiful buildings from the 1700s and lined with terraced restaurants and artists displaying their crafts.  The tapas culture here is pretty interesting.  People start in tapas bars around 6 or 7 and have refreshments that consist of sangria or beer and an appetizer such as a seafood salad or calamari.  They do this eating and drinking for hours either in one spot or by tapas bar hopping.  Then they eat dinner about 10pm!  We are happy to report that the food here is great.  It has a little more sass than the Portuguese cuisine.The next day the world celebrated my birthday.  They even made it a holiday long weekend in Canada to give thanks for the gift that is Kevin.  I hope you enjoyed your day of thanksgiving... Youīre welcome.Megan surprised me with my childhood favourite chocolate cake WITH SMARTIES on top!  Megan knew it was my favourite and found smarties in Munich and hid them until now.  What a sweetie!We spent the day visiting the national art gallery which has a very impressive collection of Dali and what seemed like every piece Picasso ever created.  The collection also included his "Guernica", said to be the most famous piece of art from the 20th century.  It depicts Picassoīs take on the German attack on a Basque town during the war.  He was obviously not a fan.  From there we headed to the Royal Palace which of course was gorgeous.  It is among the most beautiful we have seen.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside so no proof to back up this statement.  But for an example, they have a room made entirely out of Porcelain - floor to ceiling!  Amazing.Throughout or travels that day, someone, but I wonīt mention any names, managed to sniff out three Irish pubs.  As we miss teh pub culture, and it was a special occassion, we spent the evening sampling cider and having pub grub.  A fabulous birthday!The next morning we headed to Toledo, a 30 minute train ride away.  The Spanish rail system seems wonderfully efficient and the most secure that we have seen so far.  It was more like air travel going through scanners and having boarding passes.  Much has changed since the Madrid bombings a couple of years ago (in the station we are using!).Anyway, Toledo is rivalled by few when it comes to ancient history.  In medieval times, it was a melting pot of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures... holy Toledo indeed!The Cathedral dating from 1226 is renowned for it s art and architecture.  It has stunning stained glass windows and its alter and choir stalls are the reason for many pilgrimages to the site.  With the riches on display in its treasury, the works of art in the various naves, and the robes in the sacristy dating from the 1500s, the Cathedral makes no apologies for its grand presentation of riches and vast treasures.The other jewel to visit in Toledo is the Alcazar.  It is a palace built on Roman, Visigoth, and Muslim fortifications.  IT was the site of the 1836 siege during the Spanish Civil War.  It now houses their museum and gallery.  Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we were told that it was closed due to massive renovations.Strolling the narrow and winding coblestone streets of Toledo instead made up for the closure.  Toledo is a beautiful town with shops hidden around every corner.  We spent a couple of hours just walking and browsing in the various stores and markets.  A lovely place.Once we made it back to Madrid, a quick power nap and refueling on chocolate cake, we headed out for a tapas dinner (see picture).  For about €7 each we were given a feast that took some time to plow through.  It was sort of a tapas sampler platter and it was fantastic.  We really canīt comprehend low Spaniards do this tapas thing and then dinner.  Way to much food.  The subsequent food coma spelled the end of day three in Madrid.
Our final day in madrid was once again 27 degrees and glorious.  We set out to see the remaining sites on our list of 'must dos'.  We walked a few more beautiful streets and through another handful of plazas full of cafe goers on our way to the Museo del Prado.  This museum began as a royal collection and grew with the centuries.  It is full of more masterpieces Spanish and otherwise from Goya to Rubens to Picasso to their home-grown favourite Valazquez. 
We then crossed the street to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.  This was a private collection intended to tell the history of western art and includes pieces from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, picasso, Dali, and Pollack to name just a few.  It is organized chronologically from the 13th to the 20th century.  It was fascinating to see the development and change of styles over time.  A very intriguing experience for the art novices that we are.  An interesting note about this collection (when it was privately owned anyway) is that it was rivalled only by the collection of Queen Elizabeth II.  Spain acquired it for $350 million US outbidding Walt Disney World and others.  With an extreme case of museum legs setting in we had to move on.  We headed to an Irish pub around the corner from our hostel to sit and reward our dedication to Madridīs sites.  We ended our day with traditional Paella for dinner and a stroll around the Plaza Mayor one more time.  We had an early train to Granada the next morning and had to get organized and rested probably about the same time Madrid starts buzzing.  They call it "la movida" (the movement) here.  When night falls la movida flows in the bars, plazas, restaurants, and clubs until dawn.  It seems the whole city goes out to celebrate their zest for life and passion for socialization.  We could only pretend to keep up.
Off to Granada!
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