We woke up early after an amazing deep sleep. Feeling completely rejuvenated, Ed and I had breakfast with my Dad, who had just arrived from Dubai, and who happily announced he was taking the day off from work to show us around a bit.
In no time, the three of us jumped in the car and so started our tour. Getting to know a city at first sight by car is a nice way of starting. We got a quick glance at the center of the city, and while my dad pointed out sites to visit, names, and locations, I jotted them all down in my note book for future walks.
We reached the heart of Madrid where we parked the car starting our tour by foot. My dad explained we were in Puerta del Sol, the nucleus of all streets in Madrid, where they emerge from number zero. I noticed as we slowly walked through the main avenue, how busy everything was. No one had to tell me this was the center of the city, I could tell by the locals who hurried past you in suits and the tourists glancing up at the buildings like in a haze. The cars and buses jammed in red lights, the shopkeepers offering you their souvenirs, the endless restaurants and bars offering quick delicacies for the working person or a traditional meal for the tourist. The perfect pandemonium for the bosom of a great European city.
We walked through some crooked pedestrian passages topped with buildings of the most fascinating facades, little sunbathed cafes with their personal flamenco guitar players, living statues, cobblestone paths smoothened out by age and use. Suddenly, before us came a stone archway welcoming to a huge open space. My dad saw me looking at the archway, and waited for some sign of recognition from my part. I quickly exclaimed "That's Plaza Mayor!". My dad smiled at me happy that I'd remembered the spot he'd taken me to when I was only 11 years old. I grabbed Ed's hand and we quickly walked towards the antique heart of Madrid, in the 17th Century.
We were now standing in Old Madrid, where hundreds of citizens would meet for public announcements, coronations, the occasional bullfight, and where Inquisitional tribunals were held. The square was surrounded by antique buildings of a deep brick color, all except one. The main building, called the Casa de la Panaderža, which basically means the Royal Bakery, was the first to be built and is today the official municipal building. Its' facade is worth contemplating, with its paintings in rosy pastel colors.
As in any old European square, in the center stands an equestrian statue of Philip III whom ordered the square built in 1619. His omnipresence in the square was there to remind all Madrilenian citizens who the boss was.
The perimeters of the Plaza Mayor was flooded with restaurants and cafes, lined with small tables crowned with different colored sun shading umbrellas. After taking pictures and admiring the square, my dad invited us for a cold beer and some shade. We sat under the orange umbrellas for our first Spanish beer, deliciously cold Amstel, and waited for my sister Sofia to come meet us. All the while, I thought about how different it is to be in a city that had thousands of years of history in its records, comparing to Buenos Aires who is still a young metropolis. There was a different feel to the old cobblestone, the wood, the statues, the buildings...everything breathed history.
After Sofi arrived, we finished our beers and continued walking past Plaza Mayor. Only one block away we stumbled upon another square, this one smaller in size but equally grand. Plaza de la Villa, as the sign indicated, had a U shaped floor plan flanked by exquisitely old buildings. Today they are Public Administration buildings as the entrances were guarded by richly uniformed guards. In the center stood the bronze statue of Don Alvaro de Balzan cradled by beds of fuchsia, violet and crimson colored flowers.
We moved on past another stone archway away from the small time-honored square, into a downhill road aligned with the most picturesque bars and shops. I noticed how many bars and cafes there were. My dad mentioned later that Madrilenians loved to go to bars for an afternoon drink or "bocadillo" and that they are as common as cars here.
We came upon the crossing of two important roads where the grand Almudena Cathedral stood. It's sky blue-gray exterior had Clasical and Baroque architectural features but something told me there was more to it. As we walked towards the entrance, my dad mentioned that the cathedral had been remodeled not too long ago.
The interior was definitely neo-gothic, with its tall stone pointed arches and its modern vitreaux creating colorful shadows on the floors. The ceiling and dome was enough to give you a sore neck; I found I could not look away from the pretty colors and the intricate designs simulating richly decorated fabrics. I couldn't help but notice how all the color and gleam and light was at the very top, closer to God, while we mortals were standing in a more austere ambient. That's the kind of unspoken elements I love about architecture, and this cathedral was making me succumb to her.
We walked around for at least an hour, looking at every detail, catching every game between shadow and light, feeling the eerie echoic silence. Ed walked around trying to capture everything with his camera, observing things as if under a magnifying glass.
We moved out of the cathedral towards the annexed royal crypt, where illustrious citizens and royal blood were buried. We even saw crypts of people killed in the 3M bombings of 2004. The crypt was cooler, with thicker walls, less light, but so very elegant and serene. All those who rest here are for sure in peaceful slumber.
Out from the quiescent dimness we walked into the busy sunlight towards the Royal Palace which was just around the corner. Guarded by rich iron gates decorated with gilded details, we came upon the Plaza de la Armeria. Right in front of the Palace stood the main face of the Cathedral we had just visited. I couldn't help but notice how the Monarchy and the Church were standing facing each other, watching each other. Now that I think about it, I wonder which building stands taller, the Cathedral or the Palace. I will have to go back and see. The Church and the Spanish Crown have always gotten along, specially in Inquisitional times, maybe this architectural display of these important buildings honor that clear relationship between the two.
We entered a free art exhibition inside the Palace of the Italian Rococo painter, Corrado Giaquinto. Most of his paintings were of religious nature, with the typical sensuous pastel feeling of Rococo Art. There were however pagan images of Greek gods and myths; these were my favorite to look at.
We quickly moved on to the Royal Gardens, complete with leafy mazes and fountains and cypress trees, all perfectly designed and placed. Such was the French taste for landscape and gardening that this Palace was adorned with lush green elegance and courtliness. I imagined myself dressed in 18th Century attire, with a tiny waist and huge skirts, a low neckline garnished with bloodshot rubies, bored of busy court protocol, taking long walks though the gardens, getting lost in the mazes, or maybe reading a book in one of the Italian marble benches. I always tell my mom I was born in the wrong century.
After the Gardens, feeling a bit drained by the sun, we walked over to my dad's favorite ice cream shop, Haagen Dazs. WIth our ice creams in hand we started heading back to the car, which now was an extremely long walk away. The sun was still beaming down on us, so puzzled as to what time it was, I asked my dad for the time, to which he answered 7:30pm. I suddenly remembered how the days were longer in the Northen Hemisphere and I marvelled at how great our days in Madrid were going to be if the sun was out until 10pm. The longer the days were, the more we could be out enjoying the city. And after this amazing day, I was sure to say I was mad about Madrid.More pics on our first day in Madrid
I am so overjoyed we arrived in Madrid in Springtime. No other time of the year could have been more perfect. The streets are pathways decorated with young olive and plum colored trees, the air is fresh and warm, and the sky is the bluest I've seen....or at least it seemed like& nbsp;it. This was the perfect season to meet Madrid.