Friday, 24 June 2011

Hola from Madrid - España

It was an especially long haul through to Madrid today. The landscape is almost barren and reminds me much of the Desert Road with its winding roads up hill and down.......almost featureless. We did pass a huge wind farm with countless numbers of wind turbines....I am talking in the hundreds.

The landscape looked harsh, hot and dry. Occasionally you would see an outcrop of buildings perched high on hilltops with nothing surrounding them and you would wonder why.

Huge big models of  black bulls ( scaffolding behind them for support) were frequent along this road. They were not advertising anything so I am not sure of their significance.

We also passed the Prime Meridian on this road. The Prime Meridian is the meridian (line of longitude) at which the longitude is defined to be 0°.

Inner Madrid has a population just over 3 million while the whole of Madrid is closer to 6.5 million. Its sprawling and we travel for some time along streets lined by countless numbers of very small looking apartment buildings. Madrid being the capital is smack in the middle of Spain and I can imagine that the heat in the summer would be almost unbearable.
We arrive in Madrid to a very hot and sticky heat. It is a public holiday today so we are blessed with not having to fight our way through a very big and busy city. Our hotel rooms are spacious and we are not far from one of the main squares, Plaza de España about a 10 min walk away.
We are told that there is close on 45 % employment in Madrid with 21 % in all of Spain. There is some evidence of this on the street with people sleeping it rough and many many beggars. There have been some huge demonstrations here and one just last week with over 35,000 attending. We thankfully didn't run into any today.

It is quite normal to find most shop assistants speak some English and understand a bit when you speak. Some shops are open on the public holiday and we are surprised that there are so many shoe shops.......with beautiful shoes. Unfortunately the Spanish foot must typically be small and very narrow!

We see down the street at 8pm that the temperature was 40 degrees and as I reached for my camera it dropped to 39 so I had to be content with that. Many of the group are sitting out on the pavement at a cafe/bar just by our hotel so I join them for a night cap. At 10.30 pm it’s just getting dark but it still is so very hot.

Next morning we are off on an orientation tour of the city with a local guide and a visit to the Prado museum that house a few masterpieces probably the most famous being Goya. However the best known work on display at the museum is Las Meninas by Velázquez. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered to be among the greatest museums of art. It is said to contain the world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century. There was just so much to see and the tour guide only scratched the surface in the two hours we were there.

The most popular sight at the Plaza de España is the monument to Miguel de Cervantes, writer of the world famous story of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his trusty squire, Sancho Panza. Visitors flock to the monument to get their picture taken in front of the bronze statues of Don Quixote on his horse and Sancho Panza on his mule.

Madrid does have some beautiful parks within the central city but it is a busy city with a huge population. It does have a lovely feel to it however and feels a lot safer than Barcelona; however we are being continually warned to take great care of our belongings.

The afternoon and evening is free so it was nice to be able to mix with the locals at the many cafes and tapa bars down the streets, all of which have tables and chairs and umbrellas outside. The shops all close from about 2pm and they don't open again till 5ish. We are told this is not "siesta time " , it is the main mealtime of the day and that in Spain you don't even think about going out for tapas until after 9pm.

We tried to see if it was possible to see a bullfight however they are only on Sundays. They have been banned in Barcelona and Madrid from the end of 2011 and soon will only be seen in the regional areas.

There are 3 people on tour who have had the doctor visit them at the hotel today. I am one of the few who have escaped this nasty bug and every day I wake up feeling good I am thankful it has not got me yet.  The end is fast approaching but I am looking forward to getting back to France and especially to see some of Paris. About half are finishing up in Paris and departing from there. Some go back to London for one night and then pick up another tour the next day around the UK, some are heading to Greece.  For me New York beckons.

Meantime one more night in Spain at a place called Bilbao not far from the border. It will be pleasant to get away from the business of these large and sprawling cities.

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