Monday, January 10, 2011

Ole' -- Spanish Holiday (Madrid & Toledo)

After Christmas we all traveled to Spain for 10 days of holiday.  First stop was Madrid with a side trip to Toledo.  After arriving in Madrid on Monday evening (the 27th) we set out to walk around the old city and find some dinner.  There were people everywhere!  There was a Christmas Market in full swing in Mayor Plaza, a huge Christmas tree in Puerta de Sol and lights above the street.  This was definitely not a normal Monday evening in Madrid.  Only later did we learn that the Spanish extend the Christmas season to Epiphany (January 6th).  That day is a holiday, a time for families to gather together and the day when kids open their presents.  Grant tried to make a play that he should get a gift on January 6th as part of "capturing the Spanish experience" but his parents quickly vetoed that idea. 

Puerta de Sol -- lots of people out for Christmas
The department store near our Madrid hotel had a Christmas display that sang every night at 7:30.  You can watch compliments of Youtube.  Link to video of Corty Landia.   The song has the same impact on you as "It's a Small World" at Disneyworld. 

Tuesday we were off to see the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).  We discovered that the Spanish technique to control crowds in the Palace was to only have one person selling tickets.  This resulted in a long (and later in the day, very long) queue on the outside, but pleasant touring conditions inside.  Built in the 18th century, the palace has 2800 rooms.  Luckily, we did not tour them all.  But the ones that we did see were exactly what you'd expect to see in a palace.  Huge chandeliers, marble statues, beautiful paintings, gleaming floors, etc.  The palace is only used for official occasions now; the current King and Queen live elsewhere.  

Royal Palace at Night


Near the Royal Palace

Royal Palace Courtyard.  How do they squeeze 2800 rooms in there? 

In the Palace Courtyard

One "Spanish experience" that we did capture was their eating schedule, at least partially.  We'd have breakfast at the hotel around 8:30, head out for touring, then find someplace for lunch at around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon.    The lunches were full meals, which was fine with us.  The Spanairds also drink wine with lunch, which was even better.  Most of the attractions closed from 2-4 so there was nothing better to do.  We'd finish our meal and that would leave time to see one more attraction before things shut down at 6:00.  If we were true Spanairds, we would have then gone out to dinner at 9:00 but we drew the line there on our cultural integration.  Rather, we usually found someplace for tapas and then played cards in the hotel lobby. 

Our after-lunch stop was a visit to Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, which is a long name for big church built on a site where St. Francis of Assisi had allegedly founded a convent.  The "el Grande" is appropriate...the dome is over 100' feet in diameter, largest in Spain and larger than St. Pauls in London. 

The dome of the Basilica

One of seven sets of main doors, all carved from American Walnut

One of the many side chapels at the Basilica.  This painting of San Bernardino is by Goya.  The person on the right side of the painting, not looking up, is a self-portrait of Goya. 

Close up of Goya's self-portrait.

Wednesday we planned to visit Toledo, which is only 30 minutes away by train.  Unfortunately, the Spanish employ the same method of crowd control at the train ticket counter as they do at the palace...very few people selling tickets and very long lines.  So instead of leaving at 10:30, we could only get tickets for the 12:30 train.  We used the two hours to walk through beautiful Parque de Retiro.  You'll have to take my word for it on the Park's beauty.  When we got there, I discovered that the camera battery was dead.  There were definitely a few comments on the travel director's performance after this day. 

We finally got to Toledo and it was worth the wait.  It's a picturesque town situated on a hill and bordered by a river.  The streets are laid out in typical old-world "chaotic fashion".  In fact, the tour book's comments were "Remember that the streets are steep and windy and it can be hard to find sites.  To avoid frustration you might prefer to see only a few sites on a day visit".  Truer words were never spoken. 

The highlight of the town is the cathedral.  Begun in 14th century, its size is deceiving.  You don't realize how large it is from the outside because the view is "largely obscured by the warren of houses around it" (quote from our tour book).  Inside, it is easily one of the most ornate and beautiful cathedrals that we have seen.  The sacristy includes a beautiful collection of old paintings by El Greco, Van Dyk, Ruebens, etc.  It was like a mini-art museum. 

You will notice that I've included a few photo's of Toledo.  No, we didn't buy a new camera battery.  You can get pictures of just about anything off the internet, so that's what I did. 

Toledo's Cathedral

The alterpiece. 

Aerial view of Toledo

The monstrance from Toledo's Cathedral.  It was about as tall as me.  Makes you wonder WWJDWT....What would Jesus do with this? 

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