Wednesday, July 21, 2004

SPAIN Day05//03.May.04 - Right Royal Reial: Madrid

I had not done my homework for Madrid like I had for the other cities that I had visited earlier during this trip.  My trusty DK Eyewitness guide focused on Andalucia (not central Spain, where Madrid is located) and the cities within.  Therefore, I had no preconceived notions about the capital of Spain and what gems it might have in store for me.  To me, Barcelona, the enfant terrible, has always over-shadowed its more stoic sibling with its eccentricities and irreverance.

I had the whole day today to reverse that opinion.  Miguel started the tour with a short history of Madrid - "place of many spring/water" and its royal palace - "Palacio Real de Madrid", which we will be visiting that morning.  The existing palace is actually a replacement of the original palace that was burnt down by a fire.  The tapestries in that former palace may have provided warmth during the chilly winters, but was also fuel that helped bring it down.  Nonetheless, it provided opportunity for the construction of a grander and more impressive royal residence that took 27 years to build and resulted in more than a thousand rooms. Despite the rain, I was not distracted from the sight of neatly trimmed hedges, lofty trees, and white marble sentinels as we made our way towards the entrance of the palace.  Outwardly, the palace was lived up to its image as a royal residence (though no longer so, the current royal family does not reside in this palace, but farther north).  Grand Italianate facade, traces the origin of the architect, Sabitini, who designed the palace.  Its interior proclaims absolute royalty with it's ethereal frescoes, ornate clocks, and gold trimmings.  Our Chinese group, was naturally interested at the Chinoserie inspired rooms.  One had frescoes of Oriental maidens, the other was adorned with tiles, bamboo-style.  Not all rooms were opened to the public, but the ones that we visited was enough to leave us gaping at wealth that was beyond our plebeian grasps.  Figuratively, and literally.  The silver water jug encrusted with semi precious stones, an item among the many silverwares on display, was definitely out of my reach and means.  Thankfully, the well-stocked souvenir shop at the Palace offered some affordable prints, which we ended up purchasing before bidding farewell to Madrid's epitome of excess and royal indulgence.

Part of this excess had to do with Colombus.  His travels to Southern America probably helped furnished the palace with gold.  Therefore, it was only fitting that we visited the cascading man-made waterfall and wall that was in his tribute at Madrid's theater.  The wall depicted Colombus journey to and from the New World.  A series of dots on the wall represented the ships and the route he took.  Colombus crossed seas, while we simply crossed roads to get to Hard Rock Cafe (Madrid), where we bought a few t-shirts before heading to a Chinese restaurant for lunch.   After lunch, Miguel decided to bring us to Plaze de Toros again for a photo stop, seeing that the night before, we were in hurry to catch the bullfight that we didn't have much time to linger and admire the statues that surrounded this grand building.

I supposed if I were a footie, I would be having a ball (guilty of pun!) at our next stop.  The Real Madrid stadium is located near central Madrid.  We were not allowed into the stadium itself and could only view the field from a glass enclosure and visit its overpriced souvenir shop.  Dad and I bought some souvenirs, with our purchases, we were effectively subsidising Beckham's pay!  With that, I decided I've earned the right to leave my mark on the stadium's wall.

We were left to wander around Madrid's shopping district for the rest of the evening.  Before we went our own ways, George took us to Kilometre Point Zero or punto kilom├ętrico cero, a landmark in front of the Head Post Office where the Spanish authorities use it as a point of origin when measuring distances.  We wander into Plaza Mayor and gazed upon the murals that decorated the walls of the building that encloses the square.  Aside from the equestrian statue of Phillip III, there were alfresco cafes in this square that's popular for its open air markets.  Spaniards love affair with pork was apparent from the number of shops filled with legs of pork.  They not only love pork, they love shopping as well, and before long, Mom and I hit El Cortes Ingles and the surrounding shops for a spot of consumerism. 

The exchange rate was an effective damper on our shopping instincts.  To make up for our unproductive haul (only 1 unit of H&M bag), we nursed ourselves with shots of caffeine to make up for the lack of shopper's high.  It was an enjoyable experience, having our coffee and watching the world go by while we wait to gather at the designated rendevous point, the symbol of Madrid - statue of a bear pawing an apple tree.  Bears may be happy with apples alone, but the lot of us were in need of more substantial sustenance after a day of exploring Madrid.  We were brought to a Spanish restaurant and ended the day with local food in a richly decorated restaurant.