jn82’s Epic Adventure

Day 26 [24 Feb 09] – Madrid

Posted in Madrid by jn82 on February 24, 2009

Well actually the day was not really spent in Madrid, but in a city 30 minutes away (70km) by train called Toledo. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and place of coexistence of Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures.

The 9.20am Renfe Avant 8292, our ride to Toledo.

View of the old city on the bridge from the train station into Toledo city.

The really stupid thing about this city is that there is no tourist information centre at the train station or anywhere nearby at all. Considering this is a very popular day trip from Madrid, this is pretty surprising. After spending a good one hour walking into the city and asking at various hotels for the location of the tourist information centre, we got the map of the old city and the sights to visit.

We walked past a few of the less interesting tourist sights and did not go in. The first big attraction of the day was the Catedral de Toledo, the main attraction of the city. It is said to be one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain. It sits on top of the hill and is deceptively large. Wikitravel description: “When you enter you will be confronted by sparkling gold reliefs, huge oil paintings and portraits of all of the Toledo Cardinals going back at least 500 years. The baroque Transparente, behind the main altar, is like nothing you have ever seen. The Cathedral also has a great art gallery with works by Raphael, Rubens, Goya, Titian, and one of El Greco’s major works, The Disrobing of Christ“. Entry fee was pretty expensive €7, but there was a lot of nice art pieces and internal architecture of the cathedral to be appreciated.

Exterior shots of the cathedral.

After lunc, we walked around a few other sights but did not bother going in. The next place we went into was for only a short while, into Iglesia de Santo Tomé, just to see El entierro del Conde de Orgaz (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz) by El Greco, considered to be one of his finest works.

The next and final place we headed to was Iglesia de Los Jesuitas, set in the highest point in the city, which was built by the Society of Jesus in Toledo following a model of the Jesuit Gesu Church in Rome and the Spanish churches of Palencia and Alcala. The main reason for visiting the church though was to access its towers which provided a panoramic view of the city. In actual fact the view was only good and clear in one direction, but it was still pretty good.

Inside Iglesia de Los Jesuitas.

View from the towers. Clearly visible are Alcázar (which was closed for restoration) and the Catedral de Toledo.

After this, we caught the 5.30pm train back from Toledo to Madrid. Catching the 8.30am train from Madrid to Zaragoza tomorrow morning.

Full gallery of today’s pictures is available here.

Day 25 [23 Feb 09] – Madrid

Posted in Madrid by jn82 on February 24, 2009

We left the hostel later this morning as we intended to join the Madrid free walking tour with the guys from New Europe Tours, henceforth NET, as we had previously in Edinburgh and Dublin). However, this was not to be as the tour guide told us that the groups for the past few days had been harrassed by the local “official” tour guides of Madrid (appointed by Tourism Madrid), henceforth MT, and had reached a point where it was no longer comfortable for them or the members of the NET tour to proceed with the walking tour. They said that the MT guides had dressed as pirates and blew smoke in the NET members faces, shoved them around and kept shouting at the tour group the previous day. This may sound extremely unreasonable, but we did not believe the NET tour guide 100%, after speaking with some of the MT protestors (who were tour guides themselves).

The main issue was that the guides from MT felt that NET was encroaching on their turf by offering free tours, which were not really free considering the tips paid, while the tours organised by MT which cost around the same as the tip amount paid per person to the NET had less people as a result. MT stated that the NET guides were untrained and did not know the full level of Spanish history to be qualified to lead tours for tourists to the city. There were other certain issues which I will not mention, but I did see where the MT guides were coming from and could understand their side of the “protest”.

The MT “protestors”.

In short, all this just meant that we were left on our own today.

The first site we went to was probably the biggest non-museum one, which was Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid). Although this is the official residence of the King of Spain, King Juan Carlos, he and his family choose to reside in another smaller palace on the outskirts of Madrid. This leave the Palacio Real to be used for state occasions. Unfortunately, no photography allowed inside the palace.

Outside Palatio Real.

Side of the Palace.

The next stop was just beside, Catedral de la Almudena. Plans for the construction of a new cathedral for Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena began in the 16th century, but the slow construction did not begin until 1879, and it took another 100 years before the construction was completed. Although not very highly rated by a MT guide I had spoken with at the protest due to the “newness” of the cathedral, I found this to be a nice change from all the old cathedrals we had seen previously, as the interior was totally grey and white, as opposed to the brownish colour of other cathedrals.

Outside Catedral de la Almudena.

Inside Catedral de la Almudena.

Insane pipe organ.

After this, we had a quick lunch nearby. Funny thing is that lunch was two Singaporeans and a Japanese having Italian pasta and Belgian beer in an Irish Bar in Spain, talk about globalisation as work. The picture moment of the day was probably the Duff beer the bar sold (yes surprisingly from Belgium). The beer itself was nothing great, which makes me wonder why Homer Simpson has so much of it.

Doh! Tapas and Duff!

Headed to the Temple of Debod after lunch, but that was closed on Monday. This seemed pretty interesting as this entire temple was rebuilt in Madrid in 1968 after construction works in Egypt prompted UNESCO to make an international call to save the temple.

Temple of Debod in Madrid.

The final stop of the afternoon was to Parque de el Retiro, the favourite park of the people of Madrid. Lots of people chilling out at the many cafes and on the grass, as well as rowing boats in a small enclosed space below the monument of King Alfonso XII. We also walked past and saw Palacio de Velazquez and Palacio de Cristal, both of which I think are exhibition spaces for the Reina Sofia now.

Row boats and the monument of King Alfonso XII.

After having a rest at the hostel, we intended to head for dinner and some flamingo dancing. However the tour company which previously arranged the flamingo dancing program seems to have gone out of business (and we only found out at the last minute), so we had dinner at the same place we did last night, more delicious Paella!

Link to full gallery of today’s pictures here.

Day 24 [22 Feb 09] – Madrid

Posted in Madrid by jn82 on February 22, 2009

The sleeper train ride from Lisbon to Madrid was very good. We decided to save €20 and not take a first class twin sleeper coach, instead opting to take a four bed sleeper coach. For this cost saving we would be giving up the privacy of a personal room to ourselves and a free breakfast. However it was the right decision as the four bed sleeper was extremely comfortable and spacious enough for all. After making friends and exchanging travel experiences and plans with our train coach mates (who very coincidentally were booked into the same hostel as us in Madrid), I managed to get around six hours of solid sleep.

Lusitânia Comboio ready to leave Lisbon Santa Apolonia station.

One half of the sleeper cabin, where I had the bottom bunk in the picture.

Locomotive of the Lusitânia Comboio upon arrival at Madrid Charmartin.

After an extremely tough time due to being “loss in translation” while trying to secure reservations for out next few train trips through Spain, we headed to the metro and caught the metro to the hostel, where we dumped out bags. Sunday was free museum day in Spain (or so we thought), so we decided to head to the three famous art museums in Madrid.

The first stop was to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which was free today. After walking around inside for a bit, we got extremely bored as the whole thing about contemporary art simply eludes me. I do not understand the abstractness or see what it is all supposed to mean. However since we were in Madrid, we needed to peservere and carry on. There were very notable works on display by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, including one of his most famous works “Guernica“, a black and white, 3.5 metre (11 ft) tall and 7.8 metre (25.6 ft) wide, a mural-size canvas painted in oil depicting the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by twenty-eight German bombers, on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Outside Reina Sofia.

After a couple of painful hours, we headed for lunch at a nearby cafe serving Spanish fare, and had a very decent set lunch for €10. The next stop, or so we thought, was to Museo Nacional Del Prado. However, contrary to what was written in both my Frommers and Lonely Planet travel guides (which were probaby outdated), the free entry was only after 5pm, not the whole day. Being stingy Singaporeans, we decided not to pay the concession rate of €3 and instead come back after 5pm.

Outside Museo Nacional Del Prado.

In the meantime (it was around 3.45pm), we headed to the third museum, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the final point of the “Golden Triangle of Art” which includes the Prado Museum and Reina Sofia. The Thyssen-Bornemisza fills the historical gaps in its counterparts’ collections: in the Prado’s case this includes Italian primitives and works from the English, Dutch and German schools, while in the case of the Reina Sofia the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, once the second largest private collection in the world after the British Royal Collection, includes Impressionists, Expressionists, and European and American paintings from the second half of the 20th century, with over 1,600 paintings. Concession entry fee to this museum was €4, and since there was no time it had free entry, we decided to pay up and have a look. It was pretty good, but soon after we developed contemporary and all other forms of art overkill. Too many paintings for one day (or ne year).

Outside Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

It was 5.30pm now, and time to head back to Prado for free entry! No such luck.

Insane queues outside Museo Nacional Del Prado.

The picture does not show it, but the queue to get in was insanely long, and there were easily close to a thousand people in line snaking all around the side of the museum. All this to save something like €6 (concession €3)! Decided that by the time we got in the museum would have closed, so went back to the hostel, as we had enough art for one day anyway.

After some rest, we headed for a 8.30pm dinner, where the normal dinner time in Spain is from 8pm – 10pm. Decided to have some cured meats and a two person order of Paella for dinner, and it was very nice.

Me and my Paella.

Link to today’s gallery of pictures here.