Sunday, November 24, 2013

Summer of 2012 - Madrid

The summer of 2012 I took a long trip to Europe.  I flew to Madrid, Spain, to visit my cousin Werner.  He  has his own business working as a translator. (He speaks German, Spanish, English and French.) I spent a few days with him in Madrid, and then Werner drove me to Switzerland, where I spent a couple weeks at the family home in the small town of Othmarsingen. 

Here is Werner with his spouse, Manuel.  (Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005.)
Manuel is a great guy.  I don't know if there is such a word as "cousin-in-law", but I am very happy to count him as a member of my family.

This is Polly, Werner's German shepherd.  Polly originally belonged to Werner's father, but when his dad passed away, Werner took her to Madrid.  Surprisingly, Polly adapted very well to big city life after having lived in a small town.  Sadly, Polly passed away this year.  She was a very sweet dog, and Werner misses her terribly.

This is where Werner and Manuel live.  They have a lovely, spacious flat on the next to the top floor of this older building.  It is located in the downtown neighborhood of Malasaña.  Malasaña used to be a "red light district" and was not a very good area.  Although you still see some streetwalkers, the neighborhood has become gentrified, and is very pleasant.  It would take months to try out all the restaurants and cafés nearby.  The location is excellent for exploring Madrid.  The Gran Vía, one of the city's principal avenues is only a few blocks away.  Many of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance, as are a couple metro (subway) stations.  Madrid is a very safe city.  You do need to be cautious about pickpockets, but violent crime is rare.  Even at night, I feel perfectly safe walking around central Madrid.  In fact, at night is when the streets come alive.  The residents of Madrid are night people and are often referred to as "gatos" (cats).

During my short time in Madrid, I would take off to explore the city while Werner and Manuel were working.  Madrid is very hot in the summer, and Werner thought I was crazy to be out all day sightseeing.  The temperatures were in the 90's, but the humidity was so low that it did not feel as oppressive as some of the summer days we have in Ohio.

This was my sixth trip to Madrid.  Here are a few of the sights that I saw during my wanderings on this latest trip...

The Gran Vía begins (or ends?) with the Plaza de España.  This park is dominated by a monument to the greatest Spanish writer, Cervantes.  Beneath the statue of the author are bronze sculptures of his immortal creations, the addled, idealistic knight, Don Quixote, and his faithful, down-to-earth, peasant squire, Sancho Panza.
The Gran Vía is lined with interesting architecture from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The Gran Vía ends (or begins?) here where it merges into Alcalá Street.  The structure on the corner, the Metropolis Building, is my favorite on the avenue.
This elaborate building, farther down Alcalá Street, is another favorite of mine. It is not a palace or a cathedral...  it was the main post office, until recently, when it became Madrid's city hall.
The Retiro Park features a man-made pond for boating and an impressive monument to a rather unimportant king, Alfonso XII.
Madrid boasts numerous outstanding art museums.  The most famous of all is the Prado.  Nowhere else in the world will you find a comparable collection of the great Spanish artists such as Velázquez and Goya.  I spent several hours there (it was my fifth visit to the Prado), and I still have not seen it all.  Recently the museum was expanded with a new addition, and many works of art that had previously been kept in storage, are now on display.
One curious work on display which I had not seen before is the Prado's own version of the Mona Lisa.  This copy of the famous painting in the Louvre was painted at the same time and perhaps in the same studio as the original.  It was painted by one of Leonardo's pupils.
(image from the web)

The heart of old Madrid is the Plaza Mayor, built in the 1600's to serve as Madrid's town square.  The plaza is completely enclosed by buildings.  Archways at each corner lead to the streets.  It is a very picturesque spot, but BEWARE!  The plaza has become quite the tourist trap.  The restaurants and sidewalk cafés are overpriced, and generally not very good.
The old town is a maze of narrow streets.  I found the neighborhood of "La Latina" to be particularly picturesque and filled with sidewalk cafés and tapas bars.

The Royal Palace is the largest in Europe.  The present King of Spain does not use it as his residence, but it is used for official ceremonies and banquets.  At other times, the palace (or at least a few dozen of its more than 3000 rooms) is open to the public
Across from the palace is the city's cathedral.  Strange as it may seem, Madrid never had an official cathedral until the completion of this church in 1993.
The interior of the cathedral, sort of a neo-Gothic style, is not particularly impressive.  But it is worth a visit to go up to the dome for a spectacular view of the city.
My time in Madrid flew by, and it was soon time for Werner and I to pack up his car, and head for Switzerland (with a stopover in France).
¡Hasta luego, Madrid!

(image from web)


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