It was Friday, 19th April 2013, the night had already fallen when I caught the Lusitânia Comboio Hotel, which is a train that connects Lisbon to Madrid.
I entered the tourist bed compartment that I had reserved. It had 4 beds, a wash-hand basin, a mirror and coat hangers. There were a few hygiene articles available for each person (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and a pair of ear plugs) and a bottle of water.
About 2 hours later, my trip companions (JB and his parents), who caught the train in another station, joined me in the compartment. Each one of us chose a bed and we fell asleep (some of us more quickly than others).
About 30 minutes before our arrival in Madrid (Chamartin Train Station), the revision operator knocked our door to inform us that we were almost arriving.
Since the toilet in the train was too busy in the morning, the first thing we did after leaving the train was to look for one in the train station. We then went towards the metro station and as we approached the ticket machine, looking like tourists who have no idea how things work, a kinda gentlemen came to help us buy the metro tickets. Thanks to him we learned that the tickets are not personal, therefore we could buy a single 10 journey ticket for the whole group.
We left the metro at “Plaza de España” station. Before we start our walk, we had breakfast at Starbucks. This was the first of several Starbucks coffeehouses we found in Madrid.
We went to one of the main squares of Madrid, “Plaza de España” (Spain Square), where we found our first geocache in Spain (more info).
In the center of the square there’s a monument to the Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It includes a stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, two fictional characters.
Adjacent to the square there are two of the tallest buildings in Madrid, the “Torre de Madrid” (142 m), built in 1957, and the “Edificio España” (117 m), built in 1953.
We continued our walk towards “Templo Debod” (Temple of Debod), passing by the “Museo Cerralbo” (Cerralbo Museum).
Cerralbo Museum, inaugurated in 1944, houses the collection of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa and Marquis of Cerralbo.
After visiting the “Templo Debod“, we went back to “Plaza de España” and then we followed by “Gran Via”, one of Madrid’s main streets. This street is one of the city’s most important shopping areas, with a large number of hotels and large movie theaters. It is also noted for the grand architecture prevalent among many of its buildings. Gran Via is one of the streets with more nightlife in Europe, being known as the street that never sleeps.
We stayed at the “Hostal La Prensa”, located in the 8th floor of “Palacio de la Prensa” (Prensa Palace), in the “Gran Via”. Prensa Palace was inaugurated in 1928 and it was the highest building of Madrid until 1929.
We stopped at the hostel to leave there our luggage. The old couple that received us was very attentive and friendly. They gave us the apartment key for us to enter at any time we wanted without having to wait for someone to open the door for us.
We continued our walk along “Gran Via”, passing by the “Edificio Telefónica” (Telefonica Building), the “Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia” (Oratory of Caballero de Gracia) and the “Edificio Metrópolis” (Metropolis Building), which is located at the corner of “Calle de Alcalá” (Alcalá Street) and “Gran Via”.
We stopped at the “Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia” to look for a geocache. But the only thing we found was a beggar sitting in front of the Oratory. We looked in every place we thought possible to hide it, we even came back on the next day to continue our search, but this one completely escaped our eyes and hands.
“Plaza de Cibeles” (Cibeles Square) is a square that sits at the intersection of “Calle de Alcalá”, “Paseo del Prado” and “Paseo de Recoletos”. It is currently delimited by four prominent buildings: the “Banco de España” (Bank of Spain), the “Palacio de Buenavista”, the “Palacio de Linares” and the “Palacio de Cibeles” (Cibeles Palace). These constructions are located in four different neighborhoods from three different adjacent districts: Centro, Retiro and Salamanca.
“Fuente de Cibeles” (Cibeles Fountain), one of Madrid’s most important symbols, stands in the middle of the square. Cibeles Fountain, built in 1782, depicts Cybele, the goddess of nature and fertility, siting on a chariot pulled by two lions. A curious fact is that Real Madrid football fans gather around this fountain to celebrate their club’s victories.
Cibeles Palace is the most prominent building of “Plaza de Cibeles”. The building, which took 13 years to be finished, was designed by Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi and it was inaugurated in 1919.
The Palace, originally called “Palacio de Comunicaciones”, was built to function as telegraph and telephone central and as post office. In 2007 it became the Madrid City Hall (“Ayuntamiento de Madrid”) and in 2011 it opened to the public. It is since that time that the building is called “Palacio de Cibeles”.
Nowadays it houses a restaurant, a viewpoint and a cultural space. To go inside the Palace we had to pass our bags through an X-ray machine.
We followed by “Paseo del Prado”, where we find the “Golden Triangle of Art”, which features the “Museo del Prado”, the main Spanish national art museum with collections from masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Bosh and Titian. Nearby, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum offers visitors an overview of art from the 13th century to the late 20th century. The Reina Sofia Museum, mainly dedicated to 20th century Spanish art, includes excellent collections of Spain’s two greatest masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
We didn’t visit any of these museums. We considered to visit the Reina Sofia Museum but the long queue made us give up the idea of going in there. We will try to come to Madrid another time to visit these museums.
Another attraction on” Paseo del Prado” is the vertical garden next to Caixa Forum Museum, a modern art gallery. As the wall is covered by water, it is a refreshing place.
We stopped at the oldest “Museo del Jamón” (Ham’s Restaurant) to have lunch. As ham isn’t the kind of food I enjoy, I decided to try a dish with vegetables, which, as I found out later, consisted mainly in artichokes. It was a very bad choice. Good thing: I tried artichokes for the first time. Bad thing: I found out I hate artichokes.
It was at lunchtime that I first felt some of the differences between Portuguese and Spanish culture. Meal times differ in both countries, in Spain meals are served later than in Portugal. Lunch, at restaurants, is served between 13h00 to 15h30. Dinner is served from 20h30 to 23h00. Another difference is that in Spain restaurants serve 2 main dishes. From what I saw, the first one tends to be richer in carbohydrates, while the second one is mainly fish or meat.
After lunch, we went towards Madrid’s largest railway station, the Atocha Railway Station. It was originally called Mediodia Station. However, due to the nearby basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Atocha, the name Atocha has become attached to the station.
On 11 March 2004, four trains traveling from Alcalá de Henares and the Atocha Station were bombed in a series of coordinated bombings, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800. Three months later, a memorial monument dedicated to the victims of the attack, the Atocha Station Memorial, was erected.
We left the busy streets of Madrid to go to a greener, but not less busy place, the “Parque del Retiro” (Retiro Park). Retiro Park is a huge park created as a royal park and it is opened to the public since 1868.
We entered the park by the southern entrance and found it very quiet. However, as we were approaching the Fountain of the Falling Angel, whose main sculpture El Angel Caído is claimed to be the only known public monument of the lucifer, the amount of people in the Park was increasing.
We went along “Paseo República de Cuba” until we find the “Palacio de Cristal” (Crystal Palace) standing at the edge of a small lake. “Palacio de Cristal”, built in 1887, was initially used to house exotic plants brought over from the Philippines. It is now mainly used for temporary exhibitions.
Close to the northern entrance of the Park, we found a large artificial lake, the “Estanque del Retiro” where many persons were rowing small boats. Overlooking the lake, we saw a large monument with an equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII, which was erected in 1922. It was completely crowded near the lake and on the way to the northern entrance, from where we left the Park.
Then we went to one of the wealthiest and more expensive areas in Madrid, Salamanca district. We visited the “Iglesia San Manuel y San Benito”, a neo-Byzantine church with an interesting architecture and we took a stroll down “Calle Jorge Juan”, which houses some fashion boutiques that offer exclusive brands at equally exclusive prices.
Going back to “Hostal La Prensa”, where we were accommodated, we passed by the “Puerta de Alcalá”.
The original Puerta de Alcalá was built in 1599 as a welcome gesture to Margaret of Austria, the Queen consort of Spain and Portugal by her marriage to King Philip III. One and a half centuries later, King Charles III, being not pleased with that city gate, demanded the construction of a more flamboyant gate. Therefore a new “Puerta de Alcalá” was built in 1769 and it was officially inaugurated in 1778.
After a refreshing bath, we looked for a restaurant nearby. We found one that looked good, but was already full, then we tried to find one that we had found on the internet with good reviews, but without success. So we went to “Casa Ilda…tu casa”, where we had a cheap and tasty meal
It was the end of our first day in Madrid.