Musings from Madrid

holiday in Spain

Musings from Madrid

When we planned our trip to Madrid, I practiced my ola, gracias and bueno dias diligently. I hoped to meet and converse with men and women who looked like actors Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

They would speak English with their lilting accent and I would drop these three words to break the ice. Alas, this was not to be. The Spaniards I tried talking to in charming Madrid hardly spoke English. Their Spanish was so fast that I could not make out where a word began or ended.

A shadow of history

So it was through brochures, internet and guide maps that we had to discover Madrid. We decided to take the Madrid city tour first, which would give us a bird’s eye view and then explore in depth places that seemed most interesting. The Hop On Hop Off bus with its open top offered excellent views of the bustling city. As the commentator in my ear phone droned on in English about palaces and churches and gateways en route, I enjoyed the views of clean streets, majestic statues and refreshing fountains.

There was the mention of an architect, the name long and exotic and etched on the iconic building in front of us. An impressive museum appeared next and there was even an Egyptian temple — Debod! Oh, there was the statue of Spain’s most beloved literary figure Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote. As we passed monuments for kings and queens and opera houses and gardens, it became increasingly apparent that the three days we had set aside for this capital city was far from sufficient. We had to prioritise.

Puerto del sol — gate of the sun — was one of the gates in the wall that surrounded Madrid centuries ago. It also became our gateway to exploring the city. It was close to our hotel and was touted as a happening place. On that busy and hot afternoon, the area was swamped with people. The symbol of Madrid, a cute little statue of a bear hugging a strawberry tree, is right at the entrance. The streets leading to the square have shops and restaurants. Street artistes here are remarkable for their stillness of being and make-up skills.

Art & more

A visit to any cultural city is incomplete without a peek into its museums. The Reina Sofia Art Museum houses some of the most famous contemporary paintings, sculptures and other artworks. The museum now stands where a hospital once stood. With four floors, two blocks, many entrances and exits, and interconnections, it is a maze in itself. The museum displays hundreds of photographs capturing events like the Spanish civil war. Pencil sketches by different artists are starkly evocative. Joan Miro’s works are colourful and appealing. But Picasso’s Guernica and even the installations of Dali left an art neophyte like me bewildered. Work by contemporary artists that showcased concrete slabs and iron chains added to the bewilderment and we beat a hasty retreat.

It was late evening by then and the lit Royal Palace looked splendid. The palace is huge. Built originally by Muslim invaders, it has seen extensive reconstructions and remodelling over the centuries. It has over 3,000 rooms and houses many art treasures. The Sabatini Gardens right next to the palace is tranquil. Buen Retiro Park, another landmark, has a mini crystal palace and a lake. This immaculately maintained sprawling garden is used to the fullest by locals. Picnicking families, young lovers, groups of tourists, people on wheelchairs, magicians to entertain the crowds, and sellers create a pleasant microcosm here.

But the two parks pale in comparison with Campo del Moro, another park spread over 20 acres of uneven terrain. Said to be named for a Moor’s occupation of this area in the 12th century, Campo del Moro is enchanting. Verdant grass, bright flowers, two rustic cottages, an old chariot, ponds and friendly show-off peacocks make you want to live here. As I trudged up the walkway with nary a soul in sight, I envied this developed nation for its luxury of space.

What are the other highlights of Madrid? The sun that refuses to set even at 8 pm, fitness-crazy Madrilenos (people of Madrid) and the street cafés. Personally, it was the solo trip that I took on the HOHO bus and the nearly 12-15 km of walking that we did every day.

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