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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Madrid, Spain: Day 2 of 5

From this point, everything just wasn’t the same. Not as enjoyable as you would like as tourists in a foreign city/country. Instead of packing the DSLR, I decided to leave it in the hotel room; trying to keep a lower profile than the first day. So instead took the portable IXUS camera out. Normally would carry two cameras during our travels; One DSLR and one portable for my wife to use while travelling. :p

Instead of taking the metro this time round, we decided to take the taxi to the famous plaza, the Puerta del Sol (Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”). When we got there it was all in under construction. You just cringe whenever you go travelling after researching all the sights etc., once you get there it is all covered up by construction. ARGH!!!!! What else to do apart from checking out the side streets and head to the next point of interest, the central plaza in the city of Madrid, Plaza Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor itself is a pretty amazing square. It is surrounded by three-story residential buildings having almost 240 balconies facing the Plaza. No I didn’t stand there and count. Google or Bing it to find out. :) The Casa de la Panadería, serving municipal and cultural functions, dominates the Plaza Mayor.

After taking some snaps at the Plaza Mayor, we wandered around to find where the best places are to have a meal, which is really literally around the corner of the square. Unfortunately once we got there, the restaurants were all closed as it was too early in the noon so we walked up to the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Old Market) where we sat down and had our lunch. The Mercado de San Miguel is one of the oldest covered markets in Madrid and it was bustling with all sorts of stalls selling freshly made tapas, freshly caught oysters which was fantastic btw, jamón (dry-cured Spanish ham) *slurp slurp*, fruits, bars selling cocktails, champagne, and butchers selling all sorts of meats. Basically selling all sorts as you would expect from any market but this one is abit more up-market. It had an air conditioning system for one so that for the hot summer days like the day I visited it was just perfect. Just sit inside having some giant raw oysters, some seafood tapas and an ice cold drink to wash it all down. AHHHHHH…

The market itself is just over one hundred years old (it was inaugurated in 1916) and has gained a new appearance through the recent renovation, but you can still recognise the metal structure of its original construction. Overall was an experience...

After lunch we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid). Along the way we saw Plaza de la Villa also Casa de la Villa which is the seat of the Municipal Council of the City of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral (Santa María la Real de La Almudena) which is a Catholic cathedral in Madrid. Once you get to the Royal Palace you’re surrounded by a few other sights as well such as the Plaza de Oriente, the Royal Theater (Teatro Real), a few other small parks named Jardines del Cabo Noval, Jardines Lepanto, Jardines de Sabatini and also a 20 hectare large park Campo del Moro (Field of the Moor) which is the Royal Gardens.

After slurping down a cupful of Häagen-Dazs’ Mango Passion fruit slurpie to cool down from the smouldering temperature we headed to Plaza de España to meet up with the tour group to go to the Monastery and Site of Escorial and Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).

The Monastery and Site of Escorial is a historical residence of the king of Spain. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and school. The Valley of the Fallen is a monumental Nationalist memorial in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. WOOT!!! The tour itself cost 50€ per person and luckily the tour guide spoke English. Although it was a small group (7 in total excluding the tour guide) in the big 40+ seats tour bus, it was still relatively quick. The tour itself was roughly just a little over 3 hours including the travelling time between the sites and Madrid (45m-1h each way). If you have a car then I would recommend going yourself instead of joining a tour then at least you are not constraint by time and free to roam wherever plus the savings of 50€ per person. You can always hire an audio guide once you get to those sites.

After the tour ended we were dropped off at Plaza de España where we walked towards the streets of Gran Via and back down to Plaza Mayor to the restaurants where we had stopped over earlier in the day to have dinner then headed back to the hotel to rest via the metro.

Overall the day itself was eventful with lots of sights to see. Nothing got stolen today which is always a plus. Anyway if you want to check out the photos taken, they’re not ready yet. Still have to process them so hopefully should be up by end of the week. So do check back as I’ll update with the rest of the trip to Madrid.

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