Madrid Completes Big Five!


When most people think of traveling to Europe, they think of the Big Five:

  • Italy
  • France
  • England (UK)
  • Germany
  • Spain

G and I finally capped the big five this weekend with our visit to Madrid and Toledo. With 7 years’ combined Spanish classroom time, we were able to travel about easily and converse in broken Spanish with little preparation. And the people were quite kind and hospitable… albeit VERY laid back. Some cultures force you to slow down… we found that to be the case in Italy a few years ago, but Spaniards take it to an all new level. Upon arriving in Madrid on Friday, we stood in line for an hour *literally* in order to purchase tickets for a 30-minute train ride. That developed somewhat of a trend for the trip in that trains leave early (or late) and buses run when they want to rather than when scheduled. While somewhat frustrating at times, there are more than enough positives to make up for the little inconveniences along the way.


First up, Toledo. Up until around 100 years ago, Toledo served as Spain’s capital. It’s surrounded by a river on three sides and sits upon a high mount (making it convenient for a walled city’s placement). Having traveled to cities built around the same period in Italy and France, the city reminded us of a small Sienna or a disorderly Arles. Our hotel was conveniently located just off the center Plaza… but this didn’t help us from getting lost as the city’s made up of jumbled streets and crumbling, but beautiful old Spanish architecture. The most striking building is the Cathedral. The structure’s unassuming from the outside, but grandiose inside. It’s clear that the Spanish ties to Catholicism are deep and strong as evidenced by the culture’s commitment to elaborate “homes” for Christ. Toledo’s known for its Marzipan and we had to sample and were pleased with their nut and fruit varieties.


On Saturday we missed our train to Madrid. We waited for 30 minutes for our bus to the train station and arrived just as the train was scheduled to depart, only to find out it had left a few minutes early. Since the next train was in just two hours, we opted to sip fresh OJ (jugo de naranja) and lattes (or café con leche) in the station’s open-air moorish courtyard. It was, perhaps, all for the best because the cafe was so enjoyable with the bright sun, cool breeze and rustling palms surrounded by Spanish architecture. Click here to see photos from Toledo…


Next, we were off to Madrid. Upon arriving, we took a self-guided walking tour of the city, starting with Puerta del Sol (Tio Pepe sign stands in this square) and ending at the National Cathedral and Royal Palace. We also took a bit of time to explore the beautiful Plaza Mayor (reminiscent of the grand Piazza San Marco in Venice) where outdoor cafe tables are held by lively groups sipping lattes and listening to the live local music. Beginning to get hungry and thirsty, we stopped off at Museo del Jamon (or Museum of Ham in English). A passing tour guide likened this establishment to the “Spanish McDonald’s”… interesting decor as the walls were lined with aging pig legs, but very tasty. The Spaniards definetly have a “leg up” in the world of pork…


The Museo del Jamon marked our first stop on a tapas tour taking us for gambas al ajillo (escargot-style shrimp with garlic), gazpacho (yum!), champiñóns (mushrooms with garlic and lemon), churros with chocolate (dipping sauce) and ending with sangría and watching flamenco at Casa Patas near Plaza Santa Ana.

Sunday, we went out for Napolianas at the famed local pastry shop La Mallorquina at Puerta del Sol and then to Plaza Mayor for the Sunday market (mostly stamps and coin collectors) and finally to Parque de Retiro, Madrid’s equivalent to Hyde or Regent’s Park (or Central Park in New York). Families travel to the park on Sundays because at noon lively local bands and entertainers (puppetiers, etc.) line the central walkway for impromptu kid-friendly shows. It was fun to see mini child-size chairs lined up in front of marionette shows with toddlers watching at attention.
G and I rented a row boat to explore the pool at park center. It was a beautiful end to a refreshing weekend away.

Click here to see photos from Madrid…

*Note. I’ve uploaded the photos from Madrid and Toledo into two separate albums so that you’ll be able to distinguish the shots from each. To see all photos from the weekend, you’ll need to visit both the Toledo AND Madrid albums by clicking on the links above.

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