Our trip started in Lisbon, as I had booked round trip air fare from Boston. Initially, I was going to rent an auto, but we nixed that idea and I found round trip airfare between Madrid and Lisbon for $400 total for the two of us. The dates coincide with our dates in Madrid. We stayed at the Aloft Hotel and it turned out to be a perfect location for all of our activities. In the some of the writeup of places that we visited, it was easier to insert the more detailed writeup off the WEB site of the Museum or from Wikipedia. We did a lot of walking (it is a very walkable city) and according to my Health Phone App, we were averaging 8 miles a day.
Fly to Madrid, Spain – September 12th – arrive mid -afternoon and we decide to take the Metro from the airport. Follow the signs to the Metro station and fortunately there is a Customer Service Kiosk which is manned. We talk with the agent (does speak English) and we opt to get a two 5 days cards (60 Euros). I have figured out how to go and we need to make two Train line connections and it is pretty seamless as the signage is good. We make out way to our stop which is “Callao” and go out into the Plaza. We get our bearings and we find the hotel which is about a minute walk from the Plaza. We get to the hotel and the check in is on the 3rd floor. We go up there and our room is available and is located on the 9th floor. The room is spacious enough and bathroom setup is good. Like many European hotels, the elevators are small, there is little storage space for socks and T-shirts in our room and the shower area is a flat surface, but there is a glass divider which keeps most of the water in the shower area. This is an 11 story (Urban Hotel) which means the views (if any) are limited, but they do have a roof top bar/restaurant and pool. We clean up and get ready for our evening walking tour of Madrid. We meet our tour guide at the Opera House, we took the metro one stop (we will find out it is a 5-minute walk from our hotel) and find him. There are 6 and he had to do the tour in English and Spanish. He speaks pretty good English and we start off with history of Madrid and Spain right in front of the Royal Palace and adjacent is the National Cathedral which was finished in the 1990’s. The other participants are from Miami, but the mothers only speak Spanish. It is a 3-hour tour and we are taken to Plaza Major and Puerta Del Sol (the main plazas in Madrid. The crowds in the Plazas are all quite busy, but Sol seemed to be the liveliest. The tour finishes up around 10:30 and we have two tours on Friday. We had back to the hotel.
September 13th – We booked a tour for the Prado (Museum of Fine Arts)- Got up and went for breakfast (buffet in the Lobby area). We decided to take the Metro a few stops and walk the rest of the way. I had Google Maps and (I found out) if I had the location in my phone, I could use it off line. Got off the Metro and followed the Google Maps directions to the Prado. The tour started around 10:30 and we found our tour guide. It was an English-Speaking tour with at least 25 participants. We all receive earpieces and the guide had microphone to talk to us. We are allowed to take picture (generally, no flash) and the tour covers the paintings from various centuries (or ruling family periods). We see many of the Masterpieces by Goya, Rubens, Velazquez, Rembrandt and Vermeer and others. The museum is great, but the guides English is weak and the earpiece-microphone system does not work really well. The tour ends about 1:30 and we go the cafeteria for a drink. There was a special exhibit that day which went to and visited. It looked like it was going to rain, but we decide to walk back to the hotel. It was an extra 15 minutes walking than taking the Metro. We get back to the hotel and take a rest as we have a Tapas and History tour at 7:30. I figure out where we are to meet the tour guide and we walk down to the location (I use Google Maps). We are there about 20 minutes before the meeting time and needless to say you are always wondering if you have the right location. The guide and other participants begin to arrive (it is English Speaking) and after introductions, we find out our guide (Meredith) is from North Carolina and has lived in Madrid for the past 8 years, She explains to us that we will visit 4 Tapas Cafes for Tapas tastings along with choice of beer, wine or soft drink and how we mingle in with expected crowds in these establishments and each one of them is locally owned. The tour motto is to support local businesses. We start our tour and we (Heidi and I) visit some of the places and hear about the history of Madrid, Spain that coincides with our historical tour of the previous night. It is real pleasure to listen to Meredith because we understand everything she is saying and the group is small (9 of us). All from the U.S except two from Sydney, Australia. The key in visiting these Tapas Cafes is too squeeze into any available area and just act normally. Meredith already ordered the Tapas (she tells us what they are) and takes our drink order. Each one of these places is a little different, but we have a ball and all the participants are enjoying being with each other. The final Tapas spot is a sit down with a little bit more food and really savor the moment and what we have experienced that evening. Little did we know, but our favorites Tapas dish was Garlic Shrimp and we would it have each of the next 2 nights. This tour was fabulous, Meredith was great and we just had a real fun time. The tour ended up around 10:30 to 11:00 and we made our way back to the hotel.
September 14th – I booked a tour to Toledo with Julia Travel. We meet at their office near the Royal Palace (we walked there) and get our tickets. Toledo is a bus (train) ride of about 50 miles and will take about an hour to get there. I have to admit that the pressure is off about getting to and from Madrid. Toledo is known as the "Imperial City" for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the "City of the Three Cultures" for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history and within the city there are areas known as the Jewish quarters and Moorish section. It was also the capital from 542 to 725 AD of the ancient Visigothic kingdom, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and the location of historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. Toledo has a long history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now common souvenirs from the city. The famous painter El Greco (1541-1614) El Greco was contracted to paint a group of paintings for the Church of Santo Domingo El Antiguo, in Toledo which was to include one of his most famous paintings, 'The Disrobing of Christ' ( El Espolio ). By 1579, El Greco had completed nine of these paintings which helped to establish his reputation in Toledo. We visited all three religious’ buildings and needless to say that the synagogue, and the Moorish mosque are not in use and stark compared the Catholic church. During the tour it started to rain and it was off and on for the rest of the day. After the tour of the city (like a walled city), we were on our own for lunch. We chose to stay in the tourist area and have lunch with a couple from Australia (Perth area) and they were on a month-long holiday. We walked back to main street where we got the bus. We did stop at Mariano Zamorano Swords and saw the making of one. We were to able shop and Heidi did buy a bracelet with specks of gold thread. Made our way back to Madrid and we were on our own for that evening. That evening we decided to do our own investigating of the Madrid. Our first stop was to a Bull Fighting Bar called La Torre del Oro right off Plaza Major. We did have trouble finding it, but Heidi recalled that it was near (or off) the Plaza Major and I did put on Google Maps and finally located it. We went in a had a beer and there were all kinds of photos and videos showing bull fighting. We were going to a Bull Fight the next night. Afterwards, we decided to try and find the Tapa Café with the Shrimp. Heidi had the names and street location and we meandered around without any success. We saw a Policeman and showed him the address and in broken English gave us directions. It was located right near Puerta Del Sol and we found it. We had the Garlic Shrimp and beer and ran into our guide from the night before. After our Tapas, we decided to find the Churro/Chocolate Shop recommended by our guide. It was located near our meeting place for that tour and it was called Chocolateria San Gines. We got 3 Churros and one (Big Churro, I think it is Porras) along with the dark hot chocolate for dipping. We now are getting familiar with the city and we easily make our way back to the hotel where we decide to go up the roof top bar. We talked with a couple from England and enjoy the rest of the evening.
September 15th – Booked a tour for the Royal Palace which begins at 11:30 am. This is the first day that we get up have breakfast and not be rushed to get someplace. The palace is a 5-minute walk from the hotel. We arrive down at the meeting place for our English-Speaking tour, once again earpieces and tour guide have a microphone and once again it does not work well and the guide is difficult to understand. We have finally learned that understanding English (or whatever language) does not mean you can speak it. The Royal Palace of Madrid (Spanish: Palacio Real de Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish royal family at the city of Madrid, although now only used for state ceremonies. The palace has 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq. ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by floor area in Europe. King Felipe VI and the royal family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the significantly more modest Palace of Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. The palace is owned by the Spanish state and administered by the Patrimonio Nacional, a public agency of the Ministry of the Presidency. The palace is located on Calle de Bailén ("Bailén Street") in the western part of downtown Madrid, east of the Manzanares River, and is accessible from the Opéra metro station. Several rooms in the palace are regularly open to the public except during state functions.
The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar ("Muslim-era fortress"), near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to King Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. King Felipe II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.
The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Felipe V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755 and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. King Carlos III first occupied the new palace in 1764.
The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was King Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as "Palacio Nacional". There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name "Office of Azaña".
The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms. It includes paintings by artists such as Caravaggio, Juan de Flandes, Francisco de Goya, and Velázquez, and frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Corrado Giaquinto, and Anton Raphael Mengs. Other collections of great historical and artistic importance preserved in the building include the Royal Armoury of Madrid, porcelain, watches, furniture, silverware, and the world's only complete Stradivarius string quintet. We are not allowed to take pictures inside the Palace and during the tour we start chatting with Shemp and Janet from Boynton Beach Florida. As the tour winds up, we decide to go see the Armory with them and go get lunch at a recommendation from our Tour guide of the 1st evening tour (Taberna Del Alabardero). We sit outside for pleasant lunch and enjoy talking with them. We exchange emails and when we are down in Florida we will see if we can catch up with them. They are heading off in another excursion and we have Bull Fight Tickets. We had back to the hotel and get ready for our night. We will be taking the Metro to the Bull Fight Arena which is scheduled for 6 pm. We leave around 4:30 and it is the same Metro line that we are on and arrive around 5:00. The square has statutes of Matadors and other Bull Fighting Scenes. After walking around the area, (it is a nice night) we enter the arena and find our seats. The arena is totally circular and the seating is concrete. People buy or rent pads, and we are up in the seating area watching as the maintenance crew prepares the arena for the bull fights. We are sitting the Sun Area and it is quite warm, but every now and then clouds block the sun and it becomes very comfortable. The seating capacity is 24,000. The most popular time for Bull Fighting is in May and June when they have one every night. During September (and I think October) they have them on Sunday nights. Anyhow, the attendance is small (maybe 3,000) and we could sit anywhere. We stay where we are and the first fight begins. Basically, it is the killing of the bull. It is done in 3 steps, the bull enters the ring. Spanish-style bullfighting is called corrida de toros (literally "coursing of bulls") or la fiesta ("the festival"). In the traditional corrida, three matadores each fight two bulls, each of which is between four and six years old and weighs no less than 460 kg (1,014 lb) Each matador has six assistants: two picadores (lancers on horseback) mounted on horseback, three banderilleros – who along with the matadors are collectively known as toreros (bullfighters) – and a mozo de espadas (sword page). Collectively they comprise a cuadrilla (entourage). In Spanish the more general torero or diestro (literally 'right-hander') is used for the lead fighter, and only when needed to distinguish a man is the full title matador de toros used; in English, "matador" is generally used for the bullfighter. After the first fight, we talk with a young man who is able to tell us that there are six of these bull fights. We stay for four more and we have had enough. We take the Metro back to our hotel area and decide to do a little more exploring. We seek a couple of the Tapas Cafes and we go to the one that has Cod Fish croquettes and then back for shrimp tapas. We have a drink back at the hotel and talk with a young woman who was touring with her friend, but split off for a couple of days.
September 16th – Last day in Madrid- we take off after breakfast (not in a rush) and we go by Metro to The Temple de Debod which is an aged Egyptian temple originally constructed in the second century BCE and later remade in Madrid, Spain. The temple was a present from the Egyptian government to Spain for their help in saving historical remains during the building of the Aswan Dam. The temple was rebuilt in the Parque del Oeste and was made available to the public in 1972. Originally, the temple was found 15 km south of Aswan and was dedicated to Isis of Philae. The temple is made of stone and full of drawings, inscriptions and hieroglyphics. It was not open, but the site is located in a Park and had a great view of looking back into Madrid. Decide to go to the Reina/Sofia Modern Art Museum and take the Metro back to that area. We walk about 20 minutes and find the Museum. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS, also called the Museo Reina Sofía, Queen Sofía Museum, El Reina Sofía, or simply El Reina) is Spain's national museum of 20th-century art. The museum was officially inaugurated on September 10, 1992, and is named for Queen Sofía. It is located in Madrid, near the Atocha train and metro stations, at the southern end of the so-called Golden Triangle of Art (located along the Paseo del Prado and also comprising the Museo del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza). The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain's two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. The most famous masterpiece in the museum is Picasso's painting Guernica. Along with its extensive collection, the museum offers a mixture of national and international temporary exhibitions in its many galleries, making it one of the world's largest museums for modern and contemporary art. After the museum, we stop at a café and have bite to eat. I see that we can walk back along Calle Atocha which leads back to Plaza Major and Puerta del Sol. We decide that we will take it easy that evening and eat at the Roof Top Bar/Restaurant.