Monday, September 7 Evening
The train ride from Salamanca to Madrid of some 2 ½ hours was smooth and no bike related issue. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset. We arrived after dark so the 9 km ride from the station to our apartment in the middle of the old city was exciting. The city traffic was busy . There were a number of wide streets with big roundabouts which were a challenge, but drivers were courteous and most of the way we were in the bus and taxi only lane. Dinner at an Indian restaurant around the corner. It was 1:30 a.m. before we got to bed.
Tuesday, September 8 Madrid
The day started with a quick trip to the Tourist Information Center (TI) which was unusually easy to find in the very large Plaza Mayor.
They had no local bike route maps nor information about bike routes around Spain. Surprise, surprise.
Just a few feet from the TI was the meeting place of the Sandman free walking tour of Madrid. We had signed up on line the night before. Madrid was the fourth or fifth city at which we have taken free walking tours. The tours were in English and the guides work for “tips”, so very motivated. We have had really good, animated, humorous, and knowledgeable guides at each tour. This was no exception. The tour lasted about 2 ½ hours with a pause in the middle for a coffee/ beer/bathroom/rest break at a local tavern. It hit all of the major sights although we did not enter any of them.
After lunch we went to the Cathedral which was opened in the late 1990’s. It had been in the planning stages for more than 3 centuries but did not get beyond the drawing board. That sort of time table is called Spanish Manana and employed often. The exterior is a mix of different and competing architectural styles that do not complement each other well. The interior is modern with the exception of some of the religious adornments. The new stained glass shines and the colors are vibrant.
We had passed a bike shop on the walking tour and wanted to stop in to see if they had maps of bike routes or suggestions, so after our tour we went back to the bike shop, but it was closed for siesta. The grill work on the windows is what caught our eyes in the first place. All of the windows were covered with bicycles made of wrought iron. Very nice.
We did some food shopping on the way “home” as we are staying in a 1 bedroom apartment with a kitchen.
We spent a while on the computer looking for an apartment to rent for our time in Barcelona before we fly home to Colorado in November.
We hopped on our bikes and set out to return to the interesting bike shop. The owner gave us a bike map of the greater Madrid area with routes color coded. Some were mountain bike trails. Most were city streets with bike, bus and taxi lanes. The riverfront was highlighted as having dedicated bike lanes. Why the TI does not have these maps is a mystery as it was free for the asking.
We did the guide book walking tour in the eastern part of the city (yesterday was the western part). At one time in the last 200 years or so, Spain or at least Madrid, must have had quite a bit of unrestricted money to spend, because spend it they did on many municipal buildings.
Our self guided bike tour took us to many of Madrid’s outstanding plazas as well as many more that are not outstanding but make for pleasant interludes to the bustling traffic. They also confuse the unwary traveler because they often have names that are different then the streets that create them. As in most European countries that we have visited, it is not unusual for the same street to change names every few blocks. This not only confuses tourists, but must drive the map makers crazy.
We rode the elevator in the old post office building to the top for an great view of the city.
One of the first things we noticed was that this 8 story building is now and art museum that is free of charge and contains very little art or sculpture. I guess it seemed like a great idea when times were flush.
After lunch we headed for the Palace. It was built in the 1500’s by Charles I and is the largest palace in Europe (think Versailles +) with more than 3000 rooms tastefully decorated in the most opulent and expensive manner to impress Charlie’s friends, which it did.
It also certainly impressed us. Unfortunately, photos were only permitted in the entry way and grand stairway.
The king and his wife now live off campus in a more modest abode that does not allow visitors by the likes of us. After a few hours at the palace, we headed to the cities largest green space, Retiro Park. It’s a grand and beautiful oasis just behind the Prado. We rode around it for an hour of so. The park is almost completely traffic free and contains some wonderful buildings that are empty or almost empty. We are puzzled by these beautiful unused spaces.
The park has a lake area that includes a sculptured memorial to one of Spain’s kings, fountains, and plenty of statuary to go around. It was not crowded, but well used. Dinner back at the apartment and worked on finding suitable bike routes from Madrid to southern Spain. We found an apt. in Barcelona that looks great and is well situated near the old city. It has 2 bedrooms which we’ll need as we’ll be joined by our daughter Kate who is flying in from Atlanta for our last week.
Another wonderful blue sky morning. Returned to the Plaza Mayor and investigated some of the other large plazas and took pictures of the special buildings. (Above) Went to a big bookstore to try and find information about riding routes from here to southern Spain with no luck so did some window shopping.
In the late afternoon we tackled the Prado. No pictures are allowed. The Prado is a huge art museum on a beautiful, divided, many laned boulevard. It contains countless old world art masterpieces. We chose to go late in the day to take advantage of the free entry after 6 pm (otherwise the cost is $10 per person). We were not alone in our parsimony. Since we know nothing about what makes paintings great, we concentrated on finding a few paintings by the masters. Apparently we are not unique as the visitor’s guide that is given to you on entry has a section labeled the museum’s masterpieces with 1 inch pictures of about 30 of them and their locations. We did pretty well in the hour and 45 minutes that we spent there.
After our visual uplifting and improvement, we left and wandered back to the apartment for our dinner, planning and relaxation.
Friday, September 11 a sad day for Americans and also for the Spanish as their country suffered a terrorist attack that cost many lives on the same date in 2005. We did not see any commemorative events or demonstrations.
Took Maggie’s bike to a very high end bike shop down the street from our apt.for a small tune and to true her front wheel. We then took the subway to the bus station for a 45 minute ride to El Escorial, a small town west of Madrid which is the site of a very big palace and monastery built at the end of the 16th century.
It’s still an active monastery so much of the palace is off limits, but that which we were allowed to see was really magnificent despite the fact that the building itself is austere by royal standards as there are no sumptuous ceilings dripping with art and sculpture. Unlike other palaces that we have toured with ornate statuary and carving on the outside and more of the same on the walls and with especially elaborate ceilings, this palace is plain. It does have close to 3000 rooms and the ones we saw were all decorated and furnished to fit the king.
This palace is also the final resting place for all of the monarchs of Spain and many of their relatives, other royals and other special people going back centuries. The mausoleum of the monarchs is one large room with their highness’s stacked one on top of the other in separate niches 4 high. The stairway leading into it and the room itself are marble. There is a catch to getting into this room and one unanswered question. Catch numero uno: the corpse has to lay in quiet repose in the room next door for 25 years so that no flesh accompanies the royal bones to the mausoleum.
Dos answered question: Who and what next? There are 2 unfilled spaces in the mausoleum, but they are already spoken for and the bodies are in repose in the rotting room. Where are the rest going to go? All the niches are used up. Poor planning about 300 years ago. Word has it they are hiring a “fung shway” expert to solve the cluttering dilemma.
Returned to Madrid via the bus about 6pm in time to pick up Maggie’s bike and a Dominoes Pizza from the corner shop and spent a quiet evening in our apartment.
Saturday, September 12
Sunny skies again. Checked out Maggie’s bike by finding our route out of town for tomorrow and the location of the large Sunday flea market that we want to visit. Then rode down to a new park by the river and rode along it in for a total of about 15 k. The river area has been completely rehabilitated from the slum and derelict buildings of the past and is now a happening place with theater, art galleries and coffee shop/cafes as well as much green space with activities for the whole family and especially kids. There are walking lanes, bike lanes, unpaved bike and jogging lanes and room for all. There are sculptures and par and exercise equipment, benches and good views of the river. No motorized vehicles allowed. It is long and narrow and on both sides of the river. It is well used. Except for the pavement for riders and walkers, the park is in grass with dirt paths and play structures and fountains for the kids to squeal in. It is large enough and long enough that it was not crowded with the many people who were enjoying it.
After our ride we dropped our bikes off at the apartment and went to the Museum of Spanish Naval History near the Prado. It is free but you’re asked verbally and in writing to make a 3 Euro donation. It was really terrific and well worth it. In addition to telling the history of Spain’s fleet and its commanders and ship building, which includes the defeat at the hands of the British and Lord Nelson there are scale models of hundreds of ships of all ages and types.
Unlike other naval museums that we have visited, there were no ships to enter and no description of the living conditions of those ships, rather, it is the navy/armada/admirals that get all of the attention. The museum is very well done.
We had dinner at a small, hole in the wall restaurant and shared the best Caprese salad of our trip.
Sunday, September 13
A pleasant Sunday morning stroll from the apartment to the largest flea market in Europe. The market starts at a large plaza and sprawls down and around many, many streets and alleys in every direction. The traffic is blocked off. It’s very colorful. No food sold, but all around are cute, little coffee shops/taverns that are quick and reasonably priced. Like the Denver flea market, there are many booths and stands that sell all sorts of merchandise. This includes clothes of all varieties, hardware, underwear, music, knives, kitchenware and DVD’s/CD’s and records. About 1/4 of the market is dedicated to selling antiques since this is the antique section of Madrid. Antique dealers sell both from the street and in the adjoining shops. When we got to the market at about 10 a.m. it was already moderately crowded.
We walked back to the apt. picked up our bikes, and were on the road by about 2 p.m. We stopped for our lunch at a park across the river from the old city and then rode 21 Km to the small town of Fuenlabrada on our journey south. The temperature was comfortable but the headwind was not.
Madrid is a sprawl of about 3 million people. At one time towns south were separate from Madrid, but now there is little separation and thus little to see or of note on the ride. By tomorrow night we should be in Toledo.
September 14 Madrid south to Toledo
Hit the road about 9 a.m. and rode 70+ km. into the wind and slightly uphill to Toledo. A total of 1600′ climbing. Most of the terrain was not inspiring. The first half of the ride was through towns that are most likely bedroom communities for Madrid. After that there were a lot of wide open spaces without much in the way of vegetation. As we got closer to Toledo, there was farming on a big scale. The fields were large the tractors were also. Mountains came into view as we approached Toledo.
Got off course near Toledo and in order to avoid the “A” road, ie: freeway, we had to ride cross country on a dirt trail which was part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. It crossed a dry wash about 10 times. Good tires make a huge difference. We came across a touring couple from Spain who were in the same predicament, and ventured out together across the land. Just like Columbus, we found land eventually and it was paved and lead to Toledo.
Toledo is a very old city that sits on top of a huge hill, which is cruel to bikers at the end of the day. The entire old city has been designated a World Heritage Site which prohibits changes of any kind to the exterior surfaces of all buildings. We found the Tourist Information Office and our B & B without difficulty. We put the bikes in the office of the B & B and will let them rest for the days we are here. Did a little exploring after short naps and got thoroughly lost. As in Venice, it’s expected of tourists in this place. Tomorrow we get serious about route finding and will explore Toledo.