Best of Spain

Day 3 – September 5, 2004 – Madrid

We slept in and it was enjoyable. After a late continental breakfast we went out for a long walk around the streets of the hotel. It was cool as we started but as we finished my shirt was soaked in the front and back.

We took pictures of the people, balconies, streets, and flowers. The people were, for the most part, very hospitable, smiling and agreeable. We came to a large round edifice and soon found out it was the Plaza de Torros of Madrid. They are to have a bullfight tonight at 6 PM.

As we walked around we met an Italian couple and they took our picture after I had taken theirs. Further around the bullring we came to a large door with many men standing and talking. We entered and found out it was an entrance to see the six bulls that were going to be used tonight.

I had the opportunity to talk to the individual shoeing a large horse. We returned to our hotel walking through narrow allies and streets of this section of Madrid.

Our room had not been cleaned yet so we took time to clean some of our things, iron an item or two and work on the pictures. At 1:30 we left to go on our first optional tour.

At 1:30 we met our city guide Carmella and about 20 of our group for a trip northwest of the city to the Valley of the Fallen and El Escorial. This Valley of the Fallen memorial was built by Franco to those who fell in the Spanish Civil War.

High in the mountains, with splendid views, this amazing memorial was cut into the solid granite rock mountain to create the largest basilica ever built. It is surmounted by a cross some 410 feet high.

The basilica was designed by Juan de Avalos and built with convict labor in 18 years. De Avalos is still alive and a working architect at 84 years old. Inside the huge church, is the tomb of Francisco Franco who died in 1975 while still in power not withstanding what SNL says.

As the church is deep inside the mountain, there is a very intricate system of warm dry air ducts to take the humidity from the walls and tapestry. The center of the main altar is directly below the huge cross that one sees outside as we enter. The basilica is three times the size of St. Peters in Rome.

Back on the bus at 3:30, Carmella explained that this monument has always been a money maker as they started charging admission from its building days. Back down the mountain toward the royal city of El Escorial, we drove through the countryside which is covered by olive groves, almond trees, and parched broom grasses as it as been so dry this summer.

The community of El Escorial is a summer retreat for the well to do of Madrid who come here for altitude coolness. This city is 4600 feet above sea level. Our driver Francisco dropped us off at the bus station and we were able to walk to the palace. This great monastery-palace was built in the foothills of the Guadarrama Mountains by Philip II, in thanksgiving for his victory over the French at the battle of St. Quentin in 1557.

We toured the royal residence that was restored to its 16th century opulence. Phillip II dedicated this area to St. Lawrence, the first Spanish martyr who was grilled or burned at the stake. Phillip was very interested in science, architecture; and there is a grade school, library, botanical garden, and university.

We were delayed at each stop as a VIP delegation from the Chinese embassy preceded us and they were taking their time. Although Phillip II suffered from gout, he had to be carried from place to place in a special chair, he lived to be 71, an unheard of old age for the Habsburgs.

There is a lot of blue tile, typical of Portugal, which was a rare color, the color of the sky and heavens. Carmella told us that even in the poorest of homes, they have some blue tile to ward off the evil eye.

Next, we went down into the royal mausoleum containing all of the tombs of the royal family. They are made of marble quarried from Toledo by local artisans and gilded with gold leaf. Then to the cathedral where we saw huge frescos painted by Luco Giordano, a protege of Michelangelo.

At 5:45 we left to fight the Sunday traffic back into the city. We had a few minutes before 7:30 when we met our tour guide Ellen for a welcome drink and information.

After our meeting with Ellen in the restaurant, Gennie and I went to our room and finished our journal, zipped the pictures and got ready to go out. This was at 9:30 PM.

We chose to go to the internet to send the journal and the pictures to everyone. It cost us 50 cents Euro to use it for 15 minutes. I was able to check all of our accounts and send things out.

We then went to dinner and saw a group of 8 from Trafalgar who travel together. They are all from India (country) and are really humorous. We shared their champagne as one had a birthday. Nice people!

We had another fish dinner with a salad and dessert and a free bottle of wine. I could really get to like Spain a lot!!!

As Gennie and I were the last people in the restaurant - almost 11 PM, we had a chance to talk to the young people who had started this establishment last June. They are very nice and they helped me with a few Spanish words I did not know. My ear is coming back slowly. After dinner, we went back to the room to get ready for bed.


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