Best of Spain

Day 4 – September 6, 2004 - Madrid Sightseeing & Toledo

We were up a 6:45 to have breakfast at 7:30 with Barbara and Kerry from Queensland, Australia. We were on the bus at 8:30 for a city tour and more sights of Madrid with Carmela.

Our driver today was Antonio who is Portuguese. We are still missing 6 people who have been delayed in Miami by the tropical storm. We began our tour along the last promenade of the well laid out city and saw palaces; usually embassies now, expensive boutiques, flats, museums, parks, and many monuments including the Plaza España, the Puerta del Sol, Cibeles Fountain and Gran Via.

Madrid had the first Arch de Triumph of any European capitals and Carmela pointed out the many bullet holes from the Napoleonic invasion. We also passed the main train station where on March 11, 2004 Madrid was attacked by terrorists. Two of the main subway lines are still closed because of the disaster.

At the Plaza de Espana we were able to get out of the bus and take pictures of the many historic and ornate buildings - all decorated with huge round granite balls, symbols of Spain as the sun never set on the Spanish Empire.

We also saw a beautiful monument to Cervantes, Spain's most famous writer and its two notable characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The olive trees surrounding the statue were planted from the area of La Mancha in the 17th century. They are now old and gnarled but still bear olives.

We drove past the royal palace that was built in the 18th century by Phillip V. Today's royal family does not live in this huge replica of Versailles but in a hunting lodge 8 miles out of town.

As we drove through the city and by the stadium for the Real Madrid soccer team, Carmela told us that this team has won the most European Cups and is the home for David Beckham who pays 80,000 Euros (@/$1.20) per month for his home here in Madrid.

At 10:30 we stopped back at the hotel to drop of Carmela and pick up Ellen, our regular tour guide and we were off to Toledo, an hour drive SW of the capital. Ellen gave us a history of the area and highlights of the industry and agriculture.

At the entrance to the city of Toledo, the religious capital of Spain and a UNESCO site, we picked up our local guide, Angel. We did a perimeter drive and stopped at a scenic overlook and marveled at the medieval city that has changed little in 400 years.

The bus dropped us off and we walked through the narrow cobblestone streets seeing the sites including the Church of Santo Tomé. We had a very short 20 minute stop for lunch and made our way to see the El Greco masterpiece, The Burial of the Count Orgaz.

We walked to the famous Jewish sector and were able to see an old Synagogue. This city and the country of Spain once welcomed Jews, Catholics and Muslims and they all lived together. But after 1492, Jews and Muslims were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.

We ended our tour by walking over St Martin's Bridge where we met our bus. We visited the artisans of Toledo workshop, a tourist shop stop, and then at 2:45 we were back on board and heading to Madrid.

The countryside is very flat with parched fields, most of the wheat has already been cut. There are some long needled pines, many cypress, and small olive groves. By 4 PM we were back to the hotel in time to pack and have dinner on our own and go to the internet.

Gennie and I went to the internet and had notes from some friends who are receiving our journals. We spent about 30 minutes (1 Euro - $1.25) working and looking at all of our accounts.

The people there were helpful in giving us an idea about an Italian restaurant. There are not many around Madrid. We walked about 20 blocks across and down toward central Madrid and found Ginos.

We had two large Caesar salads, spaghetti bolognese, for Gennie, and a Canellotti al Formagii for me. One bottle of red wine and one diet Coke for Gennie. Mine was excellent and Gennie's was OK. The salad was good. The wine, a special Cabernet Sauvignon, was quite different but good.

We have been told that in Spain one should tip only 2 Euros per person for dinner. Still, I felt a little strange, so I left about 10%. At the Chiquito Riz I had left over 15% and we should not do that. One learns.

We walked back talking about how different world cities are from the American cities. People live in all areas of the city. There are bread, fish, ham, pastry, liquor, etc, stores. No major grocery stores like Safeway.

Fresher but much more time consuming. Different!!! ALSO - the restaurants do not open until at least 8:30 PM. And it still is light out at 9 PM. Spain is really in the next time zone but chose to be with rest of Europe.


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