Trading in grey London skies for cloudless Spanish ones, we spent a weekend in Madrid that went by too quickly. Madrid is the most populated city we have visited so far with around 3.1 million people. On arrival we found the crowds to be bustling and the ambient noise levels to be much higher than our previous destinations. That said, we were so pleased to be in Spain that it didn’t bother us at all.
There are museums all over Madrid and it can be difficult to decide which ones to fit into a two day stint. The first place we went was Cerralbo Museum (Museo Cerralbo). We arrived 30 minutes before they were due to close so the lady at the desk didn’t bother taking an entry fee from us. We were ushered in and told we must forego the audio guide because there was not enough time for that. The silver lining here is that the museum is not large to begin with. The collections of art, armour and furnishings belonged to Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marquis of Cerralbo and are housed in his former residence. The home in all its grandeur is as much an attraction as its contents.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest functioning palace in Europe and is a key attraction for visitors to the city. I am a lover of palaces; they turn me into an excited little girl wishing to be a princess sweeping through the grand halls in a billowing gown. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast etc.
Madrid’s palace was like an opulent dream. In front of the main entrance is a huge square that should be occupied by grand horse drawn carriages and possibly the extensive entourages of medieval royalty.
At one end of the square we explored the armoury and also came across an excellent viewing balcony. Most of the palace was a no photo zone but we were able to take photos in the entryway. A carriage (or car) can drive through gates into the square and then through the main doors right up to the stairs in the picture below. How grand!
All the rooms in the palace had impressive ceiling frescoes commissioned by various monarchs over the years. Ceiling frescoes continue to mystify me; it seems like an impossible task to paint such huge works of art onto a ceiling without completely messing up proportions. I observed them all with the awe of someone who has trouble drawing anything.
We spent a good two hours wandering through the various rooms of the palace which are open to the public. Audio guides are awesome by the way – you can choose what you want to hear about and go at your own pace which really enriches the experience for us. We’ve used a number of audio guides on our travels so far and have always found they are worth it (like tower tours!).
Outside the palace is a grand cathedral which looks particularly impressive from the palace doors. It was not open for visitors although I would have loved to see the inside!
The other must-see museum in Madrid is of course the museo nacional del Prado. This extensive collection was impressive even for two people who don’t know anything about art like ourselves. With the time that we had, we explored only one level of the museum which housed a variety of Spanish paintings from 1100 to 1910 along with Flemish and Italian paintings. Spain’s strong Catholic heritage was evident in the number of paintings of Jesus, Mary and endless portraits of saints. Again, no photos were allowed in the museum so I don’t have any to share with you. Should you be interested, some of the masterpieces we saw that I remember are Adam and Eve (Dürer), Saint Dominic of Silos (Bermejo) and Queen Isabella dictating her last Will and Testament (Rosales). The slightly weird ones for us were of course The Garden of Earthly Delights (Bosch) and Saturn devouring his Child (Goya). We were rather amused by The Garden of Earthly Delights and ended up buying a 1000 piece puzzle of it to entertain ourselves with at home. Perhaps once it’s done I’ll be able to share a photo with you all! Despite having a limited knowledge and understanding of art, we really enjoyed walking through the Prado and experiencing the rich cultural history of Spain.
Aside from the museums, we tried to visit some of the main garden spaces around the city. Plenty of fountains make for great photo spots too and you can’t discount the calming effect of water sounds. Behind the royal palace were the gardens that were free to explore.
Beside the palace is the plaza de oriente which is a lovely garden space with little hedge mazes that entertained children.
The prevalence of gardens, fountains and parks was something I really liked about Madrid. As the capital, it is a busy, active and energetic city which could easily be a forest of metal and glass like many other cities. It was such a pleasure to experience a lively city that hadn’t forgotten the benefit of public green spaces. One of the largest parks we visited was el retiro. Its expansiveness felt comparable to Kensington gardens here in London or Cornwall park in Auckland.
At the centre of the park was Crystal Palace which was basically a huge glass house. The glass meant it blended in well with the trees surrounding it and being inside made me feel rather content even though it was teeming with tourists like us.
There were trees growing rather curiously in the lake outside the building. I haven’t seen trees grow like that before so was quite mystified as to how they came to be that way. Perhaps some botanists out there can enlighten me!
The park also had a lovely little rose garden. There weren’t many roses there at this time of year but it’s very easy to imagine how beautiful it would be in the warmer months.
Madrid is the first “foodie” place we have visited and we were not disappointed with the delightful tapas we had, particularly on a tapas tour we did (totally worth it!). Since I enjoyed the food so much, I’m going to write a separate post about what we ate on this trip – it’s my bid to avoid making this post too long! Look out for it soon!