Staying local was our plan for Madrid and a nicely appointed studio apartment in Ventas was chosen. The suburb was well connected with two metro lines to the city’s central district, providing easy access to Madrid’s must see sites. In terms of learning about a new city, the ‘free’ walking tours are an easy way of better understanding the city. Let me be frank, tourist attractions in Madrid are not as plentiful as in other cities, however, the real pleasure comes from walking around the streets, admiring the beautiful architecture in the old town. Madrid might not have the status of Rome or Paris in terms of sights, but the Spanish capital is a pleasure to explore. And Madrid seems to thrive on tapas bars, tabernas or cerevecerias! These are plentiful and are well frequented.

Our accommodation was located in Ventas, the suburb which is home to Plaza de Toros. The location was close to the metro line and had a number of bars and cafes nearby. We sampled some nice tapas and fell in love with the jamon iberico.

So, as we are still in Ventas, let’s talk about Plaza de Toros, the Ventas bullring. 

Bullfighting, that oh-so typical and controversial Spanish tradition, is still alive and well in Madrid. If you want to go to a bullfight, there’s no better place than Madrid’s bullring and no better time than the San Isidro festival in May. Actually, they show every bullfight live on TV and no matter which bar you frequent, it is being shown…even though we are a mere 400m from the bullring.  The Ventas bullring was completed in 1931 and holds around 25,000 fans. The arena is one of the largest in the world. Its construction in the Moorish style includes hand-painted tiles and houses a bullfighting museum which illustrates the history of Las Ventas as well as many legendary matadors’ garments. 

The arena has its own chapel where the matadors pray before the bullfight (for themselves, not the bull). The bullring also has a ‘casualty’ room (again, not for the bull) equipped with the latest technology and two complete operating theatres. Las Ventas bullring is one of the most important in the world and it is here that bullfighters either triumph or fail. Ernest Hemingway wrote Death in the Afternoon, which explores the art of bullfighting, a sport of which he grew fond. He wrote that “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour”. Yet, on the controversy surrounding the cruelty of the bullfight, he acknowledged: “Anything capable of arousing passion in its favour will surely raise as much passion against it”. Will bullfighting bode well for the future, that is a good question.  Bullfighting is for older people so we are told.  Maybe as the younger generation ages, they may embrace the cultural norm of old.

The home to the kings of Spain from Charles III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid’s Royal Palace is a magnificent building. It comprises over 3000 rooms, and is considered the largest royal palace in the world, inspired by the Louvre. Though it is no longer the royal family’s home, they live in ‘suburbia’ in a smaller palace, it continues to be their official residence; however, it is used solely for official state visits.

It is said that all roads in Spain lead to the Puerta del Sol, known as kilometre zero and the very centre of the country and is one of Madrid’s best known squares. Its location makes it a popular meeting point, as was the case when Real Madrid presented the Champions League trophy (for the third successive year!) to their adoring fans…and us. 

The square is also home to the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, the official symbol of Madrid.We walked through the square many times as we traversed the city of Madrid and it was on the metro line we used to Ventas.

Mercado de San Miguel is one of the oldest and most alluring markets in Madrid. With its stunning glass walls and iron structure and roof, it is a great example of iron and glass architecture, along with the Crystal Palace on El Retiro. 

The market is conveniently located in central Madrid and judging by the throngs of people, it is the most popular market in town and a culinary smorgasbord. From wine and tapas bars to colourful stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood, there’s something for everyone, even Trish and her finicky eating habits!  

Plaza Mayor – every Spanish city has one, but not as elaborate nor large as Madrid’s main square. This square holds centuries of history in its cobbles and has been the scene of everything from coronations to bullfights and beheadings, usually during the Spanish Inquisition. Today, it’s a nice place to stroll and sample tapas and have a quiet drink amidst the throng.  

The portico lined square is situated at the heart of Hapsburg Madrid (arising from the marriage between the Spanish and Hapsburg royal families). It is situated in the old part of the city and one of the capital’s most charming districts. Before Madrid became a capital city (it was Toledo), with its wide avenues and boulevards, its footprint consisted of narrow streets, alleys and passageways, which today provide a glimpse of life some 500 years ago, especially during the inquisition. 

The statue of the king Philip II’s on horseback, a recent addition to the square, but completed in 1616 but was situated elsewhere in Spain.  The king was known as the stinky king as over time, a horrible stench emanated from around the statue. Some folk thought that it was haunted.  In actual fact, the reason for the stench was discovered only after it was blown up during an uprising – rotting pigeon carcasses.

El Retiro Park is a green oasis in the heart of the city and is Madrid’s most beautiful park. As we found, it is the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon enjoying a picnic. The park has some interesting statues and one which comes to mind is the Statue of the Fallen Angel, apparently the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil!  The monument to Alfonso XII watches over the lake and is magnificent, as is the Crystal Palace.

Gran via is Madrid’s answer to NY’s 5th Avenue or Paris’ Champs Elysee.  The buildings on this street are magnificent, quirky Art Nouveau and Art Deco facades fronting its banks, offices and apartments. The street is busy, no doubt full of tourists like ourselves flocking to this part of Madrid to admire the sights and the 20th century style that appears to be characteristic along its stretch and this part of the city. It is interesting to walk along the street and look to the rooftops of these impressive buildings, and indeed we had a great view of Madrid from one of the cities rooftop bars.

The ideal spot for a tapas crawl, Cava Baja is Madrid’s famous ‘tapas street’ and on an evening is teeming with people enjoying a drink and a bite. It is here that we found and enjoyed gluten free tapas…a rarity as most tapas is served on bread…or the bar staff are uncertain. There are only so many tortillas one can eat!

Madrid is home to what is officially the oldest restaurant in the world – it has the Guinness World Record certificate in the window to prove it. Sobrino de Botín was founded in 1725 and has been going strong ever since. Its speciality is roast suckling pig and it appears in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul on its opening in 1993. Its Baroque exterior matches the older Royal Palace just across the plaza. Interestingly, the site on which cathedral now stands was originally occupied by Madrid’s first mosque and then by a church dedicated to one of Madrid’s patron saints, Santa María de la Almudena.
The La Puerta de Alcalá is one of Madrid’s symbols in the Plaza de la Independencia square. It stands near the city centre and adjacent to El Retiro Park. It was originally to be built in the city wall, which marked the eastern boundary.

San Francisco el Grande is a Roman Catholic church in central Madrid, located in the neighbourhood of La Latina.

Taking centre stage of Plaza de Oriente is a huge statue of Felipe IV astride a horse that was modelled from an art piece by Veláquez. It stands on a large pedestal and is indeed a striking sculpture. Spanish Monarchs line the square. This is a particularly beautiful square, with greenery and elegance matched by the buildings that surround it.

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