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Thriving Modern Capital of Spain

May 28 - June 1

We took a 4PM bus from Cordoba to Madrid, and we have to say it wasnīt quite as easy a ride this time. The bus we had was a little older than the others we had ridden (but still pretty comfortable), but it was packed full of people. It always seems that when on a very long bus ride, thereīs always some old woman coughing up a lung or weezing constantly in the adjacent seat. Itīs just a rule of long-distance bus travel. This ride was no exception, and we had to endure all manner of coughing and weezing and loud teenagers for most of the five hour trip to Madrid. We were quite happy when the bus pulled into the Estacion de Autobuses Sur, just south of the city center. We took a cab to the hostal we had reserved, the very comfortable and perfectly located Hostal de Macarena, located near the Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid.

Palacio Real

In front of the Palacio Real

The next morning, we walked toward the Palacio Real, Madridīs royal palace. The palace was started in 1734 by Felipe V, who was determined to build an edifice of such magnificence that it would dwarf all of its European counterparts. This certainly seems to be the case, as neither of us thinks weīve seen a building of this size ever before, anywhere. Today, the palace is used only for formal state functions by King Juan Carlos.

Changing Guards

The changing of the guards

We were fortunate enough to catch the monthly changing of the guard in front of the palace one morning. It was quite a grand spectacle, with very serious-looking soldiers on foot and horseback standing there in the brilliant, hot morning Madrid sun. There was even a group of very British-looking palace guards included in the ceremony, with their red coats and tall black fur hats. Weīre not sure if this is a normal thing here in Madrid, of if for some reason this was a special invitation for the British.

Changing Guards

The Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid

Madrid is a great city. Itīs not very old compared to the rest of Spainīs great cities. Most of it was built after the 1600s and 1700s. And unlike many of its European capital counterparts, there isnīt a great amount to do in the way of sightseeing here. But what Madrid lacks in sights, it makes up for in dining and nightlife options. It is as if the Madrilenos are afraid to go to sleep lest they should miss something important. People donīt start to eat dinner until at least 10pm, and even during weekdays they keep on going until 2 or 3 oīclock in the morning, bouncing between the many bars, pubs and discos. We quickly adopted the way of life here in Madrid, learning not to eat lunch until 2 or 3pm and snacking when we got hungry before dinner. As with the rest of Spain, the best way to do this is to go to any of the bars that serve tapas and get a few quick bites if you get hungry between lunch and dinner.

Prado Museum

Inside the Prado

The museums in Madrid are some of the greatest in all of Europe. Best-known is the Prado, a huge art museum housing the work of some of Spainīs greatest, along with other European artists. We spent a couple hours wandering through the Prado, marveling over the tremendous art collection. Our favorites were the works of Melendez, Velasquez, and Murillo, three of Spainīs great native artists. We were less impressed with the better-known names like Goya and El Greco. Compared to the works of the others, they seemed simplistic and not particularly interesting.

Muy Guapo

All you ladies might want to make a trip to Madrid just to see these muy guapo hombres!

The nice thing about having five days in Madrid is that we had a lot of time to simply relax. Rather than run around like crazy trying to cram in every last sight in town, we would spend one day sightseeing and the next day relaxing, hanging out in local cafes and, of course, eating and drinking. Looking back on it, Madrid was one of our favorite Spanish cities. Itīs too bad that so many visitors to Spain skip it in favor of more fashionable places like Barcelona and Sevilla.

On June 1, we took our first train ride in Spain, from Madrid northeast to the beautiful city of San Sebastian.

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