Madrid – Saturday 12/6/14

Arrived Madrid around 11:00 am Saturday, into the crowds gathered for a national holiday – Constitution Day. Police, barricades, flags, throngs on the sidewalks as we walked our suitcases from the bus to find our hotel.

Sights along the walk include a fountain in the middle of traffic, old buildings, and officers in fancy dress waiting for the official event – the king? the prime minister? didn’t find out.

Cute little Hostal Astoria – each floor in this building is its own hostal (not a youth hostel, but not a huge fancy hotel either). Next to an amazing candy store – free samples!

We’re just blocks from Puerta del Sol – the huge pedestrian plaza where they celebrate New Years Eve (ala Times Square). The walk is an architectural fiesta – tiny alleys, rococo trim, statues, balconies, and/or graffiti.  Puerta del Sol features the first post office from 1700s, now a government building – it was dictator Franco’s feared police headquarters. Markers on the walls commemorate the 3nd of May massacre by French soldiers against the Spanish crowd protesting Napoleon placing his brother on the Spanish throne. A marker on the sidewalk marks Kilometer 0, the center of Spain.

There are also statues of King Charles III, Madrid’s best “mayor” because of all he did for his capital city, a bear pawing a fruit tree (the logo of Madrid), a fountain, cartoon characters like in NYC’s Times Square, and crowds. Streets feel even busier than in London.

From Sol we walked back to Plaza de Cibeles where we got off the bus from the airport. More architecture along the way, including a building with crazy equestrian statues on the roof. And who puts a giant Faberge egg on top of a building? Madrid does! Then into that white Palacio de Cibeles, now the CentroCentro Cultural Center. 5 stories of art and architecture displays, but we went for the observation deck on the 8th floor. Finally got a good view of that traffic-jammed fountain, and views on all sides of the city. Plus great upclose views of the statues on the building we were in – note the anti-pidgeon strips on the heads and shoulders. Double click any photo to enlarge.

Back to the hotel for a nap – except for dozing on the flights, we’d been up since 6:00 am Friday, and it was now noon-ish Saturday, Boston time. Then a Madrid night – even more crowds. We tried a tapas place in Plaza Santa Ana – breaded veal & fries plus a chickpea stew. Back to Sol to see the tree lit up. Walked to the enormous El Corte Ingles department store where one street has giant animatronic penguins up near the roof, giving a Christmas music performance, loudly. Area was jam-packed with families singing and clapping along. Could not squeeze through the street to walk past – and the crowds just overflow into the nearby streets. So lively, and nearly every kid in a stroller is clutching a balloon or wearing a reindeer hat. Buenos noches!

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