Feeling better rested, Michelle and I set out for our second day in Madrid. After breakfast, we walked the streets at around 10am and made an acute observation. The town was dead. There were not many people walking or driving around. Many, if not most, shops were not open. This was our first experience with a strong custom in Spain. People eventually wake up and go about their business. In the late afternoon, there is often a siesta. Generally, dinner is eaten around 8pm and then people go for a paseo (walk). After the evening meal around 9pm or 10pm, this is when the city felt the most active and a wide range of people would be out walking. This is a really cool thing and the city became alive at night.
The previous day, we had visited a cathedral named for the patron saint of Madrid, Isidore the Laborer which was an old, artistically designed cathedral. Today, we visited “Basilica Pontificia de San Miguel” a baroque style Roman Catholic Church that is now administered by priests of Opus Dei. Construction had begun on this church in 1739 and was completed in 1745. The architecture was even more impressive than the other cathedral. In this place is where I witnessed a solemn priest seated in an old looking confessional booth while studying his Iphone. I guess this moment was when the 18th century met the 21st.
All of this was warmup for one of our main visitation places, Palacio Real (The Royal Palace). This massive palace no longer houses Spain’s royal family. My understanding is that they live in another mansion nearby but the palace is still used for official state dinners and other high brow functions involving important world people.
The grounds are obviously impressive and immaculate. Not surprisingly, the palace is massive and sits across from the Catedral de Is Almudena (also called the Royal Cathedral). There are over 2,000 rooms in the palace. In the 18th century, a fortress burned down that was on the site of the contemporary palace. King Philip V commissioned this huge building to be built on the site. Philip V was French, the grandson of Louis XIV and was born in Versailles. That fact had a tremendous influence on the design of the palace.
Upon touring the palace, we entered the courtyard where horse and carriages would pull up in the olden days. We travelled inside through the palace lobby and up the grand stairs. Statues of lions seemed to be everywhere which, of course, symbolize power. The guard room revealed some very fine clocks (still running). Charles IV was apparently a great collector and amassed more than 700 that are throughout the palace.
Lavishly decorated and fancy to an unbelievable degree, we kept walking through the spaces into the hall of columns. This is room that is used for formal ceremonies for instance when Spain officially joined the European Union in 1985 led by Juan Carlos I. The designs of this particular room (from the 17th century) were implemented by Raphael. The next room over was the throne room for kings which has some amazing murals. Twelve mirrors line the throne room representing each month.
Through antechambers and other rooms, we came into what used to be Charles III’s bedroom where he died in bed during the year of 1788. We also saw a “cinema room” where in the early 20th century, the royal family enjoyed sunday afternoon movies. There was a very nice billiards and smoking room. Finally, as we exited the palace out toward the courtyard, there was a two story armory to the side. Ancient armor (some of which went back to the 1400s) were on display. Some of the pieces were worn by kings themselves.
Leaving the palace, we witnessed a solo violin player on the steps of the Royal Cathedral playing various classical pieces with a taped accompaniment. Construction on the cathedral was started in 1883. The exterior of the cathedral is a contemporary mix of architecture but the inside is neo-gothic. High, soaring ceilings define this cathedral (as it does a lot of them) and the ceiling is colorful and the 5,000 pipe organ glitters. Buried in this cathedral is the patron saint of Madrid Isidro whose coffin is located behind the altar.
After we were done experiencing the royal palace and cathedral, we walked a little north to Temple de Debod. Oddly enough, this is an Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BC that is located right near the middle of Madrid. This temple was a gift to Spain from the Egyptian government in 1968, gifted to Spain for the country’s help in aiding Egypt in rescuing valuable monuments that were threatened by Nile waters flooding the area. In this temple were some of the oldest artifacts I had ever seen in person, a few dating to 200 BC. That fact was unreal to put into perspective.
Our evening would close out by walking back through town to a restaurant named El Caldero which was a romantic spot. Here, Michelle and I had paella…and were a little underwhelmed. I’m biased from the start being not a big seafood person. Michelle thought the food was so-so. On the positive though, one of the waitors brought us a carmel liquor at the end of the meal (“on the house”) which was very tasty.
We prepared to get some rest and to leave Madrid behind as we travelled to our next stop: Cordoba.