A visit to Madrid & Toledo Spain
After departing Nice, France we flew to Madrid, Spain and found that the Madrid Challenge bicycle racing event was taking place on the Paseo del Prado. As our hotel was located a short distance off the intersection of the Plaza de las Cortes & the Paseo del Prado, our taxi driver (after repeated attempts) finally told us that he could not get us to our desired destination. The bicycle racing event barriers were effectively blocking crossing access (cars & pedestrians), requiring pedestrians to walk to the Estacion del Arte circle, and then walk back up the Paseo del Prado to our hotel.
With tens of thousands of people watching the bicycle racing, we quickly realized that we were not going to be able to walk on the Paseo del Prado while rolling our suitcases behind us! Celeste fired up her cell phone mapping Application, and found us a "back street" route to reach the hotel.
Even though it wasn't exactly the arrival we had anticipated, we were glad to arrive and start our Madrid exploration. The back street route wound up revealing some interesting pubs & restaurants, so it was useful information for use later.
If you have never been to Madrid & either you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;
During our trip planning, we had researched VRBO for a Madrid rental that would give us quick downtown access, and be close to the places we wanted to see. Not finding anything that fitted our requirements exactly, we decided to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Madrid-Prado. We made that decision because the hotel is very nicely located, and within easy walking distance of most of the Madrid sites we planned to visit.
Here are examples of how well located this hotel is; a number of art museums are located within three blocks, the Royal Palace area is a 1.7 kilometer walk and the Paseo del Prado (a major Madrid street) can take you from one end of Madrid to the other.
Our first day's exploration was to visit the Royal Palace on Calle de Bailén. We took a taxi there to be sure that we were "early visitors". Even though we were early, the lines at the visitor's entrance were already filled with people waiting to purchase an entrance ticket (image #1). So we used our cell phone to obtain online tickets and we were immediately allowed to enter the "advance purchase tickets" entrance!
From the visitor's entrance, you have to walk across the Plaza de la Armería court yard and then walk to the entrance area - which is to my right below the flag.
The entrance to the Palace is in the center of this picture, and the walled area on the left overlooks the Campo del Mora gardens.
The entire Royal Palace complex is in really excellent condition, and considering it's construction was completed in 1755, it is in amazing condition.
This bronze baroque statue of Felipe IV (Philip IV of Spain) stands at the centre of the Plaza de Oriente park across the Calle de Bailén from the Royal Palace.
The Plaza de la Armería as it exists now was laid-out in 1892, according to a plan by the architect Enrique María Repullés. However, the history of this square dates back to 1553, the year in which Philip II ordered a building to house the royal stables. This picture is looking south from the Palace and that is the St Mary Royal of the Almudena adjacent to the Palace complex.
The neoclassical Columns Room (Salon de las Columnas) in the Royal Palace, It was used for the celebration of dances and banquets until the year 1879 when Alfonso XII's first wife died.
The Palace Grand Staircase is composed of a single piece of San Agustin marble. Two lions grace the landing, one by Felipe de Castro and another by Robert Michel.
Our interior tour of the Palace was not a guided tour (there is a guided tour available), as we wanted to be able to move about at our own speed and to view rooms of our own selection. Needless to say, the entire interior is a stunning living museum.
Inside the palace rich materials were used: Spanish marble, stucco, mahogany doors and windows and important works of art, particularly frescoes by leading artists of the moment as Giaquinto, Tiepolo and Mengs and his Spanish followers Bayeu and Maella.
After we completed our tour of the Royal Palace, we decided to walk north into the Parque del Oeste and find a place for a quick lunch. We wanted "quick" because we were on our way to the Teleférico de Madrid, which is a cable car from the park to the Casa de Campo. This isn't a long walk, and you will pass through a couple of nice parks along the way.
On our way out to Casa de Campo. It is the largest public park in Madrid (6.8 square miles), and was once a royal hunting preserve.
Taking the Teleférico de Madrid out to the park beats trying to drive out there, this is a direct route, and we didn't have to look for a parking location!
We had decided that the plan for our next day was for us to visit some of the nearby museums. We tried to obtain tickets for the del Prado, but it was "sold out" that day. So we decided to visit the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza which was only several blocks north of our hotel on the Paseo del Prado.
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the Museum but they have a really good collection of art works and it is nicely laid out for visitors.
After the Museum, we we looked for a lunch spot by walking along the Calle de Antonio Maura to the Puerta de España. This is considered to be the entrance to El Retiro Park.
This view is looking west toward the Prado Museum, as we were headed back to our hotel. You can see a few of the more than 4,000 rosebushes in the garden.
We had read a number of people's reviews about Madrid, and many of those stated that one must try the chocolate churros at Las Farolas.
The Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas restaurant has been in business for over 100 years, and they have several other locations scattered about Spain.
So we stopped at Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas. The best churros & chocolate we have ever had! They are located at Calle Mayor, 11, 28012, Madrid, Spain at the intersection of Calle Mayor and Calle de San Cristobal.
One of our goals while in Madrid, was to experience a Flamenco show, so we attended one at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton. The singers & dancers were very good and the flamenco guitarist was excellent.
This was during a break in the Flamenco show, the musicians and dancers were changing costumes, so we ordered another round of sangrias.
You can acquire your tickets online at Viator in advance of the show, highly recommended, as we saw a lengthy line waiting to purchase tickets at the door when we entered with our reservations.
La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton serves drinks & food as well as dinner if you so choose. We don't have any flamenco experience, but we thoroughly enjoyed the show.
We had decided to have tapas one night, and we only had to walk a few blocks from our hotel to this highly recommended restaurant, La Meripepa.
Our next day's adventure was to visit Toledo, only 87 kilometers from Madrid. We got our tickets from Viator. You would have to select from several different types of bus tours, we took the "Toledo half day" tour.
This is the first view we had of Toledo as the bus crossed the River Tagus. I would assume that the bus followed this route to give our tour group a great view of Toledo, and if so they certainly made it nice for us!
This Jewish emblem notes the boundary of the original Jewish section of the old city. However, during the Spanish Inquisition all Jews were expelled from Toledo and none live there today.
The courtyard of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. This is a beautiful building and quite famous!
The original church was completed in 1504, commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Mass is still celebrated here!
The Monastery chancel is decorated with an altar (mid-16th century) from the former Santa Cruz Hospital by sculptor Felipe Bigarny and painter Francisco de Comontes, depicting scenes from the Passion and the Resurrection, as well as two scenes of the Santa Cruz legend.
We had just exited Jardines del Cabo Noval (park near the Royal Palace) and had entered the Teatro Real area when we saw this street performer. Yes they are pan-handling, but you have to admit that it was a unique costume!
I should mention that it was a warm day, and we were wondering how this street performer could remain still for such long periods of time without hydration?
This was our last dinner in Madrid, we ate at the Fogg Bar Birras & Cheese on the Calle de Moratín about 1.5 kilometers from our hotel.
That item in the picture above is a Spanish version of nachos with a guacamole sauce and it was delicious! The restaurant had a very good draft beer selection, of which we put to good use too.
The name of this establishment might make you think that it was just another pub, but their food was quite good and the restaurant filled up rapidly while we were enjoying our dinner.
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