Monday, June 27, 2011

Madrid (Nov. 18-21)

Madrid is the last major stop on my trip. On Friday Nov 18 I arrive from Barcelona. I've got 4 days booked here, including one day off for relaxing. In theory, on Tues Nov 22 I leave for Gibraltar and Tangier, and I'll be back sometime on Nov 24 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) to catch my flight back home.

One difference between Madrid and other cities is that I've got a friend who lives here (hi, Alan!) who offered to host me at his house, so I may rely on him to help plan my days here.

Frommers suggests 2 days in Madrid with a day trip to Toledo as part of their "if you have one week to see western Spain" itinerary. Given that my last scheduled day off was Nov 12, I might want to push myself to not have a day off and worry about resting and relaxing when I get home.
  • Day 1: Take a flight that arrives in Madrid as early as possible. Check into your hotel and hit the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up cafe au lait and croissant before sightseeing. Take the Metro to Atocha or Banco de España to begin your tour of the Museo del Prado, allowing at least 2 hours for a brief visit. Since you can't see it all, concentrate on the splendid array of works by Velázquez, and take in some of the works of Francisco de Goya, including his Clothed Maja and Naked Maja. Break for lunch at Plaza de Santa Ana, known for its outdoor terrazas. This was the center of an old neighborhood for literati, attracting such Golden Age authors as Lope de Vega and Cervantes. Hemingway drank here in the 1920s. After lunch, walk west to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid. This is the Times Square of Madrid. Northwest of the square you can visit Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid's art-filled convent from the mid-16th century and a true treasure trove. After perhaps a siesta at your hotel, head for Plaza Mayor, Madrid's most beautiful square and liveliest hub in the early evening. For dinner, patronize Hemingway's favorite restaurant, Sobrino de Botín.
  • On Day 2, take the Metro to Atocha for a visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, whose main attraction is Picasso's masterpiece Guernica. Here you can also view one of the greatest collections of modern art in Spain, taking at least 2 hours. In the afternoon, view Madrid's third great art museum, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, absorbing its many treasures. A visit will easily absorb at least 2 hours of your time. In the early evening, join in that ritual of tasca hopping, going from one bar or tavern to another and sampling hot and cold tapas or small plates of Spanish appetizers, ranging from fresh anchovies to the tail of a bull. You can discover plenty on your own, virtually on every street corner. After all that food and drink, you'll hardly need to order dinner. Stagger back to your hotel or else attend a flamenco show.
  • Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo : Having survived 2 days in the capital of Spain, bid adios and take a RENFE train to Toledo. These depart frequently from Madrid's Chamartín station (trip time: 1 1/2 hr.). Much of Spain's history took place behind Toledo's old walls. There is so much to see here that you need 2 days, but on a hurried visit you can visit the fortified palace, the Alcázar, with its army museum; and the crowning glory of the city, the Catedral de Toledo. The masterpiece of El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, rests in Iglesia de Santo Tomé. If time remains, see Casa y Museo de El Greco, or the House and Museum of El Greco, although the artist didn't actually live here. Toledo is known for its damascene work, so pick up a souvenir before returning to Madrid by train that night.
On Tuesday Nov 22, the plan is to leave Madrid for Gibraltar and Tangier, then come back on the 24th in time for my flight home.

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