Friday, February 22, 2019

Madrid: stately boulevards, baroque palaces, history, mystery and more

A fine place to start your tour of Madrid is at the Royal Palace,where nearby is an 8th Century Arab wall.

Madrid is an interesting blend of the practical and fanciful.
Here luncheon diners enjoy a snack in the presence of an artful bull.

STEP INTO history in Madrid, where the narrow alleys and streets of this stately medieval city wind back into a rich history, originally as an Arab fortress.
Madrid is known worldwide for its elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, a delightful place to while away an hour or two with a wonderful variety of shops and eateries.
THE ARAB influence permeates old Madrid. The city was founded on Calle Cuesta de la Vega, where a wall protected a fortress built in the 8th century by Emir Mohammed I.
Madrid is famous for ham and here at a corner kiosk
it is possible to buy a quick ham sandwich, fruit and drink.
The city's name comes from the Arabic word, "mayrit," which means "water source".
You'll want to take in the Royal Palace, at the Arab Wall, a stunning design with baroque touches and a gorgeous square.  It is now used mainly for ceremonial and public functions, and is open to the public as a museum of the building’s and the country’s history.
The reigning King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.
Madrid's plazas and squares flow seamlessly from one
street to another. Madreinos love to stroll.
The Palace is fairly new by European standards, built in the 18th century by Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, another Moorish castle.
The palace has 135,000 square meters (1,450,000 square feet) of floorspace and contains a whopping 3,418 rooms. It is the largest royal palace in Europe.
Madrid is one of Europe's most elegant and lively cities.  Dinner is usually taken after 10 p.m., and Madrilenos love to linger.  A meal typically takes two or three hours.  Impressively, the native folks don't seem to need much sleep. They don't seem to mind partying at night and still arising in time for work at 9 a.m. No problema.
THE CITY'S cultural offerings are vast and varied and there are cafes and bars for every budget. We based at the lovely Villa Real, in the Plaza de las Cortes, an upscale Derby hotel decorated with ancient art pieces and modern paintings. Throughout the city are art galleries with world class fare.
The Circle of Fine Arts at Alcala Street is known for its graceful design.
The stately Prado Museum, one of Europe's most famous cultural treasures, was putting the finishing touches on a major renovation during our recent visit.
Museo del Prado was founded in 1819 as a public showcase for Spain’s royal art collection. Since then, the national institution has far surpassed, in both world renown and collection size, the walls of its exquisite 17th-century home. Like many old Madrid buildings, it was built as a palace 200 years before it became a museum.
 In an effort to preserve its authentic architecture and modernize its gallery spaces, the Pardo undertook a major renovation. The Hall of Realms was just finishing its "redo" when we were there a few weeks ago. A huge competition four years ago determined the architectural firm.
This ice cream and dessert cafe has an easy view of lines
for lotto tickets. The crowds near the back are in line too.
But the Prado is not the only arts museum worthy of your time.  There are several dozen, and many have free admission on certain days.
Remember to make your dinner reservations early if you're dining after 9 p.m. We remember the time we booked an "early" dinner-dance show -- for 11 p.m. (The late show seating began at 12:45 a.m!)
MADRID is lively, vibrant, changing.  Ladies dress smartly, with tight jeans and form fitting blouses and plenty of decolletage.  The men dress more stylishly than many other Europeans. Especially in an early cool spring, and throughout winter and autumn, you'll rarely see a woman without a nattily tied scarf.

A fine production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe features three dozen rock 'n' roll,
 blues and other classic pop tunes, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
UP NEXT: Curtain going up on an exciting spring arts season in southern California.  From Hershey Felder's masterpiece, on the life of Beethoven, to a snappy rock-n-rollin' "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and other engaging musical and dramatic picks, we'll explore  the best of our lively arts scene. San Diego Musical Theater offers a fine "Crazy for You" with Gershwin's magic, and ambitious Cygnet tackles "Angels in America."  Theatrical treasures await.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh approach to travel, nature, family and the arts.


  1. Fun piece, lots of information and lovely photos. Qe are staying near the Royal Palace right now.

  2. This column always brings a smile to my face. What fun these two fellow travelers have on the road, and how well the photos and prose fit. Lucky you two. Enjoy, enjoy, and keep sharing please!

  3. We visit Spain every other year. This is the year. Thanks for the memories of one of the world's great cities. We are staying at "your" hotel, too. Love the Derby properttoo. Know you enjoy the Claris in Barcelona. Do you know their London ones? Spectacular, tio.