Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bull fighters wear pink floral socks

My first impression of Madrid was the beautiful buildings; everything seemed so crisp, clean and original. In Milan, the older buildings are aged and discoloured; Madrid looked as though they just had a town working bee with high pressure hoses galore. While Madrid is endowed with a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets.

My second impression lay strictly on the shoulders of the buskars. They spread from bridges to alleyways and were littered in Piazza Mayor. I think you can tell a lot about a city by their buskars; with that in mind, Madrid is extremely entertaining, interactive, proud of their heritage, and they like to play statues. We saw toothless accordian players, Flamenco dancers, Rave Party Glitter Goats, Bull fighters in pink floral socks, a spiderman, Mickey, Winnie and Sponge Bob, as well as a lot of people painted one colour and getting paid to stand extremely still.

I must admit that I presumed my first impressions of Madrid would involve the influence of the bull fighting, soccer, flamenco dancers and tapas.... not an overweight smoking spiderman! Don't get me wrong, Madrid left a great impression on me, it is just not the ideal final image to drift me off to sleep at night. (I am purely doubting his super powers, not his entertainment value.)

Royal Palace of Madrid was well worth the visit to witness its ambience. Statues aligning, perfectly manicured garden, and the perfect backdrop for our daughter to explore the playground on offer.

The Buen Retiro park, founded in 1631, was another example of Madrids pride in its city and surroundings. Prestine gardens, beautiful for exploring with small lakes, large statues and a 'Crystal Palace', (which in hindsight just looked like a really big empty glass avery or greenhouse). The weather was cold enough for the top of the smaller ponds and the water fountains to ice over, (best not to test that with a nice pair of leather shoes). We even managed to witness a cleaner in a water fountain (Plaza de Espana) with a shovel breaking ice to make his way to clear rubbish, rolling cans across the frozen shelf. Bbbbbrrrrrr.

Madrid hosts the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, Las Ventas, established in 1929. Las Ventas is considered by many to be the world centre of bullfighting and has a seating capacity of almost 25,000. Madrid's bullfighting season begins in March and ends in October, so we visited knowing we would not witness any action, which I was admittedly happy about, (I only recently discovered what happens to the bull at the end of a chase... no he does not go to a farm to play with other happy carefree bulls!) Las Ventas also hosts music concerts and other events outside of the bullfighting season, this week the circus had come to town.

We ventured to the Rasto Markets, (held every Sunday), to be greeted by hundreds of small stands selling new and second hand articles, handicrafts, paintings, antiques, fabrics, books, junk; practically everything including the kitchen sink. Isn't it funny how most market items tend to be universal? Hippy table runners with bells on the end, screen printed "I love ..." t-shirts, 'genuine' leather bags (not 100% convinced). There were definitely some treasures to be sourced, such as old antiques, gas masks, oh, and don't forget the horns...
As a holiday, Madrid was a success. My daughter got a the requested unicorn cake for her 3rd birthday, and I got to reacquaint myself with a good friend. Madrid has jumped to my top 3 in worldly destinations. Why was I so impressed? There is just a nice feeling. There are many beggars in the streets jingling their coffee cup at you in the hope of donation, but this is not any more prevelant than any other European country we have visited. Madrid has a nice balance of old and new. It is modernised with great shopping and food, but it still holds great respect for its history of food, wine, flamenco and bullfighting. Even though the man at customs stole my wine, two tubes of vegemite and threatened to confiscate my paw paw cream, I still arrived home thinking about our next trip to Spain. You can not dampen my spirits because 'the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane'.... although, next time, I think we will drive!

IF Interesting Fact

Madrid enjoys more cloudless days than almost any other city in Europe, and we managed an average high of 0 degrees. (Information boards said "+0 degrees", see cup half full, what happy and optimistic place!)

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