It has been brought to my attention that I may look like I am addicted to traveling. From my recent trips to New York, Liverpool and London; to the ultimate trip of my life thus far to Paris; this weekend seems to just emphasise that I may indeed have a ‘problem’. I, Roisin, am addicted to travelling. This weekend I flew across the country, and landed in beautiful Madrid to visit my boyfriend who is currently an Au Pair there. Sadly I could only stay for two nights, and thus didn’t get to see the whole of Madrid. This means that I’ll definitely have to come back again – what a hard life!
You can see all my photographs on my flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roisingrace/sets/72157648961345350/
Once landed, I made my way through the metro system of Madrid to go towards the east of the city to one of the suburbs where Malek lives. I must say, the metro is much nicer than Paris’, and it seems much cleaner! Although, who doesn’t like the smell of urine wafting around the Parisian RATP? After meeting in the city centre, we had a lovely brunch and explored the city for a while.
We spent the most of Saturday afternoon and evening just wandering around the streets of Madrid. One of the first locations that we encountered was Templo de Debod which is located in the Parquet del Oeste. It is a fully preserved Egyptian temple that was brought to Spain and reconstructed. It was originally a gift from Egypt to Spain and UNESCO in 1968. Before coming to Madrid, the temple was one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Egypt because it was dedicated to the god Isis and Amun. Sadly we didn’t get to the temple in time for the sun set, as its meant to be a great location for seeing this. However, we got to view this enigmatic temple at night, with the reflections of the building reflecting of the still water surrounding it. Whilst we were there, it was really busy – so full of people.
Apres, we carried on exploring the streets of the city and ended up outside the Palacio Real. The Royal Palace of Madrid is a beautiful building, and although it is the official residence of the monarchy they do not live there. To be honest, the heating bill must be huge so it’s probably for the best that they don’t. Our day was brought to with some lovely dinner. Sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to try any paella or tapas – a must for my next visit.
The agenda for Sunday included lots of interesting things. We decided that we would aim to get an early train to Toledo in the morning, however, because it was Sunday this meant that the trains did not run as often. Instead, we spent the first half of our day getting to see more of the city. The weather was perfect – barely a cloud in the sky and mild weather. You could not ask for a better day. We ventured to the Parque del Retiro, which is one of the largest parks in the city. It originally belonged to the Spanish Monarchy, but now it is open to all the public. For an hour or so, we experienced what it was like to be Royal (or close enough I guess…). The park is beautiful. You can enter through some magnificent gates, which lead you into a sublime landscape. Within the park are a variety of sculptures and monuments, a lake with a Monument to King Alfonso XII and the Palacio de Cristal. The Palacio de Cristal was constructed in 1887 and was originally made for an exposition. It presides next to a lovely lake, which is surrounded by beautiful nature. Throughout the year there are installations within the space, which people can come and view for free. Whilst we were there, they were in the process of setting up a new installation – this included the addition of a caravan within the space. Not too sure what that will be all about, but time will tell!
Next, we went to the Museo Reina Sofía, and we were delighted that we could enter and look around the collection for free. For those who do not know, the Museo Reina Sofía is the national museum of twenty-century artwork. The exterior of the museum is pretty impressive. Outside you can see the lifts that you can take to go to the various exhibitions. The museum predominately showcases Spanish art, which meant that we were blessed with a plethora of artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí amongst others. One piece of art that I was especially excited to view was Picasso’s Guernica. As a commissioned piece, Picasso commemorated the 1937 destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the German bombers during the Spanish Civil War. Even though I have written an essay on this painting (we’re talking first year here), I could not get over how large the piece is. I knew it was big, but this was on another level! The overwhelming nature of the piece serves to intensify the shocking ordeal that the Spanish town Guernica went through. I definitely recommend those visiting Madrid to make a visit to the Museo Reina Sofía. Whilst you’re there, stop and unwind in the courtyard of the museum.
Next on the adgenda was our eagerly anticipated trip to Toledo! I had been really looking forward to going there, because during my degree I actually very briefly studied the city with its gothic architecture. Having learnt all about Spanish Gothic and medieval art/architecture last year, it was so inspiring to be able to see such works in person. Toledo is only around 70km south of Madrid and took us 30 minutes on the train – therefore, if you’re in or around Madrid, to take the time to go and visit, you will not be disappointed. Toledo is known as the ‘city of three cultures’, because it was such a mixing pot of different religions during the Middle Ages. Within this historical city, Christians, Muslims and Jewish cultures all lived together. Such closeness meant that styles and customs were influenced and transmitted within the artistic fabric of the city.
Furthermore, something that was not aware to myself or Malek before we went, Toledo has a long history of producing weapons. This makes a lot of sense having been there now, because when you look around the various shops or shop windows, you’ll be astounded at the amount of souvenirs that take the form of swords and knifes. In fact, one shop had an impressive collection of bladed weapons relating to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the ring was there! (Probably not the real one, only because there was no sign of Gollum).
The main highlight was visiting the beautiful cathedral, which is known as the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. This cathedral is amazing. Begun around 1226 under King Ferdinand III, the cathedral is a unique blend of different historical periods and styles. There you can experience grand gothic vaults, with high ceilings and long naves; whilst at the same time be surrounded by baroque and renaissance art and sculpture. The cathedral is also infused with the influence of the Mudéjar style, especially found within the cloister. It is a truly beautiful cathedral, and I could definitely see the similarities between it with those of the French Gothic style – such was obviously transferred to Toledo.
The city of Toledo itself is delightful and charming, and despite getting lost quite a lot (so much, that we dare admit it), we always found new sights around every corner. Overall, Toledo is a must for all. At some points it even reminded us a little of York with the cobbled treats. It really is a medieval city through and through, and remains so to this day.
I had an amazing time in Madrid, and was really sad to go. But alas, I will definitely becoming back again. Not only to see my dear Malek, but see more of this wonderful city.
Warning, diversion coming up – all about travel issues in Paris:
This is kind of venturing away from my account of my trip, but getting to airports in Paris during the early morning is hard work. My flight was due to depart at 6:30 am. However, I live in the suburbs (10-15 minutes into Paris) yet trying to get to my flight via public transport seemed to be a mission. In Paris the trains do not begin running till at least around 5:15 am, and it takes on average an hour for me to get to the Airport door-to-door. Therefore, I had a wee little problem. There were also no night buses around that would get me there on time, so I had to swallow the bullet (or whatever the saying is), and book a taxi. The first taxi company I spoke to said it would be €100! Now way. My return flights cost less than that! In the end I took a taxi with G7 Taxis (after booking via: http://www.wecab.com/fr) – for those facing similar issues to what I had, I cannot encourage you enough to book with this company. Overall it cost me €59 (I shared a taxi making the price cheaper than if taking a private taxi) and I get there on time. A massive diversion within my blog post, but I thought it would be important to put my advice out there for those who potentially have the same issue when hoping to travel out of Paris during the early hours of the morning.