Our arrival into Madrid in the late afternoon of Saturday 12th was not without incident. I had pre-booked a shuttle transfer and, thought I was quite clever having navigated through the Spanish web site in doing so. We discovered on arrival that our booking was indeed in order but, we just had to wait. The whole arrival hall had emptied by some 10 minutes or so and the few of us who cleverly pre-booked, waited and waited whilst taxis sat there empty!
Anyway, our apartment was surprisingly big and located in a quite Calle but close to the action. We wondered out at about 9pm and found a quirky café where we dined on re-heated frozen meals with some locals and watched the bizarre events of the Eurovision song contest unfold. We really missed Elliot for this one! A couple of young guys next to us were really getting into the music. The whole experience was like an out of body one, amazingly surreal and we all stumbled home not quite sure of what to make of the evening.
We woke fairly late on Sunday morning and headed to El Rasto markets by metro which Mark actually thought were El Ratso! Annabelle and I found something to buy though (a not so novel experience) before we drifted up to Plaza Mayor for a tapas lunch in the outdoor square; declared the best food in Europe so far by Annabelle. A siesta was in order for all of us by this stage so, we headed home and lazed whilst Spanish music drifted in through the windows before setting out again for Museo Del Prado. A fairly short queue gave us entry for a quick tour through this gallery of masterpieces by such artists as Botticelli, Goya and a long list of celebrated Spanish artists (who we had never heard of). From there we ventured up to Parque Del Buen Retiro, the largest parkland in Madrid, along with the whole population of greater Madrid. This area was a hive of activity as the city prepares for celebrations to mark the feast of the patron saint of Madrid, San Isidro, on Tue 15th and it is also the official start of the bull fighting season. After that, it was home for a night ‘in’. We wanted an early night before our day trip out tomorrow to Avila and Segovia.
Our day trip to Avila and Segovia was a long but rewarding one; 10am – 7pm. Both ancient cities were fascinating for their architecture, history and sheer beauty. The outward bus journey was full of incident for the kids. Annabelle spent the hour and a half trying to work out the Spanish for ‘stop pulling my chair’ for the elderly Castilian couple sitting behind them.
Our first stop was Avila which is surrounded by the best preserved Roman walls in all of Europe, complete with 88 towers and turrets which many are home to nesting storks. The main claim to fame for Avila though is that it was home to St Teresa. The church built in her honour actually incorporates rooms from her original home. We visited the most beautiful chapel within this church which was her actual bedroom! Her body is spread across Europe apparently but they have relics of her ring finger and sandal housed next door.
From there we set off to Segovia and, more translation issues for the kids during the bus trip. Tom took photos of the offending couple. All the guide books claim that Segovia is the most spectacular city and Spain and, from our limited experience, we would have to agree. It is an ancient city located on top of a rocky outcrop with the imposing Cathedral, Castle or, Alcazar and an aqueduct clearly visible from a distance. Close up, the city is a maze of narrow cobble-stone lanes, beautiful old limestone buildings and numerous churches, all centered around the occasional ‘place’ or square. The aqueduct was built in the first century and in use until recently, an imposing construction of limestone without any mortar! The highlight of Segovia has to be the 12th century Alcazar though. On approach you feel you are stepping into a fairy tale with the castle very reminiscent of the one at the beginning of Walt Disney movies. It rises above the rocky crag with numerous gabled roofs, turrets and crenellations. It became home to the great Catholic monarchs of Spain, Fernando 11 and Isabel 1. These guys were the movers and shakers of the Spanish Inquisition though.
From there we headed home for a night ‘in’ but, not before Annabelle and I spent some time shopping at Sfera; beautiful clothes at a reasonable price. Overall, the day got a huge vote of appreciation from all of us, kids included.