Feast of San Isidro

Madrid, Spain

Tue 15th

Tuesday was a public holiday in Madrid in honour of their patron saint, San Isidro. The feast is marked by a full week of celebrations, concerts and fireworks in the streets, theatre, opera and parks. There are also daily bullfights as opposed to the regular weekly fights.

Our day started out ordinarily enough for us but finished on a high note with the festivities of this feast. We had been advised that shops would be closed and that there would be celebrations around the city but, that was an under-statement!

After a rather lazy morning with the only energy spent by anyone being that used to fight for computer access, we set off to the end of our little calle to pick up the open-top bus tour. There were two routes, ‘red’ for the old and ‘blue’ for the new Madrid. It was a beautiful, mild and sunny day, perfect weather for sight seeing and watching the preparations for the different celebrations being staged around the city. This tour gave you a good perspective of the city, showing the key sights and different neighbourhoods of Madrid. We would have been better doing this on our first day but it didn’t really suit our time table. I would recommend this to anyone coming to Madrid.

We decided to spend the evening in Old Madrid and watch the San Isidro festivities down there. In the late afternoon we wondered down towards this area through Puerta del Sol, a large square surrounded by shops and the famous ‘Tio Pepe’ sign. From there it was a short stroll to Plazor Mayor for a return visit to our friendly waiter “Danny” (as in ‘de Vito’; the pictures make this obvious) for a drink and some chorizo tapas, our favourite of the trip! This Plazor is the perfect place for sitting back, relaxing and watching Madrid pass by. It is hard to believe though, that this Plaza with its peaceful café scene was once dominated by bull fights, executions and trials of the Spanish Inquisition. Throughout the day we had seen men but mostly women and children dressed in the traditional folk costume, Castizo, of the old working class Madrilène throughout the city but there numbers had really started to swell by now. They were all gathering nearby in preparation for the 7pm procession from Iglesia San Isidro that was to follow 6pm Mass.

We wandered down towards the church where the narrow lanes and small squares of the old town were crowded with people. They were spilling out of the cafes and bars and into the streets drinking, dancing and celebrating. From ages 2 -102 the locals were celebrating in full colour, pageantry and style. We were lucky enough to grab a table at one café in a small square and share in the fun as a large family group of locals danced their traditional dance in full costume as they waited for the parade to start. We snapped lots of photos but I am concerned that neither they, nor my words can convey the magic of this whole moment. We felt rather special and privileged to be able to share so closely in on their excitement and fun on this occasion. It was truly a special and magical experience, a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event. Look at the photos! We left to grab a viewing spot along the road once they all started to drift towards the church. This was no easy feat. The crowd was three and four deep along the route but I was able to communicate enough with some ladies to allow Tom to sit in front of them, a prime front spot at the head of the parade. My concerns that he was inching too far forward and likely to fall into the path of the initial set of horses in the parade was matched by theirs. After a short while I could hear them babbling to him with only the occasional familiar burst of ‘Tom’ being shouted in warning. The parade was a solemn spectacle but it was refreshing to see such positive passion consuming so many, both young and old.

The procession continued on and most spectators ran on to follow it on its path towards Palacio Real where there was to be a major concert and fireworks later in the evening. We wondered the streets, throbbing with people and parties, for a while before settling at an outdoor table in a small square for some raciones for dinner. We chose this place because of the elderly gentleman playing some weird sort of wind up piano bursting out local tunes. From there we headed home along much the same route which was now filled with street markets and an amazing array of very talented buskers. Some were complete with double bass, cellos and violins!

All in all and ordinary day had finished extraordinarily for us. We had shared in one of the greatest parties of Madrid. If you ever venture into this city, I suggest you try to do so to catch the celebrations of May 15th!

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