Early in the morning in the Plaza de la Villa followed by the Palacio Real. Guided tour of the Palacio Real and a short walk of the Royal Armouries. Gathering of musicians at the Plaza de Oriente near Theatre Real. Relaxing stroll in and around Parque del Retiro for lunch before heading back to the Palacio Real to explore the surrounding parks and Plaza de Espana. Bullfight at the stadium in Plaza Toros.
We set off early in the morning to Palacio Real, just 10 minutes away from Puerto de la Sol. Along the way we passed the Plaza de la Villa where a monument quietly stands in the middle of the square. This is also where the ancient Town Hall building stands, making the square one of the most historic sites in Madrid.
A few minutes later, we arrived at the Cathedral de la Almudena which sits just next to the Palacio Real. But just when we were about to cross the road, two investigators in a undercover car flashing police badges came up and asked whether we knew about anyone flashing fake Aussie dollars. They brusquely asked us a few questions, but eventually knew they were wasting their time. With no time to lose, we were back on our way to the palace.
The grandness of the Palacio Real could not be underestimated. The guilded front gates at the front of the palace and the Plaza de la Armeria gave a reassuring sense of security while the guilded lamps within the square seemed to take me back to the time when I went away to Paris. However, the clocktower on the facade of the palace seemed to take all the attention, with its distinctive bell showing at the top. From a picture perspective, as it was early in the morning, I found that the polariser on my camera proved useful in taking the clocktower and the square. Looking at the clocktower reminded us that it was time to go and explore the palace interior.
After buying our tickets, we were taken in by our guide for a tour of the rooms. Some of the highlights included the stairwell at the beginning of the tour, the huge dining room, the paintings on the ceiling of the opera hall and the huge throne room. Throughout the tour, the guide explained the origins of most the items - I was amazed at how many items were made outside of Spain before being brought back to the palace. Once the home of the Spanish royal family, the palace is now used for state functions. While on tour, we could take photos, provided that we switched off the flash.
After finishing our tour, we left the palace to view its exterior. By now the area had adopted a festival atmosphere, mostly contributed by a symphony orchestra performing a score outside the palace. Lots of people had crowded the area, making it difficult to see what was happening, so we decided to walk through the Plaza de Oriente to Teatro Real. Surprisingly enough, there was a jazz quartet performing on the steps of the monument of Filipe IV.
Since Madrid is such a small and compact city, we had no problem proceeding to Parque de Retiro for lunch as the Opera metro station was nearby. After this, it was just a case of hopping on to the right lines and getting off at Principe de Vergara. From here, we entered the park from Calle de O'Donnell and walked towards the pleasure lake. After having lunch at an open air cafe near the lake, we headed south past the Monument of Alfonso XII and towards the colourful Palacio de Velazquez and the elegant glass building of the Palacio de Cristal. Unfortunately, the Palacio de Cristal was closed so we headed north towards the Plaza de la Independencia from the Paseo del Equador. Along the way, we passed a large group of portraitists and artists who have camped themselves along the pleasure lake along the Paseo Salon del Estanque.
By the time we had left the Parque del Retiro and arrived back in the Plaza, we were struggling to find things to do. Since all the shops were closed for Sunday, including those in Plaza Mayor, we decided to head back to the palace to explore Jardines Sabitini before going to the Plaza de Espana. In the case of Jardines Sabitini, it meant going down Calle Mayor, walking past Palacio Real and Plaza de Oriente along Calle de Bailen before descending the park staircase. From here we could get a good view of the scale of the palace, which towered above the park and its large pond.
However, we soon grew bored of the quiet atmosphere of the park and walked back up along Calle de Bailen. We then walked under the expressway and emerged on the other side of Cuesta de San Vicente with a view of the stone obelisk and a statue of Miguel de Cervantes, collectively known as the Monument of Cervantes. Unlike Jardines Sabitini, the square was alive with groups of children and famillies and people sitting around just talking, thus living up the square's reputation as a peopular meeting place in Madrid. Around the back of the square on the Gran Via were cinemas, department stores and restaurants - not surprisingly everything except the restaurants were closed.
Later in the evening we arrived at the Las Ventas bullring at the Plaza de Toros after catching the metro from Noviciado. The whole area was buzzing with activity with crowds of people either buying food from the temporary food stands, filing into the stadium or waiting for friends. With so many people, it was hard finding our section so it took some time before we were able to find our spot.
Unlike the modern stadium, people did not sit on seats, but on stone slabs which were marked with numbers to represent the seat number. Some people paid to hire cushions (I believe it was 1 euro) to sit on during the bullfight. Since it was still early, we could get a clear view of the immense size of the stadium as well as stretch our aching legs and feet. And as expected, the stadium slowly began to fill up with people until every seat was taken.
Not surprisingly, the bullfights had lots of dramatic moments but was quite cruel and bloody at the same time. It's quite hard to keep and accurate account, but the bullfighter and his colleagues, which included a man on horseback with a joust would walk into the bullring to take their positions and wait until the bull comes out. Then the fight would begin, sometimes the bullfighter and his colleagues would run behind the barriers until the bullfighter or the guy on the horse could find some way of subduing the beast.Then the cycle would continue until late in the night.
After about an hour watching, we had left to grab a quick dinner of Tapas at a brasserie in Plaza Mayor since we had a plane to catch in the morning. Although it was about 8:30pm, many of the restaurants were still empty. I guess eating dinner late here is quite popular in Madrid and with other cities around Europe. Maybe it's strange to them - but the time had come to call it quits for the day