Madrid: Calles y Plazas

As many of you may have read, the past few days have been hard for Brad and I as well as our family back home. It is so hard losing someone you love, especially when you are too far away to help the emotion and grief that ensues. But all we can do is continue to take my grandfather’s traveling spirit and love for photography and carry those themes through our own journey.

With that being said, let’s talk about Madrid!

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We landed in Spain with our winter coats in hand, as we had just come from chilly Scotland. In the cab from the airport we took off our coats, rolled down the windows, and threw on our shades. We were finally WARM! We checked into our apartment, tossed on some shorts, and went to bask in the sun and explore the beautiful city that is Madrid!

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Prado Museum

According to our tour guide, Madrid was actually settled by Arab Muslims in 851 and called Ma Harid, meaning”mother of water.” The Christians arrived in around 1085 and built onto the city, eventually adding a wall around the city, as most ancient Roman cities do. There is one section of remaining Roman wall and believe it or not- it is in the basement of a burger place! We went to see it on our tour!

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One of my favorite things about Madrid has been the architecture. The Spanish style architecture on the big buildings mixed with the terraces and bright colors of the apartments makes such a lovely, vibrant area. You can even find some buildings that look distinctly out of place and learn that those are the original Muslim designed buildings. The differences and blending of the two cultures in some squares is really interesting.

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We loved walking through the streets and smelling the paella cooking. We loved all the trees and the random parks and fountains that would pop up. We learned all about San Isidro, the Patron Saint of Madrid, and saw several churches dedicated to the Saint.

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We understand/speak a little Spanish, which helps, but at first were a little too nervous to use it. We would toss in a word, here or there, but it has been years since I was immersed in a Spanish program! (Almost 10 in fact, yikes!)  When you don’t use a language that long it is hard and embarrassing to jump right back in. After a while, I became more comfortable and began ordering our food in Spanish, then asking for directions in Spanish, and my most glorious moment was when someone asked us “When did you buy them” and I was able to say “We bought the tickets online, two or three days ago.” I felt like I needed a golden star.

Señor Jenkins, where ever you are, thanks!

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The Spanish LOVE their town squares. Apparently, the brother of Napolean Bonaparte… José Bonaparte (I am not kidding).. came to rule Spain and decided he didn’t like the narrow streets. They were cold and windy in the winter and hot and smelly in the summer. So he knocked down a bunch of stuff and made squares/plazas all around the city. The three largest and most popular squares are Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza Santa Ana, although there are many many more.

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Puerta del Sol is kind of the epicenter of life in Madrid. It houses the largest subway station, tons of shops, and is the center hub for many streets that spoke off it.

There are always these random Disney-esque characters walking around the square looking for photos and money. It’s very random. But what’s even more random is when you see a Mickey Mouse LIFT OFF HIS HEAD to reveal a creepy little dude beneath it. Ha!

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Puerta del Sol is also home to the famous Oso y Madroño statue. The Oso y Madroño is the symbol of Madrid. The Oso (bear) is climbing up a Madroño tree for the fruits. Our tour guide showed us some of these trees in town.

This icon all came about after some debate about the separation of church and state, many years ago. There was a debate about who owned the land, and who owned the items on top of the land. It’s a long story, but the bear, the tree, and the stars (in the icon) above represent the unity of church, state, commoners, royalty, etc in the city of Madrid.

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The Plaza closest to our house was Santa Ana. We frequented the restaurants here for a mid-day cocktail. It’s a wonderful place to sit outside and have a bite to eat or a drink and people-watch, without being in the craziness of the bigger plazas.

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Drinks in Santa Ana

Plaza Mayor was about 7 minutes from our apartment. In the center is a statue of King Phillip III on a horse. A sad but humorous story talks about how the horses mouth used to be open and sparrows would fly in and get caught .  They would die inside the horse and let off a terrible smell in the square, but no one could figure this out.

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Much later, during a celebration for the 2nd republic, some local hooligans tossed a firecracker into the horse’s open mouth. It went off and hundreds of bird bones flew out everywhere, revealing where the smell came from. They now nicknamed the statue “Sparrow Cemetery.”

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The streets and plazas of Madrid have been so much fun to walk around. They are full of life and food, sights and sounds.

I will sign off this blogpost with perhaps the strangest statue we have ever seen. Somewhere in the median between two random streets lies this fat, naked woman sunbathing. Interesting, Madrid, Interesting.

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Anyone have any insight into this one?
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