- Spain - Part II - Castilla Region around Madrid
See the beautiful Castillian region of Spain around Madrid; Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Salamanca, and El Escorial.
Madrid, the capital city of Spain
One of my favorite European countries to visit is Spain. Part of the Iberian Peninsula, it shares the peninsula with Portugal to the west. Spain is so interesting because it is a country of so many contrasts. Each region in Spain is unique and even has its own language dialect, although the country is united by Castillian Spanish, the official language of the country. Castillian Spanish was once the language of the king, the monarchy in Spain, and so many hastened to learn it and speak it. Today, it is the Spanish that is spoken by everyone and taught in school, but English has replaced the language in the business world, and today all of European business uses English.
And, of course, where did the Castillan Spanish language originate, but in Madrid, the modern capital city of Spain. And this is where our visit begins. The vibrant, colorful, passionate city of Madrid is one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. The people are friendly and enjoy meeting foreigners, especially Americans. There is much to see and do in this city of more than a million people. It is large and constantly moving and there is always something to do in this capital city. Madrid defines the Spanish people as its beauty, culture and passion is palpable.
One place I always stay while in Madrid is the Hotel Espana at the Plaza de Espana. It is centrally located right off La Gran Via, which is the main drag through Madrid and the main shopping and business center of the city. It is moderately priced even with the euro now as the currency in Spain. Moderately priced, however, is about $200 U.S. per night, but you are in a European capital city, and that is moderate. At each end of the block is the Metro (subway) which runs throughout the city and can get you anywhere even out the outskirts (suburbs) of the city. Across the street is a small park with statues of, who else, but Don Quijote, Sancha Panza and the author who created these fictional characters, Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra. These are the characters that represent the Spaniards and their passionate history and culture.
One of thei first places to see in the city, and the center hub of the capital, is the Plaza Mayor , the main square in the capital city which is lined with elegant shops and cafes. This is where the Spanish people meet each evening and promenade around the square. This is the social hub of the city and when visiting friends, you always meet here for a drink, tapas, or dinner, or just browsing in the beautiful shops under the arches. Here you will meet the true madrilenos, what the people from Madrid are called. La plaza, built in the 1700's, is the older architecture from Spain's history, but it is beautiful and not to be missed. Every city in Spain is built up around a plaza mayor and is the first place to seek out for information about the city. Here, there is a visitors office to obtain maps, brochures and listings of hotels. Usually a friendly Spaniard will help you call for a hotel and translate for you.
Two places right off the Plaza Mayor not to be missed are the Chocolateria and El Botin's. The Chocolateria is a small sweets shop that serves the best churros y chocolate, the thick, syrupy hot chocolate and cinnamon and sugar dusted long twisted donuts of Spain. Dunking the churro in the chocolate is a must and this is a sweet that is not to be missed while in Spain, especially Madrid.
El Botin's is a small touristy cafe, but no one wants to miss it because Ernest Hemingway frequented this cafe and wrote many of his journals and notes for his forthcoming novels about Spain. As I said, it is touristy, but not to be missed because of its literary significance.
For a cool afternoon on a hot Spanish day, visit Spain's version of Central Park, El Parque Retiro.This land was donated to Madrid from one of Spain's monarchs, Alfonso XXII, and in it stands a grand monument in his memory. It is a beautiful wooded park with gravel pathways and mounds of beautiful flowers, especially bougainvillea, twisting and winding along the pathways. In the center is a man-made lake at which you can rent rowboats and go row boating. Here is where you will find the large monument to Alfonso XXII as his statue watches over the placid row boaters in the lake. Also, not to be missed is the lovely glass greenhouse and gardens that are the source of all the beautiful plants and flowers in the park. And, of course, dotted along the pathways of the park are heladeria's (ice cream shops and stands) so you can find refreshment to cool off in the park.
As you walk out of the south end of El Parque Retiro, all you have to do is cross the street and there you are at the Prado Art Museum, Spain's national art museum. Here you will see Spain's fine collection of art, starting, of course, with the Spanish painters: El Greco, (originally from Greece, but lived his life in Spain) Valazquez, Goya, Zubaran, Murillo, Picasso, Miro, and Dali are all on display here. You could spend days just viewing the Spanish collection. Then there are galleries holding art from all over the world that the nation owns and displays at the Prado. There is something for everyone here.
Within walkiing distance from La Plaza de Espana, is El Palacio Real (The Royal Palace). Here, is where King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia entertain the diplomats that travel to Spain on official business. The king and queen live in a residence outside of Madrid but stay at the Royal Palace when in Madrid or entertaining guests. While the part the figurehead king and queen live in is private, there are many public rooms, beautifully decorated, for the public to view when on tour of the palace. This is also something not to be missed.
If you are the type that likes to shop til you drop, then off to the Puerta del Sol you must go. Here is the main pedestrian street full of all the clothing and shoe shops you can think of featuring stores from all over Europe and even America. There are cafes and ice cream shops along the way so you can sit and rest and get lunch, snacks, beverages and drinks. Spain's large department store, El Corte Ingles, can be found in the Puerta del Sol, and literally offers everything you would want to buy by even having a grocery store in the basement. It is a one stop store. Spanish fashion is very colorful and very fun!
If you want to stand in the exact center of Spain, you will find a metal plaque embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Post Office. From here, all roads take off from Madrid throughout the rest of Spain.
If your shopping tastes run in the designer clothing category, then off to theSalamanca sectionof Madrid you must go. Here you will find such Spanish designers as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrerra, Balenciega, as well as all the rest: Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Prada, Chanel, Donna Karan New York, Max Mara, etc.
Lastly, even though Spain as a nation is now struggling with what to ultimately do with the cultural past-time of bullfighting, if you visit the Corrida of Toros(bullring) in Madrid on any Sunday between April to October, you can view bullfights if you want. But, you must have a strong stomach because they really do kill the bull in the end. It can be gruesome and difficult to watch. But, if you want to experience the ultimate passionate past-time in Spain, this is it. The matadors, (toreros) are magnificent to watch and literally sparkle and shine in their traje de luces (suits of light) covered with sequins in the bright Spanish sun.
As far as dining goes, any restaurant or cafe will serve you jamon serrano, calamari, paella riojas wine, tapas and cafe con leche. Food is always fresh in Spain with colorful vegetables on sale at the many farmer's markets that spring up each morning in different parts or sections of Madrid. Food is bought fresh daily as refrigeration is not as good there as in the U.S. So, what is bought is eaten that day. Meat and fish are also fresh each day at the outdoor and indoor markets. Grocery stores usually offer American products.
The easiest way to get around Madrid and probably the cheapest is by using the fine Metro (subway) system they have in the city. It is clean and fast, although crowded during the rush hour times. Hang on to purses and wallets during these rush hour times as there are pickpockets and especially during the summer at the height of the tourist season. If using a taxi, be sure to negotiate the price BEFORE accepting the taxi ride so you are not charged an exorbitant amount of money at the end of a five mile ride, for example.
Once you have seen Madrid, then you are ready to venture out and see the other important cities in the region of Castilla, but that is for future hubs,
Copyright 2012 all rights reserved Suzannah Wolf Walker
- Salamanca, Spain - a beautiful university city in the Castilla and Leon region of Spain.
See and read about the lovely city of Salamanca, Spain, the home of the University of Salamanca since 1218. It is a great place to study and has a thriving Spanish and international student population.