This is the 2nd chapter of my spanish adventure that started here.
I realize I’ve not been totally honest with you. Frequent readers may think I was riding my bike through Spain. Truth is I didn’t put my hands on a handlebar for 3 weeks. My only means of transportation were public transit: bus, train and subway.
I left my story on the Media Distancia from Jaén to Madrid, which made me leave the warm and sunny south for a gray, wet and cool north. I don’t say Andalusia is all warm, Granada lies in the mountains and had already cool nights.
The capital city of Spain is less antique than other spanish cities, but it has lots to offer to visitors. It’s treasures are more hidden and I was glad to have a perfect host and guide during the few days I spent there.
She showed me first the Buen Retiro area. Right behind the Prado museum and the royal church of San Jeronimo extends a large garden that unables the city to breathe.
Among the numerous statues of the garden, one is dedicated to the devil, and is supposedly located at 666m above the sea level. I didn’t check.
Most of my favourite buildings are from the 19th or early 20th century. It starts with the city hall and then continue all along the Gran Via. I’ve never been to New-York, but it’s what the perspective of this street echoes for me: New-York in the early 20th century (the pictures don’t render this effect).
My host showed me also the best map library in Madrid, Desnivel, so I had a place to spend hours in case rain prevented me to enjoy the outside. I actually did so, and spent money. I also went to 2 of the most famous art galleries of the city : the Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
I went multiple times on the Plaza Mayor.
I also wandered north of the Gran Via, but there weren’t that much to see in this neighbourhood, just a nice atmosphere.
On the second day we visited the Temple de Debod, an Egyptian temple saved from the waters of lake Nasser.
Then the royal palace and the Barrio de La Latina had nice architectural gems.
The 3rd day, on my host’s thoughtful suggestion, we headed to the nearby city of Alcalá de Henares.
Alcalá de Henares
This university town is the birth place of Cervantes, and is scattered with old university buildings, whose roofs are a paradise for storks. Really, they are everywhere, even on the university’s coat of arms.
We visited Cervantes birthplace. I knew nothing about him (and I just ordered Don Quichotte on Amazon to do something about it).
Inside the university was this inscription in a very nice font. I will see several time this font on historic buildings, especially in Salamanca.
I was amazed by the number of storks on the city roofs. There are none of them in the South.
The city hosts also a palace with rooms that are replications of famous palaces, one of them being the Alhambra. Unfortunately it was closed, but it has fine architectural mudéjar (Muslim architecture in Christian Spain) details on its outside.
The city is also where Christopher Columbus met for the first time the king and queen of Spain to talk about is project. It adds up to the city’s great historic importance for the country.
Back to Madrid, I took a high speed train to Toledo, only 35min away from the capital.
I spent the night here in the most unusual youth hostel in Spain, it is actually a castle.
The city centre is up a hill surrounded by the Tage river. It means the cobbled streets are often steep, it gives a very special atmosphere and although it’s a relatively small city you can easily go away from the tourists who often stick to the main sights. Also, visitors come often on a day trip from Madrid, the city is thus much quieter at night.
Among the main sights are obviously the iconic Alcazar and the cathedral.
The city hall had also great lights at night. My night time pictures are better than the day time because the weather was rainy in Toledo.
As a change from erasmus students or international party-goers, my room-mate was a spanish speaking only pilgrim, on his way from Valencia to Santiago. What a quiet night.
In the morning I went for a walk on the other bank of the river, enjoying the panorama over the city.
I visited several small museums and buildings, including the San Ildefonso church which offers also nice views from its towers.
In the afternoon I went back to Madrid for a last night there, in a lively hostel this time.
Then I headed to the Chamartín train station, situated in the office and finance district of the capital.
I went on north and up through the Sierra de Guadarrama to enter Castilla y León. This time there was snow outside.