[R] Madrid

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September 16th 2007
Published: September 21st 2007
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On Saturday we flew to Madrid, the second greenest city in the world, to begin our Contiki tour. We arrived at about 4pm, checked into our hotel, and enjoyed the heat (about 30 degrees) until we met up with the group for the first time at 6pm that evening.

The first part of the night involved doing administration things for the tour, but at about 8.30 we headed for our first dinner as a group. We quickly found out that a lot of the Spanish don't speak English, and are quite rude to those who don't speak Spanish! After dinner our guide led us into the city centre to a bar for our first night together. Our next stop was a seven storey nightclub, but after finding out the price of the entrance fee (20 euro's each) we decided to go back to the hotel instead.

Sunday morning was an early start with our group, as we headed off for a guided tour of the Royal Palace - the old residence of the Spanish royalty, with over 2000 rooms! Each room is designed in a different theme and the richness of the decoration was dazzling. Most of the artwork and chattels are hundreds of years old and are still maintained meticulously. From the main courtyard there are fantastic views of the outskirts of Madrid and there was a neat exhibition of medieval weaponry and armour in one corner of the courtyard.

After the guided tour, we were driven to the 'Valley of the Fallen', a tribute to the soldiers of both factions lost during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The valley is located about an hour out of Madrid in the hills which are set aside as uninhabited parkland. From afar, a huge cross can be seen protruding from the mountainside and as you get closer its size becomes more and more impressive - it is over 100m high and weighs over 200 tonnes. Even more impressive though is the church built into the mountainside beneath the monument. The church is one of the biggest in the world and was constructed (at enormous expense) to display natural rock in the roof. The views from the terraces in front of the church across the valley are mostly of forest with the city in the background and the location had an awesome calmness due to its distance from civilization.

The rest of the day was ours to spend as we liked. After being dropped off in the centre of town, we spent the afternoon with another couple on our tour - firstly trying to visit the Prado museum which was unfortunately (and unexpectedly) closing just as we arrived. The majority of places in Spain close for their afternoon siesta, so it was difficult to find somewhere that wasn't closing. After a good walk though we eventually found a place where we enjoyed some tapas and beer, before heading down to one of the plaza's to enjoy sangria in the sunshine and our last few daylight hours in Madrid.

The next morning we were off to Barcelona by coach.

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