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Published: April 6th 2016
Today was our first official day on our Contiki Spain, Morocco and Portugal Trip. Our trip leader, Nihar, gave us a quick orientation tour of the central tourist area of Madrid including the Royal Palace and the Plaza Mayor. Then, we separated into groups to discover Madrid on our own.
The first place we decided to visit was the Royal Palace. We joined fellow Contiki travelers Erin, Caitlin, Tezlyn, and Edwin. On the way to the Royal Palace from Plaza Mayor we discovered a random sheep parade on the main street. With a bit of research, I discovered that the parade is a protest from neighboring shepherds in defense of ancient grazing, migration and droving rights that are being threatened by urbanization and modern agricultural practices. It was very interesting seeing rural culture on the streets of Madrid.
After watching the sheep parade, we made our way to the Royal Palace. We waited in the queue while enjoying a great performance from a musical duo consisting of an accordion player and a male opera singer.
Pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the Royal Palace. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the official residence of the Spanish
Royal Family. Today, it is used mainly for tourism and state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the royal family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead to live in the Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. The palace reminded me a little bit of the Palace of Versailles in France with the decorated rooms and painted fresco ceilings but on a much smaller scale.
After visiting the Royal Palace, the group headed off to a nearby restaurant for lunch where we tried various tapas and seafood paella. For dessert, we headed to the Chocolateria San Gines, a café in central Madrid known for serving the best chocolate con churros in Madrid since 1894.
After dessert, we headed to Retiro Park where there is a statue of Lucifer, the fallen angel. It is a little weird and controversial to see a statue of the devil. I probably would not have noticed it if it were not for our tour manager, Nihar pointing it out as an attraction to visit in the park.
The group split up after the park. A few people went back to the hotel where we were staying to find a
bar that was playing the Australia rugby game. My sister and I headed off to visit the two famous museums in Madrid, the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia. Since it was Sunday, both museums’ permanent collections were free to visit after a certain time.
We first headed to the Reina Sofia museum. The Reina Sofia museum, known more as a modern art museum, houses the famous painting by Pablo Picasso, Guernica. The large painting reflects Picasso’s powerful political statement and reaction to the bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
The Prado Museum, is the main Spanish national art museum in Madrid. It holds the finest collection of European art, including works from Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch. The best known work on display at the museum is Las Meninas by Velazquez. The painting depicts the young Margaret Theresa surrounded by her entourage of maids, chaperone, and bodyguards. Behind them, Velázquez portrays himself working at a large canvas. In the background there is a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. There is a similar painting in the
Dali museum where Dali replaces the young Margaret Theresa head with an egg.
After skimming through the museums we headed back to the hotel. As a group we headed to the main square. We had our first taste of calamari sandwiches, while being entertained by an individual talking loudly to himself in the streets. Luckily, there were firefighters nearby if the situation escalated.
Then it was time to hit the various bars and clubs in Madrid. Our tour leader, Nihar knew a couple of locals who could get us free passes into the clubs. However, we did not realize how expensive the drinks were. A glass of rum and coke cost me 10 euro. Apparently, the bars charge tourist more than the locals. Not fair 😞. We partied until approximately 1:00 am and then as the party started to die down Renata and I decided to head back to the hotel.
We thought that we could take the metro back, because the doors to the metro station were open. However, we did not realize that the metro stopped working after a certain time. We ended up getting stuck inside the metro station for a period of time.
Tipsy and freaking out, we were finally able to push through a door to get out onto the street. Then we took a taxi back to the hotel. An interesting end to a great day. Tomorrow we head off to Granada, home of the Alhambra.
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