Sunday, August 15, 2010

Madrid: after two days

While I had seen Spanish movies filmed in Madrid, and enjoyed the Madrid Pavilion at EXPO 2010 in Shanghai, I really didn't know what to expect to find when I arrived in Madrid this past Wednesday. A few people had told us they had heard it gets awfully hot in the summer, and most Madrilenos who have the choice, escape the city.

Unlike Barcelona, which many friends had visited and highly recommended, few of our friends had been to Madrid. So we were somewhat apprehensive about what we would find.

Since we were planning to spend one day in nearby Toledo, we decided to book 4 nights in a hotel before getting our direct flight back to Vancouver. We considered another AC hotel, but after a bit of research, Sally thought we should try the number one rated hotel (out of 458) on TripAdvisor, a website we have used extensively.After arriving by bullet train from Barcelona in less than 3 hours, we were not disappointed, either with the hotel, or our first impressions of the city. We have now been here for two days, and are still fascinated by the place.

The Hotel Atlantico is located on the Gran Via, an urban 'expressway' that was carved through the city 100 years ago. I know it's 100 years old since the city is celebrating its centenary this year with banners and a series of events....including running blue carpeting the length of the street this past May!

The hotel was built in 1921 in what can only be described as an eclectic style, during an era of significant redevelopment in Madrid. However it has been substantially renovated over the years, and today has about 100 rooms, a small elegant breakfast restaurant on the first floor (the reasonably priced breakfast includes cava and three different kinds of orange juice) , and lounges and a roof-top terrace on top.

Our bathroom has twin sinks, two shower heads, and floor to ceiling doors leading to a small balcony. The attention to detail throughout the room is outstanding. The safe is specially sized to accommodate a laptop computer, something an increasing number of travelers desire, but rarely find.

Now as for Madrid, if Barcelona is Vancouver or San Francisco, Madrid is Toronto or Chicago. It seems a bit edgier and lively, although it's hard to imagine a place livelier than Barcelona. Barcelona is older than Madrid, and while the latter doesn't have an area comparable to L'Eixample, it does have many grand streets, squares and public places. There are marvelous buildings in every conceivable architectural style, and a few inconceivable styles, including what is called 'Madrid Baroque'.

The city is surprisingly green, with numerous parks and gardens, including a very large park right in the centre of the city.

It also has a lot of impressive palaces and government buildings (after all, it is the capital of Spain). We had been told that one of its best features (especially in the hot summer) is the large number of truly world class museums where the art of Spain and much of the world is on display. (After visiting a few, we didn't see any Canadian art, although we might have missed it.)

The most famous and impressive museum is The Prado, although we thoroughly enjoyed the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which showcases the private collection of a now deceased German Hungarian Baron and businessman and his wife. Not only is the collection spectacular, (I'm not talking about a few paintings on display; in total, there are more than 1,000 works by most of the world's most famous artists), but the gallery is very well designed. Once the palace residence of the Baron and his wife, it was recently expanded to showcase both the Baron's collection and the Baronesses' personal collection. (She was a former Miss Spain who was previously married to an actor who played Tarzan).

After two days, we have only seen a small part of the city, and It is difficult to describe it in a few words. So here are a few pictures of the central city, many of which were taken from the top of the hop-on, hop-off bus known as Madrid Vision. I'm told it's no relation....

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