With three weeks on the winter school holiday calendar, a haphazard plan to escape the grey of Central Europe, if even for a few days, was hatched. Truth be, the grey doesn’t really bother us; Washington, D.C. isn’t all that sunny in the winter, either, but when great airfares to a typically sunny clime are available, why not soak in a little Vitamin D while you can?

Madrid was our destination. Anna Grace and I left the boys at home for a long weekend of endless college bowl games, movies and pub dinners, arriving in Spain’s capital on 1 January.
Our concern that few attractions would be open on New Year’s Day was well-founded, but to make up for it, the city’s stores, markets, and restaurants were buzzing with activity.  It seemed that all of Madrid had decided to come out and play to welcome the new year!
Beautifully manicured parks lead the way toward the Royal Palace.

Peeking through the palace gates.

Seems the palace may need a little makeover.

Almudena Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Madrid, and consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The cathedral is striking from all viewpoints.

 

Leaving the Royal Palace grounds we walked with smiling, happy, people along Calle Mayor toward Madrid’s biggest (and terribly touristy) square, stopping with great excitement to discover that the Mercado de San Miguel was OPEN!  Crowded aisles of happy people slurping oysters, sipping Sangria, and sampling everything from fried anchovies (yum!) to the traditional Churros y chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 

16°. We could feel the sun pinking our cheeks. Oh, Madrid.

Madrid surprised us. Friends have described the city as “dirty” and “uninteresting.”  Coming from Vienna, our perspective on “dirty” is skewed, as Vienna is almost too clean. Madrid seemed no dirtier than any other large city, really. As for the “uninteresting” part, we have to disagree there, as well. On New Year’s Day the streets were alive with people shopping, eating outdoors, walking and laughing. Add in the sunshine and it was the perfect recipe for enjoyment.

Anna Grace and I bet this gentleman had been serving tapas his entire life.
As expected, Plaza Mayor was tourist tacky, but the people watching made up for the commercialism.
Spiderman?

Strolling around the streets surrounding the plaza felt, at times, like walking about Paris or Budapest or even Kiev.

This photo was taken later in the day; we loved the contrast of the building and sky.

Ceramic tiles are here, there, and everywhere in Madrid.  If I were living in a real home (that is, one that I owned), a hefty shipment of pretty tiles would soon be adorning my bath.

In Austria some families decorate their balconies for Christmas with a Santa Claus doll that is climbing up a ladder, presumably to deliver gifts. Even now that seems a little strange to us given that it is the Christ Child who brings gifts on Christmas Eve in Austria and not Santa Claus. But, whatever. Never, though, did Anna Grace and I expect to see The Three Wise Men climbing up balconies across Madrid, too!

Later in the day we walked over to the Temple of Debod, a gift from Egypt to Spain in the 1960’s for their assistance in helping save other Egyptian temples from a potential dam break. Why yes, Egypt dismantled a 2nd century BC temple and gifted it to Spain.

The temple sits in one of the gardens adjacent to the Royal Palace, and with the weather being so magnificent it would have been a shame not to walk about.

On our way toward the hotel we paused to admire the Church of St. Theresa. From the front the structure appears as a fortress stuffed between buildings; only when walking behind the church is one treated to views of the mosaic dome.

 

Our time in Madrid being limited, we flipped a coin between the Museo del Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza; the former, of course, home to the old masters, and the latter, to Picasso, Dali and a few other more contemporary artists. The coin toss was in favor of Prado; in hindsight, though we enjoyed the do-it-yourself tour of the “Top 50 Masterpieces,” perhaps we should have gone with Guernica and the limp watches.
Our walk back to the Metro from Prado was splendid, however. Light showers had ended, and the sun peeked out just enough to color the skies for our enjoyment.

Of course we ate well.  Anna Grace and I like Tapas as a concept, but we always seem to order ones that contain something we just don’t like, so we stuck with the known, like croquettes, empanadas and Sangria while waiting for our Bocadillos at a little stand up bar. A perfect snack to keep hunger at bay.

Staring at the curing Iberico hams while waiting for our sandwiches made the time pass pleasantly, too.

Bocadillo Calamares, fried calamari rings in a toasted baguette. Genius.

While the Prado seemed more like an obligation, our lunch in the cafe was truly voluntary and among the finest museum food we have enjoyed. Fresh Gazpacho, a shared Spanish cheese plate, and a raspberry tarte. Just the sustenance needed to tackle Velazquez, Rubens, and their pals.
A final snap in Madrid. We did not sample, so we can not comment on whether the dogs were genuine.