24.07.2008 - 28.07.2008 -17 °C
We arrived in Madrid to find it hotter than hot, a great city that didn't have the old world elegance of Paris and Rome but had its own edginess and vibe. We booked into a great little hotel that had a fantastic air conditioner - with 40 degree days, trust me we needed it. Upon arrival we signed up for a free city tour and got a taste for what the city had on offer. We decided to hit the Palcio Real and the Reina Sofia, as both were highly recommended by our tour guide.
Palcio Real is the official residence of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia and we decided to take a tour of the palace which has 2800 rooms (however only 50 are open to the public.) To be honest I was a little disappointed with the palace. The room where King Carlos receives official visitors was in dire need of renovation - mirrors were dirty and an air conditioning unit sat awkwardly in a corner. The so-called royal pharmacy was simply a room filled with old (probably empty) jars and most of the armoury exhibit contained copies as the originals were on loan to the British museum. Having flash backs to my visit to the Governor- General's residence and being dismayed with the state of the carpets - how could one entertain the Queen in a room that had faded carpet and scratched furniture??? I decided to head to the gift shop and buy a postcard to send my grandparents. I searched high and low and couldn't find a postcard with a picture of the royal family on it.................what kind of gift shop was this??? As you can imagine Jeremy was hardly impressed with being dragged around the palace and was not interested in my rantings regarding the lack of royal paraphernalia on sale and the state of government buildings, so we decided to take a breather and head to a local coffee shop for lunch while we mulled over our next tourist visit.
We decided to take in some art and had been told that Reina Sofia was a cutting edge modern art museum and it did not disappoint.We decided to take an audio tour of the four levels of art and by the end we had learnt as much about Spanish history as we had about modern art. The exhibitions were wonderfully presented and the collection was overwhelming. By the time we got to the fourth floor we were completely exhausted so we decided to find a tapas bar that came highly recommended by our guide book. As we wondered around turning into unfamiliar streets and alleys we unexpectedly stumbled onto the main prostitutes drag. At first I thought they were just a couple of girls dressed up for a night on the town but as we walked another block we saw more and more girls in groups hanging out on the streets with their pimps close by in the shadows and curb trawlers hovering on corners. We decided that there was no way we were going to find the tapas bar in this area so called it quits and walked to a more safer area for paella and sangria.
Jeremy - We also went along to a bull fight, by all accounts a poor display as the Matadors were inexperienced, but also as it was an completely unfair fight! But as it was part of the culture we went along with all of the other tourists to see the show. And it was crowded, that is until the end of the first fight when half the audience left the arena. We stayed on till the end of the last fight, they had six in total. The basic format involved the bull being lead out and the tormented by 5 matadors on opposite ends of the arena who jump behind a wooden fence as the bull draws near. These guys wear the bull out by making him run back and forth. Next a trumpet sounds and out come heavily padded (blindfolded) horses and a rider with a spear. The bulls are enticed to charge the side of the horse so that the spear can be driven into its back. Then each of the original tormentors has a go at sticking a barbed stick in the bulls back as it charges at them (or stands still) and then after the blood is in free flow the matador enters. He plays with the bull for a while, which is impressive when done well, and then pulls out a sword is mean to drive it into the bulls back and kill it in one go. Unfortunately this only happened in one of the fights. I have some video which I won't post in which it took 5 stabs at the exhausted bulls back to bring him down, even after this the "assistant" had to twist a knife into its head with legs kicking and sad moo's echoing around the stands. After the bull dies decorated donkeys trot out and are attached to the bull which is the dragged out the the slaughter house out the back leaving a train of blood.
We left somewhat bewildered at what we had seen and I couldn't help thinking that I would like to breed some super bull to come back to let loose on them!