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Kilometer Zero at the Gateway of the Sun – Jun 22, Mon
We absolutely love our hotel Vincci Via 66. Smacked right in the center of Madrid, we have easy access to the major tourist spots in and around the capital of Spain. The hotel is beautiful too. We would consider staying in Vincci Via 66 if we are to visit Madrid again.
Yesterday was a day of museum crawling. Today, we have planned to visit the monuments and the places of interest. The first location Cynthia picked was called “Kilometer Zero” at Puerta del Sol (“Gateway of the Sun”). It is where all the road network in Spain converges. I was expecting something dramatic. Unfortunately, due to on-going construction, the place looked like a mess. I would imagine when the construction is completed, this futuristic looking train station (doesn’t this design remind you of some of the buildings in Valencia?) set in the backdrop of the square arranged in half-moon would be quite a beautiful scene.
We had our breakfast near Kilometer Zero. Pretty unimpressive breakfast. Lesson learned: avoid anything that looks like a chain restaurant store.
Plaza Mayor is just a stone’s throw away from Kilometer Zero. It is a rectangular square and we read that in the past, there was much to have happened on where we stood. Bullfights, executions, pageants and trails by the Inquisition and on the wall of the Casa de la Panaderia are the allegorical paintings of semi-naked men and women. Cynthia’s nose bled here in Plaza Mayor (not because of those paintings for sure!), got me worried for a moment. But life of a ‘model’ as such, she just had to continue posing – with a smile.
We visited the tourist information center at Plaza Mayor, got ourselves some maps and itinerary. And since Cynthia and I are not too much into the small shops around the plaza, we made our way into the Cathedral.
Catedral de la Almudena
On our way to the Cathedral, we have come across some interesting historical buildings. Avid reader of my site may recall that I was trying very hard to locate that one Spanish song we love and heard over the air again and again. To put some context to that entry, we heard someone blasting that song on the ground level of an old building near the Military Cathedral Church (photo #12 in the album). I really wanted to walk in and ask if he or she knew the song title.
This Cathedral in Madrid is considered as the latest addition in Europe. Consecrated by his Holiness John Paul II on June 15th, 1993, this Cathedral took 114 years to build. If you think that 114 years is a long time to build a Cathedral, we are still patiently waiting for the Church Sagrada Família to be completed in Barcelona – 150 years in the making.
The Cathedral looks modern, although its architectural design looks like many other Cathedrals in the world. There is a museum on the upper floor. On our way to the lift, we met a group of young Spanish children, happily chatting and bouncing and they greeted us in Mandarin! Just like the friendly teenagers we have met in Valencia. We smiled wide and replied, “¡Hola!”. One of the kids stopped us, in all eagerness to learn and asked, “Cómo se dice adíos …”. He wanted to learn how to say goodbye in Mandarin. I taught him and he was happy, bouncing around saying zaijian. Such sweet kids they are.
If you recall, we walked right into a Rosary praying session in Valencia. Guess what happened in Madrid? We walked right into a Mass. You can’t turn away from a Mass that happens right in front of you. So we joined the Mass, received our Communion, felt blessed and renewed and continued our journey.
Cripta de la Catedral
Never in a million years would I visualize myself walking inside a Crypt. That is just creepy. Nevertheless, we were told that the Cripta de la Catedral is beautiful so we gave it a shot. It took us some time to locate the entry, which is at the side of the Cathedral.
The Crypt, is breathtaking. It is called the Temple of Saint Mary’s Royal of Almudena – a dedication to the patroness of Madrid. Supported by a jaw dropping number of columns – 558 in total – this Crypt contains 50 columns of monoliths of a single stone. Such an elaborate construction of a temple underground.
Without saying, the Crypt contains many tombs. Some are occupied, some are not. Some are – I presume by reading the tombstones – occupied and will be occupied by the entire family, in the past and in the future. Some tombs are very elaborate, having their own halls. Most are on the floor and we have to be careful on where to step onto.
Time for Lunch!
After our visit to the Cathedral and the Crypt, we felt hungry. Although the Palace is just opposite, we have decided to take a detour, walk inside the park, and look for a place to eat. Needless to say, with the dwindling amount of cash we had, we looked for a fast food restaurant. Like McDonald’s.
As we walked, along the streets of Madrid, we realized that most of the shops were closed during lunch hours. And they remained so for a long time, like a couple of hours. Such is the culture of siesta. The shops often close late in Spain, in making up the hours. What an interesting culture it is.
Palacio Real de Madrid
In case if you wonder, “real” in Spanish means royal. After a well deserved lunch, we entered the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Photography is not allowed inside the Palace. From what I recall, it is beautiful inside. Do rent the Audio Guide for a lively and detail description of all the major rooms inside the Palace that are accessible by the public.
By the time we were done with the Palace, it was around 5 pm. We had a few options such as the Real Madrid football museum (more for Cynthia and less for me). Cynthia was too tired to continue. So I picked an Egyptian temple to visit while Cynthia stayed back in the train station, resting her feet and enjoying her well deserved ice-cream.
Temple de Debod
This ancient Egyptian Temple de Debod was built in the 2nd century BC. It is now located next to the train station Príncipe Pío, surrounded by a park. Late afternoon, and the sun was very punishing. I reckon the temperature had risen to the high thirties. To best capture this ancient Temple in photo, I would recommend an early morning visit. I did what I could, with the very unfavorable lighting condition.
Shopping at Príncipe Pío
We returned to our hotel Vincci Via 66, freshened up, and inquired at the hotel reception on where we could find the stores of Zara and Mango. The friendly hotel staff consulted her colleagues, cracked a few jokes (I wish I could understand!), and recommended Príncipe Pío. We were just back from Príncipe Pío! And Príncipe Pío here we came again.
The mall at the train station Príncipe Pío is cosy. A group of teenage girls passed us by and one of them push one of their friends into my direction. We all laughed it off. Such friendly culture. Although we didn’t manage to find anything worth buying, we had a delicious Italian meal. Next to us was a family with kids. One kid knocked the glass of wine off and the poor dad’s shirt and pants were soaked in wine.
Before I finish off this day’s journal, here is one useless fact to share. A bottle of drinking water in Spain can cost anywhere between 0,60€ to 2€. And the drinking water in Madrid is certainly not cheap.
We looked forward to tomorrow, whereby we would fly to a beach resort – an island east of Spain.
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 9 too.