5 hours by bus to Madrid and I was thinking I would see all sorts of vine yards, but it was still full of those freaking arboles de aceituna, olive trees. Ah well, the next day the mountains would be full of snow.
In Madrid I enjoyed the good public transport system with the metro. Tortilla with espárragos for dinner, like I was missing the Irish breakfasts with all the eggs. At the end of the dinner the asparagus were foating in my stomach with all the wine. (They only sell per bottle. And hey, I payed for it, so I'm gonna drink it till the last drop of wine, after all I'm still Dutch.)
This day was really an overkill of art. I went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, which was huuuuge. Like every important painter had one or more of his (rarely her) paintings there, chronologically ordered on the four floors. Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Theo van Doesburg, Huszar, Munch, Frans Hals etc etc; from all Western countries and all centuries.
More than 3 hours later I chilled out in the Retiro, the main park of Madrid. Palacio de Velazquez had an exhibition of freaky modern art and the Palacio de Cristal is a bit of a lousy attemp to copy the Crystal Palace. On top of that, the rose garden was dying. But hey, it can be blamed on the civil war against Franco.
On my way back to the hotel I thought that I should make myself a bit useful by donating blood. They have those revamped buses that are parked on main squares and it's just a matter of hop-on hop-off. I filled in the paper and a nurse checked my Hb level. There was a nice machine for that, but she preferred to use a 100 ml beaker with a blue-coloured liquid. By the way the drop of blood fell in the liquid and dispersed itself, she determined I definitely didn't have aneamia. After having confirmed I was not British (because of the BSE) everything was set and done to go. In the meantime I "learned" from a fellow donor that she was convinced that Algerians are the most moderate and the best men you can get. Ok, thanks, I'll keep that in mind. Afterwards they gave me a sandwich and soft drinks. I finished that off with two more dulces.
The queue to go in the church of La Virgen de la Almudena was too long on Friday, so I went a day later. It's a fancy one for a change, with only here and there a few antique artefacts. The spacy ceiling was rather surprising. A guesstimate is that the (fake) roman part of the ceiling was painted in the sixties and the neo-gothic arched part does have some strong ninety-seventies colours. The church was built in 1883; in 1993 the Pope decided that church was allowed to be devoted to the patron of Madrid.
The Palacio Real is next to it and very, very impressive. The Royal palace contains the best preserved 17th and 18th century interiors. Now that is some good example of excellent handcraft of (gold patled) plaster works, embroidery, paintings and tapestry. It's kind of the king and queen that they allow us mere mortals to stare at their belongings (ok, they use the building for international peace negotiations as well. It's always nice to see what others do with your tax money...). Further, there was an exposition of 17th century Flemish tapestry. Those people must have had some surplus of patience; I'll probably write something about that some time.
Last, I walked back to the city centre and passed en passant a tromp l'oeil that even fooled me.
Then it was time for a whole day to do absolutely nothing.
.... and on Monday 12 november 2001 going back home to Ireland....
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The story goes something like this (full story and pictures):
In 712 Madrid (also called Mantua, Miacum, Ursaria) was an insignificant village, but the Mores already had a good gut feeling that it was a strategic location. So they took over. Some catholics feared for the future of their sacred Holy Mary statue (imagen de la Virgen Maria) to get lost because of the islamic religion of the Mores, so they hid it in a wall. To mark the location candles were lit in that area.
A couple of hundred years later the catholics liberated themselves from the muslim suppression and the start of the search for the statue kicked in. I'm talking about 9 November 1085 now. The procession brought them to a location what the Mores called the Almudin, a deposit for corn, and guess what? They found the statue there. The people thought it was a mircale that it survived for more than three hundred years.
More blabla about it, but essentially this is it and the people from Madrid celebrate this occasion of the Virgen de la Almudena every year.