Madrid Diary Day 4: High Places

Madrid, Spain – Tuesday, October 15, 2019

[Find this travel series here]

Today we visited Thrones of Men and Thrones of God. It was epic. We walked over 30,000 steps and our feet (and muscles) are feeling it! When we woke we knew we had a long day ahead of us with an afternoon hiking excursion out of town. But, we had to take advantage of being only a few short steps away from the Royal Palace.

The Palace opens at 10:00 am to the public, so we arrived just before. On Saturday the queue wrapped down the street and around the corner, so we were excited to have only a couple dozen people directly in front of us. The long line to the left (in front of the gates) were people who had pre-purchased tickets. Interestingly enough, they had to stand in line longer than we did.

Hot Tip: GO EARLY! We learned the importance of beating the crowds when we discovered that people have to line up again after entering the palace courtyard in order to gain access to the palace rooms. We didn’t have to stand in a second queue, but when we exited the palace the second line in the courtyard was at least an hour-long wait … yikes!

Plaza de la Armería

This massive structure actually has 3,500 rooms!!! The public is given access to see about 30 rooms. We rented the iPad audio guide which was excellent and I strongly recommended it! If you are interested, the entire video guide is available to watch here. Meanwhile, I have a few images to share with you, and a little video montage.

Fun fact: This is actually a painting made to look like a photograph. It was originally titled The Royal Family [circa 1992], but since then, there’s been a lot of drama. After a sordid love affair came to light, King Juan Carlos I [center] abdicated his throne to his son Prince Felipe [right], so the painter was forced to update the title to The Family of Juan Carlos I, since the portrait doesn’t depict the reigning royal family anymore. Personally, I don’t think it is very flattering of Princess Cristina (short white dress, left side of Papa King) but since she and her husband are under investigation for fraud, maybe that’s fitting… ah, nothing like a good Royal Scandal!

Today, the new royal family does not live in this palace. However, it is still used for entertaining heads of state and other major royal events, so it is diligently guarded and beautifully maintained.

From the outside, it’s difficult to imagine how colorful, elegant and sumptuously decorated each room is inside! The finest materials and priceless craftsmanship were used! There are only a few places where photos are allowed, so I took advantage of those.

Every room seems more ornate than the last. The art! The tapestries! The chandeliers! And so much GOLD! It’s simply stunning!

Some of the best rooms could not be photographed. So, here are two that someone else took (i.e. blame them) …

The Throne Room – Photo courtesy ElMundo.es
Gala Dining Room – courtesy Flikr.

I am so glad we went early, we didn’t have to stand in long lines, and we experienced this beautiful and historic palace!

Here is a little video of all my Madrid Royal Palace images

We jogged back to our apartment to grab our backpacks. [Hot tip: You DO NOT want to take a backpack to a museum or a palace. They will have to scan the bag, and then it must be checked for to you claim it later. It’s a big hassle.] Then we jogged to the SOL metro stop and took the subway north to the Charmartin Train Station for our next adventure!

The public transportation system in Madrid is very efficient. However, just like NYC, there are enterprising panhandlers. Some of them are quite talented and offer entertainment for tips.

North of Madrid is the Main Train Station – an incredible hub that allows you to catch a train to nearly anywhere in the entire country. It is near the 4 tallest (and only) skyscrapers in Madrid.

We were instructed to use a CERCANIAS machine (the grey colored ones in the photo, with the red C on them) to purchase a ticket for the 2:15 PM train departing for Cercedilla.

Our train was assigned Platform 8 and luckily we got on the train BEFORE 2:15 because the doors literally closed promptly at 2:15 and we started moving! Here’s my little video showing the beautiful changing scenery on our journey to the mountains. 🙂

Our one hour train ride brought us to the end-of-the-line village called Cercidilla – population 7,000 – at the base of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains. The word Guadarrama is a reflection of when the Moors held Spain – derived from the Arabic words for sandy river — Guad from wadi, meaning river, and arrama from ar-rama, meaning sandy.  We met our cheerful guide Marcos and he led us on a wonderful 3-hour hike into the National Forest that literally starts right from the train platform. We were also joined by Allie, a nice young woman from Alaska who had just finished hiking the Camino Portuguese route and was headed home tomorrow.

Cercidilla

The four of us had a grand adventure walking through the beautiful forest and breathing in all of that fresh clean air! The villagers are allowed to graze their livestock in the National Forest, so cows and horses are seen wandering free. The alpha bulls have bells around their necks so the herd will stay together and can be easily found. The horses are trained to come to their masters when called. During our hike, we enjoyed seeing many of these carefree animals, such as this curious bull who looks like the favorite children’s storybook character Ferdinand.

There is a natural spring in this mountain to be enjoyed, and water bottles were filled from a spout installed in the rocks. Locals are very proud of this pure water source.

Marcos was also a fountain of knowledge. He was born and raised in this village and loves his mountains. He leads hiking and horseback riding tours as a licensed guide, and does a great job sharing the history and culture of this area.

Marcos

We learned that the Sierra de Guadarrama is part of a mountain range that divides the North from the South of Spain. They have played a role in every major war on this continent. We found this experience through Airbnb here.

These trees could tell so many stories.

This particular area was used in the 1930s as Hitler Youth “summer camps“, and also by Franco’s labor camp army during the Spanish Civil War. There are still old abandoned buildings and half-buried swimming pools that were built for these purposes. A few of the lodges have been preserved by the government, and are now primarily used to house firefighters during wildfire season.

Marcos said that most of the locals never knew about the Nazis, and never talked about Franco’s conscripted army in their backyard. Perhaps those who did know lived in fear [or shame] and never told their children and grandchildren.

Just a few years ago some archived photos were posted online that was a shocking revelation for the younger generation here. Marcos showed us these images. [I haven’t been able to find them yet to post here]. We could stand right where these images showed soldiers standing, camping, and marching. Chills.

Today, these beautiful mountains stand peaceful and welcoming. Only the sound of birds, gurgling streams and the clang of cowbells break the silence. Our walk was such a lovely respite from the city I wished it would never end.

Here is a short compilation of our hike for you to enjoy.

When we caught the return train to Madrid it was a “double-decker” model, so we had a nice view from up top.

Back to the city by Metro, we embarked on another misadventure. Attempting to use Google Maps to find a new restaurant we wanted to try, we ended up walking for over 30 minutes in the dark before discovering we had walked in a giant circle! UGH!! By now it was after 9 PM and we were so tired and hungry we felt like crying [at least I did. Jeff was too “Hangry” to weep]! A woman walking past noticed our distress and asked in perfect English where we were trying to go. When I told her the name of the restaurant, she said, “Oh! That’s right by my house! Come with me!”

Off we followed in a completely different direction we never would have taken. Her name was Amanda, from Alabama. She has lived in Madrid for the past 4 yrs teaching English. Teachers are treated and paid VERY well in Spain, and she has fallen in love with Madrid. It was fun chatting with her, and hearing her experience as an ex-pat. Upon reaching the restaurant we thanked her profusely. She even went the extra mile explaining how to get back to the plaza that would take us toward our apartment. What an angel!

The small popular restaurant was packed with its dinner crowd, and very loud. We squeezed ourselves into 2 remaining bar seats. Thankfully the meal made all of our wandering worthwhile!


After dinner we leisurely strolled back to our apartment, enjoying a lovely clear evening – and recognizing the landmarks around us. We ARE finally “getting” this city after all! It is circular and branching out like a spider web, but very walk-able.

Back home again I am doing a quick load of laundry in the washer so I can hang everything up to dry for the morning. Very few people own dryer machines here. This is for multiple reasons: to save energy, to avoid high power bills, and probably most of all because of space. There’s literally no room for dryers and trying to vent them in these tiny old apartments. So, we wash and hang, and all is well. Having an actual machine instead of sink washing, and wringing things dry by hand like we did last year on the Camino is such a luxury!

What a very long and eventful day! Tomorrow is another BIG excursion day! Adiós mis amigos! – Holly

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