Saturday, August 20, 2011

Old Madrid by Bus

When I arrived in Madrid from London on July 14, 2011,  it was already afternoon.  I had decided that, given my limited time in Madrid,  I needed to get an overview of the city so I headed out to take a tour bus, Bus turistico Madrid. After consulting with the concierge at my hotel, I went to the Starbucks in the Palace Hotel building in the Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, with it famous Neptune Fountain, grabbed a sandwich and coffee and hopped on the Route 1 (Historic Madrid) bus, which stopped in front of the Starbucks.

Our first stop was Museo del Prado.  I took a few pictures, knowing that I would be going there for an extended visit later.  In fact, since the Prado was right across the street from the hotel, I did walk over there after I finished the bus trip.  But I digress from the charms of the bus trip.

The first photogenic site that I can now identify in the pictures I took from the bus (which have the charm of being cut off because of the perspective) is Puerto de Alcala.  The gate is in the Plaza de la Independence, near the entrance to the famous Parque del Buen Retiro, which I only saw in the distance even though it was very close to my hotel.  I hope I will make it back there some day.

Next up was the Iglesia de San Manuel y San Benito on  Calle de Alcala, reportedly the longest street in Madrid. The church was built in the early 20th century and is an example of neo-Byzantine movement. (Interestingly, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception near Catholic University in Washington DC is also an example of this type of architecture style.).

The bus then went through Salamanca district, which the bus tour narrative described as one of the tonier areas of Madrid.  Salamanca was the first expansion area of Madrid in the mid 19th century and if I recall correctly the streets were modeled on ones in Paris.  We spent our time on Calle Valazquez as the photos below will show.

We turned on Calle Goya, which is supposedly one of the wealthiest streets in Madrid, and headed to the Plaza de Colon, still in Salamanca.The plaza is named after Christopher Columbus, (Colon en espanol) and a statue of the same sits in the middle of plaza.  The National Library, founded in 1712, also is on the Plaza de Colon.

Our next major site of interest was the Plaza de Cibeles,  the one site I remember on my way in from the airport that the taxi-driver identified. (The taxi driver did not speak English and no hablo espanol or maybe un poquito as I told him which of course led us to try to converse anyway. ) The plaza sports the   Cibeles Palace (Madrid City Hall), the Bank of Spain  and the Metropolis Building and the famous fountain finished in 1782.  It is more or less the beginning of the Chueca district.

We then took the Gran Via, a major street in central Madrid built in the early part of the 20th century, and turned left where shortly we passed the Parque de la Montana, location of the Templo de Debod (an ancient Egyptian temple) , and wound up driving for sometime by the fabulous royal palace, Palacio Real,  and the nearby Teatro Real and  Plaza de Oriente. (Los Austrias distrist)

We continued on Calle Balien,  got our first look at the Gothic Revival style Catedral Almudena, and shortly thereafter some views of Madrid from the viaduct.  As we started on Gran Via de San Francisco, now firmly in La Latina district, we got a view of another beautiful church, San Francisco el Grande, in the neoclassic style.  We then came to the Puerta de Toledo, a 19th century gate, started by Joseph Bonaparte and finished by Fernando VII.  We returned up Gran Via San Francisco/ Calle Balien and turned on Calle Mayor.  After passing Iglesia Catedral Castrense (Military cathedral) a Baroque church built in late 17th Century,  we passed (a bit of a whirlwind unfortunately) the well known Plaza de la Villa  and Plaza Mayor which were bustling with street life as the tour books say.

Our last major site on the tour for me was Puerta del Sol area, which disappointed me a bit. Somehow I missed the elegance of the plaza containing the Puerta and instead found the surrounding neighborhood seedy, commercial and cheap looking.   It was one place I did not desire to return, although I understand the Puerta is well known place for celebrated New Year's.

All in all, Madrid on the bus provided an interesting taste of places to which I must return (ever Sol).

Plaza de Canovas del Castillo.  Neptune Fountain.

Prado Museum

Puerta de Alcala

Iglesia de san Manuel y san Benito on Calle de Alcala

Salamanca  Calle Valazquez
Plaza de Colon
Monument to Christopher Columbus
with National Library in background
Madrid's Town Hall (formerly Palacio de Telecomunicaciones) in Plaza de Cibeles 

Bank of Spain Plaza de Cibeles

Plaza de Cibeles- Bank of Spain left
Metropolis Building right

Metropolis Building

Gran Via

Parque de la Montana  Templo de Debod

Palacio Real
Palacio Real and Plaza de Oriente

Teatro Real
View of Madrid fromViaduct de Bailen
Catedral Altamuda

San Francisco el Grande

Puerta de Toledo

Iglesia Catedral Castrense
Plaza de la Villa
Plaza de la Villa-
Torre de la Lujanes on the left behind the lamp
Casa de Cisneros straight ahead
Plaza Mayor
Old Post Office Puerta del Sol

Near Puerta del Sol
Near Puerta del Sol

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