Madrid in June was buzzing but not crowded and, on day one, we opted for a cycle tour of the city to orient ourselves and get an overview of this capital city
Three hours of wheeling around the inner and outer central city with Diego, getting his interpretation of the history and the best was a most enjoyable use of our morning. Cycling gets you into the heart of the city as well as to the hidden places, covering more ground than a walking tour would allow in that time.
We had easy access from our apartment into the city via the super clean and efficient Spanish metro. We really enjoy using public transport in big European cities. Once in the city, the town was buzzing already with pedestrians walking to work, or having their morning coffees at various cafes.
We loved the tight little alleyways and wide streets, the parks and open spaces, the almost French style of the inner city buildings, the markets, streets lined with little shops and then major chains dominating the Gran Via. We toured the Palace our second day, lining up early for the opening to avoid the crowds we had seen waiting the previous day. It is a magnificent building, but sadly we were not allowed to take photos once inside. Suffice to say, it was worth the visit and we marvelled at the no-expense-spared decorations and furnishings, including a room totally decorated in porcelain from walls, to ceiling (if you click on the link “Palace” ↑ above – you may see some photos of the rooms). Our visit covered less than a third of the structure but it took some time to cover the rooms we were allowed to visit. Facing the palace is the cathedral, but this building looks like a glorified railway station from the exterior, something doesn’t quite fit. Instead, we opted for a visit to the Basilica of St. Francisco el Grande, a magnificent domed cathedral. Again we marvelled at the rich decorations and magnificent paintings.
The dome was painted in a 3-d effect so that the apostles around the edges seemed to stand proud of the structure. I can assure you that all the paintings are flat on the surface. What skill and artistry!
Despite the constant hum of Madrid traffic evident in our apartment, we enjoyed our stay and, once again, we headed out to our next destination, the historical city of Toledo, via the quaint little town of Aranjuez, where we stopped to wander the gardens around yet another royal palace.
Approaching Toledo were lovely views of the cathedral sitting high and proud, and the old town had a definite character and charm that was missing in big city Madrid. Our accommodation was right in the middle, and driving there through very, very narrow streets and sharp, steep corners was not for the faint-hearted, but we had car parking under our hotel so could leave the car and explore. By now, summer temperatures were hitting Spain, and we were glad of narrow shaded streets although it was very busy with lots of tourists.
We loved the view from the roof terrace of our hotel of the cathedral lit up at night. We started early the next day again to gain the most of the cooler part of the day and missing some of the hordes of bus tourists arriving later to take a tour of this cathedral, including access to the bell tower for views over the town and a close up of these huge bells. The cathedral here was built in the 13th century and added to over subsequent centuries, but is said to be on the site of an early Christian church dating from around 580, subsequently replaced by a mosque, and now it is a magnificent cathedral. This seems to be a recurring theme throughout Spain, reflecting the history of this land. Toledo itself once saw Moslems, Jews and Christians living and working together in harmony.
Toledo was a lovely hilltop town and the vistas across the plains were appreciated from many points as we wandered the walls and alleyways. We bought marzipan/almond flavoured muffins and biscuits from a nun after pressing the convent bell down a secret side alley for entry; we toured the El Greco house with its history and art displays; we saw the ancient Cristo de la Luz mosque with an interesting history; we ate well and enjoyed our brief sojourn soaking in the history of this place. It was definitely a great choice, despite its closeness to Madrid, to spend a few nights here right in the midst of the ancient town.