Saturday, December 31, 2016

Madrid - Our Post-Cruise Extension and Last Stop

We were one of the last groups to disembark the ship, because we had purchased the post-cruise extension tour to Madrid (and why not?).
Spanish landscaspe outside Madrid
As we left the ship, we were greeted once again by the hotel manager, Sinjith Mohan, who we left with hugs and well wishes, before making our way to the post-cruise meeting area where we assembled with 18 other cruisers.
Really moving it
Together we boarded a bus which took us to Santa Barcelona, the regional train station where we boarded one of those high-speed trains that Europe is famous for.
Spain's National Library
When you go with Viking, you go in class and we had reserved seats in the train’s first-class section.

The train left the station 2 minutes past its scheduled time for our 3-hour ride to Madrid. The Renfe train is capable of speeds up to 300 km/hr (187 mph/hr), and we were barely out of the station when we were hitting speeds in excess of 150 mph.
The fresh seafood market
Once we were out in the countryside, we were easily cruising at speeds of 180-185 mph, and at one point the information panel indicated the maximum speed of 300 km/hr. And it was smooth. We could almost qualify for the Indianapolis 500!
Anyone want some ham?
This train system is very impressive and something that should go over big in the states. At the station we changed guides to one that was intimately familiar with Madrid. The other guide that brought us over was more familiar with Barcelona.
View from our balcony
We boarded a bus that would take us to our hotel. Along the route, our guide, Claudia, pointed out several monuments and landmarks, but who can remember them all?
Columbus monument
Like Barcelona, we were impressed with Madrid’s cleanliness and remarkable architecture.

We were delivered to our hotel and checked into a room on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the boulevard below.
One of the gates to the city
We had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore Madrid on our own, and we headed out to scout out the neighborhood surrounding our hotel. We came across a ‘supermercado’ (supermarket) and went inside to see what the people of Madrid ate.
Almudena Cathedral
It was a totally different experience than a U.S. supermarket, especially the fresh seafood offerings and the ‘jamon’ (shaved ham) that the Spaniards so dearly love. Tired and worn out, we returned to our hotel for an early bedtime.

At the palace
After breakfast the next morning we boarded a bus with Claudia and proceeded on a guided tour of Madrid.   Our first stop was at a monument commemorating Cervantes’s character, Don Quixote where we stopped and took some photos.
Don Quixote monumente
We drove by another statue of Columbus (they love this guy over here) and past two ancient gates to the city, before getting off the bus to view the king’s palace, or the Royal Palace of Madrid and the adjoining Almudena Cathedral. King Felipe VI and the royal family do not reside in the palace, which is only used for state ceremonies, choosing instead to reside on the outskirts of Madrid.
Bakery House frescoes
We were not able to go into the cathedral and the line to view the palace was over 2 hours long.
The city is Spain’s capital and the third largest city in the European Union with a population of around 3.2 million and a metropolitan population of 6.5 million.

Leaving the palace and cathedral, we walked a route that would take us to the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s central plaza, a popular place with locals and tourists. Along the way we passed by some very old Roman buildings that had been diligently restored and preserved.
At the palace

The Casa de la Panaderia (Bakery House) dominates the plaza and displays beautifully painted frescoes on its facade.
Mercado de San Miguel
The plaza had a small Christmas village with a variety of vendors and is home to the Mercado de San Miguel, a very popular market with locals and tourists. The market was closed which was just as well since we couldn’t bring any of the items available for sale back on the ship (fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.).
Bear in berry tree-symbol of Madrid
After we spent a little time in the plaza, our guide took us to place where we re-boarded the bus.

We were in for a treat as our next stop and final stop was the Prado Museum, famous for its spectacular collection of paintings and sculptures. While the museum is home to many Italian, French, and Flemish paintings, it is most noted for its collection of Spanish masterpieces ranging from 12th century Romanesque murals to 19th century works by Goya.
The Prado Museum
We were fortunate that our guide was very well versed on the history of the various works we viewed as it made the viewing much more interesting and engaging. We viewed works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and several works by Spanish painters Velazquez and El Greco, the latter who was actually Spanish though he painted mostly in Greece. Our time in the Prado lasted almost two hours, and we barely scratched the surface of the works it contained.
San Jeronimo el Real church next to Prado
We were offered more time, but it would mean that we would have to make our own way back to the hotel, and we thought we should return on the bus as we had to leave for the airport tomorrow at 0430.

We returned to our hotel and rested for a while before we went out to get some dinner. We found a tapas bar and had a selection of olives, meats, and cheeses with some beer and wine. It was just enough as we weren’t really very hungry. Back at the hotel we turned in early for a 0315 wake up alarm. We met our driver and rode to the airport with two other couples in about 20 minutes (not much traffic in Madrid at 0430!). Our flights would take us from Madrid to Munich, then from Munich to Miami. It was a long flight back to Miami and we arrived around 1700. We found our van and drove to a motel in Florida City, not too far from our Key’s rental, where we would spend the next 3 nights before we could check in, and crashed about 2 hours after we arrived. It was a great trip, but as usual, it was great to be back home.

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