Monthly Archives: June 2016

Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Biutiful, and Barcelona

Who here has not been bitten by the travel bug? Everyone must love to see the world. I myself have my own travel goals, drawing them out while in complete disregard of my financial capacity. My wanderlust has become strong as of late that what I wish for now is to see tons of different places for the rest of my life.

Dreaming of Barcelona

In a bucket list that I created a long time ago (and has seen revisions ever since) I included a trove of cities I’d like to see – Berlin, Colombo, Vaduz, and Milan, to name a few – places that I thought I must visit before I bite the big one. Among them is Barcelona, a fascinating city which I had been yearning for a long time. Even if I just realize Barcelona from this list of places, I’d be happy and would gladly have the travel goal in my bucket list crossed out as fulfilled.

Much of my life, however, I’ve been living halfway around the world. And so I always believed that seeing Barcelona in the future, whether near or distant, is quite a challenging, next-to-impossible task. I’m almost resigned to the fact that pursuing Barça will remain as it is – a dream. (Barça is an alternative name popular among non-locals, but the Catalans themselves actually refer to the city as Barna.)

Until it was two years ago when fate decided to intervene in such a way that would abruptly change my life. Everything went fast, and the next thing I knew, I was in Madrid, Spain.

imageSuddenly, I found myself living a new life in a European city – Madrid

I love this Spanish capital! Madrid is the city of promise, and of love and romanticism. It has now become my safe harbor, my source of comfort, my refuge. Madrid is also a city of excesses (but in a good way), a place where plazas, museums, and churches abound. It is the land of countless cafes, bars and restaurants, where people live to eat, and not the other way around (Spaniards do enjoy life – and their Jamon – to the fullest!). Madrid is a city so beautiful that every other place in it is a worthy background for photos and selfies.

Still a world away from the Catalan Capital

But what truly excites me now that I’m in Spain is that it puts me in a situation where I have better chances of seeing Barcelona. I live in the midst of Madrid. Just between this city and Barcelona are a few other Spanish cities and regions. Both are found within the same land boundary. In other words, it’s clear as day that I have moved closer to realizing this particular goal – or so I thought.

As I started to settle in Madrid, what actually became clear was that going to Barcelona will be no easy feat. After being told of the long hours of travel time, it made me realize that I am still a world away from the city. To be specific, travel time is more or less six hours by car, around seven by bus. Time by plane might be less, but with the expensive tickets, it’s out of the question. And so, while the possibility of seeing the Catalan city is greater – doing it is not a walk in the park. That trip isn’t going to happen, not in the near future at least.

Watching movies set in Barcelona

If I can’t go there now, what’s the next best thing to do? See it on films is what I do. Anyway, I love movies, and besides, watching Spanish films about Barcelona, or ones that are set in it, will familiarize me more to the place, a boon once I finally visit it.

Recently, I watched two — these are Pedro Almodovar‘s Todo Sobre Mi Madre and Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Two movies that tell totally different stories, yet both are poignant enough to touch my heart. Needless to say, they are cinematic masterpieces of filmmakers respected by their peers. What made them more interesting to watch is the participation of two of Spain’s finest thespian-performers – Penelope Cruz (for Todo Sobre Mi Madre) and Javier Bardem (Oscar nominated for Biutiful). Incidentally, Cruz and Bardem are married, and a couple still to this day.

The City becomes a Film Character

Of course, a big draw to these films for me is the setting. Barcelona wasn’t used as a mere location, and its famous tourist spots didn’t just serve as pretty backdrops that would have otherwise turned the films into well-crafted travelogues. Both directors were careful not to commit such a mistake. In these films, Barcelona proved to be an indispensable character around which the rest revolved.

Toda Sobre Mi Madre

Barcelona’s portrayals in the films were quite contrasting. In Toda Sobre Mi Madre, Almodovar was able to inject, albeit subtly, some of the city’s important sites. In a way, it was like the director giving the city its due recognition, but it was palpable that the focus of the film was on the story. Many categorize Todo Sobre as a melodrama, but there’s no doubt that it’s tame compared to Inarritu’s work.

Biutiful

A brutal tale of woes and crimes, Biutiful has as its protagonist Bardem’s Uxbal, a sick man who accepted every burden throw at him up to the story’s end. He was dying, to his chagrin as it meant leaving his children behind. He calmly comes to terms with his imminent death, realizing that doing so will help him focus more on making plans for his kids. Bardem’s acting was superb and his performance razor sharp that his character – crooked yet innocuous – earned my sympathy. I actually wished that he would survive his ordeal still living, with heart and soul intact.

Along with the tear-inducing story is a raw depiction of Barcelona’s dark side. The movie dares to expose it as a city of old and decrepit, and reeking in poverty.

What places were featured in the films?

Todo Sobre Mi Madre tells about the story of Manuela, a woman in search of her ex-husband, a transsexual, in Barcelona to let him know about his son’s death. Some of the most popular attractions of the city were featured in the movie, like the La Sagrada Familia, Columbus Monument, Palau de la Musica, and Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli.

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This photo and the next one are screen shots I grabbed as I watched the movies online. Above, Manuela’s taxi, the yellow-and-black cab that the city is famous for, passes through the roundabout at the Monument a Colom. Also, you can see the base of the monument and the silhouette of one of the lion statues

In the case of Biutiful, it is a dark movie, so naturally, even if the director wanted to, it didn’t feature the fun, touristy places that make the Catalunya capital a top destination of millions. A lot of scenes were dark and filthy, like those at the sweatshop where the Chinese worked and the apartments of the characters. The alleys where the cops and Uxbal met were sordid. It didn’t help that the character of Javier is able to communicate with the dead.

The city’s familiar streets and squares were used in some of the important scenes such as La Rambla, Playa de la Barceloneta, and Plaça de Catalunya.

imageIn the photo is just one of the many cadavers of Chinese workers that got washed ashore at the Playa de la Barceloneta, a popular beach in the city. Let’s try not to get caught up with the dead in the picture, but focus on Barceloneta being one of the popular Catalan beaches. In fact, it was awarded the title of the Best Beach in the World in 1992

Unexpected Invitation

After watching the films, the more that my desire to see Barcelona intensified. It’s like the city itself beckons aloud. It reinforced my resolve to see it, albeit when and how, I have no idea. Little did I know that these films were actually sorts of a harbinger of a good thing to come.

Not everyone gets invited to go to Barcelona, and so I was elated when friends had some business to do in the city and they asked me to come along to keep them company. We would stay around for just a few hours, but they assured it was good enough to see much of the city . The thought of the long hours of travel crossed my mind, but it was fleeting.

“The heck,” I muttered.

Finally, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for is here, I mustn’t let it pass.

Barça – here I come

At 5AM, everyone gathered at the corner of Capitan Haya near Melia Hotel. Paseo de la Castellana is just a block away. It’s an area where many spectators from the nearby Bernabeu Stadium would pass via Rosario Pino every time it´s a game night, and the corners of which the ladies of the night would hang around from late in the evening till the early hours of dawn.

Thirty minutes later, the vehicle arrived. Immediately, we sped off to what would be a great day of adventure.

We expected to be at the city at around 1.30. Travel time could have been cut down by 1 to 1 ½ hours if the car hadn’t stopped for gas, snack, and trips to the Aseos. But doing away with all these activities was quite impossible, wasn’t it?
imageFinally, by 1PM we entered the ctiy. I found myself gawking at unfamiliar sights, and reading street signs written in a language quite unknown. We passed through Passeig de Gràcia and excitedly had a glimpse of Gaudi’s buildings. I perked up, got awaken by the fact that I’m already in the midst of what must be the coolest place in all of Spain. The fatigue that had built up in me from the seven long hours of travel began to fade. I felt my exhilaration turning to a major adrenaline rush – I found myself both inordinately excited and worried over what to do with the few hours of stay there.As it is, the pressure to make the most of the scant time was immense.

We got a parking space near La Rambla, just a few blocks away from Plaça Reial, where you can find the Philippine Consulate. And so, our first activity at the city was walking through one of its most famous (or notorious, if because of pickpockets) streets in the city.

I looked around and noticed a marked difference between Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid is, shall I say, orderly, tame, and conventional. On the other hand, Barcelona is fast-faced, loud, dizzying, and even flamboyant.

And just when you think Madrid is the most beautiful city this part of Europe, you see another place in Spain that bursts with so much art and culture. Barcelona is surreal more than normal, in my opinion.

It’s clear that this city thrives in a culture that’s rich in color, uniqueness, and vibrancy. Thanks to its most revered artist-sons – Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miro, and Salvador Dali, Barcelona is distinctly its own, a world apart from Spain itself.

The Barcelona that I saw

1. La Sagrada Familia

imageThe works of Gaudi that I saw were limited to his world-famous basilica, the Sagrada Familia de Gaudi along Carrer de Mallorca; and the Casa Mila (La Predera) and Casa Battló, both found at Passeig de Gràcia. In as much as I wanted to see the interior of the Sagrada, I had to content myself in taking shots of the façade to save time and be able to check out other attractions. It’s the same case with the Casa Mila – I decided against going up the rooftop to have a closer look at its chimneys and sculptures,

The lines of would-be visitors at Sagrada Familia are notoriously long. Entrance fees are expensive, 15 and 29 euros; the amount you pay depends on how much of the basilica you want to tour. Unfortunately, I only had a few hours and so, I didn’t want to waste it getting stuck in a queue under the hot summer sun. To be able to enjoy the sight of this amazing Gaudi creation from afar is enough for now.

2. La Rambla

imageThe streets and plazas of Barcelona are as fascinating as its beautiful edifices and structures. Finally, I got to experience walking thru La Rambla, a street that’s extremely busy, noisy, and almost chaotic from one end to the other. A road stretch of more than one kilometer, La Rambla is perhaps the most popular promenade in the city. I’d say it was a dizzying trek, with people – tourists and locals – filling with its entire length. Kiosks that sell souvenirs of all sorts occupy strategic parts of the street, along with terrace cafes, and food kiosks. On both sides are historic landmarks such as Reial Academia de Ciencies I Artes and La Boqueria. La Rambla starts at Plaça Catalunya and ends at Monument a Colom and Port Vell. I was advised to be extra attentive of my wallets and belongings — this beautiful, people-filled and fully pedestrianized street is riddled with pickpockets.

3. Passeig de Gràcia

imageEdificio Generali at Passeig de Gràcia 63 Barcelona

You must pass through Passeig de Gràcia if you want to visit Gaudi’s popular edifice-masterpieces, such as the Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. A wide and accessible street, de Gràcia is also famous for its upscale shops and boutiques, like Apple, Rolex, and Gucci, among many others.

4.Plaça Catalunya

imageSituated at the end portion of Passeig de Gràcia is the Plaça Catalunya, which must be the largest and most inviting Spanish plaza I had been to so far

More Barcelona photos

imageLa Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most visited masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi. Tourists go to Barcelona just to see it. This Roman Catholic Church in the midst of the Catalan capital is in a perpetual construction. It is set to be finished in 2026. Direccion: Carrer de Mallorca, 401
imageLong queues of visitors wait for their turn to tour the interior of the La Sagrada Familia basilica. A common sight in the area, especially during the summer season. Basic ticket is worth 15 euros. Tour of the basilica, including entrance to one of the towers, costs 29 euros imageWalk through Carrer de Ferran (the street in the above photo) from La Rambla until you reach Placa Reial by turning right to Passatje Madoz. The Philippine Consulate is found within this area. At the end of Carrer de Ferran is another plaza, Plaça Saint Jaume

imagePlaça Reial, a square at Barri Goti and near La Rambla, is a frequented landmark in the area. Here, tourists love to congregate during nighttime because of the many restaurants and shops found within. It is a major venue for important Catalan events. The Philippine Consulate in Barcelona is also found within the square

imageA performer mimics the look and moves of the legendary actress Marilyn Monroe, throwing kisses to the crowd from the window of the Erotic Museum of Barcelona. Pay 9 euros for entrance, and you will be treated to the fascinating history of man’s sexuality and eroticism. Find the museum at La Rambla, in front of La Mercat de la Boqueria

imageThe main entrance to the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (Mercado de San Jose), is popularly referred to as La Boqueria. The public market is one of the most sought-after landmarks in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella District. Direccion: La Rambla 703 to 707, 08002

imageFont de Canaletes (Fuente de Canaletas), the popular drinking fountain at the upper end of La Rambla, and near Plaça Catalunya. Tradition dictates that visitors must drink from the Canaletes fountain to be assured of a safe return to Barcelona Direccion: La Rambla de Canaletes, s/n 08002

imageAntoni Gaudi, the one-of-a-kind Catalan architect and recognized as the Father of Modernism in Catalunya, created the surreal yet beautiful Casa Batlló. This Modernistic building stands at Passeig de Gràcia, and is one of the area´s major tourist attractions
imageCasa Mila or La Pedrera is hailed as one of the best artistic works of architectural genius Antoni Gaudi. Experts describe it as one of the most beautiful edifices built during the modernist times

image This is a creation by renowned sculptor Josep M. Subirachs called the Monument to Francesc Macia (See the name written on the sculpture). Presented to the public on Christmas day 1991, it is located right in the middle of the city – at Plaza Catalunya
imageThe Columbus Monument, or Monument a Colom in Catalan, stands in honor of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. It is located at the lower end of the city’s La Rambla Street. Its construction was finished in time for the 1889 exposition at Barcelona

image La Reial Academia de Ciencies I Artes building was the headquarters for the city’s literary society, way back in 1764. In 1887, the edifice was dedicated to a Catalan group involved in the study of science. Shortly after, it was renamed the Royal Academy of Sciences & Arts of Barcelona, Catalonia. Direccion: La Rambla, 115

imageIf you walk the length of La Rambla up to its southern tip, you will reach the location of some of the city’s impressive structures such as Mirador de Colom and the Aduana building

imagePeople mill around the huge statues of the Lions found at the Monument a Colom (Colombus Monument). In the background is the Port Authority’s building

imageAn significant landmark in the area, the Govern military (Gobierno Militar) is found at the end portion of Passeig de Colom’s. A red Barcelona City Tour double decker passes by the edifice as it encircles the Monument a Colom

imageBehind me is the Port Authority building, where ply many of the city’s distinct yellow and black taxi cabs

image A couple sits by the Port Vell, Barcelona. At left is the Maremagnum, the mall at the port with its front wall made of reflective glass. Rising on the edge of the boardwalk in its front are thin columns providing support to narrow and elongated panels, convoluted in a way that they resemble waves. It is connected to La Rambla via Rambla del Mar Direccion: Calle Moll d’ Espanya, 5

The Barcelona I’ll see next time

I’m aware the city boasts of many sites and attractions, but I didn’t realize them to be of an immeasurable number. Barely did I scratch the surface, I must say. There are just tons of Barcelona sites that I missed. The famous Cascada Fountain, a Fontsere masterpiece situated within the equally beautiful Park de la Ciutadella; the Olympic Village and the following are but a few:

1. More Antoni Gaudi works of art

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Above is a 3-euro framed picture of Gaudi’s Guell Park hanging on my wall. The Guell park and the Palau Guell are important Gaudi works that I must visit next time.

2. Picasso Museum

A must-see. Considered a son of Barcelona, Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga. He stayed there during his early years, and then transferred to Barcelona as a teenager. Many of his works are on display at the Picasso Museum at Carrer Moncada. Unfortunately, a number of his important masterpieces now belong to private art collectors.

3. The Cathedrals
imageThe Church of Bethlehem, built in 1680 and located along Las Ramblas, was one of the only two churches (the other being La Familia Sagrada) I saw in Barcelona

I’m disheartened that I wasn’t able to visit the city’s other important cathedrals. I had wanted to see La Catedral de Barcelona of the Gothic Quarters and Sant Pau del Camp, located in the Bohemian area of El Raval. You can tour the monastery of Sant Pau, the capital’s oldest church, for 3 euros. The cathedral, on the other hand, offers a stunning panorama of the city when viewed from its rooftop, also for an entrance fee of 3 euros.

Hasta luego, Barcelona!

imageI feel frustrated — I went to Barcelona, but hardly saw Barcelona. Truth to tell, it was a big let down for seeing only so much. I was hoping for the Parc Guell at least, a depiction of which in a form of cheap poster I am proud to have hanging on my bedroom wall. It would have been nice if I was able to see it in person.

Obviously, the few hours I spent in Barcelona were not enough to see everything there is to see. This only means a second visit is in order. Still, despite lacking in a significant immersion, I experienced a deep connection to the place. I fell in love with Barcelona all the more because of my own discovery – that it is historic, moving, and in many ways, other-worldly. In all honesty, Barcelona is one place I really couldn’t make of. If ever, I would say it is charming, awe-inspiring, and owns an unfathomable appeal, without trying to be.

Capri 8 Lounge & Bar: More than Delicious Pulpo, Great Service

What a crazy hot Madrid it was last Tuesday. The time was already past 7.30PM, yet the sun was still up and high. I would have wanted to stay at home, away from the city´s feverish temperature.

But, I had to go out. Earlier that day, I was at Principe de Vergara, feeling accomplished after I had gone through a process that would hopefully help secure an endeavored goal. In high spirits over the possible bright prospects, I decided that it’s tapa time!

Well, I wasn’t having some tapa just to celebrate a foreseen positive result from a just-concluded effort, but also to stave off a relentless post-lunch hunger, and gather more content for the list-of-tapas article I’m working on.

But first, I needed to check if I had enough. I reached into my pants’ pockets and got a crumpled 5 euro bill and a good fistful of coins, some 11.50 euros upon counting. I had 16.50 euros in total. Yes, more than enough, I assured myself.

So, began my hunt for a cafe that serves pulpo a la gallega, that Spanish octopus dish I’ve wanted to try for the longest time.

From Principe de Vergara, I took the Metro line to Columbia station, then transferred to Circular Linea 6 and got off at Nuevos Ministerios. From there, I walked through the department store of El Corte Ingles at Paseo de Castellana (but not without first going to the Aseos), and then finally to Calle Orense. The vicinity around this street is a hotspot for those in search of fine cafes to hang around.

imageI decided to walk further to Calle del General Moscardo, a street parallel to Orense, and checked the cafes on both sides, one after another, scanning their menus, until I chanced upon Capri 8.  It had a number of boards displayed on its front wall, with various dishes and drinks written on them in white and red-colored chalk. One board had on it written pulpo de la gallega, priced at 6.80 euro. It was a surprise, knowing the dish is expensive, with prices ranging from 14 to 20 euros.

It was an easy decision – my next tapa is at Capri 8. Finally, I will get to taste pulpo a la gallega and have it added to my list.

I went in and was greeted by the waiter at the bar
image“We are not ready till 8PM. The chef is still out,” the man at the bar said in Spanish, and gestured at the clock that showed 7.35. So, that’s why the place was low-lit. But, I was already there and didn’t mind waiting. Anyway the 149 parada was right in front, and so it would be easy for me to catch a ride home.

“Voy a esperar aqui, puede amigo? Dame cola cola. Zero, por favor,” I replied haltingly while approaching the table pressed beside the cafe’s panoramic window. He nodded, handed a menu, and took the used quarter-filled copa on top of the table. I was relieved, not because he agreed to serve me but because he understood my babbling in Spanish.

I continued with my order, and said I’d be having pulpo a la gallega. He interrupted me and explained that what they have is a la brasa, and proceeded to show me the menu. I could have sworn I read a la gallega.

“Darn it, I can’t include this in my tapa article,” I mumbled to myself.

What I wanted is the pulpo tapa that is Galician in origin, and said be one of the best ways an octopus is prepared. Why did I read differently? My eyesight is failing me, that’s for sure – sign of an advancing age.

Feigning indifference, I said it’s okay, and will have whatever octopus dish they serve. I also ordered some chorizo – to further beef up an entirely new article, having decided that I would just write about the cafe instead.

Service was fast. I was quickly served my cola and aperetivo

imageI looked at my aperetivo and wished other cafes would be as generous. But I guess mine was a different case, since I would have to wait for more than half an hour to get my order. My cola came with chips and pincho ensaladila – and not just one, but two pinchos. They were delicious, so I had a clean plate in record time.

The waiter asked if I still wanted more chips, to which I said no and just proceeded to focus on my mobile. The password of the bar’s WIFI is written in the menu board at the bar, so I might as well make use of it. This while I checked the clock from time to time. The last I looked, it was 7.50. Still, no chef coming in.

The waiter must have sensed the massive boredom in me, and so he served yet another aperitivo

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This time, it was a Brazilian dish of mainly rice and chicken. But I had to make sure first before digging in.

Sheepishly, I asked, “Gratis?”

He replied, “Por supuesto,” and then profusely apologized for my having had to wait too long, and assured that the chef was on his way. That’s more or less what I could make of what he said.

It was not the most appealing dish visually to be honest, and normally, I am wary about eating something the ingredients of which I don’t know or couldn’t recognize. At any rate, I took some, and what do you know? It tasted great. It wasn’t salty like I thought it would be since I presumed the dark color was caused by soy sauce (Poor soy sauce. It gets the blame, even in European Spain!). It was obvious the presence of meat (chicken and pork, perhaps) infused some great flavors to an otherwise bland ingredient like rice. It was a delicious aperitivo, and a unique one at that, I must say.

Finally, the chef arrived. He went straight to the kitchen with his grocery stroller in tow. The waiter followed, presumably to give him my order. I was lucky no new diners had come in. And so as expected, within minutes my food was served, one after the other.

The chorizo 

imageThe dish had some spicy red sauce and mustard to dip it in. The chorizo itself was spicy enough, although I wished I had some German curry ketchup (of the Hela Brand, what else?) to make it a delectable dish. Nothing fancy about the taste here – it’s just like any other chorizo that I had before. (Price: 3.80)

The Pulpo a la brasa

imageI thought Pulpo’s flavor would be something different, or even tasteless, like many say. Was I surprised that it does have a taste. The texture is tender, something very similar to that of squid.

I read comments about the octopus and their kind, that they shouldn’t be overcooked. The Capri 8 chef must have cooked my pulpo the best way possible to make it come out really tender. Mine had some parts charred dark and crispy, with the rest of the skin glowing pink. What mattered was the meat inside, which was moist and succulent. Drenching it in ali oli sauce even made everything more delicious.

The tentacles were easy to cut through even with just the side of a fork prong.  Forget what they say about octopus meat being rubbery or tough. Capri 8’s is nothing like that. If I were to score, I’d give it a 5 out of 5. C’est delicieux! (Price: 6.80 euros)

Verdict

Capri 8 is one of those cozy, average-sized, unassuming bar-restaurantes in Madrid, but this bar in particular is worth your time, money, and effort to go out on a hot summer day. I really appreciate the great service; and I am sure the same is rendered to every customer that comes in. Check out their menu and you’ll see a number of interesting Brazilian dishes. Typical Spanish tapas are also available. Its pulpo a la brasa? A tapa to die for. A must-try!

Address: Calle del General Moscardo, 8, Madrid

Mapa

Plaza del Callao – Plaza Famosa en el Distrito Central de Madrid

imageDo you agree with some people on the Internet referring to Plaza del Callao as Madrid’s version of New York’s Times Square? I’d say I’m not quite sure about that, if you ask me. Well, a mini Times Square perhaps?

Some will insist, however, on the resemblance of the two on account of the fact that both are beautiful plazas and widely popular among tourists.

The legendary square in the “City that Never Sleeps” always teems with crowds – it’s a people magnet. The same can be said about Callao. The latter pulls in swarms from all over, but especially from the touristy areas such as Puerta del Sol and Gran Via.

For me, I think it’s about the massive digital neon ad signs of all sizes that litter the plaza – Callao does mimic the Times Square in this regard. It boasts of a dozen or so signs that when lit up further flood the already brightly-lighted vicinity with a continuous glow of iridescent illumination, mesmerizing people as they ogle at the beamed advertisements. Most of these LED displays are owned and run by top establishments such as department stores and theaters within the Callao area.

Cines Callao

Considered as a major attraction is the Cines Callao edifice, an iconic theater created by the Spanish master-architect Luis Gutierrez Soto. It is one of the most photographed sites in the square, it’s main come-on being the giant screen on the center part of its exterior wall that faces the square itself. Here you can watch the trailers of the movies being shown or soon to be featured; they are flashed alternately with product commercials and announcements on the city’s various activities and public interests. I’m not sure whether the theater is doing the latter as a form of public service or the city government compensates it to do so. There is another similar screen, by the way, that faces Calle de Jacometrezo.

A look at the facade as well as its interiors, and you could easily discern it to be one of those sixties-styled cinemas  that give off an old feel.  Such has an effortless appeal to old-fashioned cinema patrons, who instead of playing their DVD machine, would rather go out, buy tickets at the taquilla, and enjoy a latest full-length feature on the silver screen. Most movies here are dubbed in Spanish, and without English subtitles.

imageThe Cines Callao edifice is located at the corner of the square near the streets, with the main facade in front of the plaza itself. This screen, the one at Jacometrezo, and the 3 other screens at Palacio de la Prensa are all part of what is known as the Callao City Lights, making such screens modern sources of information – commercial (advertisements) or otherwise (Madrid government publicity) – via impressive and breathtaking visuals

imageTaquilla of the cinema. Listed are current box-office movies like Alicia a Traves del Espejo and Rumbo. It helps that the theaters are located right in the central district of Madrid; hence, more people have convenient access to them. Tickets are available at affordable prices

Palacio de la Prensa

An integral part of the plaza and standing proudly along the busy thoroughfare of Gran Via is El Palacio de la Prensa. Designed by renowned architect Muguruza Otaño, its construction was finished in 1928. During those times, it had the distinction of being the tallest edifice around the area. It is a building of mixed use, with a variety of businesses and offices as well as residential units occupying most floors, including the Associacion de la Prensa. In fact, the building used to be the main office of Madrid’s Press Association, hence the name, until the group transferred to its current headquarters at Calle Juan Bravo. As part of the Callao City Lights, La Prensa boasts of four cinemas on its lower floors – known as the Cines Palacio de la Prensa.

imageImposing Palacio de la Prensa accentuates the busy Gran Via thoroughfare. Seen even from afar are multi-screens installed in its lower facade, showing LED-based visuals

Colorful Giant Digital Billboards

Similar to the Times Square’s probably hundreds of electronic screens and billboards are the commercial, digital versions of El Corte Ingles and FNAC, both of which show advertisements of popular brands that are mostly sold in their stores. The strong light that radiates from these screens become more pronounced during nighttime; they are literally an eye-catching enticement to people from all around, inviting them to come to the plaza and check them out.

imageThe tall buildings of El Corte Ingles, the premier department store in Spain, and FNAC, a French shopping chain of electronic products dominate over the rest of the structures surrounding the square. The two boast of gargantuan and high-tech electronic screens showing ads of major consumer brands. The attractive displays start in the early hours of the day and continue well into the night

Edificio Carrion (The Capitol Building)

It is understandable that Edificio Carrion is made more popular because of the Schweppes neon sign found on top of the building, which for years had been visually enhancing the night skies this part of Madrid. This shining, multicolored ad of a world-renowned beverage is attached on top of the building, and had been stared at and admired by countless people ever since. Likewise located on top of the roof of the building a few meters above the Schweppes logo is yet another ad sign, the Capitol Vodafone. It’s much  smaller but nonetheless visible, especially at night.

imageThe edifice is also called the Capitol Building because it houses the Capitol Cinemas, a theater chain popular among avid cinema goers.

Pedestrianized square

Callao has become totally pedestrianized like many other major squares in Madrid, making it a more desirable destination of people who enjoy roaming around at a leisurely gait. As it is, turning a square, or any part of the city for that matter, pedestrian-friendly is a boon to tourists who shun riding cars, but are instead eager to walk or even promenade in order to check closely and appreciate the place’s many sites and attractions.

Albeit, I was at the plaza early in the morning a few times and noticed the delivery trucks and vans parked within the premises, presumably to load off goods to waiting establishments. This is a scene also familiar in other supposedly pedestrianized plazas in Madrid, like Puerta del Sol and Plaza Santa Ana. I lament the lack of benches considering Plaza del Callao is a major square. I counted only three located near the Adriatica Building. Hence, some who had to wait or want to spend the afternoon at the plaza are forced to sit on the concrete planters that hold the plants or trees, while many others stand in front of El Corte Ingles building and Cines Callao.

imageWhile many visit Callao to see its many amazing attractions, others consider it as a perfect place to meet up and interact, or as a starting point from which they proceed to other nearby prominent and sought-after tourist sites such as Plaza Espana, Lavapies, Alcala, Gran Via, and Puerta del Sol

More Plaza de Callao Photos

imageCalle preciado. This street connects the plaza to Puerta del Sol

imageView of the Cines Callao building and Schweppes or Capitol Building. Photograph taken from across Gran Via

imageLa Adriatica Building towers over the corner part of the square. It stands beside the buildings of El Corte Ingles shopping mall and FNAC

imageI had soft and tasty Croissant bread and cafe con leche at Restaurante el Jamonal, along Calle de Jacometrezo. Apart from light snacks, Jamonal also serves a variety of jamon and lacon sandwiches, Spanish cocidos, tapas, bocadillos, paella and much more

imageFigure of the Crucified Jesus Christ is displayed at the Parroquia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen y San Luis, one of the parroquias nearest to the plaza
imageHotel II Castillas boasts of its 3-star facilities and being in close proximity to the square of Callao. It is located at Calle de la Abada, a stone’s throw away from the plaza and Puerta del Sol. The hotel is an ideal accommodation option for those who want to be near the prime tourist and commercial areas of the city
imageThe Capitol theater of the Edificio Carrion, designed by architects Martínez-Feduchi and Eced, is another popular cinema chain in the Callao-Gran Via area
imageDesigual is just one of the many popular high-end boutiques in the vicinity

imageA group of teens presumably on a tour got off their ride at Gran Via and rushed towards the middle of the square imagePasteleria Portuguesa Natas Belem, with its chilled and icy treats, must be bracing for a deluge of customers the whole summer season. The establishment boasts of a strategic location in the area, alongside the Cines Callao

imageThe last time I was there, I counted three chairs (they’re not even benches) in all of the square. Now there’s only one I swear. Que esta pasando?  Lucky is the guy in the photo above who was able to enjoy the best, and the only seat, in Plaza Callao

imageCines Callao and Edificio Carrion come nighttime

imageMetro sign within the plaza. Other entrance gates to the station are found along Gran Via, in front of La Adriatica Building, and Calle Jacometrezo

Direccion: Plaza del Callao, Barrio del Sol
Distrito: Centro de Madrid

What to See and Do In and Around Atocha, Madrid

imageOne hears the word Atocha, and the mammoth train station immediately comes to mind. Dubbed as the “Estacion de Mediodia” and “Estacion del Sur,” the grandiose railway system is actually just one of the many wonders that this Spanish neighborhood offers.

A Madrid barrio situated within the distrito de Arganzuela, it boasts of a sprawling plaza, Emperador Carlos V, also a major roundabout where streets like Calle de Atocha, Paseo del Pradio, Infanta Isabel and Ciudad de Barcelona meet.

Carlos V is a beautiful square made grander by a stately fountain in its midst, the Fuente de la Alcachofa. It is a highly frequented plaza in Madrid, and  surrounded by important landmarks such as the Reina Sofia Museum, the Ministro de Agriculturo, Pesca, and Alimentacion, and the Parque del Retiro de Madrid.

Beyond the plaza’s periphery but still within walking distance are the Museo CaixaForum and the Real Observatorio, among others. Apart from the tourist sites which are some of the barrio’s main draws, Atocha enjoys continuous growth because of the renowned Estacion de Atocha. Every day, tens of thousands traverse the railway mainly for two things – to catch their train ride and to tour the place. I haven’t seen many of these places myself that I thought it is high time that I visit this barrio.

I. The Atocha train station

imageA closer look at the station had me impressed by its entirety while appreciative of its fine features. The facade of the edifice, a creation of Spanish architect Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, is hardly stoic typical in that of other European stations. Its components of bricks, iron metal, and glass are put together to impress symmetry and proportion, common characteristics of classical architecture. A contrast is noticeable inside the building – obviously, modern structural changes and interior renovations are continuous processes happening in the interior to keep with the times – and booming retail businesses as well.

The sight had me asking, “Why have I not taken that trip to Malaga or Barcelona, or so many other places I’m dying to see, when I could reach them easily via train?

I now realized that train services of all kinds – those to and from the capital, within and around inner cities, and via the Cercania trains – all pass through this railway system. Known to be the oldest functioning railway system of the city, it is easily accessible since the location is strategic, being found in central Madrid.

It is often compared to other railway systems of major world cities when it comes to greatness not only in beauty but efficiency as well, like Paris Gare de Lyon and Berlin Central Station of France and Germany respectively, just two of the many European cities connected to Madrid Atocha via regular train trips. imageIt was early Tuesday afternoon, and with the sun out and ablaze, it foreboded a fine weekend ahead. As I got off the 27 autobus at the Reina Sofia parada, the sight of the station immediately attracted my attention. Its massive structure imposes an overwhelming stance, unchallenged by other nearby edifices, except for the also-monumental Ministro de Agriculturo building.

I went inside and started to scout for some scenes worthy to be shot as I strolled along. Soon, I found myself in the middle of the lobby where situated is a garden-pond-zoo ensemble. To describe it amply: In the midst of the station is a lush tropical oasis, a small piece of land where palm trees jot out, lording over a thick clutter of unknown greenery. It is surrounded, in partial, by a small-sized, emerald-green pond. Positioned in the water are a few flat cement rocks with surfaces a little above the water level to make them appear like small islands – they are obviously meant to accommodate the numerous tortugas (Spanish for turtles).

One look at the slow-moving hordes clambering atop the rocks, and you know that these turtles are a territorial lot. You can quite sense, too, that they had already laid claim to these rocks for their own, as well as the greenish waters that surround them, and practically the whole lush oasis. imageThe garden is host to a number of animal species, the most conspicuous of which are the “tortugas” or turtles. These shell-burdened creatures show their moves in the waters, unmindful of the fascinated onlookers. I have a hunch myself (excuse the pun) that they are showing off their swimming skills. Well, they prove to be a faster swimmer than walker imageThe interior of the station is well-lighted – there’s no dim nook or corner. Much of the illumination is natural, lucent light that goes through the high ceiling of glass panels and steel. In the lobby area, lining a portion of the tropical garden are a number of metal chairs meant for visitors to the train station who needed to while away the time as they wait for their departure, or are on a momentary break from their Atocha adventure.  I took a short respite on one of these seats, which proved to be beneficial as I felt invigorated afterwards.

I continued to loiter around the lobby, walking past the theme cafe that offers a direct view of the garden. Further down the station, I passed through the automatic sliding glass doors to reach the area where tickets booths and retail shops are situated. Here, I found myself in the middle of throngs of people rushing to different directions. I joined the flow of a few until I realized they were headed to where I’ve already been to. While I was very much impressed by the station, I thought I’ve seen enough and that it was time to go out and proceed elsewhere.

Who to do inside the station: Eat (Restaurante Samarkanda and tons of cafes, restaurants, and food kiosks), check out exhibits ( found in the lobby), shop (Body Shop, Relay, Chiefs), and purchase lottery tickets.

II. Next Stop: The Reina Sofia Museum

If you want some serious helping of Spanish art while in this neighborhood, the Museo Nacional y Centro de Arte: Reina Sofia Museum should be your top choice. A few might contradict and broach Prado Museum instead, and strongly so since the latter is just a few hundred meters away. Still, Reina Sofia is no push-over as a museum and is well within the barrio, just across the station and along Calle de Santa Isabel.

Looking at the edifice, you wouldn’t think that it was a former hospital. Undergoing major renovations to become a museum,  Reina Sofia boasts of its panoramic glass elevators, which give riders a view of the goings-on in the front courtyard.

Recognized as one of the major Spanish museums, it houses the finest collections of modern art. Needless to say, if you are a true-blue museum lover, you’ll be inebriated by the countless artwork found at the museum. Imagine being presented with the works of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. If only for the superb creation of these two Spanish auteurs, the Sofía Museum is more than worth your visit.

Fortunately, taking photographs is not prohibited, but only in specific areas. Cameras are off-limits in floors that display the Guernica collection. image Be amazed with the contemporary art collections of minimal, popular and abstract themes on display at Museo Reina Sofia. The edifice has floors and sections dedicated to seasonal art shows and exhibits imageThe museum posts its permanent and seasonal exhibits on its walls. Ongoing is an exhibit by Cuban artist Wifredo Lam

III. Caixaforum Museum

imageThere are a number of museums with the Atocha, but if you must see only a few, one should be the Caixaforum. What was once a tepid and neglected electrical station building is now one of the coolest and edgiest museums of Madrid. A creation of Herzog and de Meuron, prominent Swiss architects, it is conveniently accessible, being just a few minutes away from the railway station, at Paseo del Prado, 36.

One of the museum’s attractions is the wall in its front that acts as a vertical garden, an ingenious work of art by renowned botanist Dr. Patrick Blanc. Because of the perpendicularly-oriented vegetation, the wall virtually comes alive with all its flora of bright colors, making it a scenic delight to visitors and passersby. The wall is said to be a prelude to what you can see at the El Real Jardin on the opposite side of the paseo.

Caixa forum is regarded as a major museum that shows an excellent mix of contemporary and old art. I was impressed with the countless forms of spectacular artworks, particularly its paintings.

Schools must have chosen the museum as the best one for their students. I’ve seen quite a number of groups of schoolkids visiting Caixa the few times that I was there. The museum does cater to young visitors as it showcases regular exhibits, displays, film showings, and interactive events intended for children and teens.

The museum boasts of an area that can house a number of exhibits and displays at any given time. It has a good-sized auditorium that seats more than 300 guests, a library, audio-visual rooms, areas for workshops and lectures, and cafes and food shops. While the CaixaForum is a modern, contemporary building, it also displays the fine works of artists from earlier times. Suffice it to say that the museum is consistent in presenting only the best works on contemporary art that it is now recognized as one of the most respectable Atocha, Madrid museums. imageEntering the Caixaforum museum, I was greeted by its cast-iron stairs. So resplendent, I didn’t dare leave  without taking its picture

IV. Feria de Libros, Cuesta de Moyano

imageIf you’ve been on a long search for that book you’ve always wanted to read, at least land one that’s more or less about your favorite book genre or topic – a good place to go to is the Feria de Libros, Cuesta de Moyano. Located along Calle Claudio Moyano, and near Paseo del Prado, here is where books of all sorts, themes, and sizes can be found. Peruse to your heart’s content, sellers will not mind. Hardbound, softcover, Spanish, English, or any other language, romance, fiction, non-fiction, 1 to 10 euro books, every store is stocked with books of all kinds.

There are history books, recipe hardbounds, books about Kama Sutra, NBA coffee table books, children’s – all sorts. Calle Moyano is a busy little street where enthusiasts go to for its bookshops and kiosks on the sidewalk. The street is a virtual paradise for bookworms and lovers; undoubtedly, all books that you want to read must be here.

While brand-new items are available, a lot are second-hand. If you don’t mind used books, I suggest you go and take a look and you’d be convinced that this is the best place in Madrid to shop for them. Needless to say, if you can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. Cuesta de Moyano has about tons of unique books at really low prices, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you end up buying many. image

More Places of Interest – Other Attractions to see Atocha

1. Ministro de Agriculturo, Pesca, y Alimentacion

imageAlso known as  the Palacio de Fomento, only the Ministry of Agriculture can compete with the Atocha train Station as far as the beauty and magnificence of edifice is concerned. Its huge size covering a great expanse as well as its rows of four pairs of columns are more than enough to impose its presence in this part of Atocha. Prominently standing in the middle top of the building are marble figures of winged horses by Spanish sculpture Querol Subirats, called the La Gloria e los Pegasos.

The Magrama (acronym for the (Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente) is responsible for food, and its production in Spain, and a lot of other things like climate change, ecology, and natural heritage.

Location: Paseo de la Infanta Isabel 1, Madrid

Ministry Website

2. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Atocha

image You might get some recharging – physically and spiritually – after a tiresome tour of the barrio by making a stop at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Atocha. It’s the church closest to the railway station, which is the reason why the latter is named as such. It is well within the vicinity, proudly standing along Avenida Ciudad de Barcelona. The basilica is famous for its fine sculptures, classic architecture, well-manicured garden, and the beloved Virgin of Atocha.

Location: Avenue de la Ciudad de Barcelona, Madrid

Opens: 7:30AM to 1:00PM; 5:30PM to 9:00PM

Church Website

3. Hotel Mediodia

imageProminent in Mediodia’s main webpage is its logo “En el Corazon de Medrid,” which means “In the heart of Madrid.” And indeed, the hotel boasts of a strategic location, right in the center of the city. Many tourists do opt to book an accommodation at Hotel Mediodia to enjoy panoramic views of the Atocha Metro Station and Plaza Carlos V. The edifice is just medium-rise; yet, it boasts of amenities and services typical of a luxury hotel. Just a few meters away are the museums Reina Sofia and Caixa forum. Simple, classic, and comfortable are the common feedback and comments clients give about Mediodia hotel.

Location: Plaza Emperador Carlos V Madrid

Hotel Website

4. Teatro Circo Price

image There’s no doubt that Teatro Circo Price is a premier theater, after having experienced watching a concert here last year by an artist from the Philippines, Gary Valenciano. I seldom go to a concert, and so the experience was a rare and riveting one, not only because of Valenciano’s exceptional performance, but also because of the state-of-the-art theater facilities. The lighting and sound effects, for instance, were breathtaking that they made for an exceptional concert overall.  I embedded here one of the clips I  shot at the concert, the part where the singer rendered his version of Mocedades’ Eres Tu.

As he sang Eres Tu, it was obvious that Gary Valenciano guessed parts of the lyrics. Notwithstanding, his ridiculously melodious voice more than made up for a rather unseemly faux pas. The predominantly Filipino crowd didn’t mind, and was enthusiastic of his performance.

Location: Ronda de Atocha No. 35

June offering: Carlos Rivera Concert – Yo Creo Tour.

Ticket prices: 22 – 60 euros

Official website

5. Museo National de Antropologia

image Built in 1875, the Museo National de Anthropologia offers a closer look at the diversity of races and cultures. The museum holds regular exhibits that promote a better understanding among countries and cultures from continents like  Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Ongoing is a temporary exhibit of the works of a top Filipino designer, Patis Tesoro. It includes her masterpiece collection of Pina-made clothes that boast of both traditional and modern details. Entitled Ang Pagbabalik, the show will last up to June 12, 2016.

Location: Calle Alfonso 12th Madrid

Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30AM to 8:00PM; Sundays and Holidays: 10:00AM to 3:00PM

Museum Website

6. Real Observatorio de Madrid

imageAnother popular site that’s worth visiting when in Atocha is the Real Observatorio de Madrid, or the Royal Observatory of Madrid. It stands on top of an elevated portion of land adjacent to Buen Retiro Park. Its main building, called the Villanueva, contains most of the observatory’s astronomical instruments and books. Some of its famous instruments are the Foucalt’s pendulum, precision clocks, and meridian circle. Also included in the observatory’s collection is the bronze mirror of Herschel. Private tours must be booked beforehand.

Hours open: Friday: 4:30PM to 6:00PM; Saturday: 12Noon to 2:00PM, 4:00PM to 6:00PM; Sunday: 12:00Noon to 2:00PM. (The observatory is closed from Monday to Thursday)

Entrance ticket prices: 5 euro; children below three is free

Location: Calle de Alfonso XII Madrid

Website

7. Parque del Retiro

image I’ve always known Retiro park’s entrance to be at Plaza de la Independencia, at Puerta de Alcala, and so I was surprised to find out that Atocha is also a boundary of the park, with the main gate, the Puerta del Angel Caido, located along Calle de Alfonso XII. This entrance leads to Paseo de Fernan Nunez and into the park.

El Retiro is not always accessible to the public like how it is nowadays. It was meant as a haven of recreation for the Spanish Royals during its early times, up until the 19th century.

I had been to the park a few times in the past, entering via Alcala. And like before, I was excited to roam around because I’d get reacquainted with the numerous monuments and sculptures scattered around, all of which must have great histories behind – and interesting stories to tell. After a few minutes of loitering at the Atocha side of the park, I  can tell that much of the greens, trees, and rest areas concentrate here. People pick a nice spot and just lie on the ground or sit around with families and friends for some chat. Many bikers and skaters use the Angel Caido gate as a point of entry to the park. imageI then decided to go and see the lake, even if it was quite far from the Atocha gate. I walked through Fernan Nunez until I reached the Estatua del Angel Caido. I turned left at Paseo de la Republica de Cuba, then continued to Paseo Nicaragua until I reached the famous man-made lake (Spanish: estanque). image The lake is such a beautiful sight, with a number of boats plying it. There were many the middle, with passengers rowing while obviously ecstatic because of the experience. One boat was in a complete stop, floating for awhile at the edge of the lake near where I was. While many were graceful rowers, a few seemed to be in a futile attempt to stop their boats from going aimlessly around. By the lake is the magnificent monument of Alfonso XII, looking over it. Tall marble columns and lion statues accompany the monument, making for a grand sight overall.

Location: Plaza de la Independencia 7 Madrid

The park is open everyday of the year; entrance is free

8. Botanical Jardin de Madrid

image Gate of Botanical Jardin de Madrid along Paseo del Prado. Purchase of tickets and entry, however, is at the gate near the Museo del Prado image The Royal botanical Garden boasts of thousands of live plant species that can be viewed by the public via private and guided tours. Included in its prized collections is a herbarium, with over a million preserved plant entries. The garden maintains a plant and natural science library, and archive of almost 10,000 drawingsimage This is the gate nearest to the Prado Museum, and serves as the main entrance to the garden

Location: 2 PlazaMurillo Madrid 28014

Tickets: Adults-3 euros; students-1.50 euros (you need to present in ID)

Jardin Botanico

V. Great eats to end my Atocha tour

image I deemed the best way to cap my tour of Atocha is by having some ice-cold cola and a special bocadillo de calamares. The neighborhood does boast of a good number of squid sandwich cafes, but where exactly do I order the best? There is a consensus on the Internet that the finest in the neighborhood is El Brillante, which is just across the railway station and right in front of the Fuente de la Alcachofa. The restaurant takes pride in serving what according to it are the most delicious calamare sandwiches. It is not shy to post a sign saying theirs is the best in the whole of Madrid. imageAfter finishing mine, I’d say its bocadillo de calamares scores big in taste. Es muy bueno y rico is how I would express it in Spanish. It’s comparable if not superior to those sold at Plaza Mayor. The only downside is the price of the drinks. A small 200 ml Cola, the same thing Museo del Jamon serves and sells at a mere 1 euro,  is 4.25 euro (if you dine on the terrace). Staff is courteous and graciously answered my questions when I asked about the prices of other tapas.

El Brillante Restaurante

Where located: Glorieta Emperador Carlos V

Business hours: 6:30AM to 12:30AM

Upon checking the menu of nearby establishments, it’s clear that food is generally expensive in the area. Restaurants found nearest the Plaza Emperador Carlos V charge have prices that are higher than usual. If you want fast food, KFC and MacDonald’s are right within the area. Shoestring tourists are advised to walk further down the side and interior streets to find restaurants with more budget-friendly prices.

Few tips and suggestions on your trip to Atocha

1. I took the photograph above of the station at around 2.30 to 3PM. You can see that the sun is in front of the subject at this time. Perhaps, this will be true through the rest of the summer months. While some photo professionals say the golden hours of after sunrise or before sunset is best for outdoor photography, I can work with this shot with the sun up high, blazing hot and delivering glaring light, resulting in the picture showing all details and having minimal shadows.

2. Speaking of summer, touring the barrio’s many sites and attractions means hours of possibly being under the sun (especially if you decide to check out El Retiro Park). Bring at least two bottles of water to help you stay hydrated.

3. Streets at Atocha are wide. Before you even crossed them, you’re already sapped of your energy because the searing sun. Go from one Atocha metro entry point to another instead, which means some time away from the debilitating heat. (Like if you need to cross Paseo de la Infanta Isabel or Paseo de Santa Maria de la Cabeza, passing through the Metro keeps you away, albeit temporarily, from the frenzied crossing crowd of pedestrians, red lights taking forever to turn green, and the summer heat.

4. Sticking to your budget no matter what? You can have the cheapest eats here. Along Paseo del Prado, at 44, is Museo del Jamon, where you can take advantage of their 1-euro bocadillo, 1-euro bebida offer.

5. Museo Reina Sofia is one of the most popular Atocha attractions. If you don’t want to shell out 8 euros for a general ticket, plan your trip around any of the museum’s free entrance days, which are Mondays and Wednesdays to Saturdays, from 7 to 9PM; and Sundays, from 1:30 to 7PM

Jardines de Sabatini y del Campo del Moro, and My Thoughts on Madrid’s Hot Summer

Summer in Madrid is almost here. And the thought exasperates me. While the impending season may set the numerous lot to a euphoric mood, I feel the opposite if only for one thing – it makes blogging more tedious. Let me point out the reasons. The glare from the sun is disturbing – it forces me to squint my eyes, rendering some of my shots out of focus, and thus, delivering inferior results. The sweltering temperature wears me down to major tiredness, and before you know it,lethargy and ennui set in. Ultimately, this leads to my becoming less productive.

I could rant on and on, yet the fact remains that the season is inevitable; its heat, unavoidable. There’s no use whining over something that’s not even remotely life-changing, or threatening. Hence, here’s reluctantly welcoming the next three months of hotness. I’ll try to bear Madrid’s summer season, which as a matter of fact, is hardly bearable.

Summer isn’t all that bad, truth to tell. Lucid light helps achieve clearer, livelier photographs – a boon for my blog. Pictures are devoid of unwanted shadows, uneven colors, and blurs. Of course, quality shots don’t always require too much illumination. Strong lighting, in fact, can wreck havoc to what could be a beautiful photo. Shots taken at extremely bright high noon can make the details in your photographs unrecognizable, or disappear altogether. In order to obtain an evenly-lit photo with beautiful shadows, try shooting in the early morning or late afternoon.

Time to head to Madrid Gardens

Summertime is when the afternoons are hot and humid, and the streets of Spain’s capital breathe off discomfortingly hot vapors, enticing people to rush to cool places such as Madrid’s gardens and parks. Good thing that the city has some of the best gardens that it can offer. While orhers ask for entrance fees like the Real Botanical garden, many are free. The best for me is El Retiro, Madrid’s national park, which literally is an oversized garden. I’m amazed by its vastness in area – the wide open spaces, the man-made lake, the beautiful sculptures, the structures – everything inside El Retiro fascinates that people want to visit the park over and over.

Apart from Buen Retiro, two other gardens are worth visiting for their  stunning views, lush flora, and refreshingly cool shades. These are the Jardin de Sabatini and Campo Del Moro, both of which are near the Palacio Real.

Jardines de Sabatini

Adjacent to the palace is the Jardines de Sabatini, or the Sabatini Gardens. It boasts of tall trees, intricately trimmed hedges, fountains, and a pond. Benches abound and are found all over the park, but mainly along pathways and beneath trees.  After a long day of visiting nearby Madrid sites and attractions such as Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Alcala, Gran Via, Plaza de Espana, Palacio de Cibeles, and the Palacio Real itself, many tourists decide that their final stop for the day is Sabatini.

Horarios: Open to the public everyday, from 9:00AM to 9:00PM

Direccion: Calle de Bailén, Madrid

How to go: Take the Metro and alight at Opera Station. Walk through Plaza Oriente to reach Calle Bailen and Palacio Real de Madrid. On its immediate left is the garden. You can also enter via the Cuesta San Vicente Gate.

Map:

imageThe Garden of Sabatini is open all year long. It experiences a peak in the number of visitors during the summer season
image Hedges typically have elaborate designs. The Jardines de Sabatini’s are much simpler, with linear and angular designs. They are impressive, just the same – a feast to the eyes
imageThe statue of Alfonso X de Castilla, or Alfonso the Wise. He ruled over the Spanish regions of Castilla, Leon, and Galicia during the mid-13th century

imageThe ornamental trees, shrubs and hedges are well-maintained and manicured, making this scenery one of the many picture-perfect views of the garden

imageTheir designs might be simple,still, the hedges of Sabatini are comparable if not better than those in the gardens in France. If only for its hedges, the garden adds significant beauty to the stately Palacio Real de Madrid

imageBright Red carnations adorn the wide pathway that leads to that part of garden nearest the  Palacio Real

imageGates to the garden along Paseo de la Virgen de Puerta
imageThe main gates to the Sabatini Gardens of Madrid, Spain at Calle Bailen, very near Palacio Real

imageI took notice of the beautiful inhabitant of the fountain near the garden’s gates

image The Sabatini Garden is the site to a number of  shows and state functions in Madrid 

imageSabatini Restaurant in front of the Garden Entrance

Campo del Moro

The Campo del Moro is located at the back of the Palacio Real. The garden was so-called because it was the area where Moslem armies were formed to invade the Christian cities of Alcazar and Madrid.

Eventually, it was developed as a hunting ground for the royal family. Every summer, a large influx of visitors is expected to enjoy the garden as a place of rest and recreation after a tiring tour of Madrid. The garden has many benches situated underneath tall trees, providing cool and refreshing shades.  Just like the Sabatini Garden, Campo del Moro is beautifully green all over, boasting of thousands of plant and tree varieties.

As a blogger, I label the jardin a paradise, what with its many beautiful scenery and spots. Its winding dirt roads and paths, for instance,are perfect subjects of photography – they are dreamy and romantic. There are some portions of the pathways where trees that line the sides seem to embrace each other, entangling their branches and twigs to form a shining bright green roof made out of overlapping leaves, hovering the length of the road.

If you’ll check your map book, you’d see how proximate the garden is to the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, the entrance is far, found along Paseo de la Virgen de Puerto. If your starting point is the palace, you must pass through a number of streets, Calle Bailen, Cuesta de San Vincente, y Virgen de Puerto, before you can actually reach it. By contrast, the entrance gate to Sabatini is right along Calle Bailen, very near the Palacio Real.

Horarios: Open Monday to Sunday, from 10:00AM to 10:00PM
Direccion: Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto 28058 Madrid
How to go: Take Metro train and descend at Principe Pio Station. Cross the corner of Cuesta San Vicente, by Puerta de San Vicente. Walk a few meters through Paseo de la Virgen de Puerto and this will bring you to the entrance to the garden.
Map:

imageA map of the interior of Jardines del Campo del Moro serves to guide visitors as they tour the garden
imageFuente de las Conchas is a beautiful accent to the Garden. It is connected to the palacio by the Pradera de las Vistas del Sol. The fountain was initially installed at the palace of Don Luis of Boadilla del Monte

image Bare trees line up the pathway near the pradera of the Campo del MoroimageWith long tail feathers at rest (not fanned), the peacock (or Pavo Real in Spanish) nestles comfortably onto the grasses

image It pays to be patience. After waiting for more than an hour,  garden’s fabulously-feathered resident finally decided to show off by fanning its tail feathers. It’s not the best shot, but this I’ll have to make do. They say a squeaking peacock with a fanned tail is a threatened guy (peacocks are male). So, I and everybody else around kept our distance as we took pictures
image In 1892, created was the Chateau o La Casita de la Reina, a wooden house made as a resting place for the of Her Royal Highness the Queen of Spain
image Flower beds of fully-bloomed white carnation line the side of pradera of Campo del Moro

image The sun’s rays filter through and bounce off the leaves of the trees and bushes found along both sides of the narrow road. This results in a somewhat illusion of a bright green luminescence lighting up the way and ready to mesmerize anyone that passes through

After a few days of a busted server (web host’s), I was finally able to finish and post this article. The same last days saw how the cold wind had blown its last. It’s apparent that the afternoons had become hotter; the breeze, warmer. The sun has now swelled into a throbbing, gigantic scorcher up in the sky, ready to sear anything that its blazing rays touch. The weather has become intolerable that I had to cut short my trip to the parks and be content with everything I gathered for this article. Now I’m readying my next post (on Atocha) in the comfort of my room.

Assessing the past week so far, I think it’s going to be a really hot summer in Madrid. Still, despite the searing heat, admittedly that we are moving to a better weather. Since blogs are more about pictures than words, the bright and clear summer days will definitely help me come up with quality photos for my website.

The fact is that many consider summer as a huge deal of a season, and plan their next three months around either going abroad for a vacation, or touring Spain.  In my case, I guess I’ll just have to adapt with the weather change. Just a few days more, and I’d be fully acclimatized. And off I go again to continue with my exploration of the city. As it is, there are so many more sites and attractions to discover, take pictures of, and blog about. Madrid never seems to run out of things extraordinary. There must still be tons of food to taste, barrios to discover, traditions to appreciate, and locals to mingle and blend in. All this will be easier to do now that summertime is upon us – when Madrid is (hopefully for me) at its best.