Category Archives: Sites and Attractions

Madrid Attraction: Palacio de Cristal de la Arganzuela

imageAfter an unintentional, albeit exhilirating exploration of Matadero Madrid, Arganzuela district’s center of culture and arts, I finally continued to walk to my original destination, the Madrid Rio, which is also located within the same area. I have always wanted to see for myself what they say is the vast expanse of the park as well as its impressive outdoor fitness facilities. Also, this Arganzuela park is well-known as a project that promotes the creation of more “green areas” in Madrid, and so, I was raring to write a blog article about it.

But once again, as I continued to tread the way to the park,  I stopped in my tracks literally, as I was greeted by the sight of a beautiful building that’s looking unique because it is made mostly of glass. The sign board in front reveals its name — the Palacio de Cristal de la Arganzuela. However, as I managed to look past its glass facade, I could discern that it is a large terrarium.

Even from afar, you can peer through the glass walls and see that its interior is filled with plants of different kinds, silver-colored tubes that are perhaps parts of the HVAC equipment of the facility,  large vats or containers, and vertical steel bars that hold the glass ceiling in place, serving as a strong reinforcement.

Formerly called the Nave de Patatas, the glass and steel edifice was once a part of the Matadero Madrid complex of the distrito de Arganzuela, until eventually it was transformed into a large museum of plants and herbs that it is today — a gargantuan greenhouse for all sorts of flora, a greening and environmental effort that the City of Madrid is proud of.

This garden / terrarium facility is also called Invernadero (in English it means greenhouse) and even known by a much longer name, Invernadero de Palacio de Cristal de la Arganzuela.

What to see in the crystal palace of Arganzuela

The glass house is so huge that it is able to take in and managage around 9,000 different species of plants, all of which are grouped according to the climate that they thrive in and flourish.

1. There are basically four different groups of plants; these are the tropical, subtropical, cacti and crass, and water plants. The Palace’s management made sure that the different groups of plants not only survived but flourished. This is ensured by simulating the type of climate necessary for every group of flora.

2. Apart from perhaps thousands of species of flora, the plant palace also features a variety of waterfalls and fountains filled with different species of fish. Various types of birds are also bred and cared for inside the greenhouse.

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imageFront Facade and entrance to the Plant Greenhouse
imagePalacio de Cristal de la Arganzuela also has an equally beautiful back facade and entrance

Visit Palacio de Cristal de la Arganzuela

Location of site: Paseo de la Chopera 10 (near the Matadero Madrid Complex, Madrid Rio, and the Rio de Manzanares)

How to Go:

Via Auto bus: EMT lines 6, 19, 45, 59, 78, 76, 148, 247

Via City Subway: Legazpi Madrid Metro Station (Lines 3, 6)

Hours of Visit:

Mondays: The site is closed

Tuesday to Friday: 9 AM to 3 PM

Saturday and Sunday: 10 AM to 2 PM

Entrance Price:

Admission is Free

 Map:

Matadero Madrid: From Slaughterhouse to Venue for the Arts

imageMadrid‘s distrito de Arganzuela must be proud for being the site of beautiful Moorish-inspired complex that serves to foster art and culture in the city.  Red brick-and-tile edifices stand on a wide area of land in front of Plaza de Legazpi, sprawled along the riverbanks of the Rio de Manzanares. The complex is a must-visit after a morning stroll at the Madrid Rio Park.

Its name is Matadero Madrid; and yes, you guessed it right — it used to be the city’s slaughterhouse (hence the name). Apart from being the workplace for butchers, it also served as a market (I presumed all that slaughtered livestock went straight to this place to be sold).

The building was constructed under the helm of famous Spanish architect Luis Bellido during the early years of the 20th century, and was thought of as a major representative of Spain´s progressive, modern  architecture. The project ensured the buildings or pavilions were functional to the optimum.

Moorish Architectural style

Notice the unique architectural style used in the pavilions, I say unique in that it is different from the designs common in many city edifices and structures.

The design used in Matadero is Neomudejar, which is Moorish styled architecture. Proponents of this particular style push for its emergence in the modern Madrid architecturul landscape, with claims that Neo-mudejar is uniquely Spanish.

Transformation to a haven for art lovers

Matadero continued to operate as a slaughterhouse until 1996, with the city government voted for the conversion of the place into a venue for contemporary arts and culture. As it was an experiment during its inception as a slaughterhouse, it continues such a tradition by making non-conventional renovations and development of the complex. This is done to optimize its use as a major haven for the creators and lovers of modern Madrid art.

What to see in Matadero Madrid

1. Deposito de Especies

imageWhat used to be a water tank meant for the slaughterhouse now serves as an archive and memorial.

2. Plaza de Matadero

imageThe main square of the complex, where arts and performance events such as dance, concert, and even circus acts are held.

3. Naves de Espanol

imageOne of the main centers of arts, Naves de Espanol is a chain of three buildings along the Calle de Matadero. Small performances and theater acts are performed in this venue.

4. Cineteca

imageA modern center where films of documentary nature are screened for public viewing. The movie house also serves as the office for the prestigious Documenta Madrid film fest, the film body dedicated to the showing of documentary movies promoted and endorsed by the Madrid City Council and Cinetica.

5. La Casa del Lector

imageThis venue was meant to accommodate the readers, and was created thru the efforts of the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation. La Casa del Lector is a place for promoting reading of all forms and holding cultural activities such as reading workships, film exhibitions, and music performances.

6. La Casa del Reloj

imagePreviously known as Matadero’s Pavilion of Central Services and Municipal Market, it is now both a cultural center and the Office of the Municipal Board of Arganzuela.

How to Go to Matadero Madrid

Nearest Madrid Stations: Legazpi (Line 6), Principe Pio (you will have to go through Madrid Rio first, which involves a long, long walk)

Autobus Lines: Lineas 8, 22, 79, 123, 18, 19, 180, 45, 59, 148 (among others)

Map

CentroCentro y El Mirador de Palacio de Cibeles

“Refugees welcome” is the message you’d see written on the huge rectangular banner that hangs on the middle of the façade of Palacio de Cibeles. Also known as Palacio de Communicaciones, that gargantuan and majestic, former-post-office-turned-city hall must be the first thing you’d see whenever you’re at Plaza Cibeles. The sign alone is a clear indication of the willingness of Spain to help alleviate the refugee crisis in Europe. (As of yet, an effective solution to the problem seems nowhere in sight.) Surprisingly, the cloth has remained white and maintained its pristine appearance (that’s how it appears from the distance of a few hundred feet) despite its exposure to the common elements. Or has it been replaced a number of times already?

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It must have been hanging there for eternity, or at least since I got here in Madrid. Perhaps, it will continue to be until the message is no longer relevant.  Frankly, the constant sight of the banner had me thinking that the building has become a huge refugee center, a wild conjecture I must possibly share with others.

Well, at least today, the beloved Ayuntamiento will be my refuge as I say it’s time for me to take on its rooftop.

El Mirador – Rooftop or Observation Deck

You might ask,”Are people even allowed there?”

Yes, I’m pretty sure. Because of the banner, it had me venturing my gaze way above it, and in the process, spotted people populating the upper portion of the middle tower of Cibeles (I realized later it was the building’s observation deck on the 8th floor).

And since then, I would always throw a glance at that faraway spot at the Palacio’s middle tower, often from a seat of an autobus whenever I’m headed to Embajadores, Lavapies (27) or Puerta del Sol (5), both lines of which pass through the Plaza. The deck seems to never run out of people, all crowding near the ledge presumably to take the best pictures possible. Always, I look at such a scene with great envy,  and this odious feeling is only made worse by the Palacio itself, with its mere sight almost like coaxing me in some dogged manner to be there myself, and just make it happen.

“Go to the roof of the Cibeles?  But who wants to climb up a building rooftop, which is a precarious location as you can imagine?” Yes, I know. To begin with, it’s not even a roof top but an observation deck, for Pete’s sake.

But I do agree with everyone else who says that a rooftop is never a desired destination, as it is somewhat of a bore, a dull area of almost-nothingness, save for a few pieces of old furniture huddled at a corner or some rusty, jutted-out reinforcing iron bars meant for future building extension. A bit of correction: everybody agrees to these not-so-pleasant statements about the rooftop, except perhaps for some half-witted lovers who look to them as the perfect place to effect the consummation of their romantic tryst (presuming it is secluded).

Clearly, we’re not talking about that of Cibeles – it doesn’t fit such descriptions (especially the one with the amorous slant). To reiterate, it’s an observation deck, and not any ordinary roof. It was created for a more essential, a rather touristic purpose, among others, which is to offer great viewing experience of the stunning places in Madrid.

Inside Palacio de Cibeles

Actually, there are two things that you can do at Cibeles. One, check out the floors of the Centro Centro, that part of the building that acts as the city’s center of culture and arts; and two, go to the observation deck for some awesome viewing enjoyment. You can do both, but I would rather you engage in the rooftop activity later, which is what I did.

Since it was still early, I surveyed the area first. On the second floor (main floor), you are greeted by an information counter and a souvenir and gift shop. After loitering around, I can’t for the life of me feel that I’m actually inside the Madrid Ayuntamiento. The place was quiet, and hardly had the chaotic fuss and goings-on typical of any government office, let alone, a city hall.

So, I thought some chat with the information desk officer is in order.

“Yes, this is the city Hall.” Unable to respond quickly, I must have appeared dumbfounded to the lady at the desk, so she explained that everything is located at the back of the building.

“And the office of the mayor?”

“Also at the back.” Still sensing my confusion, she added, “Where we are now is the CentroCentro – the culture and arts center of Madrid.”

I had a bunch of questions that I’d like to bring up but lest I might sound stupid, I decided to let her be and continued to look around. At left of the main floor is a lounge, offering a number of sofas to rest on. Here, you can have some shut-eye for a few minutes if you want to, which I did, although only after hiding my face behind one of those tourism brochures that I grabbed from nearby. There was a lot of them, by the way – revistas, flyers, and booklets. All are colorful, attractive, and professionally printed with details on various exhibitions and similar activities at the CentroCentro. They are tucked neatly in their respective shelves, ready for any visitor who wants good introductory reading on Madrid culture.

It’s apparent that Centro Centro’s current expositions are more into the visual arts, as attested to by the exhibits, galleries, and film-showing dedicated to conventional and digital photography, sketches, illustrations, and paintings. Most are found in the third and fourth floor.

Anyway, the quick siesta gave me ample energy to be propped up and ready for what I really wanted to do – go up the observation deck.

image The reading room / lounge is located at the 2nd floor

image The 2nd floor of the Ayuntamiento de Madrid used to be the Old Post Office’s operations courtyard. It now serves to receive guests and introduce them to the city’s cultural focal point – the Centro Centro. At the photo’s left is the info center, while opposite is a shop selling  souvenirs and memorabilia. In the middle is a row of computer booths that offers online access on CentroCentro information

imageDepicted in this old photo is the postal operations during the heyday of the Palacio del Communicaciones. This and the other photos of the old post office and telegraph building are on display on the middle section of the main floor (second floor)

imageInformation counter at CentroCentro. They advised me to forgo any visit to the mirador in case of inclement weather. Even the gentlest of rains is enough to close the observation deck.

imageSouvenir and gift shop at the main floor of the CentrCentro

imageThis picture of a lady with a detached prosthetic arm is part of an exhibit on digital photography with people with disabilities as theme. Las Personas Con Discapacidad Exhibit, 3rd Floor, March 18 to June 6, 2016

imageD-Espacio – an exhibition that tackles contemporary design, located at the 3rd floor, CentroCentro

image Simplicity and ingenuity as well as convenience in usage is evident in these pieces of furniture at the D-Espacio exhibition

imageSeries of sketches and photos that are part of Aliadas (Allies), an exhibition of variety of art work that celebrates women. 3rd Floor, CentroCentro, March 10 to September, 2016

imageLa Crecion, a splendid artwork by Nuria Meseguer, is included in the Aliadas Exhibit

image Cachetejack is the name of the duo Nuria Bellver and Raquel Fanjul, popular Spanish artists/illustrators. They have global brands like Elle Magazines and Hermes for clients. Their exhibit is at the 4th floor of the Cibeles. A must-see

image See the work of Catalan artist Rut Panuse at the 4th floor, March 04 – May 08, 2016

El Mirador de Palacio de Cibeles

A few minutes after 6PM, I bought my ticket at the Taquilla outside the Palacio. imageThe teller told me to go straight to 6E floor, where I will be given further instruction. Upon reaching the floor, I was greeted by another comely lady who directed me to the stairs that leads to the 8th floor.

“How long can I stay at the Mirador,” I asked her, even if I already knew I can only remain at the deck for 15 minutes.

“You have to leave at 6:25.”

And so I proceeded to climb up, along with two other guests.

What can I say about the experience? I wouldn’t say it’s mind-boggling because it’s not. That’s too much of an exaggeration to say. But still, I must admit I’m very much amazed by the experience. Breathtaking is the appropriate description to use. Every view from the observation deck is just beautiful. Everywhere I look is picture-worthy that I consumed much of my mobile phone’s memory, filling it with photos. (Sadly, I can only post so much because of website bandwidth issues)  The 15 minutes allotted to each visitor is definitely not enough. I’ll return another time, and do less picture-taking and more soaking on the unique moment of being up there. Make the effort yourself. I promise it’s worth your while, to say the least.

imagePor fin! I see the Cybele goddess and her chariot and the fountain in a whole new, dizzying way. Wonder how great the angle of depression that my looking at the statue from the height of 70 meters has created. I must say that the statue is one of the most beautiful in all of Madrid. And its view from afar and from a place this high makes it even more spectacular

imageThe flag of Spain flying high and mighty. Here’s a beautiful view of Paseo de Recoletos that leads to Plaza de Colon and the opulent areas of Salamanca and Chamberi

imageRight tower of Palacio de Cibeles obscures the view of Paseo de Recoletos from the observation tower

image From El Mirador, you have a nice of view of the Torres de colon, the tall, dark building from afar. It is named after Cristobal Colon, Spanish for Christopher Columbus, the famed explorer

imageThe edifice with the flag houses the Naval Museum and the Naval Headquarters, located along Paseo del Prado

imageDark, errie clouds loom, seemingly with a menacing threat to bring great rains

Useful Tips when visiting El Mirador de Cibeles:

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1. Palacio de Cibeles is closed to the public on Mondays. Likewise, entry to the mirador is not allowed during rains/inclement weather.

2. Be ready with your 2 euros, the cost of an entrance ticket of an adult visitor. You have to pay 50 cents for every child you bring.

Two euros is a mere pittance yet it takes you through an exhilarating experience that involves all your senses as you feast on the unique views of many awesome places in Madrid.

3. You can take advantage of free entrada if you set your visit on the first Wednesday of every month.

4. Remember you are only given a scant 15 minutes to stay, so make the most of it; and by this, I mean take quality photographs. We tend to focus on the quantity, but who cares about so many pictures, if most would end up on your mobile phone’s trash bin anyway.

Work on finding the best angles and lighting before you click; this will help you come up with photos that you will be proud to post on your blog/website later.

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree – Symbol of Madrid

Position yourself on the sidewalk in front of the Ministry of Interior, the massive edifice with the clock tower, and you could hardly spot the statue from where it stands. Its height of 14 feet is not enough to be conspicuous from such a distance.

Still, you know that it’s there, its location being one of the most crowded in the whole area, an indication of its immense popularity.

Come closer, and behold, a bear nuzzles up a strawberry tree. The latter seems to be receptive of its amiable gesture. Such is an attractive sight, and an easy tourist draw of the plaza.

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree Statue, known among locals as “El Oso y El Madrono,” is a highly revered symbol of Spain’s capital, and one of the must-see attractions of Madrid.

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The popular figure is found in Madrid’s historical plaza, the Puerta del Sol. If you want to see it sans the large crowd, try to visit the plaza at around 1 or 2PM.

Go through Calle Alcala or Calle San Jeronimo (coming from Cibeles, Plaza de Independencia, and Sevilla), or exit the Vodafone Sol Metro station via the Alcala access gate, and you’ll immediately encounter the monument. As you go near it, certainly you can feel its imposing presence.

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The Bear and Strawberry tree statue provides cool shade on a sunny day, which is why people love to gather around and even sit beside it to rest, with their backs pressed against its stone base.

A handsome bronze-and-stone creation of prominent Spanish sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafe, it was inaugurated in 1967. Quickly enough, Madridenos embrace it as a prime representation of their beloved city.

Indeed, the monument is a top reason why everyone wants to visit Puerta del Sol. It has become a meeting place of sorts, with tourists making it a starting point of their tour of the plaza.

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Take an electric bike ride from any point in the city and park at Sol’s own bicycle station, located a few meters away from the statue.

A visit of Sol, of course, is not complete without a photo of the monument. However, it looks like all want to have their picture taken with the famous bear and tree, so one must be ready to wait for his turn.
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The statue glistens on a rainy night

Some want to immediately scour the plaza for its surrounding commercial establishments, which are a slew and all more than willing to cater to various whims.

Still, many others rare to see the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, and would rather visit it first. Effortlessly, it attracts people to its fold, especially those who want to experience its historical importance.

How to reach: Visit to the monument is easy, as a number of EMT buses start and end, or pass within or near the plaza itself such as 51, 5, and 150. If you are coming from Glorietta de Embajadores, Tirso de Molina, and Plaza de Cascorro, the EMT minibus M1 will take you to the plaza. A stone’s throw away is Metro Station, Vodafone Sol. Reach it after just a few minutes of leisure walking from Tribunal, Callao, and Gran Via.

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EMT Autobus 51 offers a convenient ride, with its final stop (ultima parada) located near the monument.

Puerta Europa [Gate of Europe] of Plaza de Castilla – A Stunning Madrid Attraction

imageIf you are within the northern part of Madrid, you might want to tour and explore the area, wondering what Madrid attraction might be there to marvel at.

Just pass by the roundabout where Paseo de Castellana and Bravo Murillo meet, or take a Madrid Metro ride at the Plaza de Castilla subway station, surely you will not the two leaning buildings or towers that stand on the opposite sides of the sprawling metro and autu bus station — they are collectively known as the Puerta Europa or the Gate of Europe. If only because of the unique stance of these skyscrapers, tilted at a 15-degree angle, they deserve to be considered as major icons of the city.
imageEnjoying major attention from the tourists visiting the Gate of Europe is the Calvo Soleto Monument, which faces away from the towers and looks into the Paseo de Castellana

Formerly known as the Torres KIO, (KIO stands for Kuwait Investment Office), its current name is the Gate of Europe or Puerta Europa. Today these impressive 115-meter tall buildings located at this quiet part residential-part business (judicial) part of the city is the property of two major banking institutions of Spain – Bankia and Realia. In fact, you will be able to find the names of these two banks shining brightly on the top part of the buildings come evening tim.

imageEstacion de Plaza Castilla. I frequent this Madrid Metro Station, not only because it houses 3 important lineas that bring me to various destination, Lines 1, 9, and 10, but also because it serves as the stop to Autobus 27, the bus that ride whenever I go to Lavapies and Embajadores.  At the far left of the photo is the Caja Madrid Obelisk

These twin buildings have the bragging rights for being the first inclined or leaning buildings in the world. Its creators were architects from the US, John Burgee and Philip Johnson; these talented American duo were commissioned by the Kuwaiti Investment office to design the towers. Without, the Plaza de Castilla and its surroundings were never the same again after the towers, the KIO Towers, opened for business in 1996.

Also in the plaza, in the midst of the roundabout, is the Obelisk. It is a slender yellow-colored metallic structure that never fails to get the attention of many passers-by. Its official name is Caja Madrid obelisk, so-called because its construction is funded by the popular Madrid bank of the same name. Anyone can notice that this beautiful creation by Constantin Brancusi fully complements the overwhelming presence of the Puerta Europa.

Within walking distance is another popular set of buildings — the Cuatro Torres (Four Towers) — located in the nearby Business area.

imageCalvo Sotelo Monument – another awesome Madrid attraction within the Plaza de Castilla area
imageJust across the Realia Building, located along Mateo Inurria, is the Fundacion Canal or Canal de Isabel II. This is the service agency that ensures the provision of the water supply in order to meet the city’s requirements. It is under the ownership and management of the the Madrid Government.

How to go:

Take the Metro Metro Station lines 1, 9 and 10, and get off at Plaza de Castilla metro station. The plaza station also serves as the parada to a number of auto bus lines such as 27, 149, 173, 174, and 176.

Mapa:

Plaza De Toros De Las Ventas: Must-see in Madrid

It can’t claim to be the largest in the world, being only third to Mexico City’s Plaza del Toro and Plaza de Toro Monumental of Venezuela (first and second, respectively), but Plaza de Toros de las Ventas in Salamanca, Madrid is easily the most famous bullring stadium of them all. Many afficionados even consider it to be Madrid, Spain’s and even the world’s seat of bullfighting.

Front of Plaza de Toros, Ventas, Madrid
Front of Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, Madrid

I am indifferent to bullfighting. I’m neither for nor against it. I am aware, however, that debates on the subject are always heated ones. Many label it as a blood sport and a clear act of cruelty to animals. Many others insist that it is a beautiful form of art.

In recent times, many Latin countries, including those with a rich history of bullfighting, had ceased to play the sport. Even in Spain, notably Catalona’s Barcelona, the game has been banned. Madrid, however, insist that such a tradition must be preserved.

I have yet to see the interior of a bullring, much less watch an actual bullfight. All I have is a recollection of a 1970’s film of a popular Filipino comedian, whose character in the movie went to Spain to search for her lady love, and was mistaken by locals to be a Matador.

When told that Las Ventas (as it is affectionately called) is a must-see Madrid site, and to stand on its grounds is thrilling enough, I was convinced that a visit is in order.

Starting at Columbia Metro Station, I rode line 9 and got off at Nunez de Balboa, after which I transferred to Line 5 en route to Ventas.

Imagine my surprise as I got out of the station – Voila! The tall and mighty Plaza de Toros de las Ventas of red-brown shade stands in front of me. It is such a massive structure that I thought it truly deserves to be the home of bullfighting.

I had to step further away from the building to take a wider shot. Notice Vendas Metro Station just to the right of Plaza del Toro
I had to step farther away from the building to take a wider shot. Notice Vendas Metro Station just to the right of Plaza de Toros

It sprawls in a vast land fronting Calle de Alcala, and is surrounded by various displays of bullfighting sculptures in its grounds.

To the right-side area of the site are a few scuptures. his one is a Matador statue seemingly honoring the plaque of ...a
A Matador honoring Dr. Alexander Fleming
Premier Matador ....
Premier Matador making a proud bullfighter stance

My curiosity was immediately piqued upon seeing the edifice’s reddish-hued entirety, made bolder that day since it is set against a sordid background of gray skies. That moment, I developed a great interest in watching a bullfight, even if only a single one, for the sheer experience of it if not for the enjoyment (I hate the thought of seeing a bull possibly getting hurt).

Matodor and bull sculpture in front of the Plaza del Toros las Ventas
Matodor and bull sculpture in front of the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas

I was advised, however, to wait for the San Isidro Fiesta, which happens in the months of May and June, and so I’m looking forward to the event next year. The fiesta is when Madrid bullfighting is at its best because all the finest fighters in the country (los matadores) and the finest bulls (los toros) will see action.

I plan to tour Las Ventas in my next visit, around April perhaps; to help me learn more about the bullring stadium and gain a better understanding of bullfighting.

Matador in Action (Photo courtesy of Alfredo Miguel Romero)

I’m also excited about the coming San Isidro Fiesta, as I hope to become a spectator to a game. Will my indifference to the sport of bullfighting turn to disgust or appreciation after finally witnessing a bullfight? I will know by then.

Nearby restaurant, also along Calle de Alcala, is matador-themed Los Timbales
Get refreshments after witnessing an exciting bullfight action at matador-themed Los Timbales, just a street from Las Ventas and along Calle de Alcala

Tour of Plaza de Toros Las Ventas with Audio Guide

Schedule:
Monday to Sunday, 10AM to 5PM

Ticket Cost:
Adult: 12 euros, Child: 7 euros

How to go

1. From Puerta del Sol – Take Vodafone Sol Metro at line 2. Arrive at Ventas after 7 stations.

2. From Plaza de Castilla – Take Line 9 and alight at Nunez de Balboa. Tranfer to Line 5 and reach Ventas Metro after 2 stations.

3. From San Blas – Take Line 7 and get off at Pueblo Nuevo. Transfer to Line 5 and reach Ventas after 3 stations.

Map

Plaza Mayor: Where All Roads Lead to (Photos)

Plaza Mayor of Madrid,a major plaza  in the middle part of the city, is like a beautiful Spanish  enclave where all roads from outside seemingly lead to it. Once the center of recreation of this premier Spanish capital being a former bullfight stadium, the Plaza Mayor is now one of Spain’s leading tourist sites. You go to the plaza, and you’re like entranced by its enchanting beauty with the ancient buildings encircling the square.  You look around, and be treated to a number of street performers, producing soap bubbles or hurling cheap contraptions into the air – to the amazement of the kids and tourists. You can smell the calamares and jamon that are served by various restaurants scattered all around. Many tourist souvenir stores are also open to serve the needs of tourists, whether they post cards, Madrid shirts, and even medieval swords and headgears. Needless to say, Plaza Mayor is the place to be whether you’re a first time vistor to  Madrid, or someone who has been staying for some time and want to enjoy the noisy yet exciting ambiance that the plaza has to offer. imageimageimageimageimage

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Kilometro Cero at Puerta del sol

If you are traveling to Madrid, Spain, be sure to pass by Puerto del Sol – on your first day if possible – and head to that particular sidewalk in the plaza where the ground plaque or marker they call the Kilometro Cero is found. According to popular Spanish tales, anyone who steps on it is assured of a return to the city in the future.

And so that is exactly what I did as soon as arrived in the city (or rather, what my friends had me done on my first day). I flew into the Barajas airport in the afternoon, and after some much-needed rest, went straight to Puerto del Sol come nighttime by taking the Metro Linea 9 from Colombia station.

It was already 8:30 in the evening and dinnertime in the city, I thought the plaza would be less crowded. On the contrary, everywhere in Sol, including the area around the KM Cero were thick throngs of people.

I proceeded to the kilometro cero. A lot of tourists were abuzz and milling around the plaque, taking turns to have their pictures taken while they stepped on it. Across its surface was the line that read, “Origen de las Carretelas Radiales.” As I stepped on the plaque, I found myself making a wish. I swore immediately afterwards I had this reassuring feeling that it wouldn’t be my last visit to Madrid.

Where exactly is Kilometro Cero? In spite of being a ground-embedded marker, you won’t have any problem finding it. The plaza is found in the sidewalk right in front of the Casa de Correos, the gargantuan government edifice the width of which must be about the same as that of the plaza itself.

No doubt about it, Kilometro Cero of Plaza del Sol, that plaque that’s made out of granite, is one of the most popular and visited landmarks in Madrid.

Kilometro Cero, Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain What’s the Kilometro Cero? It is the spot from which the distance from Madrid to anywhere in Spain is measured, hence the name. So, if for instance, the distance from the Spanish capital to Toledo is a 200 km, such number is obtained using the KM Cero as the starting point. It is safe to say that if you standing on this point, you may brag that you have “conquered” the centremost point of the city.

Real Casa del Correos, Puerta del Sol, Madrid, SpainReal Casa de Correos is the massive Madrid government building in Puerto del Sol that towers over the Kilometro Cero (and perhaps everything else in the plaza, literally and figuratively). It is a popular landmark, especially on December 31 of every year when all roads lead to Plaza del Sol, and the building and clock tower becomes the center of attraction as the countdown to the new year is celebrated.

Navacerrada – Wintry, Snow-white Municipality of Madrid

I couldn’t believe it when I was told that Navacerrada is in Madrid – and covered in snow! It’s one place that I got to visit and see, I told myself. Later on, I realized that the place is found not in the city proper but already at its outskirts.

Navacerrada - where almost everything is covered in snow
Navacerrada – where almost everything is covered in snow

Serving as entry point to Sierra de Guadarrama’s Valle de la Barranca, Navacerrada is one of the more popular municipalities of Comunidad de Madid, being a known winter destination. Located at a high elevation, the 1,200-meter altitude is the reason for the long and extremely harsh, snowy condition during the cold months of the year.

Shops that rent out ski equipment and gear can be found in Navacerrada
Shops that rent out ski equipment and gear can be found in Navacerrada

Seldom do I experience a real winter holiday, and so my Navacerrada, Madrid trip last February 8, 201 was something truly worth remembering. Every moment there was just awesome, with almost everything covered in snow. The pictures here perfectly show the fun and excitement that I had, and the beauty of the place as well.

Try this exciting Navaserrada ski slope while basking at the warm rays of the sun
Try this exciting Navaserrada ski slope while basking at the warm rays of the sun

Planning to go there? Now is the perfect time to go on a holiday trip to this Madrid getaway, which is the peak of the winter season.

Here are a few tips and advice to consider:

1. No doubt about it – Navacerrada right now is one of the coldest spots, if not the coldest, in all of Spain. Hence, it’s a must that you are properly suited when visiting this unique municipality. Don’t forget your gloves, bonnet, thermal suit – any thick clothing that will serve as protection against the extreme cold.
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I brought my thermal gloves but lost it on the way to Cuaro Camino, where our service bus waited. This meant keeping my hands inside my pant’s borsillos almost all the time I was there and ruing not being able to make snowballs.

2. The snow-filled mountains of Navacerrada have ski areas that you can enjoy. Did you forget to bring your ski implement? Or worse, you don’t know how to ski? Fret not. Ski shops around the area rent out ski equipment and gear. Ski lessons are even offered at competitive prices.

3. Make sure you have your camera with you. Navacerrada boasts of so many awesome and picturesque sights, all worth capturing for posterity.

Navacerrada is a must-see winter attraction in Madrid
Navacerrada is a must-see winter attraction in Madrid

How to go:

Metro and Autobus: Just take Line 3 of the Metro Station and get off at Moncloa. Outside the station is the Park, on the side of which, is where Buses 691 going to Navacerrada pass through.

Via tren: Go to Chamartin Station, and take the C-8b and C-9 RENFE train rides to the Puerto.

Flights to Navacerrada from Madrid Barajas airport are also available.

Bidding Madrid Christmas Goodbye

Have you ever wished you had that extra space in your apartment, so that after placing your Christmas tree atop a platform cart – with lights, balls, star, and trimmings still in – you just slide everything inside it? I’m certain that not a few on Earth have been doing this all along.

I am not being mean-spirited. I am not even lazy to undo the decorations.

The thing is, I have trouble with the holidays ending. It’s like doing away with the best days of the year. The child in me does not want it to end. To this stubborn child, Christmastime means joy, fun, adventure, play, and he doesn’t want to part with all this.

As a grownup, I love the season because it lifts up my spirit. And now that I had the chance to witness and experience it in Madrid for the first time, I have to say that I enjoyed it wholly. It’s low-key compared to Manila’s shameless Christmas extravaganza, but it’s fascinating, nonetheless.

You should see Christmas in Madrid at night as beautiful lights are not wanting. Everywhere you look is a sight to behold, and something for your eyes to feast on. Needless to say, Madrid’s illumination at this time of the year is captivating in its own way.

The trees draped in bluish white lights lining up the paseos and calles, the giant digital display of El Corte Ingles, the gargantuan trees of sparkling yellow, blue, or red hue that litter the plazas of Madrid – all are enthralling. You will be spellbound by these lights even if subtly and help you imbibe that Yuletide feeling.

Up to this point, I still consider Madrid as a strange land, and the Spanish language as a saccharine, romantic music that I have yet to play beautifully. To put it simply, everyday is a big struggle.

Fortunately, being in Madrid at the time when the city is in the midst of the festivities buoys me up and helps me sustain my desire to stay – despite all odds.

Yuletide here has given me hope and emboldened me to look forward to the new year with great anticipation. Definitely, I’ll celebrate Christmas again in Madrid next year.

Here are some more photos (of Alcala and Cibeles places) to remember Madrid Christmas 2014 by:

Imposing buildings at night. Metropolitan, along Calle de Alcala and Rolex Building at Gran Via, as viewed from Calle de Alcala
Imposing buildings at night. Metropolitan, and Rolex Building at Gran Via, as viewed from Calle de Alcala
Banco de Espana
Banco de Espana
Palacio de Cibeles is a grand spectacle during evenings of Christmas 2014. Location, Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid
Palacio de Cibeles, a Christmas spectacle. Standing at Plaza de Cibeles, it easily dwarfs other edifices around the vicinity. I can compare its grandeur to that of Paris’ Notre Dame.
Chariot of Cibele, major landmark at the Plaza de Cibeles
Chariot of Cibele, major landmark at the Plaza de Cibeles. In the middle of the Plaza is the fountain also named Cybele, one of the city’s most important symbols.
Don't you wish it's always Christmas in Madrid? Portion of Calle de Alcala that connects Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de la Independencia
Don’t you wish it’s always Christmas in Madrid? Portion of Calle de Alcala that connects Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de la Independencia
Puerta de Alcala stands in the middle of Plaza de la Independencia. Madrid, Spain
Located in the midst of the Plaza de la Independencia, Independence Square, is the Puerta de Alcala. An architectural masterpiece, the structure evokes neoclassical art, and is popular for its five arches. One of the Symbolic gateways to the City of Madrid, Puerte de Alcala boasts of equal, if not greater, significance to the Palacio de Cibeles.
Puerta de Alcala as seen from Retiro Park, at the southern portion of the Plaza de la Independencia
Puerta de Alcala as seen from Retiro Park, at the southern portion of the Plaza de la Independencia