Tag Archives: Renfe

Outside Madrid: Castilian Town of Avila Spain

Town walls or murallas of AvilaLocated 100 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid is the beautiful town of Avila, Spain. A hundred kilometers might seem far, but it is actually not even if you must commute to get there. It is a mere 1 1/2 hours by train and a maximum of 2 via bus, and so you can´t blame me if I add this town to my list of convenient and affordable day trip destinations.

A part of the community of Castile Laon, Avila is a charming Castilian town, serving as the capital of the province that bears the same name. And by the way, trust me when I say it´s charming. Avila´s as charming as it can be. It immediately won my heart — a pounding one at that — the minute I stepped into the town and finally gazed at the wall gates near the Iglesia of Saint Peter. What a sight to behold! The wall, or the muralla de Avila, is such an entrancing monument, and comparable to Toledo´s Alcazar or Segovia´s Acqueducto Romano.

To be in Avila is like being transported to a 16th-century Spanish town filled with cobbled roads, medieval churches, royal houses, not to mention that the ancient walls that surround it.

When it comes to the wall, a quick inspection tells you that it is in perfect condition. It should be even after all these years, as this major Spain attraction, was built to serve as a strong enclosure to protect the town from invasion. The wall singularly puts Avila in the tourism map; it certainly is the reason why people – locals and tourists – come to visit the town in droves.

The town, whose beloved saint is St. Therese of Avila, is known for its numerous iglesias. I must have encountered one everywhere I go, which is why a number of them are featured in this article, such as the Iglesia de San Pedro, standing at the  major square of San Theresa, outside the walls; the Gothic-style Cathedral of Avila; and the Basilica de San Vicente, another highly popular church that’s located outside the muralla.

Indeed, the town of Avila has so much to offer in terms of fascinating tourist sites and attractions. Here are some of them that you will surely enjoy:

The Muralla or the Town Wall

imageFacade of the town wall, which was built to serve as protection and shield of the medieval town of Avila from the attacks of the Moors.

The Walls along El Rastro

imageWalk the pathway along that part of the wall at Parque El Rastro one late afternoon, and you´ll be mesmerized.

Basilica of San Vicente

imageNo words can describe the utter grace and solemnity of the Basilica of San Vicente. The Romanesque church, a national monument since 1882, was constructed using granite rocks. Also known as the Basilica of Saints Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta, it is one of the top church sites among tourists, and second only to the town´s Cathedral in popularity.

Church of Saint Peter

Iglesia de San Pedro, Avila, SpainThe photo shows the side gate to the Church of Saint Peter or La Iglesia de San Pedro. Notice the intricacy in the designs of its door, stone column, and arch components. Declared a monument of cultural interest in 1914, the church is located on one end of the Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus.

The Cathedral of Avila

imageKnown as the Catedral del Salvador de Avila, both Romanesque and Gothic designs were applied during its construction. The cathedral holds the distinction of being the first Gothic church to be built in the country. Its apse is a part of the muralla, and is considered as the most important turret of that section of the wall.

Convento de San Jose o de los Madres

imageBuilt in the beginning of the 1500’s, Convento de San Jose served as a convent for the Carmelite nuns of the town. It was declared a historical site and national monument in 1968.

The Town Ayuntamiento

imageWhile average in height and appearance, the beauty of the Ayuntamiento of the City Hall of Avila cannot be denied especially when its facade is lit up in the evening. The historic town hall, together with other establishments, enhance the beauty of the square, Plaza Mercado Chico.

Iglesia de Santiago

imageLa Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago is a breathtaking Avilan church that displays both Roman and Gothic styles. Thanks to its octagon-sided bell tower, Iglesia de Santiago is recognizable even when viewed from the distant mirador at Parque El Rastro.  The church was declared a monument of cultural interest on the 13th of April, 1983.

Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus

imagePlaza de Santa Teresa is also known as El Grande, and is one of the two recognized main squares of the town, the other being the Plaza Mercado Chico, found within the walls and home to the city hall. In the photo, the statue of the Monument to St. Therese faces the Puerto de Alcazar, one of the Wall Gates.

Yemas – Los Pasteles Traditionales de Avila

imageAvila can be dubbed as the town of delicious sweets and pastries, with the yema as its traditional Spanish food delicacy. I bought a box of 6 piece at Chuchi, one of the popular pastelerias around and enjoyed some of the best-tasting sweets I must have had in a long time. Most shops sell them at 6 pieces for 2.50 euros, and 4.50 to 5 euros for a box of 12.

More Avila sites and scenes

imageWith its yemas and other delicious sweets, Avila wins the title of ¨Spain´s Pastry town”
imageFrom the mirador, or the viewing balcony of the Parque de Rastro, you will be enthralled by the breathtaking view of the Ambles valley and all else that your eyes can see as everything is illuminated by the soft glow from the setting sun.
imageStatue of St. Therese de Avila with bountiful offerings of bouquets of flowers
imageBeautifully lit and animated fountain inside the courtyard complements the walls in adding mysticism to the surroundings
imageAs the sun’s rays kiss the orange granite stones of which the wall is made of, it magically turns golden

imageWhat an exciting day trip destination Avila is! I’ve seen so much, but there is more to explore — more churches, more sections of the muralla, and more truly spectacular views from atop this town wall (if you access it). Needless to say, much can be explored and discovered in Avila. It is not surprising that people who’ve been there would love to do a second visit. I myself is planning one, definitely soon.

Want to Enjoy a tour of the Wall?

Accessible tramos or sections to the public: Casa de Carnicerias, Puerta del Alcazar, Arco del Carmen and Puente Adaja

Entrance Fee: General Price is 5 euros; Reduced Price is 3.5 euros

Free entry: Tuesdays, from 2PM to 4PM

How I traveled to Avila, Spain:

One can reach the town via Renfe (train) or by bus. I opted for the latter, as always, as I find it convenient and less “invasive” compared to the train. Albeit, bus ride do take more off your time.

1. Via Autobus:

In Madrid, take the Metro station Linea 6 and get off at Mendez Alvaro. This station is found inside the Estacion Sur, the biggest and the busiest bus station in the city. If you’re in the vicinity of Atocha, take the EMT autobus 10 and alight at the Avenida Ciudad Barcelona – Pacifico parada, near the Pacifico Metro. Ride the train at this station, and get off at the next one, which is Mendez Alvaro.

I opted for the Jimenez Dorado bus, which arrived and departed on time. A plus: They offer video and music playing gadget in front of your seat. Too bad I didn’t bring my earphone.A one-way ticket to Avila Spain is around 7.50 euro, but if you buy an ida y vuelta (round trip) ticket, you´d spend less, at 13.61 euros. Be advised that tickets are not sold on the bus, but at the Estacion Sur ticketing counter. I made the mistake of falling in line at the darsena (platform) for nearly an hour only to be refused. After acquiring tickets from the counter, I had to wait for another two hours for the next scheduled trip.

Other Bus Companies offering trips: Avanza bus Company is also found in Estacion Sur. Visit its website for prices and bus schedules.

2. Via Train:

RENFE have regular trips to Avila. Please check costs and schedules on its official website.

Map:

Go on a Day Trip Adventure to Segovia Spain [And Explore Its Alcazar and Roman Aqueduct]

Do you feel you’ve seen enough of Madrid, Spain and wish you could visit places outside the city? Raring to go to other beautiful Spanish regions but wary about the long hours of travel that your chosen destination demands? Fret not as there are many towns near the capital that you can go to, such as Toledo, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and Alcala de Henares. In other words, there are tons of amazing day trip options from Madrid.

Day trip means you travel to your destination, explore it to the fullest, and return to Madrid — all within a day.

Still another destination, and a highly recommended one at that, is Segovia, Spain.

imageThe spot I climbed at the aqueduct wasn”t even the highest point one can possibly reach, yet I was already afforded spectacular views of the town

Found south of the capital, lying atop an elevated land a mere 30 minutes away by train from Madrid is Segovia, small compared to other towns, but unique nonetheless.

Its tiny size is compensated by the many fascinating attractions. A quaint town overflowing in valuable history and enthralling beauty, it isn’t surprising that Segovia is a World Heritage site (as declared by the UNESCO).

What makes Segovia an ideal tour destination?

imageFor one thing, the Roman Aqueduct alone is enough to make your journey worthwhile. There’s also the Alcazar, that Castilian edifice with a fairy tale-book like facade. Enthralling is how one would describe the sprawling Cathedral of Segovia. You’d be in awe gazing upon the church from the town’s Plaza Mayor. And before going back to Madrid, remember to dine at a Segovia restaurant that offers conchinillo (which wouldn’t be a problem since most establishments include this dish in their menu).

I love traveling alone. But I need to go to exceptional destinations to keep me, as a traveler by his lonesome, excited and filled with energy all throughout. I assure you Segovia is one of them.

What to see in Segovia Spain

1. The Roman Aqueduct

The aqueduct is one of the most important structures in this town and perhaps the whole of Spain. Composed of perhaps thousands upon thousands of granite blocks, it is the most important symbol of the town. The today, the Romano Acueducto is determined to be well-preserved and still capable of transporting water from the Rio Frio river to the city.

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2. The Aqueduct, from Fernandez Ladreda Avenue

From the bus stop, I walked thru the Avenida Ladreda, a main Segovian street filled with touristy restaurants and cafes. Iglesia de San Millan is right along  the avenue. Ultimately it brought me to the magnificent site of the Roman Aqueduct.

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3. Catedral de Santa Maria

The Santa Madrid Cathedral is the last Gothic-inspired church to be built in Spain. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is such a magnificent site from afar.
Catedral de Santa Maria, Segovia, Spain

4. Plaza Mayor

The square may be small in size but is the town’s designated area for important local activities and events. One of the most frequented spots by tourists, the square boasts of old-town, rustic restaurants and souvenir shops.

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5. Teatro Juan Bravo

One of the attractions at the Plaza Mayor of Segovia, the town’s principal theater was built in honor of Juan Bravo, a  beloved local hero.
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6. Puerta de San Andres

On my way to the Alcazar Castle, I passed through this gate that dates back to the early 12th century — Puerta de San Andres. Its vicinity offers great views of Las Murallas (City Walls) surrounding the important sites of the town. The ancient gate itself leads to the Jewish Quarters.

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7. Centro Didactico de la Juderia

The Didactic Center of the Jewish Quarter located at Calle de la Juderia Nueva, is a reminder of the once active Jewish community in the city. Once thriving area for the Jews was at Plaza de la Merced. Another popular Jewish street is the Juderia Viejo.
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8. La Casa de los Picos

La Casa de los Picos is a 15th century mansion by Pedro Lopez de Ayala, and considered by many  as unique because of its granite-built facade that features more than 600 pointy peaks. It boasts of a classic Renaissance courtyard within its interior. Once, an opulent residence, it now houses an art school and acts as a venue for regular exhibits.
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9. Puerta de la Claustra

Puerta de la Claustra is a 2-arch entrance, the only existing one leading to quarter of the cloister. Note the depiction of the Pieta on top of  the arch. The other similar entrances were taken down to give way to wedding of Philip II at the Alcazar de Segovia.

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10. Iglesia de San Andres

Iglesia de San Andres, a charming Roman Catholic Church, is located at the Plaza de la Merced, which you will pass by on your way to the more popular Santa Maria Cathedral.

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11. La Iglesia de San Martin

A Roman-styled early 12th-century church, La Iglesia de San Martin continues to attract tourists everyday mainly because of its strategic location, between the Segovian Aqueduct and the Sta Maria Cathedral. Standing near this small church of Moor origin is a local hero, Juan Bravo.

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12. Monumento a Juan Bravo

The striking monument at the Plaza de San Martin, beside the Iglesia de San Martin, is dedicated toJuan Bravo. Bravo is a Castilian nobleman who played an important role in the war within the autonomous Castille region.
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13. Las Murallas

The town’s Murallas is the thick wall that surrounds the perimeter of the elevated land that cradles the town. The tallest structure in the photo is the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Asuncion y de San Frutos. Facing the Murallas and the town itself (not shown in photo) is an low-lying expanse of land where the Jewish cemetery is situated.image

14. Alcazar

The flag of Spain flies high atop the 12th century-built Alcazar or fortress. A former official residence of the Castilian kings of earlier times, the Alcazar is said to be the inspiration for the design and creation of Disney’s own castle. It has Romanesque and Gothic styles in its facade while the interior evokes a strong Moorish design.
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Time for Some Segovian Food

Going to Segovia give you the chance to taste its famous cochinillo. While Madrid has its share of asador restaurantes, nothing beats Segovia as far as the roasted suckling pig is concerned. It is a gastronomic haven where most restaurants are known to serve only the tastiest cochinillos asados.

Restaurante Meson Don Jimeno

I chanced upon this tiny yet quite cozy meson restaurant on my way to the Alcazar. I must have found the perfect spot to have lunch (and to taste suckling pig), since they boast of heavenly succulent cochinillo. But, what’s more important, they serve portions.

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Judiones de la Granja

Judiones is a bean-based dish with added chorizo slices. What I love about it is its thick consistency and rich flavor. De la Granja means from the Granja, which is a town near Segovia. I’m not sure if the beans ingredient is from the Granja, or if the dish itself originated from the place. What I’m sure is that judiones is delicious!

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Cochinillo Asado!

The sight of that golden-brown color of the roasted piglet’s skin makes one’s mouth water. You know that the dish was roasted just right by its perfectly crisp skin and tender yet moist meat underneath
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Natillas

I was stuffed yet I couldn’t allow a morsel of this homemade Natillas (custard) to be left uneaten. A Spanish dessert of milk and egg, the popular Segovian postre is perfect to cap off a deliciously filling lunch.
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How to go to Segovia Spain

imageThis is the Guiomar Train station, where your Renfe train from Madrid stops and your tour of Segovia begins. From here, auto bus no. 11 will take you to the city proper (and near the aqueduct). Fare is 2 euros.

By Train

You can buy Renfe train tickets online at their website. Or you can buy them at Chamartin station, which you can reach via auto bus no 5, among others.  While train rides are expensive, they’re the fastest and most efficient way of traveling around. I left Chamartin at 12PM and arrived at Segovia Guiomar station at 12.25PM.

By bus

Perhaps, you’re not pressed for time, and more importantly, wanted to save a few bucks in travel fare, I suggest that you take the bus instead. You will be able to enjoy nice scenery and views during your travel to your destination. Tickets can be had at La Sepulvedana office at Moncloa Station. Price for  ida y vuelta is around 17 euros.

Map

Outside Madrid: Toledo Spain [What to See]

imageThe majestic Alcazar (fortress) lording over the whole town of Toledo

You need not travel for hours just to escape the frenzied Madrid crowd and enjoy the quiet of the countryside. For instance, if you want to go to Toledo Spain and wish to experience what the country’s former capital has to offer, you need only less than a hour, or roughly 45 minutes to reach this magnificent hilltop town.

A popular day trip destination, Toledo is a veritable cultural melting pot of sorts if only because it was formed from the influence of three different religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Such influences molded the place into the unique and historically rich town that it is now, as seen thru its Moorish walls and towers, plazas, cathedrals, museums, bridges, and Christian Roman ruins. Consequently, its overflowing uniqueness led UNESCO to declare it as a World heritage site.

imageToledo Cathedral

Toledo is the heart and soul of Spain, being the country’s former premier city, long before Madrid became the current one. This “pueblo” within the Castille La Mancha community sets itself apart from the rest of the region because it drips in so much grandeur and history.

A major Spain attraction like Cordoba and Compostela de Santiago, what makes Toledo a preferred destination is that it requires less travel hours to reach, which means much more time to explore the place.

A marked edge of Toledo is that going there is cheaper especially if you’re from Madrid. Traveling via bus will cost you less than 10 euros if you purchase round trip tickets. Likewise, sites and attractions are near each other. You’d get to walk through the town´s cobbled streets, which can be narrow and confusing – much like a labyrinth — but exciting, nonetheless.

Visit Toledo now, see it, and in no time at all, you will fall in love with this Spanish gem. Explore the town to the fullest, and be ready to add Toledo to your list of favorite Spanish towns.

MOORISH ATTRACTIONS

1. Alcazar de Toledo

This is Toledo´s famous fortress, standing at the highest point of the town. So-called because it was controlled by the town’s ancient conquerors, the Moors. It still maintains a vast military importance to the town.

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2. Puerta de Visagra

Also called Puerta Nueva de Visagra, this imposing monument serves as the gateway to the walled city of Toledo, Castilla La Mancha.

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3. Antiguas Murallas y Torres

The ancient towers and walls that surround Toledo are clear evidences of the Moorish influence on the town.

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4. Puente de San Martin y Rio Tajo

One of the popular town attractions is the San Martin Bridge with its 5 arches, spanning over the historic Tagus River (Tajo Rio). San Martin was a Roman bridge, but was rebuilt by the Moors in 1212.

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5. Iglesia de El Salvador

I’ll include the Church of El Salvador under the Moorish group since it was originally built as a mosque, at the time when the Muslims dominated the town.

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JEWISH INFLUENCE

1. Museo de Separdi

The Sephardic Museum boasts of a rich display of the history of the Jewish people in Toledo through its valuable Judaic artifacts. Where located: Calle Samuel Levi.

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2. The Menorrah Tiles

The white Menorrah or the Jewish candle holder over a blue-background tile. Many of these tiles are embedded in the streets of Toledo, indicating a once thriving Jewish presence.

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3. Transito Synagogue

The synagogue of the Transito is unique because while it is a bonafide Jewish place of worship, the edifice evokes a Moorish design. It is built by Samuel Ha-Levi (full name: Samuel Ben Meir Ha Levi Abulafia), a Jewish advisor to the 14th century King of Castile, Pedro I.

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4. Sta Maria la Blanca

Santa Maria la Blanca, now a small Christian church and museo, was built as a synagogue, functioning as one until the latter part of the 14th century. Ownership was eventually transferred to the Catholic Church. Christian worship and cultural events are said to be held at the site.

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ROMAN CATHOLIC LEGACY

1. Catedral de Santa Maria de Toledo

A popular Roman Catholic church patterned after the Bourges Cathedral of France, it is known by many names such as the Toledo Cathedral and Cathedral of Spain. It is considered one of the finest structures that utilized Gothic architecture. Entrance ticket price: 8 euros

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2. Iglesia de San Ildefonso

The church of San Ildefonso is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, St Ildefonsus. Run by the Jesuits, the church is primarily baroque in design. It is simple and charming church that’s popular among tourists who wander within the Calle de Mejico area.

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3. Convento de San Antonio, Dulces Artisanos

The Convent of San Antonio de Padua can be found in Santo Tome, one of the Town´s central streets. It sells pastries and sweets like yemas at affordable prices, to the delight of tourists and locals alike.

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OTHER TOLEDO SPAIN ATTRACTIONS

1. Plaza Zocodover

The town´s main square, a tourist attraction, is bustling like most other main squares in Spain. People rush about in the plaza throughout the day, mainly because of the surrounding restaurants, souvenir shops, and the fancy, red-colored tourist train that brings riders to the spot where panoramic photos of the town from afar can be taken.

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2. Museo de Santa Cruz

Its location is where an ancient hospital used to stand. Now, the Santa Cruz Museum features everything that represents the magnificent era of the country — the Spanish Renaissance. It presents works of Luis Trista and El Greco, among many other renowned artists. Direccion: Miguel de Cervantes

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3. Museo del Greco

Located along Paseo del Transito, the museum is dedicated to Domenikos Theotokopoulos — or simply El Greco. As his name implies, he was from Greece but settled in Toledo Spain where he led a prolific life as an artist and architect. Here, he produced most of his beautiful painting-masterpieces.

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4. Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Another popular town Square, where the Ayuntamiento, the body in charge of the town government, and the Cathedral de Sta Maria are found.

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5. Hostal San Tome

Hotels in Toledo Spain abound, and so finding a nice accommodation is easy to be had if you want to stay in town overnight or for a few days. Hostal San Tome belongs to the list of fine Toledo hotels — for one thing, its location is right in the middle of the action. Booking a room here is the perfect thing to do. Here is its website.

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How to reach Toledo:

Bus: An ALSA bus is bound for Toledo every 20 to 30 minutes. Go to the ALSA station at Plaza Eliptica and buy tickets for 5.39 euros apiece. You pay less, 9.70 euros, if you purchase ida y vuelta tickets. Duration of travel: approximately 45 minutes.

Train: Take the Renfe AVE service at Atocha station, the price is around 25 euros (round trip). The train option is much faster; time of travel via Renfe is approximately 30 minutes.

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Mapa

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