Monthly Archives: May 2016

That One Afternoon when Streets were Carless in Madrid

That Sunday afternoon of May 15 was a peculiar one. Scattered were throngs of people on certain areas in Madrid, specifically around the Palacio de Cibeles, Banco de Espana, Sevilla, and Puerta del Sol. It was just for a few hours, but was an event quite unusual, nonetheless. “Humans triumphed over vehicles,” I should say; it was a rare time when pedestrians enjoyed street domination. Cars were hardly in sight that it afforded people to be able to walk in the middle of the streets, not one hurrying, but instead walked at a leisurely pace. While many headed straight towards Sol, others sauntered off a bit presumably to better check the surroundings.

Roads literally had everything in them except auto buses plying the affected route. A municipal car was parked in the middle of the Plaza, beside the Fuente de la Cibeles (Cybele fountain). Policemen stood in the middle of the plaza to direct traffic. I noticed one of them approached an autobus coming from Paseo del Prado and seemed to have instructed the driver to reroute to the opposite direction.

Everyone at my bus (Line 5) got off as told by the driver. All went down the parada across the Casa de America building, along Paseo de Recoletos. Seeing throngs already milling around the fountain, many of my co-passengers followed suit and rushed to the middle of the plaza.

My immediate thoughts were to take some photos of the Cibeles, both the fuente and the edifice. I’ve always wanted to have really clear pictures of the fountain but since I can only take it from the sidewalk or even through the window of the bus, I couldn’t produce clear photos. I avoid using the zoom-in feature since it doesn’t do the pictures any good. Zooming in the view on your phone camera only creates unsightly pixels, which renders the photos as inferior.

That afternoon afforded me the chance to stand a mere few feet from the fountain, gazing unflinchingly at it,  and happy that all the shots I took gave me crispy, vivid results.

Afterwards, I walked at Gran Via, in the middle of road,  moving at a crawling pace to better examine and takes shots of the buildings that lined its sides. However, as I viewed the photos that I took, the results were less than desirable. It might be because of the lighting at the time, and the fact that the buildings at Gran Via were too tall that I had to assume awkward positions and take shots from poor angles. Pictures came out with the edifices partially captured, or with unwanted shadows on their facade. Eventually, I decided to tuck away my mobile phone onto my pocket and just enjoyed the rest of my walk to Sol.

Overall, it was great timing indeed. I was glad I made the decision to attend the Sunday mass at the Iglesia de San Gines de Arles at Calle del Arenal. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have experienced it – that fine afternoon when streets were car-less in Madrid.

imageThe Palacio de Cibeles y Fuerte de Cybele. I was right in front of the fountain when I took this shot

image I’m within the vicinity of the Plaza de la Independencia, a major square in Madrid. Here is where  important vias intersect, like Calle de Alcala, Serrano, and Calle de Alfonso XII.  In the background is the Puerta de Alcala, a landmark near the entrance to the Retiro Park

imageTurning into a long pedestrian walkway for a few hours that Sunday, May 15 was Gran Via, where mothers and dads push the strollers carrying their babies and couples holding hands while enjoying some leisure walk. Many others take advantage of the chance to have unique shots of themselves doing crazy poses while in the middle of the street

imageThis is such an opportune time when everyone enjoys walking the roads of Madrid (at least, in this corner of the city) freely – without the traffic lights impeding the flow of pedestrians, or without worrying about passing vehicles

image As I near Puerta del Sol, the movement of people in the streets turned slower. Crowds were all around and became thicker. Upon arriving at the plaza (Sol) I saw a rally was being held. While first, I thought the streets were closed because of the Fiesta de San Isidro, I could only surmise later on that the rally created a mayhem that it caused the nearby streets to be unavailable to car traffic

Real Madrid: Campeon de la Final de Champions League 2016

Real Madrid team beats Atletico Madrid to the score of 5-3 in penalty shootout. The triumph is second time around for the 2016 Champions as far as defeating Atletico is concerned; it won the 2014 UEFA League Championship Final also at the expense of the same team.

Congratulations to Real Madrid for winning the Champions League Title of 2016

All Roads Lead to the Pradera: Las Fiestas de San Isidro

The official festival of the city is the Fiestas de San Isidro. From May 12 to 16, everyone in Madrid is a witness to what is touted as one of the liveliest, most colorful, and most attended festivities in the city. Yes, it’s a four-day long affair, albeit the 15th is when most of the activities that matter happen, at the place where you will find the shrine of city’s Patron saint – the Pradera de San Isidro. At the vastness of this parque is where chotis is danced the whole day long, performances are held, and thousands arrive to pay homage to Madrid’s beloved saint. The wide, winding stretches of streets around the fields sell Madrileno cocido as well as clavels (carnations), berets, complete sets of chulapas, Castizo souvenirs – just about anything associated with the fiestas.

Where is the Parque de San Isidro?

The Parque, or the Pradera (which means grassland or meadow), is found along Paseo de la Ermita del Santo. It is a wide expanse of land just beside the famous Manzanares River; hence, it’s impossible for you to miss it. How to go? If you’re taking the Metro at Valdeacederas (nearest station to where I live), ride Line 1, and get off at Gran Via station. If you’re coming from Plaza Castilla, take the Line 10 ride to Alonzo Martinez. From there, transfer to line 5 and get off at Marquez de Vadillo. Tread the Calle de General Ricardos, then turn right upon reaching the first corner, at Paseo del Quince de Mayo. Walk the length of this street until you reach the Ermita de San Isidro, the shrine of the patron saint.

What happens at the Pradera?

It was here where the journey of pilgrims to the pradera happened after the saint’s death. The pilgrimage was a major, historic event that it became the subject of one of Francisco Goya’s painting, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro. For four days, the park is transformed into a huge venue offering various activities that everyone can watch, participate and enjoy. It’s quite a huge place, and so probably anyone in Madrid who wants to go there can be accommodated. Entrance, of course, is free. People are expected to wear chulapa costumes, set up their picnic cloth onto the ground to eat traditional Spanish comida (paella, jamon, rosquillos, bocadillos, watch various performances, and dance the hours away. By mid-morning of May 15, everyone is treated to an exciting parade of gigantes, including that of San Isidro and his wife, Santa Maria de la Cabesa.  A lavish display of fireworks is scheduled at midnight of May 16; this signals the end of the festivities.

Celebration all around the city

By the time this article goes online (probably tomorrow), the fiestas will have ended. Today, May 16, the celebration is almost finished, and whole city must be exhausted from all that had transpired so far. Remember that it is a Madrid-wide event, and so while the Parque de San Isidro was the focal point of the fiesta, other areas of the city also participated in the festivities. For instance, the streets of Plaza del Sol and Gran Via were treated to the Parada de Gigantes. Plaza Mayor, on the other hand, was host to the festival of Madrileno dances. Lavapies was the venue to the performances of various bohemian and blues bands. At Templo de Debod, visitors enjoyed concerts on classical music. Those inclined in arts and crafts were able to see the exhibit at Plaza de Las Comendadoras at Plaza Espana, which featured an extensive collection of Spanish ceramic pieces.

Bullfight season

The fiesta coincides with the bullfighting season, which is during the months of May and June. For many, the bullfights add further to the excitement of the festivities. Undoubtedly, Madrid’s bullfighters are known to be the best in the world. By May, however, tickets for the Las Ventas stadium where top-seeded bullfights are held become more difficult to obtain. Hence, it is advisable to get them during off-season.

Few Facts about the beloved Saint

  • San Isidro is not only patron saint of Madrid, but also that of the farmers.
  • A miracle attributed to him involved saving his son who fell on a well. Another account tells about him creating a spring just by plowing the ground. Later, the water that originated from the spring supposedly healed and saved lives.
  • His complete name is San Isidro Labrador, which means Isidore the Laborer, or Isidore the Farm worker.
  • He was born in Madrid in 1070, died in 1130, and canonized as a Saint in 1622, some 492 years after his death.
  • Aside from Spain, the Feast of St Isidore is celebrated in many other countries around the world, including the United States, the date of commemoration of which is either May 15 or March 22, depending on the state. In Catholic Philippines, St. Isidro Labrador is also honored as the Patron saint of farmers.

image I was running late, and so was worried that I might miss the Gigantes parade scheduled at 10AM. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way, even with the Madrid Metro App and all.  Good thing I encountered these two comely senoras at Grand Via Station, and was relieved when I learned that they were also headed to the Park of Sn Isidro. I wasn’t lost after all. Donning the complete traditional Castizo dresses, they were gracious enough to allow me to take their picture

imageThe amiable gigante and his mini-me wearing identical chulapo, which consists of a checkered cap or beret, waistcoat, and a bright red carnation on his breast pocket. Chulapo is derived from the word chulo, the meaning of which is not quite clear to me. Some websites use chulo to denote a pimp or cheat,  while others define it as  hot and smartly dressed. The Parada de los Gigantes of May 15 started at the corner of Paseo de Quince de Mayo
image Food stalls doing business along the streets surrounding the park of St Isidro. Here is where you can find paella, Grilled pork, salchichon, bocadillos, rosquillas, pulpo, Madrileno cocidos, and other traditional food stuff served during major Madrid festivities
image Paella is one of the popular dishes or “cocidos” sold at the park. The large wok at the photo is filled with shellfish, pulpo, eggs, and other meat ingredients commonly used for paella. The rice or arroz is yet to be addedimageAubergines or baby eggplant, which according to the food seller, is pickled in vinegar, cumin, and olive oil, with some garlic and salt added to taste. It is usually stuffed with sweet red bell pepper

image Pickled stuffed olives wrapped in anchovies are skewered onto barbeque sticks to keep everything (olive and fish) together imageRosquillos de San Isidro – Spain’s version of the donut. These traditional pastries are sold aplenty during the month of May. The most common types are listas and tontas; the former is covered with deliciously sweet fondant, while the latter is baked without any outer sweetened covering image Couples garbed in chulapos perform a traditional dance called the Chotis. The dance was originally Scottish, but was embraced by the Spaniards as their own imagePerformers momentarily rest and enjoy some laughs after a dance performance. Here in Quince de Mayo, just in front of Ermita de San Isidro, some of the most lusty and engaging chotis dances were performed image Like how history happened when the pilgrims went to the hermitage to attend mass and pay homage to San Isidro, I joined many others who visited the shrine at the Paseo de Quince de Mayo to kiss on the saint’s remains

imageI had the opportunity to kiss the reliquary, or the small container holding the remains of San Isidro

imageI rue missing the gigantes parade at Central Madrid (Plaza Mayor, Gran Via) as they were supposedly joined by more characters. The parade at Pradera, of course, was no less interesting. People followed the gigantes of four as they walk the streets of San Isidro. Here, you can see the crowd milling around themimageThe gigantes couples face each other and start to dance the chotis, to the glee of spectatorsimagePerformer dons the costume of a zaldiko, the Basque term for horse

imageThe kiliki, like the gigante, is a popular character of the San Isidro Fiesta. He holds a whip with a foam rock at the end, which he uses to punish erring childrenimage A Latino guitarist performs a traditional Castizo musical piece together with his twin puppets, a fun performance immensely enjoyed by the kids at the park image This is what I only managed to take a shot of – since I was late for the pyrotechnics show. I arrived a good 10 minutes after the final song that accompanied the pyrotechnics display was through. Still, the illuminated Alfonso XII monument and the Retiro lake were a sight to behold.  Along with many other revelers, I decided to stay a few more minutes to enjoy the mesmerizing view until the lights were turned offimageThis Madrileno family, complete with cool sunglasses and chulapo costumes sit upon their chosen spot at the Pradera  near the Ermita de San Isidro.  The gathering together of families at the meadows is a tradition  that has been observed over the years
imagePeople sit on the meadows near the shrine as they wait for the start of the midday mass
image In keeping with the tradition, a open-air midday mass is celebrated at the Paseo de la Ermita del Santo

image The bust of Goya stands at the entrance of the park. One of the greatest Spanish artists ever, he preserved his memory of the San Isidro meadows through his immortal paintings, The Pilgrimage of Sn Isidro and The Meadow of San Isidro, both of which are on display at Museo del Prado

La pradera de San Isidro de Goya This painting offers a lush and vivid telling of the celebration of the feast of San Isidro happening at the park by the Manzanares River. A beautiful masterpiece by Francisco Goya (Source: Public Domain, Francisco Goya, Wikimedia Commons)
image A few blocks from the La Latina, at Plaza de San Andres, is The Museo de San Isidro. Here is where the saint spent his last days. The museum boasts of collections that date back from prehistoric times of Madrid up to its development as a modern city

Parroquias y Iglesias: My Eight Beautiful Madrid Churches

I had been to quite a number of churches in Madrid; some are built simply, while others are complex. They exhibit differences in varying degrees – in size, shape, design, structure – in their total architecture. But if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s the striking form and beauty that they possess. It’s evident that only the most skilled and dedicated craftsmen and builders constructed such magnificent, spirit-filled edifices.

Just take a look at the chancel where the altar is placed and the holy mass is performed.  It’s typical in Madrid for the front area of its churches to be intricate and adorned in a meticulous manner. The altar itself is radiant from afar. It becomes even more during a mass service, when the florescent lamps that line up the narrow spaces behind nearby walls shine to offer steady illumination and the lighted candles atop its corners flicker with their unsteady, yellow flames. Now slowly walk the length of the nave from the entrance. As you go nearer, the more you become drawn to the enthralling sight of the altar, with its blessed exquisiteness as well as the serenity of the chancel that cradles it further amplified.

The Spaniards love their church. Like most other Catholic nations, Spain recognizes it as an institution vital in keeping communities intact and people in harmony. One thing I noticed, however, is that weekday masses are sparsely attended. This observation brings up a needling, sad question: “Why do many churches in Madrid have their pews collecting dust in most days of the week instead of enjoying the attendance of the pious?”

It’s not difficult to believe that not a few of them in some obscure corners of Madrid are abandoned to suffer a desolate state.

Notwithstanding, the situation isn’t all that rough like I perceive it to be. Come Sunday, churches become alive with all the religious assemblies, choir concerts, processions, and masses that usually happen on this day. And families, couples, friends do gather and attend. My guess is that Spain, as a modern, progressive country, takes much of the time of its people, keeping them from performing their religious responsibilities in order to meet their daily obligations at work and society.

A parroquia, iglesia, or a catedral? I’m confused as to when and why one is called as such. One thing is sure – there is no church in Madrid that has not taken my breath away. From the tens or probably even hundreds of them scattered in the city, I managed to make a list of my own eight beautiful churches – the inclusion of which is either because they strike me for their extraordinary charm, or because they’re the ones that I go to attend mass.

Let’s Talk Madrid’s Top 8 Churches

1.Parroquia de San Jeronimo el Real de Madrid

image Set on top of an elevated land along Calle de Moreto, and facing the famous Museo del Prado,I have always been in awe with the beauty of Parroquia de San Jeronimo el Real de Madrid. The Church Atop the Hill – that’s how I’d like to call it – San Jeronimo is said to be originally a monastery in the 16th century. Continuous renovations gave its present Gothic appearance on its facade. The interior is something to marvel at. Its serene, low-lit ambiance is mesmerizing, and hence conducive for the prayerful to send forth his intentions. Overall, the church’s presence in the area is captivating. It is a strong rival to nearby structures and edifices such as the Plaza de Neptuno and the Prado Museum. The Parroquia de San Jeronimo Real de Madrid is not merely a church, but a major tourist attraction this part of the city.


Address: Calle de Moreto, 4, 28014 Madrid

Sunday Masses: Invierno – 10AM, 12Noon, 1PM, 2PM, 7PM; Verano – 10AM, 12Noon, 1PM, 8PM

For complete schedule of its regular daily opening and masses for both Summer and winter Seasons, please refer to the Horarios webpage at church’s official website. (This is applicable to succeeding featured churches)


2.Parroquia de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

imageIf Cathedral de la Almudena is an art, it is one gargantuan city block of masterpiece. People often compare it to the St. Peter’s Basilica or Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia. Upon entering, you will immediately be amazed by the Gothic-Neoclassical interior that its builder must have focused on to perfect. Especially impressive are the fine details of the altarpiece and ceiling. A frequented part of the Cathedral is The Blessed Sacrament, where masses are held everyday. image Indeed, the cathedral’s architectural design is one to fuss about. This is the reason why Almudena is among the favorite churches of tourists. A statue of Pope John Paul II stands in the midst of its yard. With arms wide open and outstretched, he seemingly invites people to visit La Almudena.

Address: Calle Bailen 10, 28013 Madrid
Sunday and Holiday Masses: 10:30AM, 12Noon, 1:30PM, 6:00PM, 7PM
Website: Cathedral de la Almudena


3. Parroquia de San Antonio de Cuatro Caminos

imageThe San Antonio Church, along the busy Bravo Murillo, is a Franciscan church founded by the Capuchin friars. It is a popular church among Filipinos and other churchgoers of various nationalities. The church has a simple facade, but boasts of a decent interior of white and pink. There is a second level, an elevated floor just above the altar area and overlooking the pews and faithful below; here is where you will find the statue of the patron saint. The walls on both aisles, left and right, treat visitors with oversized written scriptures. Displayed also are sculptures and paintings of San Antonio and other religious figures.

imageThe Parroquia is known to be dedicated to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of  of Miracles, a proven powerful intercessor. Countless devotees attest to instances when their intentions and prayers were answered thru the San Antonio’s intercession.

Location: Calle Bravo Murillo, 150 28020 Madrid
Sunday and Holiday Masses: 8AM; 9AM; 10AM; 11AM; 12Noon; 1PM; 7:30PM; 8:30PM
Website: Parroquia de San Antonio horarios


4.Parroquia de la Santa Cruz

image This Church at Calle Atocha situated within the central area of Madrid is a personal favorite because one of its patron saints is St. Jude Thaddeus, the Saint of Impossible Cases, to whom I am a devotee. Tourists never fail to visit it,  probably because it is just a hundred meters or so away from Plaza Mayor.

A beautiful edifice is highlighted by a lanky tower in the middle, which is said to be built initially to act as a watch tower for the community.  It boasts of an exciting baroque style in its facade, giving the impression that a grand interior is waiting to be seen. And indeed, you will not be disappointed. Low-lighted, but not bleak, this adds solemnity to the quiet setting that’s meant to help church-goers focus on pursuing their holy intentions. image

On the sides of the church are small chapels that display various  saints such as Virgen de la Cinta and Virgen de los Siete Dolores. Taking pictures of the interior is prohibited.

Address: Parroquia de Santa Cruz. Atocha, 6 Madrid  28012
Sunday and Holiday masses: Invierno – 10AM, 11:30AM, 1PM, 7PM; Verano – 10AM, 11:30AM, 1PM, 8PM
Sitio horarios: Sta Cruz Church


5. Basílica de la Concepción de Nuestra Señora

imageImmaculate Concepcion is a majestic, towering edifice of worship located at Goya, in the midst of the shopping district of Salamanca. A white church that features fine details both in its interior and facade, it is further accentuated by an impressive altarpiece that the Lady of Immaculate Concepcion deserves. image It is dominantly white in color, complimented by the blue-hued dome, the windows of which offer sufficient lighting onto the altar and the surrounding areas.

Location: Parroquia Concepción de Ntra. Señora, Goya 26 Madrid 28009
Sunday Masses: 9AM,10AM,11AM (familias), 12Noon, 1Pm (Parroquial), 2PM, 6PM,7PM and 8:30PM
Website: Basílica de la Concepción de Nuestra Señora


6. La Iglesia de San Sebastian

Along Calle Atocha where Parroquia Sta Cruz is also found is La Iglesia de San Sebastian. It is one of the highly visited churches at Barrio de las Letras, or the Quarter of the Muses. A casualty during the country’s civil war, the church is host to the remains of the famous playwright of Spain Lope de Vega. Located within the tourist area of Madrid, it is near Melia Hotel and Plaza Santa Ana.

Rich in Spanish religious history and art, you will find here the statues of Virgen del Carmen and San Antonio. Oil Paintings, like the Madre Maravillas and the Sta Teresita Maravillas de San Sebastian, are also housed within. Definitely, it one of the churches you must visit if you’re touring Madrid.

Address: Calle de Atocha, 39, 28012 Madrid
Sunday Masses: Invierno – 10AM, 12Noon, 7:30PM; Verano – 12Noon, 7:30PM
Sitio horarios: San Sebastian Horarios


7. Parroquia San Ildefonso Tribunal

imageTake a quick look at San ildefonso Tribunal Church, located at an old Malasana public square of the same name, and you will notice the simplicity of its facade. It presents no intricate lines nor details to boast of. On its right portion is an old, non-functioning clock, while in the midst is a circle-shaped window attached to which is a 8-pointed star.  It evidently lacks in grandiose outward appearance that’s common in Madrid churches; still, this is compensated by its awe-inspiring Baroque altarpiece. The interior is more engaging because of its impressive high altar. The presence of a San Ildefonso painting punctuates the beauty of its chancel. Known as one of the oldest parroquias in Madrid, it entices tourists to drop by and spend some time inside this Catholic Spanish temple. imageSan Ildefonso is near major Madrid tourist areas; like the Gran Via, Puerta del Sol, and the stretch of Fuencarral.

Address: Plaza de San Ildefonso, 28004 Madrid
Sunday masses: Invierno – 9AM, 11AM, 7PM; Verano – 9AM, 11AM, 8PM
Sitio horarios: San Ildefonso horarios


8. Iglesia de San Gines de Arles

imageFlaunting a combined Baroque-neoclassical design, Iglesia de San Gines de Arles of Calle Arenal is one of the oldest in Madrid, Spain. It is said that San Gines was the unanimous choice whenever a major city fiesta or important religious activity required a venue. It was considered the spiritual refuge of a majority of Madrilenos, until the Cathedral de Almudena was built and considered a more appropriate replacement. San Gines, however, continues to be a popular alternative site for many locals. image Devotees flock to San Gines to ask for the intercession of San Judas Tadeo, the statue of which is displayed at the church’s right corner.

Address: Calle del Arenal 13 Madrid, 28001
Sunday masses: Invierno / Verano – 9AM, 11AM, 12Noon, 7PM, 8:30PM
Webpage Horarios: San Gines Mass schedules