My Madrid Diary

December 27, 2004, through January 8, 2005

Tom and I left Chicago on Iberia Airline at 4:50 pm on Monday, Dec. 27. In typical airline fashion of today, we were packed like cattle, but at least the flight was smooth and on time. Arriving in Madrid at 7:50 on Tuesday morning, we grabbed a taxi to take us to our rental apartment at Calle Bravo Murillo, #12, in the Chamberi (Trafalgar) neighborhood of Madrid, just north of the historic district. We knew nothing about this area, but my friend Isabel Garcia in Chicago had told me it was a convenient, nice area, and she was absolutely right. Via the wonderful Madrid metro (be sure to get the "bono" 10-ride ticket), we were barely a few minutes from anywhere we wanted to go!

Madrid is a very elegant city. This view (from the cable car in the large park on the edge of town) shows you how broad and sprawling the city is.

I was surprised to learn that Madrid is the highest capital in Europe. It sits on a large plateau (chaparral) surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Upon settling in to our comfortable apartment, we immediately decided to hit some key spots: the center of the historical district, the Puerta del Sol.

The Puerta del Sol is considered the geographic center of Spain, with all distances measured from its center. It is a wide, open plaza, but seems to be constantly full of people, especially in the evening when it seems Madrilenos enjoy getting out and walking!

The plaza is dominated by the famous "Tio Pepe" sign. It has been declared a national landmark and given protected status.

Along the way, we crossed one of Madrid's main thoroughfares, the marvelous Gran Via, where we passed the Teleferico building, a cousin to Chicago's Wrigley Building.

Once we found our way around the plaza, we immediately started looking for the bear eating from the strawberry tree. This large statue is considered one of the emblems of Madrid. It also appeared to be a very popular meeting place.

Then we walked south and stumbled upon the Plaza Mayor, the grand plaza that is at the center of so many of Madrid's celebrations. It was jam-packed with a holiday fair (booths selling holiday treats), and we were puzzled at the large number of bleacher seats ringing the square.

Later in our stay, we realized what the seats were for: Spain has a big celebration in early January to mark the arrival of the "Three Wise Men" (the traditional twelfth day of Christmas on January 6). On the evening of January 5, Madrid has a huge parade with floats and fireworks and characters portraying the "reina magi" bearing gifts to the Christ child and all the children in Spain.

By the way, in many of these pictures, you will notice an incredibly blue sky. These colors are original to the photos (not PhotoShopped in!). Spain had some of the most beautiful blue skies I have ever seen, and we had twelve straight days of sunshine!

Then, we continued walking south until we hit the Puerta de Toledo, the historical gateway to Toledo. Throughout Madrid, there are numerous plazas and "glorietas" (we would call them roundabouts) such as Glorieta Quevedo in our neighborhood. There was also tremendously beautiful Spanish architecture everywhere we went. After so much walking, we returned to our nice apartment (after stopping at the Champion Supermarket to pick up some really good Spanish ham and wine for dinner) and slept for a very long time.

Continue the trip