Palacio Real and the scandals of Spanish royalty

Palacio Real and the scandals of Spanish royalty

Here’s Palacio Real de Madrid, or the Royal Palace of Madrid. It did not impress me. The royal family of Madrid does not live here. They live in in an oversized villa, La Zarazuela, on the outskirts of Madrid. As a tourist, the exterior of the palace in Madrid isn’t one of my favorites. Havings seen many palaces, this is not something that is really breath-taking. It has the same (boring) effect as the palaces in London and Berlin. They are just big, but has no charming character. So even though there was a very short queue to get in, we didn’t get enticed to get in. There’s more character in palaces in Versailles, Beijing and Bangkok. But the queues there are longer, too. Some tidbits about the new king of Spain:  Felipe VI, took over after his father’s abdication this year, 2014. The new king is only 46 years old and has two daughters with 42-year old wife Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, an award-winning tv journalist formerly with CNN. They king and queen married in 2004 at Almudena Cathedral, which is right beside the palace grounds. And speaking of royalty in Spain, there’s a lot of  scandal around the royal, specifically the old king who abdicated, Juan Carlos (who is said to be infamously philanderous and lives an excessively lavish lifestyle – when many spaniards are struggling after the recession), and his daughter Princess Cristina and son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin, the couple who are now corruption suspects. (My sources of information regarding the scandals are Metro newspaper, The Daily Beast, RTE News, and The Guardian.) Here are the articles: Princess Cristina in...
Don Quixote and sleeplessness

Don Quixote and sleeplessness

We passed by the statue of the lanky man whose sleeplessness due to excessive reading made him insane. Don Quixote. Don Quixote, one of the world’s most famous and influential literary works. It has been translated into so many languages – more than any book except the Bible. Don Quixote is not only about chivalry and insanity for me. It reminds me of having enough sleep. To sleep at least eight hours a day, so the much worked-up brain can relax. It is so easy to take the brains for granted. It’s the superman of the whole body which can work long after the other parts of the body have given up. But the brain gets exhausted, too. In our world of traumas and stress, the brain needs time to recover. And it does it at night. And it does when we don’t stress. And when we think of happy thoughts and avoid people and things that can make us feel depressed. There was a short queue to get near the statue of Don Quixote and his side-kick Sancho Panza. Tourists wanted to take pictures beside it. When it was our turn, my six-year old daughter ran under Sancho Panza’s donkey, and didn’t want to leave. She wanted shelter from the sun. I had to coax her to come out. Something about the Philippines is mentioned in the book – the Kingdom of Maynila – which was one of the three major city-states around Pasig River and is now the site of present-day Manila, according to Wikipeda. The statues are at the square Plaza de España, which has the monument to novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra,...
About fun and auto-da-fé at Plaza Mayor

About fun and auto-da-fé at Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the scene for different events like markets, shows, soccer games and bullfights. The same square was used in the past as a place for public execution (Hello Spanish inquisition!) Its function reminds me of the Roman amphitheaters. It’s amazing how people in the past could easily mix entertainment with gore. Or was it the lack of buildings (and morals) that there was no line dividing  fun and fear? Are inhuman forms of entertainment the “scary films” of the past? Well, well. I’ll end the gory part here and focus on the fun. It used to be a chaotic plaza with another name before its official construction in 1617. It was rebuilt many times due to enormous fires – which makes me wonder, were some fires caused by the burning of the heretics? For during the Spanish Inquisition, auto-da-fe by burning at the stake was imposed on accused heretics, which were mainly new Christians, who converted from Judaism and Islam (and not just “witches”, as I first thought). Now I am talking gore again. Back to the lighter part. There were many people in the square when we visited the place twice. We ate dinner at one of the restaurants at the Plaza. The food was so-so (like a lot of restaurants serving tourists in Europe) but we liked watching people pass by. There was even an impromptu show, when a singer showed up with his chair and guitar, and started playing. After dinner, we got caught up by a funny clown show (picture at the top). It was after this show that I bumped into friendly strangers, kabayans, Filipinos living...
Delighted to see Bosch’s garden

Delighted to see Bosch’s garden

The main reason for us to see Museo del Prado in Madrid was to see painter Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” For me, this triptych is twice worth more seeing than Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. Don’t get me wrong, of course I am charmed by Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile. But the winding queue to Louvre in Paris plus the long queue to see Mona Lisa were bad enough. And then being close to her, seeing how small the painting is, and that she’s all that I see – dominating the whole artwork. I remember my reaction was: “Is this it? And that’s it?”. Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. But The Garden of Earthly Delights is doubly delightful to see. It’s huge with three sections, and there are so many details, so many stories to fantasize about each character. Further, the queue was shorter! Even my six-year old daughter took time observing all three sections of the painting. The name of the game was “I spy devils.” Museo del Prado is a Spanish national art museum which houses one of the world’s finest collections of European art from the 12th to 19th century. We enjoyed seeing the works of Goya, El Greco and Bosch. Hubby was so impressed with El Greco’s details on facial expression. I liked Goya’s depiction of the “The Third of May 1808” – because of the portrayal of the horrors of war. It was about the Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies. There is a café inside, and I enjoyed the museum store. I bought a stuffed toy – Prado’s mascot...
In the heart of Madrid

In the heart of Madrid

  We stayed in the heart of Madrid, at a four-star hotel called Hotel Intur Palacio San Martin. And these are what I liked with the hotel: 1. Its location. It’s very near two metro stations, a huge department store called El Corte Ingles, and many other shopping stores. It is after all very near Gran via.  It is also quite near Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. 2. Its aesthetic competence. The building looks like an old palace, but it has modern facilities and high ceilings (I like high ceilings). 3. Our room has its own balcony. We loved staying here in the morning and late afternoon to observe people as they walked down the...
Shopping in Madrid

Shopping in Madrid

I like it flamboyant, so my eyes were set on Desigual, of course. Other Spanish brands I was also interested in are Mango and Zara. Other Spanish brands which I got acquainted with were Pull & Bear, Stradivarius and Massimo Dutti. When it comes to bags there are names like Tous and Loewe. But I fell for Bimba y Lola. I spotted a store at a factory outlet called “The Style” in Las Rozas in Madrid. I didn’t really know about Bimba y Lola, but my husband noticed the hysteria among women who gathered in the store that announced a big sale on its windows. I was curious about what these ladies were going crazy about. So I asked: what is Bimba y Lola? One answered: “It’s something new and popular and fashionable. And expensive! You can’t get the same prices in department stores in the city.” So I took a green bag worth 150 euro. Our hotel is located near the opera house and lies within a shopping area, but besides shopping and window shopping in the city, we decided to go to “The Style” in Las Rozas. It took an hour – one way – by subway/train. From the station we walked some thousand meters in the middle of a hot day to the factory outlet. And we had shopping galore. And oh, did I mention that my daughter bought small icons from a religios shop, too? The tiny icons are for my...
The way of prostitutes

The way of prostitutes

Calle Gran Via – that’s an upscale shopping area in Madrid where even fake Louis Vuitton bags  and prostitutes are openly sold. When I was in Nice, France (March 2014), I wondered how in the world could so many ladies own Louis Vuitton bags? Did all these women buy at super discount? Heirlooms perhaps? Or did they buy fake LV:s on the internet? There are Louis Vuitton stores in Nice, so I assumed that there were either many rich women, or that many women bought their bags during the stores’ big sale. Even in Sweden, lots of women carried such, young women with tote bags. In Madrid, July 2014, I saw an alternative answer. I saw LVs – or what looked like very good copies of Louis Vuittons – out in the streets, even in what is called the Spanish broadway, Gran Via. I remember passing through Gran Via, admiring particularly the huge H&M department store, but as I turned my head towards the opposite direction, I noticed an immigrant with a blanket spread on the ground, on which he placed his wares – Louis Vuitton bags that looked authentic (except perhaps at closer inspection – but I was embarrassed to come near the bags and stare.) And he was not the only LV-businessman I saw, there were several of them stationed at different streets. Some people living in Madrid explained to me that these “businessmen” moved from street to street. When policemen came to threaten to arrest them, they would gather their wares fast in the blanket and run. There were never any arrests. One late evening we saw a little commotion – a group of...
Afternoon lunch, late night dinner

Afternoon lunch, late night dinner

Breakfast at 10 am, lunch at 2 pm and dinner late in the evening. That’s how eating is timed in Madrid.  We changed our sleeping and eating habits on the week we visited Madrid. Meaning: we started sleeping late to wake up late for breakfast. So very un-swedish. The first day was a surprise to us. I remember that to save money we decided to go for brunch. But when we got to a terrace restaurant, there was no brunch, simply breakfast at past 10 am. There were churros – fried Spanish fritters dipped in warm chocolate. I could not have this for breakfast? Those for me were snacks! So I went for jamon, or ham. Lunch was not available at noon at the restaurants we visited. So we ate lunch after 2 pm. Later in the afternoon, many stores were closed. We heard that Madrid had long lunch breaks, which could be accompanied by siesta. To kill time and avoid the hottest hours of the day, we took siesta ourselves. In the evening, dinner started at around 8 pm – when office hours ended. This was a time when Madrid came alive. People went out dining or taking walks until midnight! Reminds me of Filipino nightlife. We learned from that first day and adjusted fast to the Madrileño eating customs. During our weeklong stay we ate a lot of churros, paellas, jamon and tapas. We saw the label, Jamon Iberico, a lot. But it didn’t mean much to us because our family hardly eats red meat. But then I read in Wiki that a certain Jamon Iberico de bellota is said...
Looked back into catholic roots

Looked back into catholic roots

Spain is the reason that the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. Ironically, Spain has become less religious since the last two decades, while the Philippines still holds on to its religious beliefs. I was baptised and raised Catholic, went to private Catholic schools until I was 16. So of course, even if I had seen so many catholic churches in my life, I would like to see the churches in the country that introduced us catholicism. When we were in Madrid, we visited three famous ones: Almudena Cathedral (Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Almudena), the basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco el Grande) and Jerome Royal Church (San Jeronimo el Real). The Almudena Cathedral houses the image of the patroness of Madrid, the Virgin of Almudena, which is the medieval icon of Mary. Its contruction started in 1879 and ended 1993 – with a long pause in between. In 2004, the wedding of the then crown prince of Spain, Felipe VI, took place there. He became king this year, 2014, after the abdication of his father. Beside the Almudena Cathedral is the royal palace. Near the Almudena Cathedral is the Royal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Its dome is larger than the one on Saint Paul’s Cathedral (not that I care so much about dome sizes).  It is a part of a convent that was founded in the 1300s. Saint Francis was a preacher who was never really ordained in Catholic priesthood, but became a very important religious catholic figure. He started the Franciscan order, a group of monks that lead a money-free lifestyle. When it comes to...
On the rooftop

On the rooftop

When you’re in Madrid, look up. There are many rooftops worth seeing. In Paris we visited lots of outdoor cafés – in Madrid, we headed for the rooftops for brunch, snacks and cocktails. We were at Terraza Cibeles near Plaza de Cibeles and the rooftop of Bellas Artes Center (Circle of Fine Arts). The pictures in this blog entry were taken at the latter.   We were in Madrid in July 2014 and it was very hot. But it felt breezy on the rooftops, which had mist coolant spray systems that cooled the air. If you ever happen to choose Bellas Artes Center, make sure to have cash – to enter the building, you’ve got to pay cash. There are several rooftop terraces to choose from. Check these blogs: http://blog.esmadrid.com/blog/en/2013/07/12/rooftops-with-a-view/ http://inmadrid.org/the-best-terrace-bars-in-madrid/ http://www.nakedmadrid.com/2014/04/20/madrids-best-rooftop-bars-round-2/ Sarimanok about Lounging in a terrace...
“Madrid smells like Manila, mama”

“Madrid smells like Manila, mama”

The morning we woke up after arrival in Madrid in Spain, my six-year old opened the balcony door at our hotel room and said, “Madrid smells like Manila, mama.” Coming to Madrid was almost like coming to Manila, according to her. The smell of traffic and sweat and the sound of people chattering and cars honking. Madrid was crowded and lively, just like Manila. And we liked that Madrileños dined out until late at night. But besides that, it is noticeable that Spain has influenced the Philippines, particularly Manila and Cebu, in many ways. The names of streets, the churches, the food. Philippines had been after all a Spanish colony for hundreds of years. I don’t like that we were a Spanish colony. Our colonizers in the past were mean to us. Our colonizers are the reason why we still suffer from colonial mentality – when we think that westerners – with their fairer skin – are much much better than we are. The kind of thinking that kills one’s self-esteem. But well, all is in the dark past now. What matters is believing in ourselves, and giving up the slave mentality — although for many, it is easier said than done. *** There were many Filipinos in Madrid, too: well-off students, service-oriented restaurant employees and English-speaking nannies. We bumped into students in some tourist sites. And sat on benches in parks with nannies who were out with kids. And we were served by friendly Pinay waitresses. It was nice to meet a lot of kababayan and speak Filipino with...
Retiro – a pleasant retreat

Retiro – a pleasant retreat

The Buen Retiro Park literally means “park of the pleasant retreat” – and it lives up to its name. The park belonged to the Spanish monarchy, but in the late 19th century, it became a public park. Thank goodness, because the public deserves this pleasant retreat! It’s large,  1,4 square kilometers. We walked a lot there, rowed a boat, took afternoon snacks on a grassy area, saw an art exhibit, sat on a rocking chair in a sauna-hot crystal palace – and we just saw an iota of this huge park. We should’ve been there the whole afternoon, or the whole day, if we had time. Two-three hours in the park were not enough since our kid loved the area – and we did, too. Buen Retiro Park was the favorite park in Madrid of our Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. So when he was exiled in Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte, he called the place of his exile “Mi Retiro.” For Filipinos who want to visit places in Madrid that are associated with Rizal, there’s a homepage of the Philippine Embassy there. Here’s the link:  http://www.philembassymadrid.com/rizals-madrid I was in love with Rizal when I was teenager. 😉 It was he who inspired me to write. To be proud to be a Filipino. And to explore the...
Lounging near a monument

Lounging near a monument

There’s no point in just taking pictures of Plaza de Cibeles. I want to enjoy it! Plaza de Cibeles was formerly called Plaza de Madrid – an easier name to remember – but the politicians probably had the need to complicate the name and thereby changed it. It’s now a symbolic monument and tourists flock this place like mad. Some even run and cross the round-about to get better pictures –  even though there are no pedestrian lanes. My hubby is one of these madmen. When we were there, I noticed that people just took shots of the buildings and the round-about, and then left. Uh-uh, that’s not good enough for me. I didn’t come all the way to this street just to take snapshots and go. I had to enjoy place. There’s a palace there housing among others a nice coffee shop and a terrace bar. So we went for these. (Take note: opening hours for the terrace bar is limited, so check it before going there). We were in the palace several times because we liked the terrace bar, Terraza Cibeles. We were at the terrace at noon, and we were the only guests, until a group of executives in black suits came. My daughter loved the mist that sprayed now and then to keep the air cool. I expressed my appreciation to the music being played, and it so happened that the waiter was the brother of the dj who mixed the lounge music. So I got a free cd of the music! How generous! We were also back there one evening, but then it took some time to find a...
The conscience of a taxi driver

The conscience of a taxi driver

We arrived Madrid midnight. I happened to ride the same plane as Yamilla, my zumba instructor whose mother lives in Madrid. She recommended us to take the cab instead of the airport bus at this time. There were cabs that either accepted cash or card. We took the one which accepted card. The driver was an elderly friendly man with glasses and close to bald, and he drove so fast and talked a lot – in Spanish (so we had to guess what he was saying). After seeing the lively streets of Madrid, he stopped at a plaza which was almost empty except for some homeless people sleeping on the sides of the buildings. This was our place, we guessed was what he said, and drove off. I looked at the tall and dark hostel a few meters from us. “Is this where we are staying?” My tone of voice neutral. I didn’t want to sound snobbish. I simply wanted to get in as fast as possible. “I booked a room at a four-star hotel,” answered hubby. We stared puzzled at the sad-looking building. That couldn’t be the four-star palace that hubby booked. We stood around the empty plaza with our bags and my daughter running around the bags, when two ladies showed up. I asked them where Plaza Sant Martin was, and one answered: “We don’t know. We are lost.” They were tourists, too. A couple of police cars passed by, but they drove faster than we could run after them. And google maps didn’t seem to work. Suddenly, a taxi cab stopped and a driver called our...