Our first full day in Spain was on our own, which is a good way to start. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant – churros (yum), yogurt, orange juice, an apple, and some bread and marmalade, plus good coffee – we started off on the Rick Steves walk.
In the Puerto del Sol, the busy plaza just outside our hotel, we saw the symbol of Madrid, the bear eating madrones, which is everywhere once you start looking for it (see below);the statue of Charles III with the iconic Tio Pepe sign behind him;
We strolled down small streets with lovely tiled street signs like this one for the Street of the Embroiderers,to the very formal Plaza Mayor, with King Philip on a horse.We walked through to the Mercado de San Miguel, which had just opened when we got there, but the vendors already had everything beautifully displayed. As you can see, I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Next up was the convent where the sisters make delicious cookies. You buy them by ringing the doorbell ( a street person helped us with this), entering when she buzzes you in, and proceeding to the torno, a lazy Susan where you order your cookies and place your money. The nun turns it, takes your money, and turns it again with the box of cookies neatly bagged, all without revealing herself to you. And the cookies are delicious!
A quick look at the oldest door in Madrid, set in a Moorish keyhole, then to the town hall with the bear symbol above the door (and another one set in the sidewalk close by).The memorial for the attempted assassination of King Alfonso on his wedding day in 1906 (he survived, 30 were killed, and the original monument was destroyed during the Civil War),and then the enormous cathedral opened up on our right. But we were headed for the royal palace next door.
We took the audioguide, which devoted about a minute thirty to each room, really enough for the likes of me. Lots of ornate furniture, silver, tapestries, and symbols of royal power and authority. No photos allowed, but this one of the throne room give you the general idea. We had a refreshing lunch in the cafeteria, good salads and cut-up fruit, and then continued the RS walk.
An imposing statue of Philip IV (one of the good kings) and then a walk along Calle de Arenal, lined with restaurants and shops, plus musicians, opera singers, and illegal sellers who place their goods on sheets and bundle them up when the police come (or use elaborate ropes to pull them together even faster). Back to the hotel for a quick respite before taking the Metro to the Thyssen.