Welcome back one and all to another little episode regarding my November 2013 mini-break to Madrid, it seems like such a long time ago now. I had all good intentions of writing a full day’s experiences in the last entry but as always my verbosity got in the way so this post #8 actually refers to the second half of my third full day in the Spanish capital. I told you I was verbose!
I’ll start off with my usual advice that if you have arrived on this page other than having read the preceeding ones, it may be helpful to start here as it will explain my presence in the Spanish capital.
If you think you can put up with any more of my ramblings, both physic and verbal, the read more button is right below assuming you are on the “front page”.
I had left you at the end of the last instalment on the Calle de Alcadá outside the Iglesia de las Calatravas walking towards the centre of the city with the intention of going to see, well, I had no idea really.
Honestly, you could just spend a day walking along the Calle de Alcalá looking at the architecture and you wouldn’t get bored, so let’s keep on along it and see what we find. Actually what we find is the end of it as the “skyscraper” I mentioned in the last episode is #23 Calle de Alcalá and it soon becomes the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun, I believe) which is one of the main plazas, or playas in Spanish, in Madrid and it is, as you can see, very pleasant.
The shadows tell you how gloriously sunny it was. The square was getting tricked out for Xmas with a rather large tree which you can see.
More permanently there is a statue of a very large bear apparently eating a very small tree, what is all that about? Actually I know because I do try to be observant and I had seen this image on a flag earlier (image above).
This is a bear and a strawberry tree and forms part of the Madrid coat of arms although it was only officially adopted in 1967 so it is not as ancient as you might think. Nobody actually knows how this bear / strawberry tree idea came about (it has been going much longer than the official flag) but it may be to do with a farming rights dispute between clergy and laity.
The seven stars represent the Plough which is the constellation nearest to Ursa Major aka the Great Bear, not only because it references the bear here but also that constellation represents North. North is the direction all others are based on and this supposedly indicates that Madrid is the seat of power in Spain. These so-called links all sound a bit nebulous to me (yes, I meant to do that) but there you have it.
I know the when, how and where of what happened next but I am damned if I can remember the why. It was early afternoon, I was in the University area of Moncloa a couple of miles Northwest of the centre and I got there by Metro. My best guess is that I had looked at some of the blurb I had got earlier from the Tourist Information place, seen the Museo de America advertised and fancied a look.
The reason I say this is that it is a bit of a walk from Moncloa Metro, which is nearest and that route takes you past the rather grand structure you see above which is the Victory Arch. Whatever the reasoning, there I was so let’s get on.
Although it looks similar in design to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or even Marble Arch in London, this structure is much more recent and isn’t much older than me. It was erected on the orders of General Franco and unveiled in 1956 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Ciudad Universitaria in November 1936. It is almost 150 feet high and I am frankly surprised it is still standing.
I do not doubt for a second the workmanship involved in the construction but my surprise is rather more for political reasons. In 2019 the socialist government in Spain ordered the exhumation of General Franco’s remains from the “Valley of the Fallen”, a memorial of the Civil War and graveyard for 40,000 who died in that conflict. The remains were re-interred in Madrid next to his wife. This is part of an ongoing policy to eradicate any trace of Franco and his regime.
The last statue of the former “Caudillo” in mainland Spain was removed in 2008 so surely memorials erected by him must be next. If the Spanish Government will disturb the dead to make a political point (they even sent the Justice Minister to oversee the exhumation) then I am glad I saw the arch when I did for I think it’s days are numbered. Oh, and if anyone can help with the Latin I would be obliged, it is way above my failed “O” Level standard.
If you look at the image of the arch you will see a rather large tower in the background and that is our next port of call. When I saw it I thought it was some sort of radio or TV mast and I was half right for that is what it used to be. This is the Faro de Mancloa. Faro means lighthouse and here is a thing for you to consider (digression alert!).
Although it is a completely different linguistic group and even alphabet, the Greek word for lighthouse is faros (phonetically) so I decided to have a look and it appears to be a fairly international word. Albanian = far, Armenian = p’aros, Bulgarian – far (phonetically), Corsican – faru, OK I’ll stop. I am only up to letter C on my translator but you get the idea and, yes, I do have too much time on my hands just now, don’t we all? I wonder what other words are as universal as that.
The faro (in any language) is now a tourist attraction where you can go up to the 92 metre high observation tower (the whole structure is 110 metres) although I did not know that at the time. The fact that I did not know about access to the tower is totally irrelevant because it is well documented that I do not do heights and wild horses would not have dragged me up that thing.
The more I write this the more convinced I am that I was aiming for the Museo de America which impresses even before you step through the door as you can see. This fine building was constructed between 1941 and 1944 on the orders of Franco’s government and I find it an odd thought that when the rest of Europe was being literally razed to the ground by World War, Spain was busily constructing. I suppose they had already had their fair share of destruction during the Civil War.
When they had finished the building, they stocked it with the American Archaeology and Ethnography collections of the National Archaeological Museum. Given the Spanish influence in the Americas I think it is appropriate that they have this rather good museum here. If you think about it, with the exception of Brazil (and a few Welsh speakers in Patagonia!) everyone South of the USA border has Spanish as their official language. That is a huge area and an awful lot of people.
I don’t know if it was by accident or design but the address of the museum is highly appropriate at Avenidade los Reyes Católicos, 628040. This translates as Avenue of the Catholic Kings, which is a term used to describe Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile and their successors. It is appropriate because it was during their reign that Christopher Columbus (whichever of his many names he was using) re-discovered the Americas.
I am not going to do a Fergy Curator’s Tour as I did in the Naval Museum in the last entry but instead I have constructed a slideshow to give you a flavour of the place.
I spent a couple of hours in there and thoroughly enjoyed it. If this museum was the purpose of my visit to Moncloa then it was a good call. I even stopped off for a coffee (no, not a beer) and a delicious snack of anchovy on bread. There is no doubt about it, the Spanish do snacks very well.
What happened next is distinctly odd and I had not even had a beer. Perhaps that is why things got strange. People who know me would find it strange to hear that I visited a clothes museum. I know me pretty well and I find it nothing short of remarkable but that is what happened when I found myself walking into the Museo del Traje (Garment Museum) a short walk from the Museo de America.
I cannot even claim I didn’t know what it was although my Spanish did not run to the word traje but I saw Museo and thought I’d have a look and as soon as I got into the foyer it was patently obvious what the theme of the museum was. At which point I could have made a dignified tactical withdrawal but didn’t. Who knows what was going on in my head? I certainly don’t.
I would like to tell you all about it with loads of lovely images but, as we all know, fabric is particularly delicate and so flash photography is understandably prohibited. Not only that but the lighting is kept very low for the same reason and the end result is that my cheap little compact just wasn’t up to the task. I do remember that I found the older exhibits to be a lot more interesting than the modern. There was also an excellent display of umbrellas which thankfully were not needed that day.
Obviously I didn’t spend too long in there but if couture (haute or otherwise) is your thing then this is well worth a visit.
It was about this point that things started to unravel a bit. I left the Garment Museum at about 1730 and I still had not had a beer all day. Come to that, apart from the tasty but tiny anchovy tapas in the Museo de America, I had not eaten all day so time to rectify both problems. Time to get a wriggle on and start looking. The Museums are in the University area and so I was fairly sure I would find something “cheap and cheerful” which is what students do. My friend had an engagement that evening so there was no rush to go anywhere.
I spied La Sureña (Southern) which was never going to win any prizes for history or ambience but which looked clean and tidy, had an extensive menu, was pretty full (always a good sign) and, best of all, had ludicrously cheap beer! Job done.
The name reflects the cuisine as it is predominantly from the South of Spain but a lot of it is fairly generic and for a major capital city it was very inexpensive which might explain why it was so busy. I ordered a beer and a plate of patatas bravas, which I love.
It was only when I had a look at the full menu that I realised I had made mistake. The beer was only €1 a glass but the special offer, which was available all the time, was five bottles of beer in a bucket of ice for €3 – bargain. Well, that would do for next time. The patatas bravas arrived and were delicious and then it was time for the bucket of beer. I have included a before and after sequence above. It didn’t take long.
Whilst I was in there I saw something interesting. Regular readers may remember the first night I arrived in Madrid my friend and I went to a very old tapas bar where a lovely barman who looked like he had been there since the place opened, was painstakingly carving wafer thin slices of ham off a joint.
It was a joy to watch a craftsman at work and I wonder what he would have made of the automatic slicing machine one of the young ladies was using. She portioned out about four plates of jamón Iberico in the time it would have taken him to carve one slice. I was so intrigued by this process that I even made a short video, which you can see here.
Right, that was the throat opened so let’s go and have a look round and the next little watering hole I found was called Los Arcos de Moncloa which means the Arch of Moncloa and was the place we visited earlier. Another great little bar and another great little bar snack. OK, I was full to the neck with patatas bravas but I still ate it. Joy of joys, they even did big beers, not all Spanish bars do. Sadly, my research suggests this place has now changed hands which is a shame.
I was on a mission now and found myself in La Meka de la Baguette which was a fine place where I discovered a new beer as you can see. I believe Cruzcampo translates as crossfield, whatever that might mean. It was slightly darker than usual Spanish lagers and very tasty, so I had another. They held to the tradition of a snack with the beer, in this case a plate of the biggest olives I had seen in a long time, lovely. Delightful as La Meka was it leads to another mystery.
I have just looked up this place on a map and it is nowhere near where I had been nor where I was eventually heading for and I have no idea what I was doing there. I suspect I was doing my usual stunt when I have a rover ticket for public transport and just jumping off at random stops for a look round.
That has to be the explanation as my next image is of a road sign saying Calle de Modesto Lafuente (critic, historian and politician if you are interested) which is nowhere near where I had last been and nowhere near where I ended up next . The image is too dark to reproduce here.
Where I next touched down was, believe it or not, the Cafeteria Noruega and you don’t need me to translate that for you. A Norwegian bar in Madrid? Madness. In truth, it did not seem particularly Norwegian, although they had the odd bit of smoked salmon etc. on the menu.
I must have taken a notion to go home at that point and I must still have been relatively vertical as I took the image above of a building which I thought looked lovely all lit up and I didn’t even have to straighten it on the computer before publishing it.
What happened next is something else I am struggling to explain. After all I had eaten I decided I had the munchies and hit one of the chain of sandwich bars called 100 Montaditos which I had used before and do recommend. Look at them, not one but two rolls. Utter lunacy. Don’t ask me where it was exactly but I can tell you that within 20 minutes of taking the image of my totally unecessary snack I took the another image (below) which puts me in Plaza de Castilla Metro sttionat 2330. Hmm.
I obviously got home OK as I woke up in my own bed the next morning rather than a police cell, uninjured and with all my valuables intact. That is a win for me!
In the next and final instalment, my all too brief trip to Madrid finishes and I arrive home with the most unlikely souvenir you can imagine. If you want to find out what it is then stay tuned and spread the word.