From Madrid to the sky. The EU's capital city shone in the sun as we set out for our orientation driving and walking tour. (Pam's travel tip, if you have a decent size group inquire about a private tour. Our private tour cost only a few dollars more than an offered tour where we could be joined by up to 30 others. It's a cost effective way to see what you want to see on your time table).'
Las Ventas at the Plaza del Toros was our first stop of the day. Madrid's bull fighting ring built in the 1920s has a definite Moorish influence in the brick and tile exterior. Theresa our private guide explained the significance of the many statues and monuments dotted through out the square. Memorials to fallen and retired bull fighters, the bulls and even a monument of a bullfighter thanking Dr. Fleming, for inventing penicillin and saving more lives of bullfighters who without antibiotics would perished from infections than actual wounds inflicted by bulls.
As a seasoned traveler and travel agent, I am always astounded by those who tell me: "I don't need a tour, I am going to download an app." Or "We watched a video on YouTube" or "I have a guide book, I'll just read about it there". Technology can never replace a local guide, period. Traveling is all about going to a new place, and while technology, guide books, maps etc, it is the local guides whose daily life in the city you are visiting provides the local flavor and culture that in my opinion should be the goal of any traveler. Christopher Columbus proudly looks down from his perch high top Plaza de Colon and is noted in every guide book and map we brought with us. Theresa lead us down several steps underneath the plaza to the Nacional Bibleoteca where Columbus's departure and subsequent discovery of the new world was displayed graphically. It was easy to see that while three ships departed from Spain only two remained. And how those two ships returned to different ports based on the prevailing winds. It also charted where and when Columbus arrived at each of the Caribbean islands. It was a powerful and interesting display of something every American kid thinks they know but is so much more. And we could have simply visited the plaza and gone on our way never knowing what was literally below our feet.
I literally knew nothing about the neighborhoods in and around Madrid. By venturing outside the city center we got to experience and see how real Madridlenos live. It also gave us a chance to see the Madrid Real stadium sparking a conversation not only about futbol, but about a local brewery Mahou whose delivery truck was unloading cervesa for the following weeks match. David and several of our other travelers have a real (no pun intended) interest in local beers and were excited to learn about this 100 year old Madrid brewery. Another way that be interacting with a local person we learned so much more than the guide books and apps could provide.
Our final hour of our private Madrid tour was on foot, in and around the Gran Via where our hotel is located. Not only did we visit all the major sites of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), Plaza Mayor (main square) and Puerto del Sol (Sun Gate) Theresa was able to point out local shopping areas, bar and restaurants as well as the Mercado de San Miguel Madrid's largest open air market. An app could have guided us to all the highlights of our neighborhood, but wouldn't give us the detail and experience walking and talking with a local provides.
Stay tuned for my next blog featuring - Back to the Bullring! Chocolate and churros! Flamenco and Taps