Sunday was our first full day in Madrid and an opportunity to explore. We didn't succeed in making quite an early a start as we had hoped, but still managed to successfully negotiate the metro across the city and arrive in the central Puerta del Sol before 11am. We had a few hours to explore before meeting up with some more local Esperantists, so we decided to focus on the main sights and investigate the cathedral and royal palace.
From the Puerta del Sol we began walking down the main road and the first impressive building we came across was the Casa de la Villa, which used to be the town hall (and prison) of Madrid.
In front of the Casa de la Villa was a beautiful display of flowers:
We continued along the main road from the town hall until we reached the Almudena Cathedral, which is situated opposite the royal palace. Construction began on the cathedral began in 1879 but civil war and lack of funds meant that it wasn't finally completed until 1993.
It's hard to convey in photos quite how huge the cathedral is.
Around the side there is a statue of Pope John Paul II who consecrated the cathedral in 1993.
Across from the cathedral is the Palacio Real de Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. The royal family don't live there, but it is used for official ceremonies. We managed to get a photo through the bars of the gates.
From the palace we headed south to the basilica of San Francisco el Grande, which had an amazingly large dome (larger than that of St Paul's in London).
A little further down the road we found the Puerto de Toledo, an impressive gate into the city.
From there we wandered through some of the side streets towards the main train station, Atocha. This pink church we saw looked like it could have stepped straight out of Talinn or Vilnius and reminded us of our holiday in the Baltic countries last year.
Without doubt the most surprising building which we saw was the Ministry of Agriculture; it was so grand that we can only conclude that Spain is a country which takes agriculture extremely seriously!
Here are some of the things we saw whilst walking through the streets at this time:
It was time for us to catch the metro again on our way to gatecrash a meeting of the Hispana Esperanto-Federacio (Spanish Esperanto Federation). We had noted down the address in advance and were fully-equipped with maps of Madrid, so we found our way to the correct street with no problems. We understood the Esperantists to be located in building number 13, which we quickly identified, but we became confused because there was one entrance (which looked like a heavily-locked gate) labelled 13 and another (which looked more like an entrance into a block of flats) labelled 13D. We decided that 13D looked more promising but it wasn't possible to get into the building without a key. As luck would have it, just as we were hesitating outside a lady emerged from the building - holding the door open for us - so we were able to slip inside. It was quite dark, but we found a light switch and took the lift to the third floor where we believed the Esperanto federation was based. When we arrived at door number 7 on that floor, however, there were no indications that it was anything to do with Esperanto at all, so we lost our nerve and decided to go back outside and try phoning the Esperantists. To our horror, it soon became clear that not only was a key required to enter the building but it was required to exit it as well! We were now stuck in a random building which appeared to have no relation to the Esperanto association and which we didn't have permission to be in. Whoops!
Much to our relief, within a few minutes we were saved by another person wanting to leave the building and unlocking the door for us. Phew! A quick phone call revealed that the Esperanto association was located in the adjoining building (13 rather than 13D!) and one of the Esperantists soon came to let us in. We were excited to meet Tonjo and Alex in real life (as we had previously only been acquainted with them online) and to see the headquarters of the Spanish association. Tonjo kindly donated us two copies of a book about Don Quixote in Spanish and Esperanto (one for us, one for the Butler Library) and we also came away with a collection of leaflets and newsletters. As we sat outside having a drink together, the most therapeutic thing for us was to know that the Hispana Esperanto-Federacio faces many of the same challenges as the Esperanto-Asocio de Britio and that we are not alone in some of our frustrations.
Our aim after lunch was to explore Parque del Buen Retiro, a large park in the centre of Madrid which used to belong to the royal family but is now a public park. We were hoping that the park would provide some respite from the fierce afternoon sun, but unless you were standing directly under a tree it was still pretty hot!
Within the park there were some beautiful gardens, full of roses.
The most exciting thing for me was that after just over a week in Spain, we found our first ducks!!!
I wasn't prepared for quite how grand the park would be. This building is the Palacio de Cristal, built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines.
This one was another exhibition hall, known as the Palacio de Velazquez.
The most impressive part of the park, however, was this monument to King Alfonso XII.
There were so many beautiful photos that we took in the park that we've not been able to choose only one or two to put below!)
We managed to pack a lot of Madrid into one day but there's still a lot to see, so we're lucky that we've got the whole of tomorrow to explore as well