Eager to dispose of the car, we made our made North to Madrid. We had met two Spaniards traveling together on the Camino, both of them named Juan, and from that point on they were known as “Juan y Juan” and wherever we found ourselves at the same alburgue for the evening we delighted in their company. They informed us that Madrid became Spain’s capital by default, as its central location was the deciding factor. Nice to get some local color, but Madrid itself has over seven million inhabitants in its metro area making it the largest city in Spain and the third largest in the European Union. It makes one ponder the age-old question: the chicken or the egg? Interestingly enough, in Europe, where it seems like timetables for everything are dealt with in thousands of years, it was less than a hundred years ago that The Spanish Constitution of 1931 declared Madrid the Capital.

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Tired of trying to find a place to park the car, we sought out and found a hotel near the airport and the metro line. We took the metro downtown for some exploration.

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The center of town that connects the metro lines is called Puerta del Sol. This is the busiest square in Madrid and we enjoyed walking the square while taking in all the street vendors and actors.

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It was in the square that we discovered a crazy busy bakery, crammed midday shoulder to shoulder with locals and tourists alike. Racks and racks of deliciousness assaulted our eyes and noses and we edged to the counter snapping up some sweet confections like professionals. Apparently, in Madrid, any hour is an appropriate pastry hour!! ¿Por qué es esto no es una cosa en los estados unidos? Donut shops need not apply.

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With our bellies full we walked a few blocks to Plaza Mayor, a massive public square that is rectangular in shape. Surrounded by three-story residential buildings, it has a brick and concrete floor. If you can afford the wares, cafes and restaurants line the entranceways and make a fine viewpoint for people watching.

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Next stop: the “Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena”. The Madrid Cathedral is a modern church as construction was started in 1879 and wasn’t completed until 1993. The architecture is amazing and we lingered for quite a while. The cathedral itself is larger than a football field, and unlike most churches its orientation is north and south because the king wanted the entrance facing the royal palace.

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The Royal palace was completed in 1755. It is considered the residence of the Royal Family although they no longer occupy it. The palace is massive and sits securely behind a steel fence. We walked the surrounding area, but decided against taking the tour due to time constraints

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Not surprisingly we were starting to feel a longing for some green space, which we discovered at Parque del Retiro. Belonging to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, the park is a grand oasis in the center of Madrid’s concrete jungle. After enjoying a picnic lunch, we walked for hours enjoying the elaborate gardens, thousands of trees, ornate sculptures and calming water features.

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No surprise, a return visit became necessary to stock up on pastries for the travels ahead.

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Visited May 2015

Next Stop: Munich