For the second part of our dual centre trip, we flew south from Paris down to the Spanish capital, where we were greeted by sizzling 40˚C temperatures and, a little surprisingly, Pope-Mania! When we booked our break, we were blissfully unaware that we would be joined by over 2 million devout Catholics attending the Pope's 'World Youth Day' assembly just outside the city.
Throughout the week, the crowds filled the streets constantly singing, drumming and celebrating. Having travelled from every corner of the world, they were clearly very excited to be in Madrid and were all hoping to catch a glimpse of the head of the church. And due to a last minute accommodation switch, we ended up having a birds-eye view of Il Papa himself!
The whole city went 'loco' - even the bakeries were selling 'Galletas Del Papa' - 'Pope biscuits'!
We found these curious confections in the Mercado de San Miguel, luckily just downstairs from our apartment. A wonderful cross between a food court, farmer's market and deli counter, patrons pick up a plate and cutlery and choose items from the myriad stalls to eat. Butchers, delis, cheesemongers, bakers, patisseries - as well as bars - the range was astounding and at 1-2€ a piece, great value (though quite easy to rack up quite a bill!).
As is the case with most capital cities, Madrid is blessed with a host of amazing galleries and museums. We were lucky enough to see some jaw dropping works by Goya and Velazquez to name but a few, though I'm a little ashamed to say there were times when I enjoyed the cool marble walls and air conditioning as much as the works of art!
Madrid is a city full of the unexpected. To the west of the city, they have an authentic Egyptian temple 'The Temple of Debod', gifted to Spain by the Egyptian government for their help in saving the great temple at Abu Simbel from rising water.
At the Caixa Forum gallery, the most striking work of art is the building itself and its vertical garden. We noticed little birds who had made their homes in the foliage.
2 days into our stay, the weather broke with the most of epic of thunderstorms (the international news agencies devoured the fact that the high winds blew the pope's hat off!). From our sixth storey balcony we could see colossal forks of lightning striking the city and the surrounding mountains. Normally, this wouldn't have been weather to go out in but we couldn't ignore our rumbling stomachs - so out we adventured into the storm!
As you can see it was pretty blustery! The rain was warm and it was really quite exciting to be out in such a big storm (until lightning struck about 10 feet in front of us, which is when we decided to run home!). The meal was worth it though. Casa Mingo is a restaurant which specialises in two things. Roast chicken and cider. Cider they brew themselves. As you can imagine, they had four very happy customers that evening!
To end our trip, we hopped aboard a train and travelled outside the city to El Escorial - an amazing former royal palace and monastery. I thought it had a curiously alpine feel to it, the lush green grounds were quite incongruous against the arid mountains. A beautiful place to end a very exciting trip!