Today I took part in the most quintessential tourist activity: the hop-on hop-off sightseeing double-decker bus!
And it was pretty awesome! I started my day slowing getting ready, enjoying the luxury of air-conditioning and privacy. I took the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu stop, where the Real Madrid Futbol Team plays! It took me a little while but I eventually found out where to catch my bus and hopped on!
The tour bus was great – they came very often and there were 2 routes to explore either the old city or the new city. The routes overlapped so you could jump from one line to the other whenever you wanted. It was great to be able to snap photos of different monuments/statues/fountains as we drove by while hearing why they’re important with the audio commentary.
I got off at the Plaza del Sol, did a little browsing, checked out the cool statues, and then boarded the bus for the other route. My first official stop was the Museo Reina Sofia, a contemporary art museum.
The museum was….interesting. Luckily it was free on Sundays but it was definitely different from a lot of the museums I have been in lately. The first exhibit I checked out was in the basement and it was pitch black! I was really scared so a security guard had to walk me in with her flashlight. It ended up being two very dark rooms with shots of a boxing match projected on a wall. Another exhibit had sand and stones poured onto the ground with fake plants and cabanas. In the corner of this beach scene sat a bird cage with 5 real life birds! The museum also featured some very “interesting” sculptures, paintings and photos. I don’t think it was exactly my cup of tea but it was unique. I didn’t get to see much because I got there an hour before closing but I think I got a good idea.
Next, I took the bus to the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid! This was definitely my favourite stop of the day. I’ve seen quite a few palaces/royal houses during my trip but this one would have to be the most impressive. The rooms are huge and everything from the crystal chandeliers to the intricate ceiling artwork to the silk tapestries on the walls was awe-inspiring. I wish I was allowed to take photos but sadly security guards were stationed in each room forbidding it.
There are also a lot more rooms than I thought there would be. Besides seeing the official state rooms of the Spanish monarchy, there are rooms to showcase their silver and china, a chapel (breathtaking) and parlor rooms. Outside of the main palace there is an exhibition of an infirmary and the artillery. The most impressive rooms were definitely the large banquet hall in the main palace (I think my entire house would fit in that room) and the chapel (the highest, most intricate ceiling I have ever seen). The artillery exhibition was pretty impressive too – there were models of about a dozen horses and soldiers in armour to depict different eras. For part of my trip, I clung on to an English-speaking guided tour to learn more about the palace. For example: the reigning monarch in Spain actually has no power, he’s just a figurehead. Because he’s essential powerless, when he uses the palace to greet foreign monarchs/diplomats he’s forbidden to sit in the throne because it represents power. He and his wife are only permitted to stand in front of the throne.
Across from the palace is a beautiful cathedral. I was hoping to be able to go inside but it looked like only the museum portion was open. What kind of cathedral is closed on a Sunday? But the outside was lovely as well. There was a man playing violin which helped to create a very idyllic moment.
From there I took the bus back to Plaza del Sol. I walked around the little streets and checked out a few more shops. By this point, Spanish football fans were starting to come out in full force. The street vendors were going crazy selling all types of Spanish flags, scarves, shirts, etc. I grabbed a crepe to go and jumped back on my bus headed home!
Except, the bus broke down! Not a huge deal, but we did have to wait a little while to load onto the next one. Eventually I made it back to Santiago Bernabeu and it was INSANE! The police were redirecting traffic because of an impromptu parade the fans had decided to take to the streets. Everyone was decked out in their red and yellow, singing and blowing whistles. I actually had a hard time getting into the metro station there were so many people! Note: the game had not even started yet!
I thought about maybe joining the crowds but decided against it. I’m not a football fan in any sense so I would probably find the game pretty boring. It’d be fun to be in the crowds but I think it would be a lot more fun with friends. Plus, people were already shoving and pretty drunk – I’d hate to think what it would be like by the end of the game.
All in all, I had a really good day. It wasn’t as tiring or packed as some of my other days, which was nice. And Madrid isn’t nearly as hot as I had been warned about! Granted, the double-decker bus gets a really nice breeze, but even when I walked around it wasn’t too bad. I really appreciated the bus – I didn’t have to worry about how to get to places or decide where to go. But, I kind of missed experiencing the city. It was weird to have people on the street stare and wave at you. And all of my photos have the bars from the bus in them! It was definitely a good intro to the city but if I was here longer I think I would rather explore on foot.
Tomorrow I’m using the second day of my tour bus pass. I want to check out the Museo del Prado and a few other places. The bus drivers warned me that the schedule might be a little messed up tomorrow. Apparently the Spanish football team is coming to Madrid to celebrate and re-watch the game with their fans. The police are shutting down a bunch of roads. That should be fun! After that I take an 11pm night train to Lisbon!