Monday, March 18, 2019

Toledo (Not Ohio)

Toledo, Spain
We took a day trip to Toledo on our fourth day in Madrid. Toledo, the former capital of the Spanish Empire, is a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish history. The city was once controlled by Islamic Arabs until it was once again reconquered by Christians. After living in a Muslim part of Russia, I wish we learned more about Islamic rule in the West. Islam has such an impact on the world, but the history we learn about is so white washed. I hope one day that changes.
When I visited Spain the first time we took a day trip to Segovia, which is why we chose Toledo to visit on this trip. I think I prefer Segovia, but both are full of windy hills and it might just be because I prefer hills in cooler weather than in the scorching heat. This is mostly a photo heavy post because we didn't do much except walk around the city and go on a tour of Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, an absolutely massive cathedral. Even if you aren't religious, I'd suggest checking out the cathedral because it's absolutely beautiful. You need to pay extra to go to the bell tower, which we didn't do, so I can't recommend that, but the church itself was magnificent.
You only need to spend a few hours (maybe 4 hours tops) in both Toledo and Segovia, unless you plan on trying local foods or have some other event planned, like a walking tour. They are both quite small and don't take a lot of time to see, especially when you visit in the middle of July. However, both are beautiful cities and worth the quick trip from Madrid.

Friday, March 15, 2019

House of Beasts

Paseo Fernán Núñez, 22, 28009 Madrid, Spain
On our third day in Madrid I happened upon Casa de Fieras, or House of Beasts, accidentally. As we were strolling through Retiro Park I saw these structures that looked "abandoned." Naturally, I started taking photos, and said something to my cousin along the lines of "These are so cool. They look abandoned." She mentioned that they kind of were. The old, controversial zoo used to reside in Retiro Park until it was moved to Casa de Campo park in 1972.
The history of Casa de Fieras is pretty dark which, to me, adds to it's intrigue. The zoo was the second one in Europe after the Vienna Zoo in Austria. It was built on the command of King Carlos III in 1774, making it older than the United States. During the 18th century it was common to see fights among different animals, like bears and lions, which were popular for upper class spectators. I imagine it was probably similar to the gladiator fights in the Roman Empire. During the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, some of the animals were sacrificed to feed those who suffered from the famine. It is also said that about 30 prisoners were fed to the animals themselves; however, this remains an urban legend. During WWII many animals from other European zoos, especially from Berlin, were sent to Casa de Fieras to protect them from the atrocities of war. Can you imagine transporting wild animals during a time like that? The zoo was closed for good in June 1972 because it was not able to keep up with the number of visitors. The zoo is now located in Casa de Campo.
Currently, only a few of the cages remain, including the monkey pit and bear and lion cages. Most of the zoo now houses a library and botanical garden. You can see pictures of its former life here. While, I'm not a huge fan of zoos - it makes me extremely sad to see large animals in cages - I can appreciate the history of a place like this. I always try to imagine living in a time where seeing wild beasts or attending a World's Fair was a massive event in one's life. Sometimes I wish I could live in those times. I need to go back to Madrid, and take a better look at the House of Beasts, probably when it's a little cooler and I have more energy to take photos.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Compacted Version of our Madrid Trip

Madrid, Spain
I didn't take too many photos in Madrid for several reasons. One, it was hot and I don't function well in anything over 80 degrees. Two, I was feeling kind of bad about my photos. I just felt like I couldn't get a good picture of anything. Three, it was my sister's first time there so we revisited many of the places I'd already seen. Finally, it was time with family, so taking photos wasn't my first priority. For these reasons I feel like I can fit most of the trip into one post with two other posts to follow. On our second day we went to church and then grabbed some tapas for lunch. We walked around a bit and then finished the evening watching a Flamenco show in a place that looked like the scene from Cask of Amontillado. Don't get me wrong, the flamenco show was great we just weren't sure whether we were going to make it out alive or not.
On our third day in Madrid, we walked around Retiro Park, headed up to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu so I could take a picture for J since it's his favorite team, and consumed chocolate and churros (which I didn't get to try on my first trip) and more tinto de verano. In the Glass Palace they usually have some kind of art installation. On my first trip there were bones hanging from the ceiling. On this trip it looked like prosthetic limbs were every where. I know I sound completely ignorant but I totally did not get what the point of it was.
The next day we took the train to Toledo, but that'll be in another post. On our final day in Madrid we went on one last walking tour. This one was not with the same company as I used in Berlin or Amsterdam, but it was still informative. These tours are so interesting because there is always something hidden around the city that you don't notice until someone points them out. Throughout Madrid you might see brass looking stones in front of businesses. These bricks are given to those places that have served Madrid continuously for many years. For example, Sobrinos de Perez has been in business selling religious items since 1867, and they have a stone in front of their business. Little facts like this are why I recommend taking a walking tour next time you visit Europe. We finished the tour by getting a calamari sandwich from one of the recommended places. For a sandwich with just bread and fried calamari it was pretty good, although you really have to make sure you get it from somewhere popular or it won't taste like anything special. We finished our last day by eating in and packing for our trip back home.
One thing I love about Europe is how different each country feels and looks. Have you been to Europe? What's your favorite city?
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