I arrived in Madrid, Spain this morning at around 8AM after an overnight and overseas flight of 7.5 hours. I’ve been reading up on the “must-see” and “must-do” lists available on the internet over the last few weeks. This afternoon I had the very fortunate pleasure of a private travel guide. Her name was Maria and she was the perfect guide. We met in the city center of Madrid just in front of the Reina Sofia Museum and Art Center. Downtown Madrid is so beautiful. Everything is very old with lots of charm and centuries of history.
One of the first places we visited was the famous landmark “kilometer zero” in the even more famous Puerta del Sol. The Puerta del Sol is the geographical center of Spain. There is a building known as the “Casa de Correos” which is the headquarters of the
Community of Madrid Autonomous government. This would be equivalent to our State Capital. Above this building is a famous clock tower that all Spaniards looks towards on New Year’s Eve.
Much like the ball in Times Square is our symbol for the beginning of the New Year. In Spain a person eats one grape to countdown each of the twelve chimes. Directly in front of this building is a stone slab which marks “Kilometer Zero.” This is the starting point for the 6 main highways in Spain.
Directly opposite the building is the most important statue in the square that of the “Bear and the Madrono Tree” (“El Oso y El Madroño”) . This is the symbol of the city of Madrid.
Continuing our walk through the cobblestone streets of Madrid I find myself standing in front of an ENORMOUS building. I never thought anything would top the Palace of Versailles in France for size but this building does. It is the “Palacio Real” or Royal Palace. It is the largest palace in all of Europe. It has 2,800 rooms, over 110 doors, 870 windows, 270 balconies, 44 staircases and a banquet hall with a table that can seat 140 people! It was used by the Kings and Queen of Spain from 1734 until 1931. It was originally commissioned by Felipe V in 1734 and construction took 26 years. During that time two more kings, Carlos III and Carlos IV also influenced the design and decor. The current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I lives in the more modest Zarzuela Palace outside of Madrid, but the Palacio Real is still used for state occasions.