This morning we decided our first official travel trip that would bring us to the center of Spain and Madrid for 4 days. We were traveling by train, taking the new high speed Renfe train from Barcelona to Madrid. Immediately upon arrival, we walked straight into the Atocha Train Station, the main station in Madrid. This was a humbling experience, because this was also the place that the terrorist bombings occurred in 2004. Just as with the September 11th attacks, it was amazing that that was so long ago.
There was a fire in 1864 in the old station and so there was a new part of a renovation that as added. This place is really neat because all lines lead to this station. Since the new renovation, the old part has been turned into a tropical greenhouse in between the rails. Unbelievably, the new expansion has 4x the capacity of the the station. They then added metro lines and a new terminal for buses, and the transformation was complete.
Madrid was created by the Spanish Moors in the 9th century. Eventually major irrigation was set up as well as a block system, just like Barcelona. They have a financial district that is similar to that of NYC, with some skyscrapers, even. The Telefonica tower was the first skyscraper in Madrid. In addition, Madrid is seen as one of the European cultural capitals. Since the beginning of the city, it has become much more pedestrian friendly.
The next stop was at Plaza Mayor. This is the biggest square in Madrid. It used to be a large market, but it burned down 3 times. Each time it burned down, it was always rebuilt. Now it is mainly used for celebrations and festivals. Before, it was open to vehicular traffic, but now it has been closed off for pedestrian traffic only, despite the fact that there is a parking garage underneath.
Next stop was the Plaza de la Villa, which houses the town hall. The buildings in this hall are in the 'mudeja' style, which is like the Moorish and Arab influences. The Casa de la Villa is the actual town hall, and contains a lot more stone than most. In fact, a lot of buildings in Madrid tend to be a lot heavier and include much more stone compared to those in Barcelona.
We shortly stopped at this place called the Straw Square, which is a big open public space. The entire thing is slanted, which makes for an interesting view. Often kids can be found with their skateboards here and just hanging out. There are also some nice eateries and places to sit. Personally I wasn't a big fan of this place, due to the lack of shade. Despite its rustic appearance, it's viewed as a contemporary area, because it breaks from the tradition of Madrid.
In fact though it was much more than that. The area used to be a swimming pool. Madrid was preparing itself for the Olympics, but then they didn't get the bid, even though they had already begun to build things. It is very strange to see such a large open space in Madrid, and this place was no exception. In addition to the pool, there also used to be a market, in addition to other sports facilities.
The plan was to have everything demolished once it was found out that the Olympics were not going to be in Madrid. But it sort of began to evolve into a public space. It was nice for parents because it was walled in, they wouldn't have kids running off or anything like that. The neighborhood really began to get upset when the city council tried to wall off the area and keep the public from using it. They have really fought their way into having their own little piece of heaven, even if it does appear to be rundown.
Eventually the doors to this space were opened once again, and they were allowed to actually keep it. They have their own website now, and because of the open space, the place has endless possibilities and breeds a great neighborhood feel.
The last place that we stopped before ending this ridiculously long day was the UNED Library. It is built inside of an old church, so there are only certain hours that we could go in and see it. Specifically, it was built on the Shrine of El Pillar, which was eventually declared a cultural interest and people began to try really hard to preserve it. It was super quiet in there and I wish I could have taken some more pictures from different angles, but we were pretty limited, so here is one of my favorites.