Madrid!

When exploring a new city for the first time, I make sure to go around the block once or twice, then slowly branch out from there….making note of the parallel and perpendicular streets and landmarks. It saves time later and keeps me from getting lost.

Madrid is glorious! Modern, sophisticated and spotlessly clean, this Spanish capital is     beautiful, with spectacular buildings from historic architectural periods, including Baroque, Gothic and Neo-classical; an abundance of large, safe public parks and tree-lined avenues; heaps of trendy shopping spots with prices ranging from rock bottom department stores (Primark) to expensive designer boutiques, specializing in everything from shoes, handbags and stockings to styles hot off the runways.

Madrid has a gentle, quiet and well planned system of public transport with the Metro underground rail being the star attraction. (I say “gentle” in comparison to NYC’s screeching, graffiti-riddled subway trains, and well planned in the sense that it is easy to understand, even for someone who is new to the city and doesn’t speak the language).

The people are friendly and helpful, the city is crammed with world class art museums and a plethora of massive cathedrals, the tap water is delicious and safe to drink, and, as far as I can tell, crime is not an issue.

While Madrid’s street plan is archaic and confusing, the grand plazas, roundabouts, spectacular fountains and statues create an aura of spaciousness, even on crowded streets near packed tourist attractions. Outdoor cafes abound; the coffee is excellent; and prices are reasonable, and don’t vary much between residential and business or tourist areas.

Of course Madrid is a Mecca for tourists, students and international business people. With several lavish Royal palaces, including Palacio Real (former home of  King Phillipe V, the grandson of French King Louis XIV), the Palacio de Liria, the Santa Cruz Palacio, and Palacio de Cibeles Centro Centro, one can get a glimpse of what being in the top 2% of wealth was like during centuries past.

Madrid is also home to the Prado (Museo Nacional de Prado), the Real Academia de Belles Artes, the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sophia, the Thyssen-Bornemizma Museum, a naval museum, the Sorolla Museum, and the Museo Arquelogico. Where else can you see Carravagio, Rembrandt, Reuben’s, Goya, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Velazquez, Raphael, Titian and Heironymous Bosch in the same day?

Home to the notorious Spanish Inquisition of Queen Isabella and King Fernando in the Middle Ages, Madrid’s cathedrals and monestaries are some of the most spectacular in Christendom. The Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, the Catedral de las Almudena, the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony de La Florida, and the Monestario de las Descalzas Reales boast items such as holy relics, like pieces of the True Cross, some of the bones of St. Sebastian, the burial place of Goya, the site on which St. Francis of Assissi built a chapel in 1217, and marble sculptures, and artwork by Titian, Reubens, Breughel the Elder, Goya and Pacheco (Velazquez’s teacher and father-in-law). There is even an Egyptian temple, called the Templo de Debod, that dates back to the 2nd Century B.C., that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid.

This world class city has something for everyone and every taste, so be sure to include it on your Bucket List!

 

 

Advertisements

Parque natural de Chicaque – Close to Bogota in the wilds

IMG_2958

Living in the crowded capitol of Colombia — Bogota — does not mean that you can’t enjoy nature. By taking the Transmilineo, one can easily acess the stunning “Chicaque Natural Park”, located in the southern part of Bogota, in the municipality of Soacha.

In less than an hour,  hiking boots, a backpack, sunscreen, rain gear and a safari hat — garb that is not usually part of the “city fashionista uniform” becomes perfectly acceptable for the task at hand — hiking Chicaque.

Take the F1 from Chapinero or any station along the Caracas line and you will get to Soacha (after a change of busses in Ricuarte). We traveled on a Sunday and had places to actually sit down for the enitre trip!

South Bogota has gotten some bad press and Soacha isn’t one of the better neighborhoods, but “no preoccupe”! It looks like every other stop on the Transmilineo, with empanada vendors, taxis, secondary busses (called “collectivas”) all lined up like ducks to accomodate people who are passing through.

Because it was Sunday the Transmilineo route was slightly altered and we  got a bit confused finding our exit portal. However, a short walk around the block and some polite conversation got us to where we needed to wait for the ride into the park. Its quite cheap — about $3500 COP–  and takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

Because we went on a Sunday, when we paid the bus driver to go to Chicaque, he took off in an area of major road construction, with drivers hopping curbs, doing U-turns in the middle of the highway, and back-tracking thorugh decrepit neighborhoods that I had been warned about but had never seen outside of a TV novells!

I got up the courage to ask the driver — in my deplorable Spanish — “What was happening with the road?”, and he responded, “Ciclovia!

“Ciclovia” explained everything including the traffic, the alternate route, back street shuffle, and the wierd crossng of the highway — every Sunday in Bogota, major thorofares are closed to vehicular traffic and the only type of wheled transit allowed on these routes is “the bicycle”!

Breathing a sigh of relief that we were not being kidnapped or absconded to a den of inequity with filthy mattresses and being forced to drink scopolomine tea, the city fell behind and we drove along bumpy, dirt, country roads until we reached the entrance to Chicaque. Near the area of Teusaquedena Falls, along the Bogota River in the “sabana” region, we arrived at the park. A large lodge was the first building on site but we wanted to hike and left the sighteeing to later.

Situated at a lofty elevation, Chicaque appeared to be engulfed in clouds, which gives rise to the name of this phenomena,  the Colombian “cloud forest”. After a short orientation to the park by park guides, we entered the gates and began a serious downhill descent from a lofty elevation of 7,800 feet. There was no way to go BUT down, so I said my prayers and headed below. As we descended the paved, then semi-paved, then rocky, muddy, dirt path, the visitors center disappeared into the mist and clouds.

A loop trail led to the lagoon at the bottom of the hillside, and an alternate path led to a look out of the southernColombia countryside. Due to a knee injury, I let my friend continue to the bottom of the trail while i leisurely headed for the “lookout”, an out crop of rocks about midway on the mountainside. Here, beautiful views of pasture, farm land and small “fincas” (farms) dotted the landscape below. I reveled in the sunshine and took some photos while waiting for my friend to rejoin me at this meeting place.

As I hiked the lookout trail back to the main trail leading back up the mountain, I came upon some very colorful and interesting butterflies. One butterfly, with gorgeous grey wings and orange antennae entertained me for 20 minutes as he took his time exploring the woodland floor. Other butterflies — some purple; some sky lue with black trim along thier wings — were more elusive, but I enjoyed watching thier erratic flight patterns and capricious pathways.

Late afternoon was approaching, and having reconnected with my friend, who said that the lagoon below was completely dry and a wasted hike, we proceeded  to hike back up the mountain to the gate above. By the time we arrived on top, Bogota’s eternal rain was falling and so we went to see what was available in the food and drink department at the rustic lodge located at Chicaque’s entry point.

A merry fire was burning in the huge fireplace of the Lodge, which looked like it had been constructed around 1950. A huge dining room expanded across the spacious floor beneath a  rustic timber roof of wood and thatch.

We ordered hot tea and soup and waited for the bus back to Soacha.

 

It was a day well-spent, in close a proximity to Bogota and easilty accessible by the Transmilineo.

For more information and to view the park’s website, please go to:  www.chicaque.com/en/home

 

IMG_2941IMG_2961