The weather application on my ipod is not working. How can it be 2Â°C AND bright and sunny? I tap it a few times to make it see reason but it remains obstinate. Then it comes to me, in Madrid the sun is ONLY the source of light NOT heat! More good news awaits me. Margarita informs me that it has snowed in the mountains outside Madrid which means today will be colder than yesterday. I think she half expects me to run back in my room and disappear under the quilt for the day. She looks dubious when I declare that I am off to El Escorial. "It will be even colder there. It is outside the city and at a slightly higher altitude," she says. "That's ok." I say before I run off to throw on one more sweatshirt over the two I am already wearing. Add to that, two pairs of bottoms, an overcoat, a woollen hat, gloves and a scarf and I feel armed. I look like the abominable snowman's cousin and walk like a geisha but I am ready for whatever the weather gods have in store.
A UNESCO World heritage site, El Escorial is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escoria an hour away from Madrid. Felipe II who built this royal residence wanted it to signify the role of Spain in the Christian world and thus El Escorial was constructed to serve as a palace as well as monastery. At the palace, I opt for the audio-guided tour and make my way through the various rooms in the palace. Art lovers will find much to admire in the expansive art collection featuring works of some renowned European artists.
One of the most interesting sections of the palace is the Pantheon which houses crypts containing the mortal remains of 12 Spanish monarchs and their queens and parents. The audio guide informs that the remains of the dead monarch were first stored in an adjoining room called the decaying room for 50 years and then transferred to the respective crypts. A separate mausoleum has been built for the dead princes and princesses of the reigning monarchs.
The other building of note is the grand Basilica adorned with painted ceilings and frescoes and bronze sculptures. The living quarters of the King and the Queen were designed around the Basilica so that they could attend religious services from their bedchambers. In fact, when Felipe II took to bed in his old age he had the bed inclined such that he would be able to attend the religious services without leaving his bed. Beautifully landscaped gardens, a large pool with white swans and the rolling hills beyond provide an idyllic setting.
About 15 kilometres from El Escorial is the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caidos), a monument dedicated to those who died in the Spanish Civil War. The monument is closed to visitors currently owing to restoration work being carried out by the government.
Back in the city, I walk back to Margarita's through the Calle de Gran Via, one of Madrid's main shopping street. The last of the sales are on and everybody's taken to the shops. The streets are more familiar and the weather more bearable and I am able to look at the city more tenderly today.