The year 2020 was going to be so amazing that I actually would have had to choose the things I wanted to do and sacrifice others. It didn’t turn out that great in the end, with lots of rescheduling and cancellations. I was eventually able to budget time and money for one of those rescheduled events – the joint concert by the metal bands Epica and Apocalyptica in their Epic Apocalypse Tour. For a while, however, there was a bit of uncertainty with dates, as they bounced between Sunday 12th and Monday 13th of February, so I needed to juggle work dates in order to make sure I’d be free on Monday. In the end, I was all clear, all the concert-related activities were set for Sunday evening, and I decided to make a two-day trip out of it – I needed to take a hotel for Sunday anyway.
I arrived in Madrid around 9:30 in the morning. I had some time before my first appointment so I walked into one of the large parks of the city Parque del Buen Retiro, which is part of the Unesco World Heritage Site Paisaje de la Luz (Light Landscape), officially called Paseo del Prado y el Buen Retiro, paisaje de las artes y las ciencias, declared in 2021.
Parque del Buen Retiro was built in the 17th century for one of Felipe IV’s palaces, and it was opened in the late 18th century as public park. The park was almost destroyed during the war against Napoleon’s troops in the early 19th century, so most of it has been rebuilt. Aside from the obvious flora, it features sculptures, fountains, buildings… It is home to a lot of birds, and unfortunately a large number of invasive and fearless monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), whose culling has been controversial in recent years. I got to see common blackbirds (Turdus merula), a European green woodpecker (Picus viridis) and a European robin (Erithacus rubecula).
One of the most important features of the park is the sculpture Monumento al Ángel Caído, which represents an angel falling from grace. It was originally designed by Ricardo Bellber, who made it in plaster in 1877. It was later cast in bronze and the original plaster destroyed, and eventually the sculpture was made into a part of a fountain in 1885. Around the area, there is also an ancient water mill, and to my surprise, the almond trees (Prunus amygdalus) had started blossoming.
At 10:15 I had a guided visit to the Real Observatorio de Madrid (ROM), commissioned around 1785 by Carlos III, as an centre to develop and study astronomy, geodesy, geophysics and cartography. The main building is the astronomical observatory, built by Juan de Villanueva in what then was the outskirts of the city. Today, ROM belongs to the National Geographical Institute (IGN), and it is home to the National Astronomical Observatory, the Central Geophysics Observatory, and the data gathering division of the National Volcanic Service, though no measurements are taken there. The main astronomy measurements are carried out in the Centro Astronómico de Yebes, in a town around 80 km north-west of Madrid. The observatory is also part of the Unesco World Heritage Site.
The visit comprises three stops. The first one is the main building, called Edificio Villanueva, which has three rooms – the main rotunda with a Foucault pendulum, the library, with the spot where gravity was first measured in Spain, and the “Time room”, where the sun used to be traced to determine the hour.
The second stop is the Great Telescope, a replica of one that William Herschel built in the 18th century – Hershchel was one of the greatest telescope makers of the time, and is credited with discovering the planet Uranus, two of its moons, and two moons of Saturn. The telescope was destroyed during the war against the French, but later rebuilt thanks to the number of laminates that had been preserved – the original had a focal distance of 7.6 m and a 61-cm diameter mirror (which is displayed in the main building), and Herschel himself considered it the best he ever built.
The final stop, the little museum of “Earth and Universe Sciences” has a small collection of ancient instruments used for astronomy, navigation, and geophysics. There are also a couple of seismographs – one of them new, which is up and running – and material retrieved from the volcanic eruptions of El Hierro in 2011 and La Palma in 2021.
I had planned for a typical sandwich at an iconic bar afterwards, but I ran into a political demonstration. Thus, I scratched that idea and took the underground westwards. When I was in Egypt, one of the places I visited was Lake Nasser, created by the Aswan High dam. The lake swallowed a lot of villages and monuments, but a few of them, such as Abu Simbel and the Temple of Philae were saved by Unesco. Between 1960 and 1980, a total of 24 monuments were saved, and five out of these were presented as “grants-in-return” to five countries which had offered exceptional technical and financial assistance to the campaign – Germany, Italy, Netherlands, the United States and Spain, the latter being impressive as Spain was in the middle of the dictatorship, and pretty shunned by the international community at the time.
The monument was a small and ruined temple in the now-flooded town of Debod, to which it owns its name Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod). Dedicated to the god Amun, it was built around the location of the First Cataract of the Nile, some 15 km south of Aswan, about 2200 years ago, though the core of the building may have been older. The monument was actually affected by the original dam at the beginning of the 20th century, and it was covered in water for most of the year, which destroyed its colours and damaged the reliefs.
During the Unesco salvage mission, it was dismantled, and eventually granted and taken to Spain, and “freely” reconstructed – a lot of information had been lost, and there were missing blocks. National stone was used to fill in the gaps, and the gates (remains of the pylons) were built in the wrong order, according to some old pictures. The restorers built an air-conditioning system, a wooden roof, and the main hall was closed off with a glass door and window panes. Today, the temple is open to the public at weekends, but unprotected from the Spanish weather – rather different from the Egyptian one – and pollution, it is rapidly deteriorating.
I went inside the temple once when I was a child, and I had a clear memory of it that kept surfacing when I was in Egypt – so I wanted to go back. The entry is free, but capacity is reduced, so I had to queue for almost an hour to enter. I finally matched my memory to reality. The interior of the sanctuary has a small chapel and some carved stones had been taken to a makeshift second floor to display them as a little museum.
After the temple, I got lunch on the go, then walked towards the hotel to check in and change clothes. Around 16:15, I set off to La Riviera for the concert. I had a Meet and Greet ticket and had to be there before 17:00. Personnel from the venue were extremely nice, and there was no chaos at all, even if things had been a little disorganised and some fans were lacking M&G confirmation emails. Everything was well-handed and everyone who had paid for an upgrade got through. There were about 30 people to meet and greet Epica and we were ten for Apocalyptica.
Apocalyptica is a Finnish four-man band – Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen and Mikko Sirén – founded in 1993. They are “semi-officially” a symphonic metal band, but they’ve ventured into everything from Metallica covers (which was their origin) to pure classical works. They have a very specific style heavily using classical cellos and combining them with modern drums. They currently collaborate with American – self-identified as Cuban in the concert – singer Franky Perez for vocals.
Meeting the four of them was really fun. I got autographs and took the most epic picture I’ve ever taken with a band or artist before. As we were only ten, after it was over, I had time to buy some merchandising and still be the second person to settle on first row – despite having decided that I was going to sit back and relax.
General admission started at 18:00, and the crowd was surprisingly tame throughout the whole thing. The venue filled up and the supporting band, Wheel, came up at 18:30. Wheel is a Finnish progressive metal band that consists of James Lascelles (Vocals/Guitar), Santeri Saksala (Drums), Aki ‘Conan’ Virta (Bass) and Jussi Turunen (Lead Guitar).
- Blood drinker
The second band was Epica, which I remember having listening to back when the world was young. They are a Dutch symphonic metal band currently composed by Simone Simons (lead vocals), Mark Jansen (rhythm guitar, vocals), Coen Janssen (keyboards, synthesizer), Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums), Isaac Delahaye (lead guitar) and Rob van der Loo (bass). Simone can go insanely high with her voice, and she has an amazing presence on stage, and the whole band has an immense amount of energy – she also reminded me of a comic character. The keyboardist had a lot of personality too, and he was extremely fun.
- Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity (recording)
- The essence of silence
- Victims of contingency
- The final lullaby
- The obsessive devotion
- The skeleton key
- Code of life
- Cry for the moon
- Beyond the Matrix
- Consign to oblivion
Finally Apocalyptica came on stage, and it was extremely fun. The things those guys do to their classical cellos would make some classical musicians cry, but the sound is super-powerful. We had Franky Perez for vocals, and a very fun moment regarding “listen to our classical music album at home, because we still feel like death metal”. They interacted a lot with the public, and it felt somehow very friendly / warm – yes, I’m talking about metal here. It was really that fantastically weird.
- Ashes of the Modern World
- I’m not Jesus
- Not strong enough
- En route to mayhem
- I don’t care
- Nothing else matters
- Inquisition Symphony
- Seek & Destroy
- In the Hall of the Mountain King
We finished off just short of 23:00, I bought off some fast food for dinner, and headed back to the hotel to have a shower and get some sleep. I was woken up early in the morning due to the cleaning crew and the garbage mini-vans noises, but I did not leave bed until 9:00, then set off at 9:30. I bought some cold coffee on the way and walked into the former royal palace gardens, now public park Jardines del Campo del Moro.
Though I’d seen the gardens a few times before, this was the first time I actually walked into them. Despite the frost covering everything, I got a nice view of the palace and different fountains and buildings sprinkled throughout the green – Chalet de Corcho, is a small hut with coloured windows; and Chalecito de la Reina a wooden house that is currently closed. I was insanely amused by a little grass-cutting robot.
I wandered around for an hour or so, then headed off via underground to the National library of Spain Biblioteca Nacional de España for the absolutely worst guided visit of my life. Like… it’s true that it’s free, but tickets run out within hours of coming out – on the 20th of the month, for the following month. I’d actually been trying to do this since Covid lockdowns ended… It turns out, we did not see any real books, we could not even peer into the reading area, the book and reading museum is closed and the only information we got was… that the guide did not like the Library. We did not get to see anything interesting or that we could not see on our own, and we did not get to learn anything, so this was a huge blunder. Live and learn – but it was one of the few things that was open on a Monday. The library is a huge Neoclassical building with a fantastic marble staircase inside. The doors and gates are protected by intrincate ironwork fences.
I met with family for a quick lunch and then we went for a walk. We had thought about going to one of the terraces to see the cityscape, but it was closed because it was a Monday. We ended up at the Parque del Retiro park again to make some time and walk. We sat in the sun for a while, then went to see the Palacio de Velázquez there. Currently, it’s part of the modern art museum Museo de Arte Reina Sofía, and I did not really care much about the exhibits, but I like the building. Architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco built it in brick (with ceramic tiles by Daniel Zuloaga) for the Mining Exhibit in 1883, inspired by London’s Crystal Palace, now gone. The interior is pristine white with hints of iron architecture, but the building’s official style is “neorenaissance historicism” whatever that means.
Velázquez Bosco and Zuloaga also came together when they designed another building I really like, the glass-and-iron greenhouse Palacio de Cristal, which was built to home tropical flora and fauna from the Philippines in an exhibit in 1887. In front of the palace, there’s a small pond home to some cheeky ducks and geese.
Then, we went to have a snack. Trying to find something on the map before the trip, I’d come across a place called La Mejor Tarta de Chocolate del Mundo, which translates to “The best chocolate cake in the world” and that had to be tried! It was really nice, even if the place was pretty small and felt a bit cramped.
We finally took a stroll down towards the sunset, and I took the train back without much of a hitch, then drove home