The strawberry train to Aranjuez runs for roughly three months each year – from the end of May through all of June and then again from the end of August through September. A few years ago Daniela made a tour of Europe, including Spain with her father. They wanted to take this train, but were unable because of its infrequent trips. As soon as she realized that she could now go, we started planning our trip to Aranjuez. We wanted to include Andrew, which meant that we went the last weekend of this season.
We chose a Sunday so that we could spend the whole day there. Truthfully, as a passenger you do not have very many options, there is one train that leaves Madrid at 10 in the morning and there is only one that returns at 6. You must arrive half an hour before it departs and so we awoke early to make our banana pancakes before heading off to the train station.
The train station in a beautiful 19th century building, reminiscent of the modernity and luxury that train travel brought to the world. Further emphasized by its role as a museum dedicated to Train Transportation in Spain. Below are a few photos of the different trains on display:
After walking around we received our tickets and passes for the day and boarded our train!! I have included some pictures of my companions for the tour. Unfortunately mine and Andrew’s tickets were separated from Daniela’s and on the ride there we were not together for the duration of the hour long trip south. Of interest, this was the second rail line built in the Spain, the first one connected Barcelona to Mataró.
I assume by now you are wondering where and how the strawberries enter into the equation. The answer has to do with the notoriety of Aranjuez. Aranjuez was known for its fresh strawberries, which is why they carry on the tradition giving out the delicious fruits. In general Aranjuez has an abundance of fresh produce, especially spring specialties such as asparagus, strawberries, and tomatoes, because it was utilized as the spring and autumn residence of the monarchs in the 18th century. These same monarchs loved pastures for the hunt, and therefore, there are many fowls that are also particularly famous.
Our tour guides started the day dressed in contemporary characters, as the picture below proves. I can only imagine the heat of wearing those dresses as I was hot in a simple shift dress. These women bustled to and fro throughout the different cabins to explain the activities of the day. In their baskets they carried the special strawberries, giving a carton to each passenger.
The train pulled into the regular cercanias (Renfe) station where we all boarded buses to the city center, depending upon each person’s particular group number. This is because the ticket of the train included both a guided tour of the palace as well as admission to the Faula Museum (small boat museum) and to regulate the flow of guests they assigned everyone tour groups. We lucked out and had an hour to explore the grounds of the palace before our tour. Below are photos from the far side of the palace depicting the expansive space in front of this palace. Beneath the arches you could easily find the shoemakers, potters and other craftsmen who supplied the palace with all of its needs.
The palace has many different gardens. The first one was enclosed so to speak, with in the building as can be seen with the gate protecting and restricting it’s access. The others that we visited were not so quaint nor restrictive. Water seemed to be an integral part of each park, not only providing sustenance to the greenery, but as a means of proving the skill of humans to tame the water, whether it be through damns or in intricate fountains.
Below are photos from the Garden of the Island:
There were also many references to antiquity, most readily seen in the statues. Below we have a little tableau vivant where Daniela and Andrew impersonated two of the statues:
Although these man made features are beautiful, I still find the contrasts of light and shadow playing upon the trees to be the most beautiful part of parks. I especially loved the way that these trees formed a cover from the hot sun and just let few specks of light stream through their leaves.
Our free hour passed by quickly and it was time for our tour of the palace, which dates to Queen Isabel II from the 18th century. It was originally commissioned by Philip II, the same man as the Escorial. However, this palace can hardly resembles the austere palace for which he was famous. This is because it was never finished during his life time, and rather was not completed until the 18th century, under the Bourbon monarchs when styles and fashions had changed drastically.
Above is an image of the inner courtyard and then another showing Daniela on the steps outside the palace. Unfortunately we could not take photos throughout the interior; however, each room is set to a specific period and theme which is followed from the rugs on the floor to the chandeliers and ceiling decorations. In some places the abundance of decoration was overwhelming. Personally, my favorite room was the asian porcelain room only because of its tactility. The different asiatic creatures created out of porcelain emerged out of the walls protruding into our space, making their presence known, transforming the flat walls into bumpy alive entities. It was an ostentatious display of their wealth, something that each and every room constantly reminded the visitor, giving a different notion of these monarchs.
After our tour, we had a few free hours to get lunch. We attempted to go to a restaurant that Daniela had found online, but it was much farther than we thought and so we settled for a restaurant closer to the palace. It was a delicious and much needed meal. I was especially happy sit down and relax for a few minutes. With a full belly we boarded the communal bus, which took us to the Park of the Prince. We chose to see one of the three famous fountains of Narcissus before touring the Museum of the Faula that is also in the Park. Maybe it was just us, but there is something just a phallic in this sculpture?
After meeting beautiful Narcissus we went into the museum. These Faula boats were not used for serious travel, but rather as ceremonial crafts to float along the rivers – to see and be seen. They are ginormous flat boats with about 14 men rowing, while the monarch and his/her companions sat on comfortable cushions in the back.
After our tour we asked for directions to Isabelo, a famous ice cream shop in the city that still makes homemade ice cream. Our tour guides thought that we would not have enough time to make it there and meet at the bus, but we were determined. Anything for good ice cream!! The shop is located next to the Town Hall (the pink building). The entire area was dead silent, an ominous premonition. There were just a few tourists like us perusing the streets, but we had faith that when we arrived there would be cold deliciousness for us to eat.
We did not have too much time to contemplate our sadness before our bus departed for the train station and so we quickly headed back. We did stop along the way to get an ice cream because after thinking about it for so long we could not go without, but it surely was not Isabelo’s.
When we arrived at the bus stop we heard sirens wailing only to see two fire engines pass us by. There was a fire right on the bank of the river. We are not sure of the cause, but as you can see in the third photo the flames were climbing highly. Fortunately, it was on the opposite side of the river from the palace and no buildings seemed to be in danger of harm.
They gave us a quick tour of the city, which meant we had to pass by our closed Isabelo again. After that we boarded the train again. Daniela’s section of the train had extra room and so we joined her. We made nice friends with the people around us and were even able to sneak out onto the platform see the countryside pass us by. Below are a few photos from that adventure. I am fully confident that I could travel the world on trains.
One hour passed by quickly and soon we were back in Madrid. Exhausted and tired we cooked dinner and quickly went to sleep. There are many ways to travel to Aranjuez, but I am definitely glad that we have had the opportunity to take the Strawberry Train.