Some visitors liken Puerta del Sol to New York’s Times Square, but we think that’s a canard because Puerta del Sol is smaller and friendlier. Alas, the signature neon sign of Puerta del Sol (a colorful rendition of the Tío Pepe sherry bottle) was removed when the old Hotel Paris was sold to developers who replaced Hemingway’s favorite hotel with an Apple Store. Moreover, in July 2013, the Sol Metro stop here became officially known as “Vodafone Sol,” after the mobile phone service provider. One clerk at the Madrid Tourist Information office commented that, “Soon we will all have to walk around with ‘Sony’ stamped on our foreheads.” Ah, the fallout of the economic crisis. Fortunately, amid all those bankruptcies and loan defaults, Madrid was able to complete its overhaul of the square to make it a central hub for Metro lines and for commuter rail. Auto traffic was further curtailed, the central pedestrian plaza was greatly enlarged, and a new Louvre-like glass entrance was created for the steps down to the trains. The beloved statue of a bear and a madroña tree (pictured on the city’s coat of arms) was moved out to the middle of the plaza. Embedded in the pavement in front of the old Casa de Correos building is the Zero Kilometer marker from which all distances in Spain are calculated. The clock on the former post office displays Spain’s official time. When it strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, Spanish revelers eat a dozen grapes—one for each chime.
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