I’ve been sitting in front of my computer screen procrastinating for a while, which is quite unlike me. The thing is, I’m having a bit of trouble deciding what to write about Spain’s capital city. It’s not that Madrid is a boring place. There was plenty for us to do there, lots going on all the time. And the problem certainly isn’t that I didn’t like Madrid, because I absolutely did. It’s just that Madrid doesn’t have that effortless beauty and charm possessed by the likes of Paris, Rome and Prague. So I guess I have to work harder to articulate why we liked it.
What Madrid does have is world-class museums. The most famous one, and our starting point, was the Museo Nacional del Prado. It contains a seemingly infinite amount of remarkable artworks from many of the world’s greatest painters.
On our first full day in Madrid, we decided to go on one of the New Europe walking tours. As usual, it was entertaining and informative. It gave us a good feel for the city, in terms of geography, history, culture, and more. Among the things we saw was the world’s oldest restaurant, which was opened some time in the 18th Century if I remember correctly, and has not closed a day since.
Plaza Mayor, the starting point of the tour
That afternoon, we decided to hit the second of the big three museums. The Reina Sofia is the modern art museum, and might have been my favourite. It’s got plenty of Picasso, Dali, and other famous works. But it’s also filled with cool and bizarre pieces from modern artists I’ve never heard of.
Our hostel was located in an area called Malasana, which is supposedly the place to be in terms of bars. We found a square close by, where we ate dinner on a couple of the nights, although they don’t open the kitchens until about 8.30. Patrons from the numerous trendy bars around the edges spill out into the square. It’s got a great atmosphere, but you’ve got to fight to get a table outside.
The next day, we went to the Royal Palace, King Juan Carlos I’s official residence (although no one actually lives there). It’s enormous, with 2800 rooms. We were able to visit about 50 of them, and they were all magnificently decorated, as palace rooms tend to be. Today it is still used for important events.
Palacio Real, as seen from the interior courtyard.
We found it quite funny when we read in my book that we could visit the Royal Pharmacy just outside the main palace. It was actually quite fascinating! Apothecary-style medicine jars line the shelves. Some still even have who-knows-what inside them. We also visited the Royal Armoury, which displays the royal suits of armour mainly from the 16th and 17th Centuries.
The Palace is set on the edge of a cliff, and this is what you se when you look out.
That afternoon, we sought refuge from the chaos of the city at the Parque del Buen Retiro. The sizeable park is beautiful and green, peppered with monuments and fountains, and characterised by picturesque a lake in the middle where people hire boats. It’s very popular with the locals, and we liked it so much that we came back the next day.
The lake in the park
I must mention Spanish doughnuts, or churros, as they are known. We first tried them in Granada, but we were underwhelmed. In Madrid, we found THE place to go for churros. There are pictures on the walls of all the famous people who have been there. You get a plate of five churros, and a cup of hot chocolate sauce to dip them in. Yum.
Natalie enjoying churros
As far as markets go in Madrid, the one to go to is the El Rastro market on a Sunday morning. So that’s just what we did on our last day in Madrid. It’s a flea market, so it sells a bit of everything. Some really cool stuff, and some not so appealing. It goes for miles and it’s absolutely bustling.
That afternoon, we decided to complete the golden triangle of museums. The last one was the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, formerly a family collection, now owned by Spain. It contains a huge variety of impressive international masterpieces. We were feeling quite cultured by this point.
Awesome sculpture outside the museum
That was about it for Madrid. And Spain. And my entire trip. The implications of that are too extensive to tack onto the end of this post. So don’t worry, you haven’t heard the last from me yet.
And just some final observations on Madrid. The Madrilenos, as they are called, know how to enjoy themselves. They live life on the streets, sipping coffees in terazzas during the day and hopping between bars after dark. We enjoyed wandering through the streets, and looking at the unusual street performers. We took pleasure in relaxing in the parks and soaking up the culture that this exciting city had to offer us. I couldn’t have asked for much more from my final destination.
Anyway, I’ll be back soon with some self-indulgent reflective stuff, if you can bear it.