Gracias, Madrid!

Well Barcelona really blew us away and we didn’t know what to expect of Madrid. We knew it wasn’t as much of a tourist hot-spot, and wondered if we would enjoy ourselves as much— but alas we liked Madrid just as much as Barcelona, maybe even a little bit more!!!

One of the first things we noticed was how nice it was just to walk around Madrid. Every single building was beautiful, an architectural delight. No building was in disrepair or past its prime. And they were all so clean- they didn’t have the pollution/soot build-up of many stone buildings in most large cities. All the stonework was white and fresh. Mind you, we only stayed in the downtown core area, but this was quite a big circumferential area and all the buildings were like this. The streets were all spotlessly clean, very few beggars or homeless people, lovely art and musicians everywhere- Madrid was just so pleasant to walk around and enjoy the city (and considering how hard it can be for me to walk, I don’t say this lightly.)

Plaza Mayor (as well as the top banner photo of this post), where we had dinner right after arriving in Madrid. A beautiful location but very touristy and expensive!

Since none of us knew much about Madrid, we decided to do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  This tour took us all around the city and we could see all the monuments and sites that we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to see, but enjoyed a view of. Madrid has a lot of ‘city gates’, all big stone arches built in the middle of roundabouts (think, like the Arc de Triomphe) to commemorate something or someone. Things like that are cool to see but I’m not about to go out of my way to get off the bus, dodge traffic, and take a photo.

We did get off at the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral. These two impressive spots are right beside each other, on a big hill overlooking greater Madrid.

Almudena Cathedral

The cathedral is actually quite modern, only having been finished in the last 30 years or so. Like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, it had clear glass windows at the top and coloured stained glass lower down- this gives a wonderful impression of lightness and airiness to a heavy, stone building.

The whole roof was like this, so bright in person.

After the cathedral, we headed next door to the Royal Palace. This palace is still in use by Spain’s Royal Family, but they don’t live there every day (they live in a ‘more modest’ palace in a Madrid suburb). It is here where they still do royal ceremonies and the like. Unfortunately (for you) they don’t allow photos of the interior rooms. You’ll just have to trust me that it was pretty majestic.

The outside of the Royal Palace

After these stops, we found a place for lunch. Speaking of, we’d read and since agreed that the best way to eat in Spain was a large lunch – a Menu Del Dia offered usually only until 4pm is a cheap multi-course set-menu. Spaniards fill up mid-day, then go for siesta and grab something small and cheap in the evening. A Menu Del Dia usually consists of a couple options for a first course and then a couple for a meat course. It always includes your beer, wine, or sangria, and often a dessert. I never saw one for more than €14. Eric and I did this every day, Sophie not so much, because the menus were in Spanish and she was more intimidated.

We did a quick walk-through of Mercato San Miguel- a more trendy, eatery-type market than the fresh-foods one in Barcelona. The food and drink looked great but it was so busy, not my idea of a good time!

We got back on another bus and enjoyed seeing Madrid’s sights. I could stare at the buildings as we drove past for hours. So much detail!

We hopped off at the Plaza de Cibeles for the photo op. It’s a beautiful marble building dominating the traffic circle.

Unfortunately, the large fountain out front wasn’t running. These are the concessions we make in order to tour in the off-season.

Speaking of ‘off-season’, it was this day- our fourth full day in Spain- that Eric came across an article about Covid-19 quarantines severely hurting the European tourism industry. Once we read it and realised it, we thought, of course- there are much less tourists than usual, in both Barcelona and Madrid! More than 10% of the world’s population is stuck under quarantine. One friend mentioned, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and maybe why we’ve liked Spain so much? Less tourists!

Anyway, while we were off the bus, we walked around a bit, enjoying the Spanish sunshine. Coming across Christopher Columbus square and the world’s largest Spanish flag.

Christopher Columbus
Beautiful ornamental ‘winter’ greenery
Not much wind, but trust me, it was big. It’s a replacement of the original and cost over €400 000! (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We then wanted to catch another bus back to our hotel, but waited and waited and one never came. We ended up frustrated and just hopped in a cab. Cabs seem cheap in Spain, or maybe it’s just because we never really left the downtown cores, but our trips were usually only about €5 door-to-door, which is about what 3 metro ride tickets would cost anyway.

The rest of this day was filled with siesta, ambling around Madrid streets, and grabbing a light dinner.

Sophie at the famous bear statue at Puerto del Sol, the one of the plazas we most often frequented because it was so close to our hotel.

On our last day in Spain, we bought tickets to the Museo del Prado, the large national art museum (often compared to the Louvre). Sophie is our little artist and she brought her sketch book so she could look for inspiration.

We saw some beautiful works by the likes of Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt, and many, many Rubens (Rubens was oft employed by Philip IV of Spain and a part of his court).

After the museum, we took a walk over to the large Park Retiro, a beautiful, large, inner-city green-space park not unlike Central Park or Hyde Park. Here, there are many busking musicians, a couple ponds, many fountains, a lake where you can rent row-boats, and a large ‘crystal palace’ feature which was currently housing an odd art installation that none of us understood.

The Crystal Palace
Eric and Sophie going for a little row.
A photo Eric took while in the boat with Sophie. Behind her is the Monument to Alfonso XII

I’m sure the park would have been absolutely breathtaking in only a few more weeks as spring arrives, because we could only enjoy shrubs, some daisies, and other hardy but not overly beautiful flowers. That’s ok, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this stunning location.

It was then definitely time for a siesta, as we’d been wearing ourselves out, frolicking in the warm sunshine and all. But we also had tickets for the early show at a flamenco show in the evening. This was a totally tourist thing to do, but we also just wanted to see them. The dancers were clearly very talented and we had a nice time watching them, while we drank sangria and ate some tapas.

You can find a couple videos of the dancing on my Instagram Spain story highlights (on my Instagram page, under my bio, there’s a little circle that says ‘Spain’… Just click on it then do nothing, let it play through).

That flamenco concert was just the perfect end to our wonderful Spanish holiday. We had to wake up somewhat early the next morning to get to the airport and head home to cool and windy Bristol, so we took another little walk through a few Madrid streets and said goodbye to this beautiful city.