Madrid was wonderful – and so hot! I have to admit that this city is exhausting – not only with the late nights that the Spanish are so fond of, but the amount of walking and the heat we faced in our journey. There was so much to do and see in Madrid and with only a few days there, we barely scratched the surface.
We visited the city’s main squares: Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. Although I didn’t understand the “tourist attraction” of the squares, I can easily understand why they are such important places in the Spanish culture. There are so many shops and restaurants and they’re central meeting places. These squares were packed with people (especially around 4-5 in the morning… crazy).
Speaking of meeting places, Plaza Mayor is where we met to go on our free walking tour of the city, provided by NewEurope. Our tour guide, Sandra, was theatrical, informative, and hilarious. We loved her. She taught us about Spanish kings, the dictatorship under Franco, the persecution of Jews & Muslims and why ham is so popular.
We visited the art museum Reina Sofia – oh how I loved it. We waited to go to it until it was free admission, so unfortunately the time alotted for the free entrance was a very small window. But I LOVED this museum. LOVED IT. Spanish artists are my favorite artists of all time – especially modern art. I love Picasso. Dali has the highest place for artists in my heart… and Reina Sofia is full of modern art, including Picasso and Dali. When we finally reached the Dali/surrealism room, we only had a few minutes to look before the museum shut down, but I was ECSTATIC to gaze upon my first real Dali painting. I love him. I love his art. It was amazing to look at the art up close and see his individual brushstrokes, rather than looking at a photo or print of the painting on the internet or in a book. I also was thrilled to see Picasso’s famous “Guernica” which I’ve studied many times in my Spanish classes. That painting was massive. It took up the entire wall. I knew it was large, but it was shocking to turn the corner and see it hanging on the wall. I wish we could have had more time for the museum, because Reina Sofia is a place that I could wander in for hours.
Parque del Retiro is a gorgeous park in the middle of Madrid near the museums. We visited twice – the first time on our second night after our visit to Reina Sofia and then the next afternoon with our friend that we made at our hostel. The park was expansive and ironically both tranquil and active. When we were there in the evening there were hundreds of people running, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, exercising, walking their dogs, strolling with family… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many active people in one place at one time in all my life. At least, I’ve never witnessed anything like that in the states! Tammy and I walked all the way to the big body of water in the center of the park, sat at the steps of a large statue and watched the sun set. On the next day that we went, the park was much more tranquil and we visiting la rosaleda. It is a stunning rose garden with roses of all colors and scents all around the world. I felt like I had walked into an enchanted forest of beautiful flowers. My eyes could not handle all the colors and beauty around me. *siiigh* I love nature. I want to bring a rose garden like that home.
Of course no one can go to Madrid without going to the Prado. It is another art museum. Rather than boasting modern artists, they have more classical and traditional art. I was happy to see Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” – another famous Spanish painter whose painting I’ve studied several times in my classes. There were works of other familiar artists as well: Goya, Rembrandt, Miro, el Greco and more.
Churros con chocolate was my favorite food while there. I found an incredible place somewhere down a few side roads. It was chocolate heaven. This restaurant gave us so many churros, we couldn’t even finish it. And it was reasonably priced!! I believe the place was called “Chocolat” …
During our stay the Bilbao v. Barcelona championship futbol game was going on in Madrid. There were fans everywhere. Yes, the Europeans sure do love their futbol. I woke up at 8 in the morning on the day of the game to crazy fans chanting and singing and shouting… and it went on ALL day… and until 6:00 the next morning there were still fans running around the streets. We did step into a bar briefly to witness the game and the fandom… but didn’t last too long until we returned to our hostel for a siesta. And Barcelona won! I know I don’t follow futbol, but I was rooting for them (mostly because I had just been there a few days prior).
I think Tammy and I would have to agree that the best thing we did while in Madrid (rhyme!) was go on a Tapas Crawl. It is kinda like a bar crawl… but with FOOD. So the origin of “tapas”… back in the day when people would have a break during the work day, they would go to the bars but didn’t have enough money for food AND drinks… so instead the workers just spent their money on booze, returned to work drunk, and overall productivity of the country went down. One of the kings declared that every bar were to serve a free small piece of food (tapa) with every beer, to keep the workers from getting drunk and to improve productivity in the country. The Spanish word “tapa” means a “covering” so in a way the food is covering over the beer. Still today in the south of Spain most tapas still come free with beer. For 14 euro we went with a group of people to 4 different tapas bars/restaurants and got a beer and plates and plates of small food at each place. It was delicious. There was so much food – Tammy and I were stuffed at the end of it! I have a newfound love for tapas… <3
Sheesh… I’m always writing about food! I really do think with my stomach… Dear friends, don’t be surprised when you see my European food belly when I return! ;)