Madrid: A Capital Experience

(Terrible pun intended. Puns are always intended.)

I apologize to family and friends for falling behind in my blogging (sorry, Grandma!). I’ve been busy traveling and studying and living Sevilla! I just got back from a week in Portugal and I also want to share a bit about Semana Santa, but first I’ll catch up on the rest of my trip from a month ago (whoops, has it really been that long?).

If you’ll recall from my Toledo post, I traveled to central Spain, based in Madrid, and took a couple day trips with two of my roommates. We also, of course, spent plenty of time exploring the capital. Another TCU student described Madrid as the Spanish version of New York City, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate, just with older style buildings, plazas instead of tons of skyscrapers, and a relatively greater feeling of security. Madrid has over six million people, and one of the first things I noticed was the diversity of the population. Andalucía seems to be much more homogeneous, but the capital definitely had all sorts of variety, from ethnicity to hair colors/styles that could easily have come straight out of Panem from The Hunger Games. Our apartment was in Chueca, which is considered the “gay neighborhood” of Madrid and is right off of Plaza del Sol, the main square of the city. Fun fact: In 2005, Spain, despite its longstanding Catholic traditions, became the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriage on a national level. Good job, Spain 🙂

Between day trips to Toledo and Segovia (post coming soon…ish), we spent one full day and a couple partial days exploring Madrid. That doesn’t sound like a ton of time, but we did a lot in those days, as our worn-out legs reminded us later. After such long, full days, we opted not to check out Kapital, the famous seven-floor club that some Spaniards in Sevilla told us about. I’m not shedding any tears over that, because we enjoyed steamed broccoli, wine, card games, and late-night conversations instead. Yes, steamed broccoli was exciting enough to include in my blog. It was so refreshing after the carb-heavy traditional Spanish diet we’ve been eating. Here are the highlights of what we did see:

El Museo de Reina Sofia-This modern art museum is one of my favorites so far.  It’s home to Picasso’s famous Guernica, a HUGE abstract painting depicting the gruesome consequences of the Spanish Civil War. Other cool exhibits include modern world history photography, some interesting crafty pieces, and a floor-to-ceiling room of hilarious political posters.  The best part, however, is the semi-outdoor terrace, which is perfect at sunset.

El Tigre-If you’re looking for a delicious, classic, and inexpensive spot to eat, check out El Tigre on Calle Horteleza (right off of Plaza del Sol). Three of us got huge glasses of sangria for a total of 10.50 euros, and with that came giant plates of free tapas (College students, rejoice!). The first time, we tried to go at “normal” Spanish dinner time (9:30 or 10). Don’t do that if you actually want to breathe, move, or talk to your friends next to you. We decided to save El Tigre for a different night and went at American dinner time…much less crowded.

Plaza del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza de España-Just some of the main squares to check out and people watch. Plaza del Sol has a statue of Madrid’s symbol: a bear with a strawberry tree. Madrid’s original name was Ursaria, Latin for “Land of the bears,” and the region used to be covered in forests with strawberry trees.

Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of la Florida-A tiny hidden gem in Madrid where you can see some of Francisco Goya’s work in its original setting instead of in a museum. It’s a small church, and they have installed a few magnifying mirrors so you can take a closer look at the paintings on the ceiling.  

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El Rastro-A giant Sunday-morning market. It does seem to have become quite touristy, but there were some cool artisan vendors as well.  

Mercado de San Miguel-We liked this place so much that we went there twice! The market seems small from the outside, but inside it is PACKED with people and vendors selling fish, pastries, wine, paella, tapas, olives, even homemade pasta.

El Palacio Real-Hanging out with Spanish royalty! The palace tour was a lot of fun–no photos allowed inside, so you’ll have to check out the inside for yourself! We bought our tickets the day of, but to do so with a somewhat less crazy line, we arrived 30 minutes before the first tour, which I highly recommend. The wait wasn’t too bad, since the outside of the palace is quite picturesque. Inside, we toured the palace rooms, a royal portrait gallery, and, my favorite, an armory!

Museo Nacional del Prado-The enormity of this museum is a bit overwhelming.  In sharp contrast to the Reina Sofia, the Prado houses more classical art, mostly portraits and religious paintings, similar to what we saw at the palace. If you’re more knowledgeable about art than I am and can appreciate the differences between all these paintings, you will really like the Prado. I’m glad I went, but I definitely preferred the Reina Sofia, and I would not recommend going to the Prado and the palace on the same day.

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El Parque de Retiro-Central Park, Spanish edition. There were tons of people here illustrating the beauty of human variety-kids running around, couples rowing on the lake, a group practicing swing dancing, readers, jugglers…you name it. Inside the park is the Palacio de Cristal, a glass pavilion that is a photographer’s dream at sunset.

I may not be a big city girl, but I do love switching up the types of places I’m traveling to, and Madrid was a fun way to enjoy la vida urbana.

-Steph

3 thoughts on “Madrid: A Capital Experience

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  1. I was there this summer and fell in love. I went to all the places you posted about! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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