Madrid was the first stop of my recent tour of Spain. The city was a great introduction to visiting Spain because of its position as the nation’s capital. It is where the Spanish Royal Family live and is home to the Real Madrid football team. It is also a bustling metropolis with elegant architecture, vast parks, famous museums, and many restaurants and bars. This being the case, there is always something to see and do in the Spanish capital.
Squares and Boulevards:
Madrid is known for its squares and boulevards. Whether in the Hapsburg or Bourbon sections of the city, you would see magnificent architecture and statues dedicated to famous Spaniards. Almost all of the buildings there have balconies, come in different colors, and some of the rooftops have gold leaf! Plaza de la Villa has a statue of Don Álvaro de Bazán, who was a powerful admiral in the Spanish Armada. Both Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor include cozy cafes and shops too. Plaza de Cibeles has a fountain with a sculpture of Cybele (the Greek Mother of the Gods) and is surrounded by flags of Spain. The squares and boulevards of Madrid are wonderful places to take pictures and where you can catch events like New Years, Semana Santa, and the Madrid Marathon.
Across from the Royal Palace is the Almudena Cathedral. From 1883 to 1993, it was built in the Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Romanesque styles. I cannot imagine how difficult it was to build a cathedral for 110 years but I guess the hard work paid off. The interior is massive with high vaulted ceilings, stain glass images and paintings of stories from the Bible, and shrines devoted to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and various saints. Plus, admission to the cathedral is free of charge.
Mercado de San Miguel:
Foodies in Madrid would love the Mercado de San Miguel. It has a whole array of Spanish dishes, such as cured jamón, churros con chocolate, preserved olives, and croquetas. As a foodie myself, I loved trying many of the delicacies there, especially the ham and the desserts. The market was also a fun place for the tour group and I to go out for drinks on our last night in Madrid. We all enjoyed socializing and trying the different wines there. The attraction can be crowded by tourists but dining there is totally worth it. You would have an authentic Spanish nightlife experience at the Mercado de San Miguel. Going for a night out in Spain is all about socializing and having many foods and drinks!
When people think of the museums in Madrid, the Museo del Prado is usually the first place that comes to their minds. It gets a lot of praise for its collection of art from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic eras. The galleries have dramatic religious art by El Greco, 17th century portraits of the Spanish Royal Court by Diego Velázquez, and the dismal ‘Black Paintings’ by Francisco Goya. I was enthralled by how large Velázquez’ portraits were because some of them covered the entire walls! On the other hand, I felt a bit disappointed that I was not allowed to take pictures of the artwork. Also, I was sorta overwhelmed by how the Prado was crowded with tourists so I left there earlier than I wanted to.
The next day, I went to the Museo Reina Sofia. The museum was different from the Prado because it is smaller and primarily features by modern artists, particularly Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Frankly, I thought their art was more interesting because of their intricate, surreal yet disproportionate portrayals of people, animals and objects. Picasso and Dalí truly both had original ways of painting. The Museo Reina Sofia also has Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica. It details the terror of when the Basque town of Guernica was bombed by the Nazis and the Italian Fascists in 1937. The attack was ordered by the Spanish Nationalist Party during the Spanish Civil War. It was done for the Nationalists to reach power in northern Spain. I learned about the painting when I was in college and it felt pretty spellbinding to finally see it in person. Guernica was a lot bigger than I expected. Its width is 11’6″ by 25’6″! While taking photos of the painting is not permitted, it was worth seeing because it represents how horrifying war can be.
The parks of Madrid are perfect to escape the hubbub of the city. Parque del Retiro and Parque del Oeste are both expansive, scenic, and not overrun by tourists. El Retiro has a turquoise man-made lake (next to the monument of King Alfonso XII), where people can ride paddle boats. It also has creeks and a garden of sculpted cypress trees. I liked Oeste for its picturesque views of the Royal Palace, the Almudena Cathedral, and the Guadarrama Mountains. It even has an ancient Egyptian temple and a variety of trees. There were groups of tourists going to see the temple but they did not take up the whole park. Overall, both parks are ideal to relax and enjoy nature in a busy city.
The Royal Palace:
This attraction is undoubtedly Madrid’s most majestic site. Though it is where the Spanish king and his family live, sections of the Royal Palace are open to the public. I had the chance to go there and it was my first time ever visiting residence housed by a current monarchy. The palace was quite astonishing to say the least. It had grand courtyards, several chandeliers, and lavish frescoes. Most of the ceilings were covered with gold leaf too. I will always remember the dining rooms for its incredibly long table and having so many chairs. I bet that going to a state dinner is an enchanting experience.
If you want to see a flamenco show in the Spanish capital, Cardamomo is the place. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned going there and how the performers were so passionate. The musicians strummed their guitars and clapped their hands while the dancers zealously tapped their feet. Singing was used in the show as well. I may not be entirely fluent in Spanish but the singers definitely sang with emotion due to the vibrato and ringing in their voices. Besides, my ticket to the show included a free drink! I drank a glass of red wine and also ordered a Spanish omelet that was pretty appetizing. The omelet was lightly flavored but the potatoes inside it filled my stomach. The wine absolutely helped wash it down!
Stay tuned for the Best of Cuenca!