We arrived to Madrid on a cold morning after sleeping not a wink on the 8 hour flight. Every tip I read about how to avoid jet lag I enthusiastically threw out the window as Cecelia and I caught up and then watched some airplane movies. Wine and coffee were present too. I’m not great at following rules. From above, February in Madrid looks much like February in Texas, dry and scrubby and something about that was comforting.
We spent 10 days in and around Madrid, Spain and had an incredible time. I hadn’t been back to Europe since I studied abroad 8 years ago and I was chomping at the bit to hit the ground running. Before we left we decided to book an apartment through Airbnb instead of booking a hotel so we’d have a “home base” instead of a more expensive hotel room and I was so glad that we did. We stayed here, and it was beautiful and clean and perfectly located. Once we settled in, we met up with Cecelia’s sister, Maggie, who is studying there this semester, then set to exploring the city. We were bleary eyed and dragging a little, but so, so excited to be there.
Throughout our week we wandered through some of the best art museums I’ve ever seen, enjoyed beautiful sunny weather and expansive parks, saw incredible architecture and walked a lot. We took a couple of day trips to surrounding towns and villages, and really enjoyed getting to know Madrid.
If I left Madrid with one lasting impression, it was their incredible art museums. We visited the Museo Del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the Museo Arqueologico Nacional, and my favorite, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Each one was expansive and impressive and incredibly inspiring.
Reina Sofia holds Picasso’s Guernica and it was worth the price of admission alone. I liked the rest of the museum too, but Guernica was seriously memorable.
The archaeological museum was really interesting and educational; it displayed artifacts unearthed entirely from the Iberian peninsula and most of it was completely new to me. Our trip was cut short because of poor planning; we didn’t eat much before and I had a near-miss with a low blood-sugar spell. It was touch and go for a minute, but nothing a ham sandwich couldn’t fix. More about that tomorrow.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza focuses mostly on European art and is from a private collection which spans from the early 13th century to as recent as 1992. It’s incredible. They had some greats, like this Dali painting and a Henri de Toulousse-Lautrec that actually made me emotional. There were also a few new-to-me artists that I can’t wait to look into.
The Spanish art in particular was eye-opening and I learned about Spanish history and culture through the art displayed. The Prado was best for this; each piece had a description both about the art and about the history of the time in which the art was created.
When we weren’t traipsing through museums we were walking the streets of Madrid. We stayed in the center of the city so most things were walkable and that’s what we did. Much of Madrid can be seen outdoors; the architecture is incredible and colorful and the winding streets are easily navigable but also delightful to get lost in, which we did a couple of times. I’m not great with maps.
We had lunch on Plaza Mayor at one of the little cafes that are around the perimeter one afternoon before visiting the Prado museum. It was sunny and the coffee was strong and it’s one of the happiest hours I’ve spent in a long while.
We stayed near Sol, a bustling city center full of people and energy. Our street was quiet and felt removed enough from the hubbub, but it was nice to be so close to the action and like I said, it meant everything was close and walkable.
Maggie lives near the Plaza de Toros, a beautiful arena where bullfighting takes place. It was off season when we were there so no fights were scheduled, a fact I was not unhappy about, but the building itself is incredible, especially lit up at night.
Salamanca is an upscale neighborhood near the Archaeological museum and has fancy stores with beautiful window displayss and colorful buildings lining quiet, well-kept streets. We stopped in for a glass of wine here and ended up staying longer than planned because of how nice it was. It was so lovely.
El Rastro is an outdoor market that happens every Sunday like clockwork. We made it the Sunday before we left and it was on of my favorite things we did. You’ll find anything from antiques to old t-shirts and jeans to leather goods to souvenirs. The people watching is the best though and I loved walking up and down the stalls enjoying the sights, colors, and the intoxicating smell of leather which takes me right back to Florence.
The Palacio Real, or Royal Palace was near our apartment and is sprawling. It’s beautiful inside and out I enjoyed learning about the Spanish royalty and their history.
The Parque del Buen Retiro was my favorite afternoon. Well, that, paired with El Rastro. It’s a sort of “central park” of Madrid and it’s got all of the charm that European parks that were once closed to the public and were used exclusively by royalty have. It was the sunniest day we had during our trip and warm enough for me to shed my coat, which was timely because back home the Northeast was being coated in a thick layer of freeze.
We sat at a little cafe, then walked some, then sat by the steps next to a pond and watched the boats and listened to the fountains, and walked some more, all the while tilting our sun-starved faces to the sun. Also, there was a pig, on a leash. A pig on a leash! Wagging his tail! A tiny pig, on a leash, with a red bandana, wagging his little pig-tail.
Saturday night we met up with some of Maggie’s friends to go to a Real Madrid game. It was so fun! The music, the intensity, the chanting and the horns blowing all combined to a frenetic energy and you know what? By the end of it I understood why soccer is the most popular sport in the world. It’s fun!
Real Madrid won, which we were excited about, if only for solidarity.
These were the highlights, but what I couldn’t possibly explain are the moments between the highlights. Navigating the streets and the language, the food, the sights, it was all so exhilarating and new. I was happy to be home, but so happy that I went. In ten days I experienced a whole world that I hadn’t known about before.
This week I’ll be sharing more about my trip to Spain, including the day trips we took, more pictures than you’d want to see of the food we ate, and what I packed in my suitcase. Stay tuned!