There are few cities in the world, which left a trace in my heart. Madrid is one of them.
When people talk about Spain, they usually think of Barcelona (which is Catalan and not Spanish, which any Catalan person will remind you immediately). I can imagine why – Gaudi architecture, the closest proximity to the beach and the famous Woody Allan now-almost-classics did its deed. Nevertheless, the Spanish capital has a certain imperial flare, aristocratic atmosphere and timeless elegance, which leaves its Catalan rival look like a flashy Jersey babe if compared to the Manhattan queen B (here you can start arguing which on is actually worse, but that is another topic).
I visited Madrid on the New Year’s eve of 2007 for the first time. It was crazy, I was young and was ready to fall in love, which I did – my love for Madrid is forever.
I took a long break and haven’t been there since 2010. This July, I decided to travel to San Fermin festival in Pamplona (another cool story) and Basque coast and of course I couldn’t say no to 48 hours in one of my favorite cities.
We arrived to Madrid on a hot morning in July. Hot – because it was already 35C at 9 AM. The temperature rose to 40 later in the afternoon.The city was full of tourist and empty of its inhabitants – I was staying at my friend’s place in a bohemian quarter of… but almost all people I knew left town, because of the heat wave.
After we left our stuff in the beautiful apartment (interestingly, Ive noticed that so many flats I’ve been in Madrid have this 80s look, as if they were not renovated for decades) we decided to risk it and to go out for a walk.
Honestly, the air was so dry that 40C felt more like 34C somewhere in Berlin. Thus, my fears of melting into goo didn’t come true, especially with all the air-conditioning in the museums, cafes, restaurant and other public places.
The first day had a packed program. The highlights were:
- Museo del Prado
This pinacotheca is probably the best painting collection in the whole world. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and is considered one the greatest museums of art with the best representation of Spanish artists, such as Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco. European masters, such as Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch are among other highlights.
Honestly, the Goya Black Paintings collection is one of the most intensive art experiences I’ve ever had. Pinturas negras is the name given to a group of fourteen paintings from the later years of his life, They portray intense, haunting themes, reflecting his fears of insanity and negative views of the modern society.
I made a little adventure out of my visit by photographing ugly renaissance babies. I remember seeing some Tumblr the other day with all this hideously disproportionate Jesus-babies from the early Reneissance period and to my surprise there were lot of those in Prado. I know, this is childish, but if you need a break and a laugh after watching the scary Goya paintings – try to have some fun scavenger-hunting for those little faces;)
Little trick: buy your ticket to Prado online. You don’t have to print it out – showing the QR-code on your phone was enough for me and it will save you 1 hour of staying in the queue outside. When we came to the museum, the queue was going all around the building – and in 40C heat it was no fun, I bet.
- Parc del Buon Retiro – Palacio del Cristal
After Prado, we decided to take a little cultural break and went to the famous Parque del Buen Retiro (literally “Park of the Pleasant Retreat”, or simply El Retiro). The park belong to the monarch family until the end of 19th century, when it became a public park.
The park was built in the beginning of the 16th century as a part of the San Jeronimo el Real Church, situated nearby on the hill over the Prado Museum.
It has some highlights, such as a small lake, where you can rent a boat, a monument of Alfonso XII, which I personally don’t find that impressive, but it steps serve as a good reading place for students and tourists, the The Paseo de la Argentina, also popularly known as Paseo de las Estatuas (“Statue Walk”) and of course the most impressive building – Palacio de Cristal, a structure built in 1887 entirely from glass and metal to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines.Originally a green house, the palace is now used for art exhibitions,like the colorful Bedouin tent by the artist Federico Guzmán, which was presented inside at the time of our visit.
- Evening at the beautiful rooftop of the Circulo de Bellas Artes.
A bit crowded but the view is totally worth it. Entry fee: 5 euros.
Curculo of Bellas Artes is a private cultural organization, founded in 1880. Situated on the central Calle de Alcalá, 42 it offers exhibitions and the rooftop bar called Tartan roof. While there, I ordered a popular variation of sangria, which was a simple mixture of red whine and orange soda. I know what you think (ew) but in the evening heat, it is a great refreshing drink, which leaves you wondering where did your class go, while simultaneously feeling extremely satisfied by your choice.
- Tapas-crowl in the city center
When in Spain, drink wine and eat tapas. We decided to sacrifice the normal dinner for a wide choice of tapas in the local famous bars. I don’t think the difference between all the places we ate was drastically big, but some bars had a special flare about them, which was hard to deny, thus they are definitely on my visit-again list.
Note: Spanish are very traditional about their eating and drinking routines, thus start your evening with a glass of cool vermouth and then proceed to tapas, and if needed – to a proper dinner (which is usually quite late, at around 10PM).
Tapas are usually served around noon (before the proper lunch) as a mean of socializing, and before the dinner at around 7-9PM, to cover the time before work and dinner. It is very hard to find food in Spain outside of the traditional timetable.
Bodegas Ricla in the Calle de los Cuchilleros 6 near Sol was my personal favorite, looks-taste-feel-and-price-wise, but I am sure any other place will do.On the way home we stopped at a local restaurant called Iberia, where the locals usually have a drink or some food. While we had our beer with some patatas bravas, couple of firemen, a policeman and some late night-shift workers stopped by for a paella and a beer. I really like those kind of places, since they are the most original and authentic places you can visit.
Since it is so hot already in the morning, sleeping in late is not an option.
We tried to have a breakfast at the hipster market at the Calle Fuencaral, but despite the nice atmosphere, it was empty in the morning so we decided to go all the way down to the student district of La Latina to the market place. Once crowded and the center of the social life, now the rent of a place in a market is way to high, so half of it stays empty. The food is also much more expensive than in a regular supermarket, but the atmosphere is rather nice. I remember La Latina from my earlier visits, because my old friend Pablo used to live in the area.
We had a cold coffee and a mouth-watering bocadillo at the place nearby and went to the Ramblas, the famous flea-market street, which was empty and unspectacular, since the market is happening on Sundays only.
After taking a cool metro ride, we ended up at the Tyssen museum with an excellent fashion exhibition from the Vogue archives as well as a collection of the Fransisco del Surbaran paintings. The Vogue exhibition impressed me as a photographer, since all pictures referenced paintings and different artists. Surbaran doesn’t do much to me as a painter, but I loved the color choice of the walls – yellow, which worked with his color-palette perfectly. We decided to take a little walk but ended up at Calle Amaniel, 29 at ABC museum of graphic art and illustration – with the free entrance and a beautiful exhibition of architecture photography. Definitely a tip.
Walking further, we visited an absolute tourist trap – Mercado San Miguel, which, despite high prices was still worth seeing.
I was very keen on visiting one of the famous pastry houses – so we went to one of the – Pastelería El Riojano in Calle Mayor, next to the Plaza Mayor. If you are a sweet tooth – this is your destination.On we went to the Royal Palace to watch the sunset and get impressed by the imperialistic grandeur.The dinner was planned at the Il Temperanillo – a tapas restaurant recommended by many guides and rightfully so.Discrete interior and only Spanish wines, they also have a really nice upscale choice of tapas. In Madrid, if not a must, than certainly a big recommendation.
Since I am a big fan of a good cocktail, I asked my friend Alvaro, whom I met in Berlin years ago and with whom we share a birthday, what would be the place to go for a nice whiskey-sour. He recommended the 1862 Dry Bar in Calle del Pez, 27 in Malasana district, a 15-minutes walk distance from the Royal Palace.The bar appeared to be everything I like and expected – a nice speak-easy atmosphere and excellent cocktails in beautiful vintage glasses. I followed my friend’s instructions and told them I was “a friend of Dave Lynch”. They gave me a shot of Jack Daniels on the house for that;)
If you are less of a eater and drinker than I am and more of a walker, you could have fit the Reina Sofia Contemporary Art museum into the 48 hours in Madrid too, but since I’ve been there already, and am not a huge fan of Picasso (his “Guernica” is hanging there) I skipped it this time.
I know most of you will be reading this in the cold dusk of a winter day, so I hope instead of getting you depressingly nostalgic for the summer weather, it will inspire you to plan your next trip to the Spanish capital.
Moreover – I spent not one but two(!!!) New Year’s Eves in Madrid and if you still have no plan, than I definitely recommend you going there for the special night. The big plus is that December-January are not the coldest months and can be easily compared to late October in Berlin or new York.