It’s safe to say my trip to Madrid this week exceeded my expectations.
It all started with this gorgeous sunset as viewed from an eleventh-floor hotel room window. It continued with my reunion with a friend whom I haven’t seen in nearly two years, as we chatted up a storm that night and explored the city together for the first half of the following day.
We walked around the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, two of the major plazas in central, historic Madrid:
We went by the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena, the Palacio Real, and the Sabatini Gardens.
We then wandered along the Gran Vía on our way to the Paseo del Prado and the world-renowned El Prado museum, where I in particular was thrilled to see the works of El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya, famous painters whose works I studied in high school Spanish classes.
This morning adventure was followed by a delightful lunch just off the Paseo, the highlights of which for me was my first gazpacho (chilled tomato-based, vegetable soup):
And what I believe was crema catalana, or an egg-based custard resembling creme brulée, with cinnamon and a cookie on top. Delicious.
I spent the afternoon exploring the city on my own, complete with a visit to another one of Madrid’s famous museums, the Reina Sofía where my mind was totally boggled by Picasso’s Guernica, the artist’s magnum opus that spans an entire wall:
I also took a nice leisurely stroll through the Parque del Buen Retiro, a MASSIVE park just off the Paseo del Prado:
That Wednesday afternoon, the park was full of families and runners and couples and bikers and skateboarders and row-boaters and, my favorite, street musicians including a tuba- and trumpet-player duo trolling out some reggaetón (that is, a type of dance-y Latin music usually reserved for discotecas…those of you whom I went to Ecuador with will understand the awkwardness here).
The Parque del Buen Retiro was easily one of the highlights of my whirlwind trip to the Spanish capital…that, along with the Mercado de San Miguel, a posh, upscale (and much tinier) version of Pike Place Market in Seattle:
And the churros I had at the Lonely Planet-recommended Chocolatería San Ginés certainly hit the spot, by far the best churros con chocolate I’ve had since I’ve been in Spain:
All in all, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Madrid. Not that I had low expectations or anything, but I guess I was expecting it to be not much more than a busy and noisy metropolis as befits a capital city.
Boy, was I mistaken. Madrid is busy and noisy and overwhelmingly enormous, but I found it to be surprisingly charming and interesting. Its big city-ness is balanced by its impressive list of sights to visit and things to do.
My full day there left a really good impression on me, and I look forward to exploring it further when I return for my flight back to the States!