I can’t believe we’ve been home from Spain for a month tomorrow, or that we’ve already almost finished our first week back to school! Summer is gone. (Although both Andrew and I would like to point out our school calendars have completely missed actual summer, which doesn’t end, according to the seasons, until September 21st.)
This was one of those summers that makes you feel like you’ve lived up to your goal of living life to the fullest. We spent a month and a half in Spain, mostly walking the Camino de Santiago, but we also, gloriously, spent a week in Madrid.
I’ve encountered Madrid before, but never in ideal circumstances. I know, how could it be that, while in the capital of Spain, across the ocean, in my most favorite country, that I’d failed to see Madrid for all it has to offer, from top-notch art museums, to beautiful green spaces, and efficient public transportation? Well, during my maiden journey to Madrid, I landed alone, for the first time in a Spanish speaking country, and met the rest of the group from the USA that would be studying abroad together in Granada, Spain. It was a confusing meet and greet type-time, clouded by jet-lag, and punctuated by a visit to Madrid’s rowdiest discoteca with a group of over-ambitious sorority girls. I did not enjoy myself.
The second time I tromped around Madrid it was after eight weeks spent in Germany with a love-sick boyfriend. I was ready for a real, hot shower, meals at home on a kitchen table, some good foundation, and no pressure. To be clear, Andrew led this Madrid expedition, and he exhausted every resource he had in the city, introducing me to a myriad of sweet, kind folks. Unfortunately, Madrid in August is a furnace, and sleep is out of the question, especially when air conditioning isn’t a typical amenity in homes. After allowing a bactrum acne pill to disintegrate my esophagus, and after dealing with red, itchy eyes caused by wearing the same contacts for so long, I couldn’t take this trip anymore. (Admittedly my issues were entirely self-inflicted, but stress will do these kinds of things to a person.) So, despite an effort worthy of the boyfriend of the year award, I left Madrid without much desire to return anytime soon.
While we lived in Spain, amazingly, we only spent a couple of hours in Madrid, mainly at the FedEx outpost in the airport complex to mail our outrageously heavy suitcases back to the US. Priorities.
Maybe it was the lack of expectation, or the fact that I’d spent each day for a month before that walking insanely long distances, but after my most recent adventure, Madrid now tops the list of cities where I’d one day love to reside. Andrew and I spent hours wandering the streets of the old town, walking the Paseo del Prado, and enjoying El Parque del Buen Retiro. We had a successful night of tapas in La Latina, and even tried out one of the city’s only craft beer haunts.
I was also impressed with our planning, as we found places to visit that Andrew had never seen before. He is basically a Madrid expert, so it a challenge for us to find new sights that we could experience together.
We shopped on Gran Vía, a first time experience for Andrew, and an anytime please experience for me.
The Sorolla Museum, the former home of the successful Spanish impressionist Joaquín Sorolla, is not only a beautiful home, and a picture of what a working artist’s studio looks like, but it is also impressive architecturally and decoratively.
Paddle boats on the pond at El Buen Retiro come highly recommended.
And the Plaza Mayor induces a stand and stare moment for just about anyone.
El templo de Debod offers a free, fun spot to explore, and enjoy the views of Casa del Campo, as well as el Palacio Real.
I couldn’t ever pass up a free visit to The Reina Sofia or El Prado, Madrid’s premier art museums, and the Reina Sofia is worth the time it takes to gain entrance just to ride up and down the outward facing glass elevators to see Atocha, Madrid’s main train station, from above.
Finally, while Madrid isn’t a city bursting with beautiful, awe-inspiring Cathedrals, it is fun, if you speak Spanish, to visit San Francisco El Grande and chat with the two guides who lead the tours.
I’m plotting my return to Madrid already, armed with a list of places to go and restaurants to try, inspired by our most recent trip. I’d have to say that Madrid isn’t one of those places that tries to romance you immediately. Hidden under the tarnish of a confusing daily time-table, and lack of any real monuments, like an Acropolis, or an Eiffel Tower, is a warm glow, a city that offers up world-class art, a humble park where all are welcome, and the glitz and glamour of a Royal Palace and 18th century avenues. Patience, and the willingness to operate in line with a Spanish lifestyle is all it takes to discover the allure of Madrid. Andrew’s kayak alert is accordingly set for fares from TYS to MAD-Barajas, and with any luck, we’ll be headed back soon.