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Memories of Madrid
Photos by Authors

Madrid skyline

ur memories of Madrid -- this glorious city, the capital of Spain since 1562 -- include sunshine that's almost blinding, architecture that's magnificent with beautiful buildings soaring above you, delightful people who want to make you welcome except they don't speak English, and restaurant menus that are virtually undecipherable and dishes that are not easily recognized. It all adds a touch of mystery to a Spanish vacation. Even cachet. It certainly adds charm.

flamenco dancer

Madrid is a walking city but you really must look around as you walk. It's like watching a flamenco dancer where you look up to observe the sinuous beauty of the hands and down to admire the gravity-defying movements of the feet. So in this delightful city you gaze up to absorb the incredibly romantic architecture and down to enjoy the Spanish people walking toward you: lithe, attractive, busy persons striding out with such apparent purpose.

They seem to walk everywhere in this city. Maybe that's why you sometimes draw a blank when you ask for driving directions: "Sorry, I don't drive," is a frequent reply.
But they sure walk. And why not? Although Madrid is big (half the size of Los Angeles), it was built before the automobile; the city center has everything close by. Walking is a pleasure: not like Rome, a city bombarded with noisy, smelly motorbikes that seldom stop at pedestrian crossings. Madrid doesn't have so many tourists thus there's room for the natives. The treasures of Madrid are perhaps less known to American visitors; Rome on the other hand can be a déjà vu even for first time tourists.

So how should a newcomer manage Madrid?

First, as always, by getting city maps and tourist material. The very helpful Tourist Office of Spain has four locations in USA and an abundance of free walking maps and tourist-friendly walking suggestions. The Madrid metro system is equally friendly and an unlimited 3-day Tourist Travel Pass, for example, can be bought online for about 10 Euros. Public transportation is well organized, easily understood and the trains are very clean. You'll want to become familiar with the metro system. There are more than 35 museums in Madrid. Tour operators like Viator sell tours ranging from simple Madrid Vision two day hop on hop off bus tours for less than $35 per person to more sophisticated trips into the country.

Madrid street scene

The Nude Maja: Goya's painting at the Museo del Prado Find out the opening hours for the major museums and buy the museum pass online. The three major museums are a mere 15 minute-walk apart. The Museo del Prado, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, is world-famous; it's the only one of the three that allows photography (non-flash). Its exhibit of Spanish artists, not unexpectedly, the greatest in the world. Amongst its more than 1000 paintings are arguably the finest works of Velázquez, Goya, Murillo and El Greco and much more of Europe's classic art.

the Restaurant Boutin
Madrid's oldest restaurant

places to visit in Madrid

There are more than museums to endear you to Madrid. Architectural gems all over the city, for example. You pass a magnificent structure, a palace maybe? You ask your guide; she replies, No, it's an apartment building! You glance at the beautifully varnished and paneled Restaurant Boutin on the Calle de Cuchilleros. Looks nice, you murmur. Says our guide, Actually it's the earliest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Madrid has churches and cathedrals to visit, statues of generals and former kings on horseback to gaze at, and a magnificent monument to Don Quixote, Sancho Panchez and Cervantes himself at the Plaza de Espana. (Sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera began it in 1925 and his son finished the project in 1957.) There are artists at their easels in Plaza Mayor as well. This square, Madrid's veritable drawing room, has many cobbled and ancient streets fanning out from it.

Don't feel like walking but still want to have fun? It's only a hundred yards on the Calle Mayor to Number 78 where a Segway agent will train you and pop you on one of those contraptions for a peaceful trip around the quieter streets of Spain's capital . If you prefer walking there's the vast Retiro Park to wander around, perfect with its cool shade on a hot day. Wear sensible shoes and take a whole day to explore this restful green in leisurely fashion and watch the people.

And the best location for dinner and a flamenco show? The Corral de la Moreria at #17 on Moreria. Its show has been enjoyed by a formidable list of European crowned heads and Hollywood celebrities: a perfect memory from Magical Madrid.

a collection of Madrid street signs

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Tell Eric what you think of his article.
In the meantime, here are some of the feedback we have already received:

Eric -

Enjoyed your article on Madrid. I noticed that you find it superior to Rome. Most of the Spanish folks that I meet seem to prefer Barcelona. How would you rate that city?

Samuel K

Hi Samuel, We loved Barcelona although driving around the city was surprisingly complicated as our maps were inadequate. The cathedral had scaffolding around it so I couldn't get the pictures I wanted but we found the architecture fascinating and the Picasso museum rewarding. We were anxious to get on the road to Costa Brava and didn't have more than a couple of days in Barcelona.

Thanks for writing.

Great article on Madrid. I've heard there is a rivalry between the people of Madrid and Barcelona. In which city are the people friendlier? How about for hipness? I noticed you were Scottish. I felt a similar thing in Scotland, with a Glasgow v. Edinburgh vibe.

Santa Monica

Thank you for writing to TravelingBoy, Gary. We found Barcelona friendlier.

Maybe that's because it's not the capital and it's not so busy either. Maybe it's because the Gaudi architectural influence is pervasive and -- to both its citizens and tourists -- comforting. Maybe it's because Barcelona is the gateway to the work of artist Salvatore Dali, and his spirit catches us. (I don't know much about art but I've seen a lot of Dali's work enough to think he never took himself too seriously and often painted tongue in cheek. Maybe fun people spring for fun places?) Hipness? Madrid is more formal and dressy but Barcelona, I believe, is more hip maybe, again, because it's more fun.

Your points about Scotland are valid. It's more than a joke. The Glaswegians are more down to earth. I think we see it here in the belief that if you had a flat tire in Middle America passers-by would be more inclined to stop and help than perhaps New Englanders.

- Eric

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