I had an awesome time in Madrid, not just because it is a great European city but because it exceeded my expectations, which were already high to begin with. I was only going to be here for a few days so I had to pack as much of the city, culture, and people as possible.
My first culture shock was that even though Madrid is one of the largest cities in Europe, walking down the streets you wouldn’t know it. During the morning and the day, it has a very laid back feel. I stopped at the nearest café to get breakfast, no McDonalds for me J … I ordered “churros con café American” which is what the locals start their day with.
I am from New York, and I am very used to seeing people in a hurry to get to work in the morning, order their donut and coffee, annoyed at the lack of speed of the cashier, (not a very good way to start the day)… But, I was pleasantly surprised just how relaxed people are here, stopping at their local café, sitting down in the suit and tie and enjoying their breakfast and the company of friends. They are not in a hurry to work, they don’t like to work, they work to live… I promote that motto!
Royal Palace 2
After breakfast, I explored the city center… I took a tour or the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace), also called Palacio de Oriente (Palace of Orient) it is the official residence of the King of Spain.
King Juan Carlos and the royal family do not actually reside in this palace, instead choosing to live on the outskirts of Madrid. However, the Palacio Real de Madrid is still used for state occasions. It was the site for the wedding of Prince Felipe in May 2004. The palace is the largest in Western Europe. It is home to the Royal Armory and its weapons dating back to the 13th century, and the world's only complete Stradivarius string quintet, as well as art by Goya, Carravaggio, Velaizquez, and many others. I especially liked the Throne Room and the Central Banquet Hall, which has a bowling alley size table J The Palace itself was very beautiful and well kept up, the Jardines de Sabitini (Sabatini Gardens) behind it add to the ambiance…
Jardines de Sabatini, behind the Royal Palace :)
The rest of the day I spent exploring more of the city center, which is best explored on foot, taking in the architecture, the beauty and the history of the Spanish Capital.
I visited Puerta Del Sol (Sun Gate) which is one of the busiest squares in Madrid the city center and meeting place for the locals. It has a couple of landmarks: El Oso y El Madrono El Oso y El Madrono, bear and tree statue, which is the symbol of Madrid, and the Kilometer zero marker, the spot from which all Spanish roads and highways start. It is also famous because on New Year's Eve, locals meet here to eat one grape with each of the twelve clock's strokes. The tradition says that if you are able to finish the twelve grapes before the last stroke you will have good luck in the following months. Puerta De Sol is home to the Tito Pepe sign, atop one of the buildings in the square, Tito Pepe is the best selling sherry brand in the world.
Street performer outside Royal Palace
Next was Plaza Mayor, this is a major Plaza in Madrid, the sight of many restaurants and bars. It was built in 1620, and was the place where bullfights took place in those times. I caught a free flamenco dancing demonstration and a bite to eat at a local eatery called "La Rua" which is home to the famous octopus rings, delicious.
.. You can get just about anything to eat that you would like around Plaza Mayor...
Statue of Carlos III on Puerta Del Sol
Madrid is best explored by foot but if you must use public transportation I would suggest using the metro. Metro de Madrid is very efficient, clean, and punctual. It runs from around 6 am to midnight and gets you almost anywhere from the city center, to the more residential parts of Madrid. I bought a Metrobus ticket, which is a 10 ticket pack for 6.4 euro, a very good deal...
I couldn't go to Madrid and not visit Prado museum, so I went accross town to check out some of the most famous paintings in the world. Museo del Prado doesn't has collections from some of the greatest artists including El Greco, Velazquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, and Titian.
However, you can't take any pictures inside, which didn't sit well with me :(
Just outside the museum is Parque de Retiro, which was originally supposed to be the home of King Felipe IV, but now it is there for all of us to enjoy :) It is a magnificent park, one can lay back on the grass or can rent a boat and paddle away in the lake in the middle of the park... genius :)
From there I saw the esquisite Neptune Fountain, in the Plaza Canovas and the Plaza de Cibeles, which is home to the communication center of Madrid. A fountain depicts goddess Cibeles, the Phrygian goddess of fertility, sitting on a chariot and being pulled by two lions. This is also one of the symbols of Madrid, and the site of many public celebrations like when Real Madrid wins the Champions League title or La Liga Titles.
Puerta De Alcala
My exploration of Madrid ended for the day with Puerta De Alcala which was very picturesque...
Madrid has something for everyone... There is a plethora of places to visit for those interested in history, architecture, art as well as those that just want to enjoy the company of friends... There are plenty of Plazas where one can sit and enjoy some sangria, a lot of restaurants, and parks that provide a very nice mix of both old and new…