Mad About Madrid

Here’s an awesome thing about being an empty-nester: you can get good deals on travel because you don’t have to work around a school schedule. So, yay for that.

Last week we took advantage of that fact to snag a bargain flight to Madrid. Got a pretty good deal on the hotel, too. Right on the Plaza de Oriente, across from the Palacio Real. I’d never been to Madrid before, so I was determined to do it right!

The Plaza de Oriente from our hotel room, early evening.
The Plaza de Oriente from our hotel room, early evening.

We had such a good time. People said: you know, it’s not that warm in Madrid in the winter. Well, let me tell you, there is a big difference between 15 degrees, cloudy, and the sun down by 4 p.m., and 45 degrees, sunny, and daylight until well after 6! Even my husband, who doesn’t consider himself to be affected by winter blues, had to admit that it was a nice break. We had snacks and drinks outside on more than one occasion, and we even turned ever so slightly pink. I am sure our vitamin D tripled while we were there.

Sun!
Sun!
More sun! And cool little streets in Old Madrid.
More sun! And cool little streets in Old Madrid.

People also said that I might have trouble understanding the Madrileños. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could communicate with no problem. I got some startled looks when I spoke sometimes: not sure if that was because I don’t look like I should speak Spanish or because of my strong American accent and Salvadoran housekeeper syntax. But everyone seemed to understand me just fine, and of course I could read everything. Wow, it’s nice to feel like a competent adult once in a while!

Near the Plaza Mayor. Which is not actually that impressive, but I liked how this photo turned out.
Near the Plaza Mayor. Which is not actually that impressive, but I liked how this photo turned out.

I also knew that Madrileños eat dinner very late. This can be a problem when you have been on your feet all day and are getting hangry. But there were so many tapas bars that it was no problem. Tapas are yummy and actually quite substantial. Some are basically open-faced sandwiches. Others are (large) plates of Manchego cheese or yummy Iberian ham. Soups and salads are also on offer at some places. I was surprised at how big the portions were. We usually ordered just two or three dishes and that filled us up. Dinner achieved.

The Mercado San Miguel.
Madrid by night: the Mercado San Miguel.
Inside, lots of people enjoying tapas and drinks.
Inside, lots of people enjoying tapas and drinks.
Ham and cheese and wine for dinner.
Ham and cheese and wine for dinner.

So, in three days, we covered the Palacio Real, the Parque del Retiro, the Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Museo Archaelogico, and many interesting little churches, streets and markets. I took lots of photos that probably would have turned out better if I had just set the camera on Auto, but that’s OK, it’s a learning process.

Parque del Retiro.
Parque del Retiro.
Madrid by night: Catedral de la Almudena.
Madrid by night: Catedral de la Almudena.
Madrid by night: a cool building, can't remember the name.
Madrid by night: a cool building, can’t remember the name.

Of everything we saw, the Prado was the most pleasant surprise. I have been to a lot of European museums. Many of them are like attics: they just throw everything they have at you. So, normally I expect to skim over several rooms full of boring 18th century landscapes and royal portraits while searching for the gems hidden within. But the Prado is a lot more selective. We spent a good four hours wandering through rooms full of stunning paintings by Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, and many other interesting (mostly Spanish) artists. So, that was pretty cool.

The Prado did not allow photos, unfortunately, but the Museo de Artes Decorativas, a little off-the-beaten-path attraction we found, did. I loved this recreated 17th century tile kitchen with mischievous cats everywhere!

madrid-7

madrid-8

We even had drinks at a rooftop bar in the late afternoon. And didn’t freeze to death!

Soaking up some rays.
Soaking up some rays.

Our next stop was Córdoba. Even warmer and sunnier, plus big mosques and stuff. Stay tuned.

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