My feelings for Madrid can be summed up very well by Gareth Bale:
I had been wanting to go back to Spain ever since my family visited Barcelona a couple of summers ago. Plus, Spain has such a fun and relaxed culture, amazing food, great weather, a language I can *kind of* speak and understand (though the Italian hasn’t been helping), and also blessed the world with Rafael Nadal.
I was dead set on visiting Madrid over my spring break and was lucky my schedule matched up with Julie who also wanted to do a Spain trip. She had already been in Sevilla and Barcelona, and I was meeting her and her friend who had flown in that morning at our hostel. Madrid has a top notch metro system, so after landing from the three hour (long by European standards) flight from Berlin, finding my way to the hostel was easy.
It was already dark at this point, but the Spanish usually eat dinner really late so we headed over to the Palacio Real de Madrid. The palace is HUGE (actually the largest European palace by floor area), and it’s gorgeous at night.
Around midnight we headed over to the Mercado de San Miguel to get some dinner. The market is a full of stalls selling gourmet tapas, and the three of us shared quite a few things such as calamari and potato chips and mussels.
For dessert we stopped at Chocolatería San Ginés, the famous cafe that serves churros and hot chocolate (which is basically melted chocolate sauce). Chocolate con churros is apparently a traditional Spanish dessert, and even though it was kind of weird you can’t argue with fried dough and chocolate.
That night was a great indication of how well we would eat the rest of our time in Madrid. Who doesn’t love tapas and paella?! As a resident of Italy I can’t say that Spanish food is the best, but I can say that they definitely know what they’re doing and I whole heartedly approve.
The plates of food weren’t the only masterpieces we saw in Madrid. Julie and I started off our first full day at the Museo del Prado and then the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, two of Madrid’s most famous art museums that also happen to have free entry for students (woooo!). Both have impressive collections of Spanish art, and while El Prado is larger and more famous, the Reina Sofía contains Picasso’s Guernica, which I had studied in depth in my AP Spanish class in high school (would have taken pictures but photos weren’t allowed in the Reina Sofía). AP Spanish actually helped a lot, I was surprisingly still familiar with works from El Greco, Goya, Dalí, and of course Picasso.
After spending a lot of time inside art galleries, it was time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful Spanish weather. El Parque del Buen Retiro is a huge, beautiful, peaceful park once owned by the Spanish monarchy. Inside is the Palacio de Cristal, a glass pavilion built as an exhibition of the Philippine Islands, the former Spanish colony. There’s also Estanque del Retiro which is a picturesque pond built next to a monument in honor of King Alfonso XII. Julie and I rented a rowboat and enjoyed a relaxing hour out on the water.
As we exited the park we walked through one of the most iconic squares in Madrid. The Plaza de Cibeles has four corners occupied by the Palacio de Cibeles (city hall), Banco de España, Palacio de Buenavista, and Palacio de Linares. From there we headed to another famous landmark, the Estatua del Oso y el Madroño (Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree), which is located in the Puerta del Sol plaza. The bear and strawberry tree are a symbol of the city, found on Madrid’s coat of arms.
Our last stop of the day before a siesta and then dinner was the Templo de Debod. It’s a reconstructed Egyptian temple that was given by Egypt to Spain as a gift for helping to preserve temples threatened by dam construction. The temple, originally from Debod in the Nile River Valley, is an unexpected but pleasant surprise for visitors to the Parque del Oeste.
Madrid is of course home of the one and only Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. Julie and I have both embraced our European lives and taken an interest in football (and football players), so were super pumped to spend the first half of our second day touring the home of Real Madrid, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
There’s a lot to like about Real Madrid. They’re the world’s richest and most valuable football team, were the FIFA Club of the 20th Century, have won countless trophies and records (10 European Cups, 32 La Liga titles, 19 Copas del Rey, the list goes on), not to mention they have a world class squad (just to name a few: Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, James Rodríguez, and oh yeah some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo…), and bonus points for being Rafa Nadal’s favorite club too! As you can imagine, their trophy cases are insane, which is why a part of their tour is referred to as ‘The Best Club in History” Room.
As a Blackhawks fan I’m used to seeing a successful team putting on a good show, but I was absolutely blown away by Real Madrid. Very very impressive, and also surprisingly moving. Go ahead and watch this video, turn the volume up, sing along, and you might get an idea of how captivated we were.
From there they let us in the Presidential Box, and just when things couldn’t get any better they let us in the dressing room. I think Julie and I did a pretty commendable job of maintaining our composure and not making a scene.
And if that wasn’t cool enough, next they let us on the field. It’s not like they let us run around or anything, we could only go in the technical area (which is the dugout and the area where coaches and subs are allowed), but it was still really cool to walk out of the tunnel and imagine the players standing where you are.
The tour ended in the press room where we got to sit behind the interview table, another example of how surprisingly open and accessible the club was. This tour was one of my absolute favorite things that I’ve done so far this semester, which is really saying something because I’ve done a lot of amazing stuff. I don’t care if you’re not a Real Madrid, I don’t care if you’re not a football fan, I don’t care if you don’t like sports, if you’re in Madrid you need to do this tour.
The rest of the day we went to the landmarks we had missed the previous day, like the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, so that we could say we had seen every site on the Madrid postcards. Las Ventas is the most famous bull ring in Spain, and even though bull fighting is pretty controversial I can appreciate the cultural significance. That being said, we didn’t want to pay to go inside so we just walked around and admired the outside. Side note (not that anyone cares but me), but Spain also used Las Ventas as a Davis Cup venue, so Rafa Nadal has played there!
From there we went back to the area around the palace. It’s just as beautiful during the day as it is at night, so we sat on the steps of Madrid’s Catholic Cathedral (Santa María la Real de La Almudena) and admired the view.
The rest of the day we spent strolling through the gorgeous streets of Madrid, stopping in a couple of famous plazas (the Plaza Mayor and the Plaza de la Vida) and then heading back to the hostel for a siesta. The Spanish do a lot of things right, and siestas are definitely one of them. Since we wake up early to do the touristy things before it gets crowded but we can’t eat dinner until really late at night, a quick afternoon nap is a tradition that I can definitely embrace. After our siesta we headed to a tapas bar for dinner and then went to bed (relatively) early before our train to Granada the next day.
I’ve basically become obsessed with Madrid, it’s such a beautiful city and I could totally see myself living here. Now I just need to find a Real Madrid player to marry…
Muchas gracias Madrid, I will be back!