Last week I got ten consecutive days off of work, so I decided it was time to take advantage and see a bit more of España. I thought it was kind of a crime that I hadn't yet seen Madrid, so it was time (followed by Valencia). I was really nervous about taking a vacation because I am on a very strict budget, but I desperately needed a break from the hostel and was eager to explore some more of the country. I took the frugal route (I wrote a post detailing my spending), but I also didn't go out partying at night or anything, as the trip was more of a clear-my-head and explore thing than a LEZRAAAGE fest.
Madrid is magic. Barcelona and Madrid are not even remotely the same. A lot of travelers I meet bypass Madrid on their Euro-trips because it's not a party hotspot and it's a necessity to know a little Spanish to get around. I didn't really have any expectations about the city -- travelers usually talk about it in a really neutral manner, "Yeah Madrid is cool. If you get the chance, totally go there," as opposed to the general Barcelona reaction of, "OMG best city EVERRRR!!" but living in a place for 6+ months naturally causes you to become a bit disenchanted after awhile.
I was told by Argentinian friends that Madrid is comparable to Buenos Aires, which made them a little indifferent. But I've never been to Buenos Aires. And I've never been anywhere in Spain outside of Catalunya. And I wanted to see the capital.
Don't you dare skip Madrid! Art, monuments, food, parks, and gardens. THE PARKS AND GARDENS! My 12-year-old self kept comparing the secret little gardens to the likes of those around Hyrule Castle in Zelda: Ocarina of Time (well, now you know what kind of kid I was...).
The big famous park is El Retiro, formally named Parque del Buen Retiro, which translates to "Park of the Pleasant Retreat" (isn't that beautiful?). The place is a maze of manicured shrubbery, flowers, and monuments and has an unquestionable aura of tranquility. Near the northern entrance is a pond filled with rowboats and folks relaxing, playing music, reading, etc.
Someone had told me about a secret garden called El Huerto de las Monjas, which was once used as a vegetable garden by a convent of nuns. In 1972, the convent was destroyed to build apartments, but the garden remained intact. I went to see it and it was lovely. They were doing some sort of maintenence on it and the fountain wasn't running, but I just love the fact that secret gardens exist, so for me it was worth going to find.
Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid) is a spectacle for sure. It's considered the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although they no longer reside there. It's only used for state ceremonies these days, but several rooms are regularly open to the public for an €11 admission. I did not go inside, but thought it was totally worth seeing the exterior.
If you are unfamiliar with Picasso's Guernica, I'll fill you in: it's commonly considered the most important anti-war painting in history and it was painted as a reaction to the bombing of Guernica (a Basque village in Northern Spain) during the Spanish Civil War. Chances are you've learned about this painting sometime in your student life. What I'm getting at is that this painting is on display at the Reina Sofia in Madrid and if you're an art person at all, it's sort of a crime not to see it, especially since there are lots of times you can get in for free.
The first photo at the top of this post is of Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), one of the busiest and most famous squares in Madrid. My friend Karlie, who lived in Madrid for a few months, told me to start in Sol, as it's where the city energy resides. It's the place where everyone gathers on New Year's Eve for the eating of Twelve Grapes.
Then there's Mercado de San Miguel -- a dope food market with an abundance of tapas bars and drink kiosks. Food is always my first priority when traveling -- sometimes I pick destinations based on the food -- so it was exciting to find this place. €1 snacks and €3 sangria. I have another post detailing food and my budget in Madrid, but just know that this place is a must-go for food people.
One of the most charming things I've ever seen everrrr is this little permanent book fair next to El Retiro on the Cuesta de Moyano hill. Little kiosks for buying a selling used books on a hill in a park. <3
Madrid and I bonded -- it's a cool, artsy city with an atmosphere that feels like authentic, contemporary Spain. I could see myself living there. The only thing missing is la playa.
I'm working on another post about how I spent less than €150 on this little trip (basically, where I got food because I've turned into that chick who tells you about everything they ate that day). I went to Valencia directly afterward (another entry in the works).
I'll leave these here in case you need more persuading: