City trip Madrid
Streets, bars and outdoor cafés get crowded in the evening
Madrid is an interesting city, with stately avenues, beautiful squares, pretty and impressive buildings, working class neighborhoods with winding streets full of traditional taverns and typical stores, indoor markets and of course the Prado. But Madrid only comes to life after the heat disappears late at night. Then the streets, outdoor cafés and bars get crowded.
Travelogue & photos: Mariet Arts
It's raining cats and dogs when our Iberia flight to Madrid departs from Brussels Airport Zaventem. Madrid's brand new airport at Barajas has every comfort we need. A screen shows us where to pick up our luggage.
An enormous number of taxis, white with a diagonal red line, come and go. Right of the exit are loud-red airport shuttle buses, one of which takes us to the downtown subway station América in 15 minutes. América is one of the 190 stations for the 12 subway lines in Madrid, which each have a number as well as a color.
We decide to continue above ground and follow the Calle del Principe de Vergara. Via de Calle de Alcalá we arrive at the Plaza de la Independencia with its Puerta de Alcalá, one of the most famous memorials in Madrid.
After this triumphal arch was finished in 1778, it was used as a city gate in the eastern city wall. Nowadays, the gate sits in the center of the city.
Plaza de la Cibeles
Palacio de Buenavista houses the army's headquarters
A thermometer tells us it's 32 degrees Centigrade, but despite the heat it's pleasant to stroll. A little later we arrive at the Plaza de Cibeles, a Castillian square.
At the center of the square is a fountain with a statue of Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility, in a chariot drawn by two lions..
Plaza de Cibeles is surrounded by some of the most important and impressive buildings in Spain, one of them is the Palacio de Buenavista, which houses the Spanish army headquarters.
The Palacio de Comunicaciones is the strangest and most impressive building I ever saw. It has many characteristics of Viennese Art Nouveau, combined with Spanish elements. It houses the Postal Museum and the main post office of Madrid.
A stately 18th century avenue and main traffic artery
At the beginning of the Gran Via, like the Calle de Alcalá one of the 18th century avenues in Madrid, sits the 1911 Metropolis building with a colonade with neo-baroque sculptures. On its dome is a bronze, winged Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Nearby is a kiosk, which not only sells newspapers, magazines and picture postcards, but also cold drinks. The Gran Via is an upscale shopping street in the historical city center, but also a large, mile-long traffic artery which connects Plaza de Cibeles with Plaza de España.
Except beautiful buildings in Spanish style, there are also hotels, banks, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and lots of stores. In one store, large lumps of soap in different bright colors are stacked high.
The huge bookstore Casa del Libro has five floors of books in every imaginable genre. About half a million of books sit on the shelves and it's one of the largest bookstores in Europe. It has a large department with books in other languages, among which Dutch.
All benches on the wide sidewalks of Gran Via are occupied. Traffic wheezes by, but no one seems to mind. There is a cool breeze and we walk in the shade of the tall buildings.
Plaza de España
Cervantes looks out on Don Quijote and Sancho Panza
Edificio de España is a skyscraper on Plaza de España. Next to it is the even higher Torre de Madrid. At the center of the square is a memorial in honor of Cervantes, looking out on his most famous characters: Don Quijote and his faithfull servant Sancho Panza.
There are large nets stretched over the pedestrian area in the shopping district, which filter the hot sunlight. Every street has nets in a differet color. They look like big kites.
Toward the evening we find a restaurant where we order paella de marinera. When we return to our hotel, exhausted, it seems that Madrid only now comes to life.
Streets, bars and outdoor cafés are filled with people, young and old, and everywhere is laughter and singing. We stop several times on our way to the hotel to listen to musicians.
Pigs and fish eyes look glassily at us
When we leave the subway station Goya next morning, we are in the poche neighborhood Salamanca. This is the residential neighborhood where world-famous Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar lives. Almost all of his films were shot in Madrid.
We walk via Calle Conde de Peñalver to Calle de Ayala and visit the Mercado de La Paz, a big indoor market with stalls full of Spanish gastronomic products. Pig and fish eyes look glassily at us. Huge chunks of jambón Ibérico, Iberian ham, hang on hooks, there are bowls of olives, almonds, vegetables and fruit, fish and mariscos: crustations and shellfish. At a stall with cheese and sausages we buy chorizo (the star among the Spanish sausages) and have it wrapped well to take back home.
Salamanca is a lively neighborhood with modern, poche clothes shops wich bear the names of famous Spanish and international fashion designers. There are many jeweller's, leather, shoe and gift shops. And cozy cafés.
We stroll on Calle de Serrano. At Santa, a luxury chocolate store, our eyes feast on displays of delicious bonbons. We continue our walk munching on chocolate.
Later in the day, when de sun drives temperatures up to 37 degrees, we are back in the city center and sit down in an outdoor café on Plaza Santa Ana. This area is the center of literary and theater life.
There is a statue of the Spanish poet Federico Carcía Lorca in this square. A bird sits on his hand. Nearby is the oldest theater of the city, the Teatro Español.
Birds teetering above our heads in the trees, we enjoy a Spanish beer and delicious tapas. After we have rested for a few hours, we're on our way again, looking for Plaza Mayor, the largest square in the city center.
A square teeming with portraitists and street musicians
Plaza Mayor is one of the most visited spots in the city. On the square sit portraitists and street musicians provide a good atmosphere with their upbeat music. Under the arches around Plaza Mayor is the Tourist Service.
At the center of the square is an equestrian statue of Felipe III, during whose reign the construction of the square (which was started under Felipe II) was finished in 1620.
The gable of Casa de la Panadería (1590), home of the bakers guild in those days, is decorated with frescoes by Carlos Franco, which represent the traditional symbols of the city.
Before we return to our hotel, we fortunately find a place to sit in the very crowded outdoor café of chocolatería San Ginés. In no time at all two mugs of steaming thick chocolate sauce sit on our table and a plate of churros, long, fried pieces of dough, which you dip in the chocolate sauce before eating them. It's a typical Spanish tradition.
One of the most regal buildings in Madrid
Our map shows us that the Palacio Real, the royal palace, is only a short walk from our hotel. It is one of the most regal buildings in the city. The palace was inaugurated in 1764 under the reign of Carlos III (1759-1788) and was designed by Juan Batista Sachetti.
The Roman Revival palace sits on a slope on the Manzanares river. We don't feel like standing in line to see the inside and instead visit the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Almudena next door. The cathedral is named after the female patron saint of the city, Our Lady of Almudena.
Book stalls, the Prado and a maze of streets
An hour later we board a bus in front of the cathedral and at the Calle de Embajadores bus stop we transfer to a bus which takes us to Plaza del Emperador Carlos V in the Atocha neighborhood.
In the shadow of the big trees of the botanical garden, we browse the many wooden book stalls of the Cuesta Moyano which are here all year, with old and rare, but also new books at reduced prices.
We walk to El Museo del Prado, which is nearby. In front of the museum sits a large statue of Velázquez.
The Prado, which is one of the leading museums in the world, houses many art treasures. Not only the Spanish masters Goya, Velázquez and El Greco, but also many precious paintings from all over Europe, as well as important sculptures. It's a wonderful experience to see so much beauty, unfortunately in too little time.
We cross the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo, which has a fountain in honor of the Greek seagod Neptune, and walk back via the Plaza Puerta del Sol, which is at the exact center of Spain. Ten roads converge on this square, which unfortunately is currently under repair.
Through a maze of streets we reach an outdoor cervezeria with tapas bar. On the bar sits - in a jamonera (a contraption which holds a whole ham with bone) - a jamón ibérico, ham of the Iberian pig, recognizable by its black hoofs (another name for this pig and its ham is Pata negra). We don't have to think twice and order ham as a tapa.
In the evening we find a nice fish restaurant and order Bacalada Vizcaina, stockfish from Biscay, served with red bell peppers, smoked bacon, onion and garlic.
Winding street, traditional taverns and typical stores
After breakfast we leave immediately. We already noticed that it's crowded in cafeterías in the morning. Madrilenes don't eat breakfast at home, but on the way to work have coffee and sweets.
Today is our last day and we want to see more of the city. We walk southward and end up in the old working-class neighborhood La Latina. Many winding streets, we often have to climb stairs. In this part of the city we also see a lot of renovation and restoring going on, buildings as well as streets.
We discover traditional taverns and typical stores. Violin and guitar makers have their workshops here. One of the windows of a city building has the symbol of Madrid on it: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree.
We find this symbol everywhere: on taxis, buses, police cars and garbage trucks, on picture postcards and even on manhole covers.
On Plaza Puerta del Sol sits a large sculpture of El Oso y el Madroño which gets photographed many times every day. The streetsigns in La Latina, but also in the rest of the city center, are painted, which makes it exciting to guess, based on the picture, what the name is of the street or square where we are at that moment.
We do our last shopping in the famous department store 'El Corte Inglés'. Madrid is a lively city, especially at night, which we'd love to visit again. But now it's time to pick up our luggage and go to the airport.