After Barcelona’s thrumming coastal excitement, we were hyped up to get to Madrid and enjoy the capital’s art, food and culture. We trained it across country, and once we’d sorted out some Airbnb issues about which apartment we were actually staying in, we took ourselves out into the streets to investigate Madrid’s buzz and vibe.
We’ve seen a lot of art this trip, but no trip to Madrid is complete without a trip to the Prado. We stood in line for a couple of hours (yay, Kindle and ibooks!) then spent another couple of hours wandering around looking at the collections. Unfortunately the Caravaggios and Bosch exhibition were either sold out or loaned out, but it was still a great experience walking around and seeing some of the iconic pieces.
We also went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which was unexpectedly great! Cosier than the Prado’s vaulted and extensive galleries (but much easier to navigate), the collections include some great works by impressionists and portrait artists. There was also an exhibition of Caillebotte’s work as a painter and naturalist, which was a great surprise, as I’m a fan of his work. We found some art installations as well wandering around the park, that were a extension of the Queen Sofia museum too.
We went market hunting in Madrid, looking for different foods and experiences, and we struck it rich. From the manicured food hall of Mercado San Anton, to the everything-for-everyone splendour of the fabulous Mercardo De San Miguel, and the 24-hour-a-day churro paradise of the Chocolateria San Gines, the city gave us some memorable food moments that either strengthened our love of Spanish food, or introduced us to new delights.
I liked Madrid’s style. For a city that has no real reason to exist save a royal decree (the king decided there should be a city in the exact centre of Spain) it still has a lot of character and personality. The history bleeds out in unexpected places – fountains in the gardens evoke settings of duels and sun-drenched festivals, the plazas fill with tables and revellers that may have smartphones and yoga pants, but are just as rowdy and carefree as revellers have always been. In Chueca, arguably Madrid’s gay-friendliest district, street art colours in the spaces between bar fronts, while uptown, steel and glass planes meet at sharp intersections and throw light at each other as the sun flashes overhead.
The people (strangers and friends!)
While we were in Madrid, we made plans to catch up with one of Sarah’s old colleagues, James. He invited us to a fantastic local restaurant, where we sat on the terrace in the square and enjoyed all sorts of delicacies, accompanied by some fantastic wine and great stories from James’ newly Spanish lifestyle. It was a delight to meet him (which I hadn’t before) and to have a local guide to some of the more unique cultural and linguistic nuances of Madrid.
Then on Friday, while walking around a local park, I got a Facebook message from my friend Alex, who turned out to be in the same park we were walking around with some time to kill before her afternoon plans! So we caught up over lunch, hearing all about the work she’s doing at Care For Calais as a volunteer and trading stories. It was a total surprise but a very welcome one, as we’d been about a year between chats!
So we changed Airbnb locations during the stay because our original apartment had an ‘electrical fault’ which meant we had to stay in another apartment for the first two days, then move back. Unfortunately, during a siesta on Thursday afternoon, Sarah found out that the ‘electrical fault’ was actually an infestation of bed bugs, which bit her more than 200 times from forehead to feet in a short space of time. In corresponding with our landlord, it turned out that he knew about the problem and had taken minimal steps to clear it out, hoping it had gone away. Pretty disappointing, and we’re still unfortunately waiting for a refund from him as was agreed. It was particularly distressing for Sarah as the heat makes them swell and redden, and Madrid was definitely warm, as was Lisbon, where we went next! That being said, she’s all healed now and gorgeous as ever!
Next up, Lisbon on an overnight train!