Viva la something: Madrid el grande

Three days of life lived large

My head’s still spinning and it’s not the jet lag… Madrid engulfed me in a wild, flamboyant hug and whirled me every which way. The colours and sounds and flavours are not like anything else I’ve seen in Europe. It’s loud, it’s bright, it’s quirky, it’s dramatic.

Just a normal Madrid street… gorgeous!

And it’s HOT. Especially between 2ish and 5ish. Siesta makes excellent sense now: that fascinating shop you noticed on morning stroll shuts at 2 – but you can come back later and browse before dinner (because no one eats dinner before 8.30 at earliest). I snapped up 2 cute pairs of socks last night about 9.15, while diners at various stages of cena kept the party going across the plaza.

Of course it can be tricky to tell where mealtimes begin and end – there’s always people eating, and even more so, drinking.  It’s totally normal to see folks sitting round over cerveza (beer) from mid morning on. Vino, vermut, sangria, you name it, it’s being sipped somewhere. Invariably with tapas (both complimentary and purchased).  Fortunately for this non-drinker there are plentiful options.  So far agua con gas is my go to (mainly because my inner child delights in the name. In Germany I always loved ordering prickelwasser too…) Cautious ventures into cerveza sin alcohol have been moderately pleasant so far.

Being a person who likes to eat, I’m feeling right at home: quick breakfast, second breakfast, lunch – usually the main meal – meriendas (afternoon tea snack time), tapas/dinner/drinks and food. Being a person who doesn’t do well with mornings, a culture that pushes everything back 2 hours or so is very appealing.

We did succesfully endure one extremely early start – our triple treat Thursday. Though as it was not strictly speaking part of our Madrid moments, I’ll keep you in suspense til next post….

So, three days in Madrid, and I wish we’d had 3 weeks. Ain’t that always the way? On the bright side, it does mean you always have a ‘next time’ list to which you can aspire. Naturally, we packed in some of the really key sights and experiences. Our non-negotiables were few: 1. eat tapas; 2. drink horchata (me) and sangria (husband); 3.walk though the great central park, the Retiro; and 4. visit the Prado museum.

First tapas! Ole!

All of these were very easily accomplished. Tapas are everywhere – the key is to working out when to ask for which ones, how big a plateful it will be, and what you have actually ordered (there were several surprise moments – mostly delighted). Likewise, sangria is an easy request, and it frequently came with additional simple tapas. Horchata is a curious beverage made from the ‘nuts’/legumes of a grassy plant, called tiger nuts. It’s a little like sweet almond milk, a little like rice milk, a little like soy milk and a lot like nothing I’d every tasted. (I liked it, husband did not. More for me!)

The Retiro was huge, beautiful, well shaded and clearly popular. It’s a super place to get fresh air, stroll without pesky cobblestones to trip over, and to people watch. We were charmed by buskers, dog walkers and cute families and bemused by one uninhibited sunbather.

Oh dear.

When we disscovered that there were other excellent museums, we added 2 more to the list: Thyssen- Bornemisza, for it’s wide range of works including several of our fave Impressionists, and the Reina Sofia for Dali and Picasso. All three museums were spectacular. Again, oh for more time. Combinations of sore feet, visual overload and time constraints meant we had to pick and choose our gazing from the sumptous smorgasbords. I gorged on El Greco and Bosch at the Prado, and van Eyck, Rubens and Rembrandt at the T-B. Husband and I also made room for lengthy digestion of the choice Impressionists there. The Reina Sofia is so enormous we strategically went to just a few rooms – soaking up cubists, post impressionists and propaganda posters before spending several minutes processing the Picasso masterpiece Guernica. Meeting it in the flesh was an extraordinary experience that I won’t soon forget.

Bonus hot tip – we scored free entrance to both the Prado and Reina Sofia by some judicious googling and blog recommendations. All of them have gratis admission days or times and if you are willing to brave some queuing, it’s more than worth it. Alternatively dependng on your mobility, time, and budget, the Paseo del Arte 3 in one pass is very good value.

So many other moments linger in my mind. Discovering an excellent coffee shop just round the corner from our apartment. Casually strolling up the street and running smack bang into the Plaza Mayor. Late night wandering round the Real Palace square, making up silly comments for the cathedral statues (hopefully not too irreverent… I do believe God has a sense of humour!) Being surprised by a royal procession of horses and carriage crossing our path. Listening to a elderly busker at the Opera Real – we reckoned he’s a retired pro: still a magnificent voice. Buying cookies from a convent of cloistered nuns – yes, true – it popped up in my googling and to our delight it was exactly as described in this blog. Such a treat! (and the cookies were delicious!!)

I was so excited by this that I made a Facebook live…even tho it was post purchase…

So, three days in Madrid? Three days of colour, crowds and clamour. Three days of delectable food and stunning streetscapes. Three days of friendly, helpful locals, many patient repetitons of questions and the graciousness to not laugh at my execrable Spanish. Three days of magnificence. Viva!

Night strolling round the Cathedral
Just one of many plazas full of food and people enjoying it
Retiro
The city that never sleeps! This was about 10pm and they were all just getting started.
Gran Via. Super ritzy. Super busy! Super classy 😎