That was my feeling. The trip would take me “from Madrid to heaven”. Finally, a week in the Spanish capital was enough to take me off for days! – by Maria Th. Massoura
I have already known Madrid. I had walked through its squares, I got lost in its alleys, I knew the way of thinking of the inhabitants. I learnt about all these from Pedro. Who is Pedro? I pretend that I haven’t heard the question. And this is because, quite simply, Madrid is the ultimate Muse of Pedro Almodovar. He is the director who has praised the Spanish capital more than anyone else. In my mind I had already imagined all images. I would be in the middle of the huge Plaza Mayor like Marisa Paredes in the ‘La flor de mi secreto’, I would walk along the Gran Vía Avenue like a “Woman on the verge of nervous breakdown ‘ and I would explore the Chueca neighborhood as Antonio Banderas strolled in ” Tie me “.
A few months before the trip, I had already begun taking lessons in Spanish and, in that way, I had entered the Spanish culture. The day finally arrived and, after four hours of flights, I landed at Barajas airport.
Everything is a square
The time was eight o’clock in the evening but the sun still didn’t set. Madrid was waiting for me to walk! I had checked in a hotel in the Gran Vía (the huge central avenue that connects various parts of the city) I had left my luggage and began my stroll in the squares of the city, since it is well known that its squares is one of the most beautiful sights of Madrid.
I walked through pedestrians, I reached Puerta del Sol Square (the Gate of the Sun) and in Kilometro Zero (the zero point from which all distances in the country are calculated). This square is always full of people and it is also the meeting point of Madrileños, underneath the statue of “The Bear and the Tree”.
There, the Spaniard Antonio, my friend who for the next few days would be my guide, was waiting for me. Before we left the Puerta del Sol, Antonio had offered me violets. Not flowers, however, but the famous candies from the famous La Violeta shop located there and being in service since 1915.
Then he pulled me into a tapas bar, Cervecería Cervantes, which was full of locals. He offered me a glass of wine and treated me with a piece of fried cod. “This is the way we eat in a tapas bar, standing”. In short, until you reach the fifth piece of cod you already get drunk! We crossed the Calle Mayor (calle means street), and as we walked through the streets, I felt that I was in an Almodovar’s film. I looked up and saw the most wonderful buildings which, apart from the fact that they looked like they had paintings painted on them, had flower window boxes hanging from the balconies full of colourful geraniums! As we were walking and looking at the houses, we suddenly found ourselves in the most famous square of the city : the Plaza Mayor
While we were enjoying an espresso con leche (espresso with milk), we were staring at the people. In that huge square, you could see everyone. Young people, older ones, locals, tourists, all sitting in groups cross-legged in the middle of the square. All the people in a square!
It is worth mentioning that eating in the Plaza Mayor is not a very good idea as the prices are high and the food isn’t anything special. If you want to have a snack in this area, there is the famous chocolateria San Ginés in a small alley at the back of the square. There, they serve the city’s most famous churros, long doughnuts plunged into hot chocolate. San Gines is open 24 hours a day and it is full of people especially in the morning hours after an all night drinking and fun.
The city’s party
It is not the case that, as many say, Barcelona is more exciting than Madrid. The reason is that this city never sleeps. Madrid is a big party during the night. The Madrileños eat at 10 (do not ever go at 8 because you will be just you and the waiters in the restaurant) and usually go for drinks and tapas. In the middle of the table, they serve tapas such as grilled asparagus, cod croquettes, tortilla de patatas, queso (one of the most famous cheeses is the Machengo, produced in the region of La Mancha, south of Madrid) and of course jamon iberico. Then, at around 1 o clock, they go for a drink to small bars and end up in clubs (especially at weekends) at 3 or 4 in the morning. In the evenings, you will see large noisy groups in the streets and couples to kiss each other in the middle of the road. I wouldn’t expect a different image from a city with intense Spanish temperament.
After we had eaten our tapas, we ended up in La Latina, one of the ‘hip’ regions of the city where you can find most of the tapas bars. We entered one and, as a classic excited tourist, I tried to order sangria. Then Antonio turned and said to me “You know, mi amiga, sangria is only for tourists. Have a carafe of tinto instead”. So, a carafe of tinto landed on our table. It was nothing but wine with lemonade and slices of lemons. It was a refreshing summer juice. After two carafes, however, I realised that tinto was not just juice! “Vale”, the city already made me get drunk…!
¿ Hablas español?
What if Madrid is the third most popular city in Europe for tourists! Use a dictionary, try to learn some Spanish, even a few phrases. Spaniards, with a few exceptions, do not know speak English at all! Besides, if you are in a club and you want to dance it is not necessary to speak the language. Even though Spaniards are not particularly handsome ( I will disappoint you but finally Antonio Baderas and Xavier Bardem are the exceptions of the rule), when they want to dance, they come to you and take and you no matter if you accept or not! By the way, their “bouzoukia” are the salsa and rumba. People there dance a lot!
“You women are crazy with shopping” says Antonio as I was asking him to write down the shopping streets. It was very surprising to go to Madrid without buying my “espadrilles” and my “platforms”! So, Goya is the biggest street for shopping, while somewhere in the middle is Velázquez street and a little further down, is Serrano street where all the famous brands are. However, it was proved that the street that I liked most is Calle Fuencarral, in Malasaña area in the centre where there are a lot of interesting and ‘hip” shops. In the same area, you can find Mercado Fuencarral, where you can find specially distinctive items in many small shops.
The “Three” of the Art
As a “Cosmo girl” who needs to have a taste of culture too, I dedicated one whole day in art. I went towards Paseo del Prado , named also Paseo del Arte, as it is the avenue that connects the magic triptych of museums.
First stop at Prado, the most famous museum in the country. It is opposite El Retiro, the biggest and most beautiful park in the city. I stand in front of Goya’s paintings amazed, specifically when I look at those ones of the “dark period”. In the rooms with the works of Velázquez, I admire the technique of Las Meninas (one of his most famous paintings – enormous in size) while a great emotion fills me up in front of El Greco’s masterpieces!
I get outside, I pass opposite and I enter the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, that belongs to the rich family of Thyssen. It is one of the biggest private collections all over the world. Works by Picasso, Dali, Hopper, Degas, Monet and Lichtenstein. You get really dizzy by going through the three floors.
I buy small souvenirs from the art shop and lead my way to the Museum of Modern Art, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Before that, however, we pass from a tapas bar for a glass of vino tinto (red wine – always from Rioja region). In the astounding Reina Sofia, I experience a great emotion (how many the person can bear in one day). In the second floor, I stop breathless in front of the most famous painting of the 20th century: Guernica by Picasso.
On Sunday at midday I pass nearby Puerta de Alcalá (the gate point of Madrid) and realise that a week passed without me taking any notice. This is how big loves are, you lose the sense of time.
- Prefer to stay at one of the hotels in Gran Via in order to have easy access in most of the barrios (neighborhoods)
- The underground of the city is an easy way to move around.
- In the evenings, go for a stroll at La Latina (and on Sundays for a brunch) while avoid going alone to Lavapiés street because it is still a disreputable area (except at the weekends that it is much safer). For more extraordinary little bars, funky restaurants and clubs go to Malasaña and Chueca, the area nearby.
- If you want a day trip, catch the train for Toledo from Atocha Station The picturesque city where El Greco used to live is only half an hour away
- If you like food market, you may visit Mercado de San Miguel, near Plaza Mayor with many tapas bars and wine bars and Mercado de San Antón in Chueca area – which was recently renovated – for exclusive shopping.
- Even though it is for tourists, a show with flamengo dance is always a must in Madrid.
- La Violeta: Candies with flavour and form of violets. Plaza de Canalejas 6, www.lavioletaonline.es
- Chocolateria San Gines: For churros. Pasadizo de San Ginés, www.chocolateriasangines.com
- El Café Gijón: The historical cafe with the old fashioned charm in the aristocrat avenue Paseo de Recoleto,21, www.cafegijon.com
- CerveceríaCervantes: A simple bar for wine and treats. Cervantes str. 38, in the centre.
- Bodega de la Ardosa: For simple and tastingtapas. CalleColon 13, Malasãna area, www.laardosa.com.
- LaVenencia: A classic tapasbar, one of the oldest. Idealforsmalltreats. It is worth trying the wine. CalleEchegarary 7, in the centre.
- RestauranteTximiri: There you can try the Bask cuisine with small pinxtos ( a small quantity served on a piece of bread.). CalledeHumilladero 6, in LaLatina area.
- LaBodegadeLete: A small, cute tapas bar with tasty surprises. Calle Buenavista 46,inLavapiés area.
- Gaudeamus Café: Hidden on the terrace of the old university of Lavapies, this small restaurant offers a magnificent view of the city. CalleTribulete 14, EdificioEscuelasPías, +34 915 282594, gaucafe.com.
Published in Cosmopolitan, magazine in July 2007. Tips thave been renewed