Our experience in Madrid
If we could sum up Madrid in one word, it’d be… meh. Perhaps we didn’t give it a fair chance as I was always on high alert, trying to avoid getting mugged. Every time we mentioned going to Madrid, a lot of people warned us to “watch our backs,” or “be aware of our surroundings” because we were a “target.” That’s not the response we get when we mention other parts of Spain we want to travel to. “You’re going to love Seville,” and “all of the north is so beautiful.” We seem to get lectured about the city of Madrid just by saying it’s name, a forewarning to look out for all the shady people.
You should be conscious not to get pick pocketed in every place you travel to, but we heard far more stories of more severe crimes occurring in Madrid. Everything was fine, by the way; we left the city unscathed with our wallets in hand.
The first stop on our Madrid excursion was the Palacio Real; compared to the Palace of Versailles and Buckingham Palace, it’s quite underwhelming. Kind of a letdown, considering how much of it was funded by the blood of Native Americans.
Connected to the palace is the Plaza de Oriente, Teatro Real – supposedly a superb opera house – and the Almudena Cathedral.
Madrid has two main plazas not very far from one another, the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is one of two enclosed plazas in Spain, the other being the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. Madrid’s is bigger, has a statue of King Felipe III in the middle and is free of the sculpted facades in the wall. I was told that Madrid’s was more beautiful than Salamanca’s, though I humbly disagree (Louisa would very strongly disagree). The Puerta del Sol is a wide-open plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants with statues and fountains in the middle of the busy pavement. Madrid’s plazas are not short of Gypsies and some of the oddest street “performers” you’ll ever see.
For all of you wanting to become a tour guide, make your tours at least semi-interesting. The guide we had would take us from place to place and tell us what century whatever building we were standing in front of was built with some brief facts sprinkled in, and then it was on to the next monument. If you know an interesting piece of history about something, something offbeat perhaps, be sure to share it with the people you’re touring. If you don’t know any history, make it up; it’ll be much more interesting than whatever we heard about it.
Madrid is quite like New York, a mix of old and new with lots of people everywhere you look. Like every Spanish city, there are monuments all over that idolize their heroes; such as Don Quixote, Christopher Columbus, Spanish Kings and Conquistadors.
Another New York-like feature is the Parque del Retiro, a massive, beautifully landscaped park in the heart of Madrid; not an identical match to Central Park, but similar. El Retiro has an abundance of cafes and restaurants as well as a lake where you can rent rowboats.
If you’re into art museums, Madrid has two that are considered to be the finest in the world, the Museo del Prado and Museo Reina Sofía. Both museums are relatively close to each other, near the Parque del Retiro and the Atocha train station. The Museo del Prado hosts one of the finest European art collections in the entire world, while the Museo Reina Sofía holds a modern art collection from the 20th century on.
If you’re a sports fan, a visit to Madrid would not be complete without seeing the Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid C.F.’s world-famous stadium. Here, you will walk through an exhibit of Europe’s most successful club. The tour includes a panoramic view of the 85,000-seat stadium, a tour of the equipment, uniforms and trophies from the more than 100-year history of Real Madrid, see where Cristiano Ronaldo gets dressed in the home locker room, walk onto the grass, sit on the bench and much more.
We did this as a day trip with our language school but the city is large enough to stretch into a much longer period of time (of course). The total for the trip was about 45euros, which covered the Bernabéu entrance, the bus and the tour guide. We probably spent an additional 10 euros or so on food & drinks.
Louisa: There were some parts that I liked about Madrid. I liked that the Plaza Mayor had penises and boobs painted on one wall. But I think after all the hype we heard – and the comparisons of it to the the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca – there wasn’t really much to compare. I should say, it’s not even comparable. To be fair, the Plaza Mayor here in Madrid had a lot of construction going on – so maybe it normally looks better?
The one thing I really liked about the Plaza in Madrid was the amount of street performers and the variety of them. Kyle was right in saying they were some of the strangest performers we’d ever seen. I would say they were very creative and unique. What a tough job that would be in the heat and all that heavy costume.
It was funny to see Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters take their hats off to be sweaty Spanish men. It was mainly funny to see the female characters be men underneath. There was a Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse couple that were also a couple underneath and it was kind of endearing to watch them take care of each other in the heat when they took their stuffed heads off.
Bernabéu was pretty cool to see. My favorite part was probably walking into the locker rooms and onto the field. I also loved their interactive technology.