After a criminally short stay in Seville we hopped the train to Madrid – a quick 2.5hr ride. Our Airbnb was a small, brightly colored loft on a busy street downtown. The neighborhood felt urban and metropolitan – like downtown San Francisco. Our very friendly host gave us a quick explanation of the city’s highlights, we threw a load of laundry in the machine, and headed out to explore.
Madrid is a very walkable city. It felt really clean and regal, like Madrid was proud to be Madrid. We saw flamenco dancers performing in the street, a ton of super cute dogs, and happy people everywhere.
Our first stop was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which was enormous and gorgeous. Housed in a beautiful 18th-century hospital with an $103M expansion added in 2005, the building is a cool mix of old and new. The museum features mostly 20th-century Spanish art with huge Dalí and Picasso collections. We spent a long time ogling Picasso’s Guernica which is fucking incredible. At 11′ tall and 26′ wide, the thing is MASSIVE. It’s beautifully presented in it’s own room, and just really, really impressive.
We had dinner one night at Bosco de Lobos, a gorgeous modern restaurant tucked inside a garden hidden in the center of the city. We didn’t read about it online or anything, we were just walking down a side street, saw a cute garden, and poked our heads in. I love stumbling upon cool places like that – feels more special somehow. Our evening was so lovely I completely forgot to take pictures.
Jessie recommended we check out El Corte Ingles – an impressively thorough department store. This place has everything. It’s like Macy’s when Macy’s still gave a fuck. Floors upon floors of clothes, home goods, furniture, food, and everything in between. The top floor is a giant fancy food court filled with culinary options from around the world. We had some dim sum and took in the views from the roof terrace. After lunch we took the escalators down, stoping on every floor to marvel the endless shelves of goods. We picked up a UV filter for my camera, and a Space Pen for Patrick. Pretty successful afternoon stop.
On one of our explore-the-city-strolls we passed a really gorgeous hotel and thought “Ooo, is this some cool independent Spanish hotel?”. It was The Ritz. Of course. We decided to stop in to enjoy some afternoon tea in the garden. The garden was really fancy. Like, fancy fancy. Like, we shouldn’t have been allowed in. All the other guests were older, dignified vacationers, or very lucrative lifestyle bloggers photographing €27 Cobb salads. We enjoyed our €14 pot of tea (oops) and left to rejoin the real world.
Retiro Park, or as the locals call it, Parque del Buen Retiro (which literally means “Park of the Pleasant Retreat”) is a goddamn delight. It’s about half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park but nearly three times as beautiful. Endless manicured lawns, fountains, sculptures, a man-made lake, amazing flowers and trees, galleries, and even a palace. I wanted to spend the whole afternoon exploring but my allergies were like “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE THIS POLLEN WILL KILL YOU” so we regrettably had to leave.
On our way out we swung by the Crystal Palace. It’s unbelievably stunning – truly straight out of a fairy tale. Unfortunately there was a modern art exhibit inside, which sounds cool but I wish it had been empty. While most probably appreciated the juxtaposition of the heavy modern assemblages contrasted against the effervescent palace walls, I found it intrusive. The building is art, it doesn’t need more art on top of it. Anyway, bla bla bla, whine whine whine, it was gorgeous.
Here’s a fun fact: A “Maja” was a term for women in the lower classes of Spanish society, especially in Madrid, who distinguished themselves by their elaborate outfits and cheeky behavior. Sound like anyone you know? These “Majas” inspired Goya’s famous painting, “The Naked Maja”, which he painted in 1800 as a commission for Manuel Godoy, the young corrupt Prime Minister of Spain to add to his private collection of nudie paintings. What a creep. Now the painting hangs in the Prado Museum next to “The Clothed Maja”, an identical painting in every way, just with the addition of clothes.
So, naturally, we went to go check them out. The Prado Museum is GIANT (reminded me of the Met), slightly difficult to navigate, and houses a shocking number of classical masterpieces. We found the Majas after getting lost a few times, and they were pretty great. I snapped a really horrible iPhone pic and then got yelled at by the guards, so this is the only one I have. Tragic, I know.
We went for tapas at Casa Patas, a famous restaurant/flamenco club. We were planning on having dinner and then seeng the flamenco show, but my allergies were so bad we had to leave. No one likes a sneezy audience member.
So, all in all, our time in Madrid was five stars, two thumbs up. It didn’t feel super touristy, and the parks were incredible. We’ll definitely be back.