Madrid is not one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Much of its historical and cultural history has been torn down to make way for the new. Indeed, it seems to be a city on the verge of the next century, good and bad. The traffic and the congestion will get even a seasoned traveler down but what it lacks in beauty, it makes up in feeling. There is a real charge about Madrid; a cosmopolitan urban pulse that dominates its cafés, bars, and its street life. We are starting to find out that Spain “lives” and its people are alive and breathing in life to its fullest. The Lonely Planet has an ‘essential Madrid’ walking tour and map that takes you to all the major monuments and museums and the shopping districts of the city. This is our plan of attack as we lace up our walking shoes and head out. We start our walk at the Plaza de Espana. Our first visit, strangely enough, is to an Egyptian temple, the Templo de Debod. But we begin to feel the pulse of Madrid as we walk our first kilometer up the Gran Via.
Over the next 2 hours, we wind our way around the city stopping for pictures, admiring the vistas or to just rest our feet. The sun comes and goes and when it comes it is very warm.
At the Museo
We decide to take an extended break at this point in the walk and indulge ourselves in the masterpieces of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. This incredible private collection is housed in the Palacio de Villahermosa, which was completely gutted and restored to house the collection. It is one of the most varied and complete collections of European art anywhere and, along with the Prado, is a “must-see” in Madrid. John is thrilled by the collection of Canalettos, one of the largest he has seen in 1 place. The indulgence lasts over 2 hours and we emerge tired but happy about 5:30 and cross the square for one of those little North American extravagances I talked about in Nice, called Starbucks. We both enjoy the familiar surroundings over iced lattés. Although it is 6 p.m., it is still very early by Madrid standards so we decide to continue our walking tour.
UnderCover at the Palacio Real
We continue on past churches and Plazas. The sky suddenly turns black on us and we run for some cover from an unexpected downpour. This seems to be a good opportunity to do what all Spaniards do at this time of day, take sustenance to tide us over until our 10 pm dinner. We have a couple of beers and some small raciones in a very local taberna while the rain cools the plaza, before the last of the setting sun begins to peek out. Our walking tour finally brings us to the Palacio Real, the residence of Spain’s Royal Family (although apparently, they aren’t in residence much these days) and there is an official function happening this evening, evidenced by all the heavily guarded gates and entrances.
We make our way back to the metro station and take the train back to Mostoles and have full raciones for our meal tonight and welcome the hotel’s extra pillows and crisp sheets.