I’ve kind of put this post off for a while. Mostly because we’ve been enjoying Morocco and having so much to share from our travels and life here. And also because, well, frankly, I didn’t care so much for Madrid.
I started to . . . appreciate it more as we spent time exploring various neighborhoods, especially on the weekend when you could get a better feel for the quirkiness of neighborhoods and such. I’m also aware that I’m not a huge fan of most big cities either. Madrid just wasn’t the place for me.
We did have an absolutely lovely small apartment courtesy of Wimdu.com, and the neighborhood of Lavapies was really enjoyable. Lots of ethnic food places, lots of places to shop, tapas bars, close to 3 different metro stations as well as the local bus. It was also within walking distance of the Palacio Real, the Prado, and other Madrileño hotspots.
If you appreciate food, Madrid is great for that. After spending a lot of time in Latin America, I was so ready for Thai food, probably my favorite food. Madrid delivered with a fantastic little place that was quite good. They even doted a little on Tigger, which was rather cool. Especially in view of the typical standoffishness we had encountered from the locals. There was also a delicious pasta place that was inexpensive. Something that was greatly appreciated as we were switching from strong-dollar Central and South America to weak-dollar Europe.
Madrid, like many European cities, has a nice blend of old and new. It’s easy to find grand, hundreds-year-old buildings standing next to sleek, modern ones. The people are not so friendly, but they aren’t exactly mean either. Well, most of them. I initially chalked it up to just being a big city, but some expats in Spain, as well as some native Spaniards, have all told me that Madrid is just not a friendly place. The current economic crisis isn’t helping their already sour disposition either.
This big city is actually quite walkable, and the metro system is very handy. We walked almost everywhere, but one day Tigger begged me to PLEASE let us go on the metro or take a taxi, so we did. The metro is quite reasonable. You have to pay about 1.3€ to go for up to 5 stations. It’s also easy to navigate. Of course, the frequent protests and strikes can cause some hassles, but they’re usually pretty easy to work around.
When in Madrid, I would highly recommend you plan some time to visit the fantastic Parque del Retiro. Not only is it relaxing and beautiful, but there are some amazing places tucked away within the park’s confines. There is no admission fee as it’s a public park. I would either plan on spending a good part of the day exploring it, or I would make a few trips. It is truly quite impressive and was my favorite place in Madrid.
A very common place for tourists to visit is the Palacio Real. The admission is 10€ (kids get a 50% discount), and you can pay by credit/debit card if you wish. Do avoid bringing backpacks (day packs) or large bags with you. They’ll want you to put them in a locker. If it isn’t too big, a backpack will be allowed, but you’ll probably be asked to wear it on your chest. Unfortunately, they also don’t let you take photos inside the buildings (even with the flash turned off). There are quite a few security guards that keep watch for naughty shutterbugs.
The inside is quite beautiful, and I thought the royal pharmacy was kind of interesting, but unless you’re just looking to kill time or do something when it’s bad weather, your time and money are better spent at other sites.
As you come out of the external palace gates, turn to your left and walk past the complex. There is a gorgeous park on your left and a great view of the palace. Across the street you’ll also find a couple of wonderful ice cream shops that also serve sandwiches.
With Spain having some other great areas to visit, I just can’t really suggest you either plan a visit to Madrid or plan to stay too long. Although, if you’re a fan of big cities or a major museum lover, Madrid could very well be an enjoyable place to visit.