We’re back in Europe again! This time we’re spending three months in Spain and Portugal, beginning with a week in Madrid. We really loved the city and plan to go back someday for a full month. But our week there was enough to see how wonderfully liveable the city is – though maybe not so much in the summer! We happened to hit a heat wave with temperatures around 100 Fahrenheit each day even though it was only June. Even with the heat, we were able to see a lot. Here were our favorite things about Madrid.
The River and Parks
We stayed in a neighborhood a bit outside the city center. It wasn’t our first choice (see * below), but it turned out to be the best choice because it put us just south of the Madrid River, which proved to be our favorite part of the city. We loved taking walks along the river, which is dotted with paths and parks and bridges. On the Saturday evening of our stay, the riverfront parks were full of families celebrating birthdays and hanging out on the hot summer evening. There are even a couple of cafes where you can get a coffee or a drink (which we did once).
We also went one afternoon to the famous El Retiro Park, which was nice but we liked the river much better.
Madrid is a true European city with wonderful tall buildings and 18th century architecture. Flights from the United States arrive in the morning and we weren’t able to check into our Airbnb until 1:30 in the afternoon, so we started our time with several hours to explore the city (we stored our luggage at a facility booked through the Bounce app, which I definitely recommend). We visited the Plaza Mayor and the Puerte del Sol (which was full of construction so no photos) and the Gran Via and over to the Royal Palace. It instantly reminded us of all the European cities we love. Throughout our week it was always a pleasure to be walking around in Madrid.
The Food and Wine
We (especially Chad) are slightly biased against Spanish food, but we actually ate pretty well during our week in Madrid. Our first day’s lunch we ended up at a traditional tapas bar close to the tourist area because its kitchen was open before noon when we were hungry after our flight. The bartender was friendly but the “tapas” label on the food and low prices made us think we’d be getting small plates. Instead, we way over-ordered getting three dishes plus the complementary tortilla (Spanish egg casserole) that came with our beers. But it was pretty tasty (though heavy) and a good intro to Spanish food.
For our first dinner out, we chose Senegalese food, a cuisine we’ve never tried before. We got two national specialties, thieboudienne (fish and rice with spices and veggies) for Chad and mafe (meat stew with tomato and peanut sauce) for me. Both were tasty and we followed it up with the Spanish specialty, churros and hot chocolate. We love churros in Mexico but found the Spanish version to be not as good. But the hot chocolate for dipping was tasty (thick and not too sweet) and we had lots leftover to enjoy with fruit for future desserts.
Our favorite meals were at a vegetarian restaurant called Vega Alamo. We went there twice, once on our own and once with my friend Sara who joined us for our last night and Madrid (and came along to Granada and Malaga with us). Both visits we ordered a bunch of the appetizers, with the favorite being the fried artichoke with fake bacon dust. But everything we ate there, including the olives, was excellent. Especially the stout carrot cake!
The History and Sights
There are so many museums to choose from in Madrid, but we chose to just do the Museo Sofia Reina, a modern art museum that is home to Picasso’s Guernica. I bought our tickets online and we showed up a bit before opening time on a Friday morning and were second through the door behind another couple. But they had a backpack to store, so we headed straight up to the second floor and the Guernica room so we could take it in without a crowd. We had about 10 minutes before other people joined. It is a really powerful piece.
We enjoyed the rest of what we saw as well, especially the several installations of Luis Buñuel movies, an early Spanish director Chad likes. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed of Guernica or in any of the rooms near it, which is most of what we saw, but here are a few pieces from the rest of the museum we liked.
When Sara joined us we took a tour of the Royal Palace kitchens. You can also tour the palace itself but we chose to get the kitchen-only ticket because we’ve now seen a lot of European palaces. But never a kitchen! They were very interesting and spacious and though the tour was in Spanish, they were neat to see.
We also took a day trip to Alcala de Henares, but I’ll talk about that in my next blog post.
We liked our week in Madrid so much we’re already talking about going back for a longer stay, though it would be much further down the road. Still, it was a great start to Leg 10 back in Europe!
This is a great apartment. It looked just like the photos. The location is wonderful, right across the street from a metro station on the 5 line and close to many riverfront parks that are great for daily walks. The AC in the living room worked well and cooled the apartment enough for the bedrooms to be comfortable at night (we were there during a very warm week in June). The wifi worked well and it was great having multiple desks in addition to the dining table. The kitchen was equipped enough for light cooking and there are plenty of stores nearby. Great communication from the host and the check in with Viktor was very convenient. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/30907256
*About a month before we left Missouri we had a little Airbnb snafu – our Madrid host reached out and said the one-bedroom apartment we booked was being sold but they could give us a studio nearby instead. This was not acceptable to us (and a common Airbnb bait-and-switch scam) so we insisted the host cancel our reservation and booked another apartment, this time with two bedrooms that would better accommodate Sara’s visit. It was a bit more expensive and farther from the city center, but turned out to meet our needs far better than the first apartment would have.