Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.Ernest Hemingway
Apr 18-22 2017
After leaving Asia where we had spent the past 3 months, I would head directly for the Iberian Peninsula and Madrid. Finding a flight from Seoul on Korean Air, I was able to fly direct in business class for less than $50 using points. We would be spending the next 90 days traveling around Spain, France and Portugal for the third leg of our around the world trip. Maggie was still back in the States for work so I decided to check out Madrid for a few days before we would eventually meet up again in Barcelona.
Spending the past month in the massive metropolises of Tokyo and Seoul, Madrid felt more like a small town, but still had plenty of things to do and in actuality is a large city itself. Having traveled to Europe a couple of times prior, my experience was that the cultural differences were much more pronounced coming from Asia to Europe than from North America.
During my stay I was plesantly surprised. A mix of Sevilla and Barcelona, the city is off the mainstream tourist trail, celebrating its understated and authentic Spanish atmosphere. The center of town was full of Art Deco masterpieces, such as the Edificio Metropolis, as well as picturesque cobblestone streets that just oozed character. While I was there I would visit one of the cities three main and world-renowned art museums, participate in a Spanish Civil War tour, relax in the many squares and large parks, and enjoy the energitic nightlife and cuisine of the city.
I stayed as a guest in a friendly Madrileñas home located in the Latina neighborhood, located just west of the Centro district across the River Manzanares. While the city has an expansive metro network, I chose to walk during my stay only using it a couple of time, once to get from the airport to where I was staying after I arrived, and another time to reach a monument dedication ceremony on the outskirts of town.
I would spend my first full day getting my bearings, roaming around and soaking in the atmosphere while making stops at the wonderful San Miguel Market and Retiro Park. I didn’t do much research prior to visiting and decided to simply discover things while I was there.
In the morning I worked my way towards San Miguel Market, a foodies dream. In a beautiful glass 19th century building, rows of stalls could be found selling everything from small tapas and fresh fruit, to a wide variety of paella and chocolates. I would end up trying some fresh sliced iberico ham, sampling many types of olives, and munching on some fresh pork rinds. I especially enjoyed people watching while sipping sangria. It was such a fun and delicious experience I would end up returning a couple of days later to sample more of the offerings.
In the afternoon I would take a stroll through Park Retiro, often described as the lungs of the city. Citizens flock to the park on warm days to relax, play, walk, or simply find some shade. The park includes several small cafes, a large boating lake, a monument to King Alfonso XII, and the glass and iron Crystal Palace. My favorite part of the park was a large garden area near the Prado museum, full of colorful flowers and beautifully manicured bushes and walkways. It was a welcome break from the buzzing streets nearby.
The following day I would join a Spanish Civil War tour as well as attending a special ceremony at the I was invited to by the guide. We began walking around the University City, where the then newly built structures were used as the front lines by the leftist Republicans, holding back Francisco Franco’s forces from entering the city. The grand buildings of the university still have the marks of machine gun fire, grenades, and other explosives used during the battle. Next we would head for central Madrid and walk the streets and visit various sites central to the war, as well as stopping by a memorial to the International Brigades which helped to defend the Republic.
Following the tour I headed for a ceremony honoring La Nueve, the name assigned to the 9th Company of the 2nd Armored Division of Free France , also known as the Leclerc Division. La Nueve consisted almost entirely of Spaniards, mostly anarchists, who were responsible for liberarting Paris from Hitler and the fascist during World War II. A monument was being dedicated to the brigade in the city of Madrid, with both the mayors of Paris and Madrid leading the ceremonies and giving speeches. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and was thankful to be able to have the chance to attend. It was amazing to meet some of the surviving soldiers responsible for saving Paris, whose accomplishments has long been ignored.
To continue the theme, I would head to the world class Reina Sofia musuem for the evening, with the highlight being the Guernica mural painted by Pablo Picasso. Guenica was the site of one of the first aerial bombing of civilians, taking place during the Civil War by Franco’s forces. It was a massive museum and I ended up spending over 4 hours wandering the exhibits. The Guernica mural and other works by Picasso were definitly the highlight, giving me a new found respect for the artist. I also enjoyed some of the surrealism exhibits that helped me to better understand and appreciate the movement.
During my last full day in Madrid I would continue my visit by exploring more neighborhoods of the city. First I would take a walk along the Manzanares River from Latina to Chamberi district, passing by many monuments and through various peaceful parks along the way. From Chamberi I would walk the length of the Gran Via, known as the Spanish Broadway, full of ornate and grand buildings and bustling with activitu. I would finish the day exploring the streets around the Justicia and Salamanca neighborhoods before returning to my room for the night.
In the morning I would catch a high speed train from Atocha Station and head for Barcelona, meeting up with Maggie as well as my family who would be visiting us for a few weeks of our trip. I was able to see a lot of Madrid in just a few days, but would definitely like to return in the future as there was still a lot left to see, not the least of which includes the Prado Museum. The city surpassed my expectations and helped to further solidfy Spain as one of my favorite countries to visit. It was a great way to start the European portion of our trip and left me excited to see some of our other planned Spainish destinations in the coming months, including San Sebastian and Basque Country, the island of Mallorca, and Granada and the Andalusia region.