One Day, Two Nights in Madrid

Madrid is a city for the young at night, and I am an old man who typically explores during the day. But it’s a great city, and I am glad that I had a brief stopover there on my way to Portugal.

I arrived late (after midnight) at my Airbnb in central Madrid after a somewhat comical series of delays and errors in my flight from Reykjavik to Madrid which included all of us standing on the plane for thirty minutes while someone clearly inexperienced at the job tried to park the stair car close enough to the plane for us to disembark.

Once I found a taxi and made my way into my apartment, the driver had to let me off three blocks ahead of my stay because the street was blocked for some kind of block party. At first, I was a bit concerned, as there were a number of police cars and police officers present, but it soon became apparent that they were there as much to enjoy the party as to police it. After checking in with my host, I checked my usual inhibition in the apartment and wandered down to celebrate for an hour or so, though I never did discover the reason for the party.

Knowing I only had one real day in Madrid, I spent an hour or so looking at Google Maps to decide what I might do. Given the short time and size of the city, I settled on a plan that I may just use for future quick stops: I identified three things I really wanted to do and decided to walk around to see those things and whatever else happened to be around. In my case, that meant the statue of Cervantes, one of two museums, and a place that has served chocolate and churros since 1894, the Chocolateria San Gines.

Those areas marked out on my map, I spent the next 12 hours or so wandering the city and ended up at a huge city park with a pond and crystal palace in its center, the Royal Palace and some cathedrals, two museums, a monument to Columbus, and a host of other spots. It was a hot, sunny, exhausting day, but I enjoyed almost all of it, aside from this strange moment watching a French couple feed each other from their mouths in line for the Museo Prado. Not cool, people, not cool.

Other than a night of insomnia, the brief stop to Madrid ended with the sounds and sights of a religious parade outside my window on the same street that had held the party the night before. Not a bad set of bookends.

A few notes from the trip:

  • If you have time for one museum in the central area of Madrid, I would pick the CaixaForum Madrid over the Museo Prado. The latter is certainly filled with masterworks worth visiting, but it has the feel of large, state museums that can overwhelm rather than enlighten. The CaixaForum Madrid, on the other hand, features open space and some truly bizarre, interesting works. I may never sleep well again after one particularly disturbing video display there.
  • Space out your museum visits to maximize time spent in cool air. It was 97 in Madrid yesterday, and the city is dry and hot. Vendors sell giant bottles of water for a reason. Drink plenty of it.
  • When you visit the Chocolateria San Gines, eating downstairs might take you to the coldest, strangest place you’ll see in Madrid. It seems like it’s been unchanged since the 1950s, with pictures of famous people who have visited the spot on the walls.
  • On an unrelated note, I have begun to wonder whether Canadians are more aggressively patriotic than those of us from the United States. Over my past few trips to Europe, I think I have seen the Canadian flag more than just about any other outside of the flag of the country I am currently visiting. Do Canadians love Canada that much, or are they loudly making it clear they’re not us? Hmmm… 🙂