A stroll through Madrid

Whew, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  Sorry!  Let me continue my travel blogging with Madrid.  My flight in April to Istanbul required a layover somewhere in western Europe.  Layovers are usually annoying.  But this time, I thought I’d make the best of it by scheduling a long 11-hr layover in Madrid and visiting the city between flights. I had never been to Spain before.   It was totally the right call! 🙂

It takes a while to fly from the States to Europe.  It was 8 hrs from Chicago to Madrid.  My flight was a red-eye – arriving at 9am Madrid time.  You could say the long flight stinks, but actually I kind of like it because you actually have time for a good night’s sleep.  My plan: board the plane, have some dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, and maybe pop a Nyquil, brush your teeth – then bam, you fall asleep.  5-6 hours later, they’ll wake you up for breakfast, the plane lands, and it’s a brand new exciting day in Spain!

An 11-hr layover seems like a long time, but it isn’t.  Luckily, Madrid is a compact, walkable city.  Once I got off the plane, I walked through customs just with my backpack (big luggage was checked through), and hopped on the Metro train at the airport.  30 minutes later (2 Metro transfers), I arrived at the Plaza Puerta del Sol.  Armed with my camera gear and my Lonely Planet pocket guide, I began to explore Madrid.

Sol is Madrid’s city center.  At the surface, it’s just a plaza with a fountain, a statue, and several streets intersecting it, but it’s much more.  It’s full of life and activity.  Everyone seems to pass by Sol.  You see tourists like me walking around snapping photos.  You see business people grabbing some coffee or taking a smoke break.  You see locals going shopping or eating food.  Maybe it’s Madrid’s equivalent to London’s Picadilly Circus? 

Madrid is a beautiful city.  Its landmarks, however, are not as well-known as the “big” European cities like Paris, London, or Rome.  The two most famous landmarks are pretty close to Sol – the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real. The three locations form a triangle that is very walkable – probably only 2km total.

The walk was amazing.  The city is so beautiful, orderly, and clean.  Every building facade is adorable, every side street has charm, every store is alluring.  Most of my time that day was spent walking down random side streets and just gazing around.  I hardly used my Madrid guide and map; it was more fun just to follow my whims and see what Madrid had to offer.

The Plaza Mayor was pretty cool.  It’s a huge plaza only reachable on foot.  It’s a great place for the locals to gather and relax, sitting on a chair under an umbrella, with a coffee in hand.  I don’t think there’s an equivalent in the States, but you’ll see places like this all over Europe, especially in Italy (my fave is the Piazza del Campo in Siena). 

I was in love with all the little stores in Madrid. Each one had so much charm. I ended up taking a bunch of photos of them 🙂

After more meandering, I finally got to the Palacio Real (aka Palacio de Oriente). It’s a huge palace that serves as the “official” or ceremonial home of the Spanish King. It’s kind of like the Versailles of Madrid hehe. The Royal Family is apparently not so ostentatious, so they actually live in a more modest place elsewhere.

Madrid is organized by various “barrios” (districts), each with its own personality.  So far, I’ve shown you the Centro barrio.  I also visited the barrio called La Latina, just south of Centro.  La Latina is supposed to be a lively place with many cool little shops.  La Calle de la Cava Baja is supposed to be a super fun spot to eat and drink, but not at noon haha (the Spanish don’t eat lunch til much later).  I spent the rest of the day wandering around La Latina.

There’s one thing you MUST do when you go to Spain – eat Spanish food!  Wow.  So tasty!  No wonder people take long lunches and have 3-4 hr dinners.  Yum!

I had to try some tapas, of course.  Lonely Planet directed me to the famous restaurant Casa Labra, just a block or two north of Sol.  Apparently ordering tapas works a little differently in Spain.  Sometimes you can order small plates like we’re used to in the States.  But other times, you order by the morsel.  You’ll see below that I ordered “dos de bacalao” – two morsels of cod, which was apparently all the rage.  There was a line for the bacalao, which came right out of the fryer for you to grab.  Sorry Brits, the bacalao was tastier than your fish and chips!

Madrid also has “Madrilenos”, or local, food.  I went to a random restaurant and randomly ordered something.  You know, just kinda pointing at something on the menu 🙂  What I got was some kind of casserole with egg and shrimp.  Quite tasty!  Even funnier – I was served by a Chinese woman speaking Spanish 🙂

Aaah, what a beautiful day it was to visit Madrid!  I am so glad I turned an annoying layover into an exhilarating visit to a new country.  I am a bit jealous of the lifestyle in Spain.  People were relaxed, they knew how to enjoy themselves, and they didn’t seem to get overburned by work or materialism, as we often do in the States.  It just seemed to be the right balance.  Now I’m looking forward to a visit to see the rest of Spain!  Who’s coming? 🙂

– This Madrid article on my blog
– My Madrid album on Flickr

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