My Beat: Madrid


Ever since I visited Seville and Barcelona in 2006 and 2007 respectively, Madrid has been been on my hit list. I loved both cities so I always thought that when I finally set foot in Spain’s capital, I would have an equally swell there. I’m happy to say I was right! I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case because when I asked friends – one of whom is Spanish – what I absolutely shouldn’t miss in the course of the three days I was going to be in the city,  it seemed  the general consensus was that I should just stroll around the city and discover it by myself, stopping for a cafe con leche here, and at a tapas bar there. Although I did just that and had a great time, sometimes you need concrete tips for what to do – especially if you only have a couple of days at your disposal.

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Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid

My top three Madrid attractions

The Judgement of Paris

One of several versions of Rubens’ The Judgement of Paris

Prado Museum: I never understood museums before. I would be that person who’d visit a city and see everything but the museums, because I thought that was a better use of my time. In fact a conversation between my other half and I about our first trip to Paris together years ago never fails to have him quip “oh, you mean the time you speed-walked through the Louvre?” Last year something switched. Or more precisely began to switch. We visited the Saatchi gallery in the early spring and I found myself actually paying attention to and  enjoying some (and by no means all!) of the quirky installations. I played around with different interpretations, both mine and the artists’ descriptions, then marvelled at how art is not a precise science.  Summer found me at the  Tate Modern enjoying  works that resonated with me on a level that I did not truly recognize  until later. Gradually, I came to the realisation that there is no set way to interpret any piece, and that I am not required to understand or even appreciate every work of art I come across.

It was with that unshackling of my mind that I threw myself with reckless abandon into  New York’s MoMA, Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti and Paris’ Center Pompidou in the fall of 2013 and the early winter months of 2014 respectively.Now I actively look forward to visiting museums in the cities I visit.

Madrid’s Prado museum is the perfect museum for anyone just finding their art stride. One of the world’s greatest museums, it is home to works by Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Rembrandt among others, all of which are housed in an imposing 18th century neo-classical building. Because it is so vast and the collection so varied, there is little chance anyone can truly take it all in in a day. I was advised to focus on a select few painters and because I was in the land of Velazquez and Goya, I zeroed in on their works. But in life as in art, to truly enjoy it you don’t want to adhere strictly to a set of rules. It was Peter Paul Rubens artistry that caught my eye and resonated the most with me; I found out he was one of a very select few artistic greats who managed to make a very comfortable living through his artistry while he was alive, thanks in no small part to his entrepreneurial smarts. The fact that he had a penchant for painting women in various stages of voluptuousness and merriment was just the icing on the cake.

You can plan which artists you want to focus on by visiting the Prado Museums pictorial database here.

Retiro Park: Conveniently enough this park, which is Madrid’s main green lung – is located about a 5 minute walk from Prado museum, so you can easily combine the two if you so wish. Madrilenos come here to exercise, bask in the sun, row boats, listen to live music, watch puppet shows – and even to revel in Madrid’s annual book fair which kicked off on Friday and runs until the 15th of June. I personally most enjoyed the Crystal Palace which is a glass palace located right in the middle of the 130 hectares that the park comprises. Built in 1887, it takes the shape of a Greek cross and has steps leading down into a large artificial lake of the Retiro Park that is home to ducks, geese, black swans and terrapins. A truly beautiful place, especially on warm and sunny days. The weather was a tad grey and foreboding when I was in the city so I pointed my camera lens at the Puerto de Alcala instead.

Puerta de Alcala, which is roughly midway between Retiro park and the beginning of Calle Serrano.

Puerta de Alcala, which is roughly midway between Retiro park and the beginning of Calle Serrano.

 

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Shopping in Salamanca District: A mere 5 min walk from Retiro Park is the high end shopping district of Salamanca where you can find cool restaurants, fashion bars and expensive shops. The main avenues are Calle Serrano, a very long avenue that traverses the central part of the city from north to south and Calle Velázquez. These two streets alone are bound to challenge even the most incorrigible of shopaholics: from Adolfo Dominguez’s 5-storey flagship store  to Carolina Herrera’s somewhat smaller flagship store, Valentino to Versace, Gucci to Prada, the assortment is nothing to scoff at. Other streets peddling designer threads in this district also include the Calle José Ortega y Gasset and Calle Claudio Coello but do not be put off Salamanca district entirely if you are not interested in the higher end of the international fashion industry; Zara’s six storey flagship stored just opened on Calle Serrano 23! Do also keep an eye out for the small but interesting boutiques in the lesser known streets of Salamanca district, you never know what one of a kind gem you might find.

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Where to eat: Mercado San Anton

You get a lot of recommendations to visit markets whenever you set foot in southern Europe, and as much as I love exploring them when I have more time, sometimes you either find yourself time-poor or are just in the mood for a calmer experience. Mercado San Anton in the young and hip Chueca district of Madrid is a very modern take on the traditional market, with it’s extremely clean and organised setting. Here you can browse the stalls in relative peace and tranquility, and get this – if you see something you really like – a nice slab of meat, an especially inviting cut of fish- you can buy it and take it to the Restaurante Terraze on the top floor and have them cook it for you for the grand sum of 5 euro. The restaurant’s own menu is not half-bad either, as you can see from the pictures above.

Mercado San Antón opted for modernity over more traditional outfitting when it received updates. It is divided into three stories- market buys and a bodega on the first, tasty prepared foods and a bar on the second, and a breezy terrace and full-service restaurant, La Cocina de San Antón, on the top. Here, there is plenty of seating so you will not have to worry about fighting for a spot. Winner: Mercado San Antón

– See more at: http://www.cheapinmadrid.com/must-visit-food-markets-in-madrid/#sthash.DpGpBsE1.dpuf

Mercado San Antón opted for modernity over more traditional outfitting when it received updates. It is divided into three stories- market buys and a bodega on the first, tasty prepared foods and a bar on the second, and a breezy terrace and full-service restaurant, La Cocina de San Antón, on the top. Here, there is plenty of seating so you will not have to worry about fighting for a spot. Winner: Mercado San Antón

– See more at: http://www.cheapinmadrid.com/must-visit-food-markets-in-madrid/#sthash.DpGpBsE1.dpuf

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Where to sleep: The Hotel Ritz by Belmond. This hotel is perfectly set for the explorer who likes to be able to reach almost everything by foot. Located in what is known as Madrid’s golden triangle/mile, it’s a short walk from all of the three attractions I have mentioned above (Prado Museum is literally behind it) as well as the other two museums in what is known as Madrid’s Avenue of Art – the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum,. Other nearby attractions include Madrid’s main street Gran Via, the architecturally unique Atocha train station, and the Royal Palace of Madrid.

Getting There: I travelled to Madrid from London courtesy of Easyjet, who fly to Madrid from Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London Gatwick and Luton airports, with prices starting from £27.49 per person (one-way, including taxes based on two people on the same booking). All bookings can be made at www.easyjet.com

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