Madrid … the Spanish word for ‘chic’

Before travelling to Madrid back in March, I asked some of my friends who had themselves visited the Spanish capital, what they had thought of it. Feelings were mixed, but nearly all either began or ended their reminisces with the line: “It’s not Barcelona”.

Indeed, Madrid is not Barcelona. It has a beauty and charm of its own, very different to its Catalan counterpart, but equally as alluring.

Madrid feels more cosmopolitan than Barcelona, as busy as Central London but pleasantly more laid back … and in many respects friendlier and cleaner. The Gran Via which is the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street is constantly bustling with shoppers (and on my last day, with protesters. See Madrid … and how to survive a Spanish General strike to learn more about that day). Unlike Oxford Street however, Madridians casually stroll along window-shopping, respectful of other shoppers around them. There was no rushing around, pushing about nor tutting at the person ahead slowing one down because that person dares to walk rather than run.

As well as all the major retail stores, cinemas and theatres, the Gran Via also hosts some of the most stunning architecture found in the city. Again, unlike London where a terrace of beautiful Georgian town-houses will no doubt be spoilt by a hideous Post-War concrete tower block bearing down over it, every building along the Gran Via (and beyond) was a delight to the eyes. The Gran Via showcases a mixture of those architectural styles like Art Nouveau that will forever remain timeless and eternally chic.

Arguably the most stunning building along the Gran Via – the Metropolis Building (alas, minus any halos of electricity pulsing up and down its length)

Everyday businesses and services vital in keeping the city running – but not renowned for their sex-appeal – wallow in Madridian cool by taking up residence in these desirable buildings. It was no surprise then to find the local Post Office housed in a building like this:

The Palacio de Comunicaciones (Communications Palace). My local Post Office in Madrid

… and not one like this:

My local Post Office in London

One business that is doing its best to set up home in as many of these buildings as possible is the Spanish department chain El Corte Ingles. Standing in the extremely busy Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and looking up Calle del Preciados, I counted four separate branches of the said department store.

Calle del Preciados, sponsored by El Corte Ingles (the fourth branch is located in the reddish tower block)

Another business that can be found in every plaza, boulevard, and any other area in the city with a good tourist foot-fall is the business of mime-acting. There were mime acts absolutely everywhere! Every conceivable character and persona was represented – coal miners, Generals, Cookie Monsters, even the Devil himself – performing in elaborate costumes, professionally applied make-up and a beggar’s cup by their side. Some however didn’t quite go to the same effort as others, opting to just throw anything on regardless of how it looked.

A Christmas tree topped with a rather dubious looking fairy in Plaza Mayor? Or a ram dressed in one of Joseph’s coats?

I’m sure I’ve seen him before dancing about in ‘The Wicker Man’

Interesting specimens of wildlife (if that’s what they were), but the most famous wild beast in Madrid must be the city’s cherished mascot: the rather lovely strawberry-tree-nuzzling bear, a statue of which can be found in Puerta del Sol:

Are Madridians sure that’s a strawberry tree and not just a large floret of broccoli (and an extremely small bear)?

Another statue that caught my eye was this stunning example topping a high-rise building near the Plaza de Espana. He looked rather angry, ready to throw that weight down on top of everyone below.

Watch out below!

Ooo he looks cross!

Madrid has some of the finest museums in the world, and I was lucky to catch the very last week of the Russian Hermitage exhibition at the world renowned Museo del Prado. Kees van Dongen’s elegant Woman in a Black Hat won my affections, probably because the model holds an uncanny resemblance to my mother … and that hat is rather fabulous.


Kees van Dongen’s Woman in a Black Hat … alas not the original but a Euro print I bought in the Museo del Prado shop after seeing the original in the Hermitage Madrid 2012 exhibition. It now hangs with pride in my home (the print, not the original)

The exhibition at this museum (below) however, was hardly in the same league:

Not one for Vegetarian museum lovers … but the cafe is great!

I don’t usually recommend restaurants on this site, but there was one eatery in Madrid that I felt deserved to be the exception to this rule, not so much for the quality of its menu, but for its sheer resourcefulness:

Surprisingly, that loaf still looks good enough to eat

A truly stunning, beautiful city.


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