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.
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:
… and not one like this:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The exhibition at this museum (below) however, was hardly in the same league:
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:
A truly stunning, beautiful city.