There is nothing I love more than to discover a new place but I’ve also discovered that returning to the familiar is sometimes wonderful. After all, NYC is one of those places that triggers “new love” like symptoms in me every time I touchdown on JFK’s grounds. I visited Madrid for the first time last year and when people asked me what I thought of it, I said it was a beautiful city but that I probably wouldn’t return. It’s ironic to be back just 16 months later and this time, maybe because I’ve had a chance to see more of Spain, I have fallen in love with the city. In fact, I think I could live here.
Madrid is completely unidentical to Barcelona and Valencia in every way. You feel wealth, sophistication and history wherever you go. It is a very grandiose city with its intricate imposing facades, scattered fountains, wide avenues and incredibly lush and well-kept streets. It is also oozing with culture..so many museums, theaters, concerts and shows constantly. Still, the hospitality and friendliness of the Madrilenos makes it an unintimidating and easy place to blend in. I am a big city girl. I thrive on the energy and buzz of busy cities. That might be one of the reasons I felt so comfortable here. The madness is counter balanced by the beautiful and huuuge Retiro park which made me feel like I was in Central Park..row boats in the lake, fall colors on the trees, cyclists and runners everywhere *sigh*.. So beautiful. Unfortunately the paradox of all this visual wealth is in the poverty level which is quite pronounced in this city. The hardship is everywhere by way of street performers, beggars and the like. We also witnessed a demonstration while there although we were oblivious to its scale until we saw it make the 9pm news that same night! Thousands of locals took to the streets to protest the increasing spending cuts and unemployment levels. It seems the police was well prepared to take down this huge throng of people as the demonstration rapidly morphed into a crazy riot forcing police to beat a few people down and shoot rubber bullets to calm the situation! I don’t believe in violence and so I personally struggle to comprehend how such a reaction could provide any calm or reassurance to these poor people whose country has hit an unemployment level of 25.1%! The highest in the EU year to date June 2012. *sigh* Governments are the same the world over.
There is so much to see in Madrid and somehow having been here once before eased things for all of us as gauging distances and determining directions became far easier. Our first day in Madrid was beautiful and really felt like Fall, my favorite season. A crisp wind blew, refreshing our senses and prompting us to bundle up in jackets and scarves as yellow and orange leaves fell around us. We visited the Palace Palacio de Cristal and the Palacio de Velazquez in the heart of the stunning Retiro Park. We also ambled through the Real Jardin Botanico, just behind the Prado Museum where we enjoyed exploring the different flora, seasonal fruits and trees. My family was not interested in doing any museums and given I had tackled them with full force last May, I gladly complied.
The following day we visited the old area of Madrid, home of the royal palace (Palacio Real), ruin’s from Madrid’s Muslim wall and the beautiful San Francisco El Grande basilica. The temperatures dropped significantly but we braved the whipping cold winds and frequent showers to milk the city for all it had to offer. By the time the floodgates in the sky opened up and I say that quite literally (it rained like there was no tomorrow!) we had already seen all there was to see of the city and hid in the comfort of a mall just outside Madrid all in due time for the release of the new iPhone 5, which I had been very eagerly awaiting! It was released in the US, France and a few other large countries on September 21st and in the rest of the world including Spain on September 28th. Fortunately after the long, impatient wait, I got it and so Madrid and our European adventure ended on a very happy note!
One thing’s for sure, the Spanish are pleasure loving people who know how to have a good time. Shops open from 10am to 10pm and even after 10pm the streets are buzzing and it feels like its 6pm. Our hotel was so well located near Sol, the heart of the city and most nights it felt like a carnival there. Several street performing bands playing local music, the sound of trumpets blaring from another performer down the square while another guy blew huge bubbles that floated in the air looking like a UFO.
I love the Spanish culture and I really love Madrid. If asked whether I would return, I think my answer this time around will be a resounding YES! Don’t miss this city, its beautiful!