A month and a half into my study abroad experience, I have begun to take a bunch of pieces of paper down from my wall of things to do. I decided to take an inventory of the things I have thus far accomplished, what I liked or didn’t like, what I would like to see again or things I actually wrote down as wanting to see but now I see on a consistent basis. Just in case you ever come to Madrid, or if you are wondering what I do with all of my free time…
– Palacio Real de Madrid – the imposing colossal structure of the Palacio Real dominates the Madrid skyline, if viewed from the direction of the Manzares River and the Casa de Campo. Besides providing a visually appealing exterior, the Palacio Real also has a series of rooms open for viewing which showcase excellent fresco paintings, intricate designs on the ceilings, and sculptures. Not to mention the view from the courtyard over the rest of the Madrid valley is breathtaking. I would definitely visit here again because one time through was not enough to fully absorb the complexity of the rooms decorations.
– Retiro Park – Madrid’s most popular park is exactly like Central Park in New York, with different types of plants and wildlife. There are many trails that make their way through the park dotted with gardens, fountains, and statues. I often go on runs here, to get around the perimeter takes about 30 minutes. Although a nice park, it still can’t compare to seeing the beautiful homes, birds, lakes, and greens of Audubon in New Orleans because it is surrounded by high-rise buildings and traffic. Yet, for the city, it is a nice escape, if you go all the way to the center, it gets almost quite…
– Templo de Debod – I was really expecting more. This tiny little temple which was a gift from Egypt did not really live up to expectations. Although ancient, it isn’t all that impressive to see, especially when from the terrace 200 meters away, one is awarded with a spectacular view of the Palacio Real and Almudena Cathedral. Disappointing.
– Castillo Manzares el Real – This is the artfully restored castle which I visited when Joey was here, and I am glad we made the day trip to check it out. Although not huge, it is still a beautiful old castle situated in an ideal location along the Manzares river valley. The views from the top-level of the town and the river are stunning, no wonder why we idealize castles, they are all really huge mansions with gorgeous views! The town of Manzares el Real was charming as well, and well worth the trip.
– Reina Sofia Museum – So I must say modern art just really isn’t my thing. The museum is worth a visit only if you are able to enjoy modern art or if you are bored with Madrid’s other attractions. It certainly requires some thinking in order to discern the meaning behind the strange pieces of modern art. My main conclusion from the day was that Picasso and Dali were no geniuses, they used the feminine form as a guideline, and were extremely sexist. Great lesson.
– El Botin Restaurant – Although the food here at the oldest restaurant in the world may be a little over rated, let me assure you that both the sangria and the desert are to die for. I think if I went back, it would be just for drinks and dessert. The roast suckling pig and lamb were both tasty, but rather heavy, and not served with veggies, just more carbs. The dessert of strawberries with cream and caramel plus chocolate layer cake was mouth-watering… I’m pretty sure Joey only pretended to share it with me & I ate the whole thing…
– Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial – This monstrosity of a monasterio is basically the only thing worth seeing in this town. Set up in the mountains, the monastery is the size of a town itself. Ashley & I took a train to go see it, and ended up with our own private tour guide in English who told us a lot about Spanish history and the many leaders who have sought refuge at this place. The Monastery is also where they bury all of the kings in this creepy tomb that looks like a haunted Disney ride. But the cathedral inside the monastery, with its massive dome, was probably the highlight of the visit.
– Casa de Campo – The largest park in Madrid is by far my favorite escape from the city noises, smells, and congestion but is very much underdeveloped. As in, Dear Madrid Government: In the largest park in your city, please install restrooms and water fountains. Sincerely, the hundreds of runners who traverse the trails each day. However much it is nice to take a jog through the Casa de Campo, it is frustrating that once you’re in, you will not find any sort of water station or restroom anywhere. The park would be much more enjoyable if these existed.
– Cafe de Oriente – This cafe is positioned right across from the Palacio Real. As I mentioned earlier, it has the absolute best seafood au gratin I have ever tasted. The outdoor patio affords views of the Plaza Oriente in front of the Palacio, and the restaurant has a regal feeling on the inside as well. I would definitely visit there again.
– The Prado – Much ado is made about this Madrid museum. So much so that it seems to always be crowded. However gorgeous the paintings are inside, the whole thing is a bit overwhelming. I think it could be better organized into smaller rooms, instead huge halls welcome visitors. I also think there should be a limit on how many people can visit at one time, because you simply can’t enjoy the art with people bumping into you every few seconds. Overall, worth the trip, but can’t say that the ambience is anything to take note of.
– Restaurant Casa Ciriaco – Joey & I went to this restaurant close to the Plaza Mayor for an outstanding dinner, quite possibly my most favorite in Madrid so far. The place is unpretentious but serves quality food at reasonable prices. The steak and fish we had simply melted in our mouths, the Rioja wine perfectly complemented the meal, and the soup was a great way to start it. I would love to sample every single thing on this restaurant’s menu; if they were all as good as what we had, I would never need to go anywhere else.
– Shopping the Rastro – The Rastro is Madrid’s flea market, and a visit there on a Sunday morning has been described as a quintessential to a visit to Madrid. Ehh… if you like cheap goods and huge crowds. The market is interesting enough, spread out throughout several streets. My advice would be to go there knowing what you want, not just to shop around, as the crowded environment does not lend itself very well to casual shopping. I can not even imagine what it’s like in the summer.
– Museo del Traje – Madrid’s costume museum is certainly a must see for ladies visiting the city. It’s a fun way to spend an hour or two viewing the clothes worn in Spain from the 16th century. The museum has an impressive collection of time pieces and information about the culture in which the clothes were worn. I found it very fascinating, and admired many of the intricate designs.
– Circulo de Bellas Artes – The Fine Arts Center has some bland exhibits, but the real treat which I visited first with Olivia, and later with Joey is its 8th floor terrace overlooking the city. From there you can see a great view of the city landscape in all directions. It’s worth the 2 Euro to ride to the top of the elevator and be rewarded with some of the best views of Madrid.
For a month & a half, I have been able to knock a good number of things off of my list. I still plan to take down many more to-dos from my wall in the next month in a half though. This next month will be filled primarily with travel… coming up this weekend is a trip to Lisbon, followed by Rome, London, and then southern Spain. March will be my most travelled month besides this summer, but I’ll keep y’all updated about each place I am lucky enough to get to go see.