Madrid is the city of bears and strawberries.
It’s original name was “Ursaria” which is Latin for “land of bears.” In the surrounding forest bears were plentiful, as were strawberry trees, one of their favorite snacks. Since the Middle Ages, the strawberry tree (madrona in Spanish and it’s not actually strawberries, just red fruit) and the bear were the symbols of the city.
It is also the biggest city I have ever been in. Maybe with actual statistics this is not true, as I have been to New York City. But everything in this city is massively over-sized. Every building seems far larger than a normal city block. All of the roads are six lanes wide, even the roundabouts. It’s a Costco-sized city.
There’s also the biggest museum (the Prado) and the biggest city park (Retiro) that I’ve ever seen. The churches and government buildings are meant for giants, not regular-sized people.
I only allotted 1.5 days in Madrid. I was not that excited to go there; I figured it was going to be too big of a city and I wouldn’t like it. I left a sunny and warm Provence for a gray and rainy Madrid, but, as it turns out, I loved it. I stayed in a charming hotel (couchsurfing AND hostelling failed here) quite close to all the sights and literally surrounded on all sides by an H&M, Mango, Zara, and my new fave store: Sfera. I restricted myself from buying anything, but I did find a wonderful little cafe where I bought a croissant sandwich with avocado and shrimp. So simple, so delicious; which I find to be the case with most foods in Europe.
I could spend days in Madrid just doing architectural tours. The buildings, aside from being massive, are also just beautiful and ornate. Here are some scenes from when I was just walking around:
Puerta de Alcala
Plaza des Cibeles
Catedral de la Almudena
San Jeronimo el Real
The first museum I visited was the Museo Achaeologico Nacional. It was sort of small but fascinating. You just do not see anything like it in the USA (due to lack of history). These are what you assume they are; Greek pottery, Egyptian mummy, ancient gold decoration (I honestly forgot what some of this was).
These are made of shells, tiny tiny shells.
Thank god the Prado Museum does not allow me to take pictures. My camera card would have been full the second day of my trip. Instead, I wrote down some of my favorites, which someday I’ll post about. Seeing “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in person was cool, but I found a lot of other artists I’m interested in too. By the time I got to the second floor of the building (out of 4), it had already been an hour. It’s exhaustingly huge. And since everything closes early on Sunday, my time spent there kinda ruined my plans for the rest of day. I didn’t care though. It was an AMAZING museum.
I also went to Parque del Buen Retiro (also called El Retiro, basically meaning the Lungs of Madrid or so Wikipedia tells me), which is a public park that was previously a retreat for the royal family. Beautiful, beautiful park. To rival the public parks I spent quality time in in Munich.
Palacio de Cristal
That evening, I took a night bus to Lisbon. It was a luxurious bus, until we stopped further down the road and picked up a woman with a crying baby and a man who insisted on talking on his cell phone from 1 AM to 4 AM. To whom? I don’t know. I barely slept.