I promise I’ll talk about other things as well, but I just have to comment on the food first and foremost. Skip ahead if you don’t care about cuisine (I don’t understand you, but I respect it). I love food! I love food. I love it so much, and it breaks my heart to see people not care about it as much as I do. Madrid is the capital of Spanish food (as well as the capital of other stuff, like the country or something), and I was sure not to squander my appetite before arriving. Like Barcelona, you can get any Spanish food as well as any Spanish-conquered food, so there’s half the globe of options. One thing I knew I had to have was arepas: they’re corn cakes loaded with your favorite toppings like plantains, steamed pork, and mole sauce. We found a place near Plaza Mayor (which is a big, historic square with not much actually to it) and downed some nice arepas within seconds. Not sure what these candies were but they were super good and just fun to have.
Tapas were incredible, ranging from octopus and fried calamari (Madrid is pretty far from the coast, but they love seafood) to shredded cow tongue and mojo chicken. I thought the classic churros and chocolate I’d dreamed of included hot, drinkable chocolate, not literal melted chocolate: so when they were out of churros and they looked at me funny for just ordering the latter half, I was given a strange glance and soon realized why.
Do not be like me and try to drink melted chocolate by itself, your stomach and wallet will thank you later.
Now on to normal city highlights. Overall, the city was very vibrant and bustling. Most of the streets are narrow, and the buildings all around you are quite tall, so it feels a little claustrophobic, but also could be cozy. It’s a lot like many European cities in which many roads lead to a big plaza or square, but Madrid is special in that there is ALWAYS someone playing music or dancing in them. It felt like we just followed one music scene to the next, consisting of anything from steampunk jazzy-funk to African drumming circles. Right near Plaza Mayor was a guy playing the accordion to “Despacito,” and both Spaniards and a group of Asian tourists were getting down.
One thing we loved was the amount of parks, and these aren’t some dinky half-dog park half-playground parks. One of the main parks is five times the size of Central Park, and the one we spent the most of our time in (El Retiro) was also incredibly massive and absolutely beautiful. The fall leaves were right at their peak turning colors – lucky for us – and we bicycled all over the place.
On a side note, I would kind of recommend renting bikes in Madrid, but also not- some parts are super hilly and don’t have bike lanes, so if you’re wimpy like us, your day may require a lot of bike-walking. We went to the top of the hill of El Retiro to see the skyline and the Temple de Debod for sunset. For some reason or another the president of Egypt gifted an entire temple to the city of Madrid, so it was deconstructed and rebuilt on the highest point in this beautiful park. I had a weird feeling about it (not a fan of displacing ancient religious structures/objects/most things), but I have to say it was an incredible sight, especially at sunset.
Madrid is a great place that I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in: definitely on my list to go back to though!