I remember clearly how I arrived in Madrid.
It was nearly lunchtime, and as the train from Sevilla was approaching Madrid’s Atocha station, when the music station I was listening to started playing the strains of some grandiose classical music—I felt I was I was Alexander the Great arriving in one of his conquests. Madrid was a city I’ve been looking forward to conquering.
Lonely Planet compared Madrid to a Catholic schoolgirl who grew up to be a sophisticated young woman, and I can see why. Madrid is tempered compared to the modernisme of Barcelona or the grit of Sevilla. What it does have is a lot of grandeur in its architecture and urban cosmopolitanism that keeps the city awake well into the wee hours of the morning.
My Madrid is a city best explored by foot and by the Metro. There is the Palacio Real (whose best part is definitely the Royal Armory) and opposite it, the Catedral de Almudena. Nearby, there is the madness of Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor—its tourists, street performers, and lottery peddlers.
There is the museum triangle, with all the treasures of the Museo Nacional del Prado (Velasquez’s Las Meninas was definitely the highlight, as well as a version of the Mona Lisa that is believed to be painted by a student of Leonardo da Vinci the same time the master was making his masterpiece), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Picasso’s Guernica is the highlight, but lovers of contemporary art will also be enchanted by the museum’s top-floor collections), and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (which has works by Caravaggio, van Gogh, Cezanne, and Monet—but my favorites were its pieces of Georgia O’Keefe, Roy Lichtenstein, and Piet Mondrian).
Meanwhile, Parque del Retiro provided a respite in the middle of an urban jungle.
My Madridista self was just jumping with delight at each chance to go to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu (and gladly plunked down my euros at the Tienda Bernabeu).
However, the best of Madrid could be found in its bars and cafes, its quaint restaurants, and narrow side streets. There was always something to new to be discovered off the beaten path. My friend’s place in Barrio Salamanca was situated in what I think was the perfect neighborhood in Madrid—near places to eat and shop, with lots of room for exploration. I also found myself in Calle de Colmenares, just off Gran Via and thought, “I’d love to live in a street that carries the family name of my grandparents and great-grandparents.”
Madrid may be tempered, but it did feel like home—something I realized in my brief stay in the city. I have never seen bluer skies. I have understood enough of her beauty. I have made my pilgrimage.
On my last afternoon in the city, I climbed up to the Azotea at the Circulo Bellas Artes, which has amazing views of Edificio Metropolis—iconic of Madrid. I thought to myself, I would be back.
Someone told me I would be back. After all, Madrid is a city that always says, “Hasta luego!”
See you later, Madrid. See you later.