Madrid, an imperial city designed for exploration

Madrid, like much of Spain, is a city where life is lived outside. Whatever time of day or night there seems to be human energy surging through the city: people pack the streets, crowd plazas or stroll around the parks. It’s one of the things I like most about the city. Life is everywhere. The weather helps, and when we were there the sun shone from clear blue skies, temperatures soared and people headed to public spaces to enjoy it. That isn’t always the case, we were once here when the temperatures were barely above freezing and the rain in Spain wasn’t mainly on the plain.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

The spring weather was perfect for getting onto the streets and just wandering. One of our group (of two) had a birthday so we made our way to the Plaza Mayor for a café con leche and some light people watching, while waiting for the nearby Mercado de San Miguel to open its doors. This wonderful old wrought iron and glass produce market was little more than a wreck the last time I was in Madrid, now it has been renovated and houses more than thirty high quality tapas bars. It can be a bit touristy, but the food, drink and atmosphere are perfect.

We sampled a ‘birthday’ glass of delicious amontillado with some boquerones and jamon serrano, while telling ourselves that in Spain having a glass of sherry at this time of day was nothing unusual. We decided we were just blending in, culturally speaking, so we decided to try an oloroso as well. Also delicious. This type of foodie marketplace seems quite fashionable in Madrid. Just up the road from where we were staying in Chueca is Mercado San Antón, larger and not quite so upmarket, it still has delicious food and a good atmosphere.

Window display, Madrid, Spain

Window display, Madrid, Spain

Musicians, Madrid, Spain

Musicians, Madrid, Spain

We could have stayed in Mercado de San Miguel for hours but Madrid needed exploring. We wandered aimlessly through La Latina, a barrio that is full of life and stuffed with fabulous tapas bars, before making our way over to the Royal Palace. We were going to visit but there were just too many people, most of them with selfie sticks, so we moved on. Taking this as a sign that most of Madrid’s big attractions would be equally busy, we meandered our way through Justicia and Almagro barrios to the Museo Sorolla.

The museum showcases the work of artist Joaquín Sorolla, famed for his exquisite paintings of typical Spanish scenes, people and landscapes. The added benefit of a visit is that the collection is housed in Sorolla’s beautiful former home, and you can see his work in situ inside his studio. Sorolla came from Valencia and it’s his extraordinary ability to capture the light along the Mediterranean coast that sets his work apart. Well worth a visit.

Central Madrid is relatively compact and easy to explore on foot, especially if you have regular tapas breaks to keep your energy up. By the time we reached the Plaza Santa Ana – more people watching in front of the ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel where famous bull fighters stay, and a vermouth in Hemingway’s favourite bar – and made our way over to the area around Lavapiés, it was time to stop walking and do some serious eating. Luckily this area is packed with tapas bars and restaurants, and time passes quickly when you’re having fun.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

We returned to the hotel late, tired but victorious. The streets were still full of people enjoying themselves, but we needed to rest. In the morning, we’d just have time for breakfast before heading to the airport and back to the Netherlands, our Spanish road trip complete.

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