A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure. As always, all opinions are our own
For a city of over three million people Madrid is surprisingly walkable. That was good for us, because we didn’t have a car, and our two days here were meant to be a warm up for our walking tour of the Basque country with VBT.
Another good thing was that our hotel, the NH Paseo del Prado, was right in the heart of the best that the city has to offer. The famous Prado Museum is directly across the street and, just beyond that, the Parque de El Ritiro.
We began our jet lag fueled first day of exploring in what Ernest Hemingway called “the most Spanish of all cities” with a walk in the park. While wandering the tree lined paths we came upon the Palacio de Cristal.
Just as the name sounds, this is a glass palace. It was originally a green house in this former royal retreat, but now plays host to an avant-garde art exhibit that includes a sinking Titanic and an upside down Empire State Building.
Exiting the park via the Puerta de Alcalá, a gateway that opens into the Plaza Cibeles, we were blown away by what must be the most spectacular city hall anywhere in the world.
Built as the headquarters for the postal service in 1919, the Palacio de Cibeles now hosts the city council in high style. Hope they appreciate the digs.
From there we headed up Madrid’s main thoroughfare, Calle Alcalá, leading to the city’s two main squares, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.
Along the way we took a slight detour down Gran Via, which Hemingway compared to Broadway and Fifth Avenue combined. This is the high end shopping and entertainment strip and certainly looked to live up to its name, the Great Way.
By getting back on the main drag we found the sun, or at least its plaza, Plaza del Sol. This is truly the center of town, actually for all of Spain, since it is where the mile markers begin for all of the roads across the country.
It is also known for a statue of a bear and madrono tree, which has been a symbol of Madrid for centuries.
Even though he has appeared on the city’s coat of arms since the early twelve hundreds, we couldn’t find a definitive answer as to why, or what the bear represents.
Just off the square we noticed a churreria and recalled our daughter, Decibel, describing the phenomenal churros she found on her trip to Madrid several years ago. That was more than enough motivation for us.
Unlike the ultra-sweet, donutesque versions we are used to, these are lightly fried crispy bread with almost no sugar. A cup of melted semisweet chocolate is served alongside for dipping and the result is subtle, yet out of this world.
Since we already got started on the snacking, we decided to take a Tapas break, as well as a break from the afternoon heat. We had noticed that many places have water misting over the outside seating and it felt heavenly to escape the hot Spanish sun.