Ernest Hemingway has called Madrid “the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people, month in, month out the finest climate.” I had the opportunity to recently spend six days in Madrid and can appreciate Hemingway’s love affair with this beautiful city.
Friends told me that six days in Madrid was too long – why not visit Barcelona or Seville, Madrid is just another big city. There are many reasons to visit Madrid but for me it is its “art” — in so many forms.
Art is a theme in Madrid not just because of its many art-filled museums and impressive architecture, but also because of its vibrant colors and style that are manifested in so many ways. The skies in Madrid are an amazing blue, its people wear striking colors unlike the muted colors one so often sees in a city like New York or London, and the city’s many restaurants present food in such a way that even the artichokes and seafood look like works of art.
My mornings in Madrid typically started with a strong cup of Americano coffee often complemented with a flaky cream-filled pastry. A chain in Madrid serving wonderful desserts and coffee and frequented by the locals is La Mallorquina (Spanish for The Woman from Mallorca and around since the mid-1800s). Regardless of one’s Spanish limitations, the staff greets you with a smile as you try to explain in English which pastry you’d like that morning or evening. As their slogan reads, “every hour is pastry hour in Madrid.”
It’s best to have an unplanned itinerary in Madrid because there are always interesting ways to spend your time. But no trip is complete without spending a few hours (or possibly days) in the Prado. For impressionist lovers, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is a must. The museum’s benefactors, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife, Carmen, donated works of art from their private collection that includes Fragonards, Courbets, Monets, Renoirs, Gauguins, Rodins, and Picassos, among others. It is an extraordinary collection and to my delight included paintings from the Hudson River School.
The impressionist theme of the Thyssen is apparent in a current exhibit titled “The Impressionists and Photography.” The exhibition’s nine themed sections – the forest, figures in the landscape, water, the countryside, monuments, the city, portraits, the body (as in human) and archives – show the connection between early photography and impressionism. As it was a local holiday in Spain, school children were there in large numbers and seemed just as impressed with the collections as I was.
But six days is hardly enough to take in the art scene in Madrid. Having one or two “art days” gave me just a taste of the many treasures housed in its multiple museums.
Art can also be found in the architecture of Madrid and it lends itself to great imagination. I found myself taking in the plazas and squares and wondering what it must have been like being a part of the activity that took place there so many years ago. The Plaza Mayor is the heart of Old Madrid. Standing in the center of this huge, cobblestone square, one imagines the bullfights and the cheering crowds.
Take any saluda (exit) from Plaza Mayor and you will end up on a street filled with tapas bars and for chocolate lovers, Chocolateria San Gimes. I indulged in a “small” cup of chocolate accompanied by its famous churros, a stick -shaped version of a donut. Children and senior citizens alike can be found enjoying this rich treat so ubiquitous in Madrid.
Fashion too makes a statement. Whether walking down Calle de Serrano or Calle Tesoro, Madrid’s citizens take great pride in their appearance. Regardless of age and socio-economic status, stylish scarves, glasses, boots and sneakers are de riguer. Small children, just like their parents, can be seen wearing colorful scarves and designer sneakers.
Eating also brings out the artist among Madrid’s chefs and in its kitchens. The city is a foodie’s delight and I tried to do justice to it. I indulged in wonderful green olives, great olive oil, cream-filled croquettes, artichokes, Spanish omelets, and, of course, the seafood. Even though Madrid is land-locked, fresh seafood abounds. My favorite seafood experience was at a tapas bar/restaurant Lobito De Mar, where I had incredible monkfish, head intact!. The fresh salads at Ten Con Ten, a popular Madrid eatery with a large contingent of South Americans, look like an artist’s palette. And full disclosure: I love potato chips and nearly every tapas bar I visited served potato chips as their snack of choice.
Madrid has a demeanor that reminds me of Paris. It is both sophisticated and romantic. The beautiful park in Madrid’s center, Retiro Park, has fountains, statutes, a lake and lots of places for photo opportunities for couples obviously enjoying their time together.
I came to understand why Hemingway loved this “most Spanish” of cities. Its beauty and art are seen in so many places and in so many ways. But, most of all, I recommend Madrid because for six glorious days I forgot about impeachment inquiries, Brexit, homelessness in our neighborhoods, and yes, political correctness. Leather is fashionable and foie gras is served in restaurants throughout the city. Viva Madrid!
Photos by Robin Weaver
Top: Retiro Park