We’ve both been to Madrid a couple times before, but it never gets boring for us. It was also nice to be in a place that is familiar to us after so many other stops. My sister-in-law happened to be living there at the time, too, so we wanted to make sure to visit with her (plus she’s great at Spanish). There are a few places we always manage to hit while we're there, like Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Buen Retiro Park (Madrid's Central Park), and Mercado de San Miguel, all of which I would recommend visiting! Also, Atocha, the train station, is beautiful, and be sure to check out the wall of plants nearby!
After landing at the airport, we got onto the Metro (best way to get around) and met up with my sister-in-law and our friend who we visited in the UK - he came to Madrid to spend the weekend with us! We originally had wanted to arrive a day or two later, and spend a couple extra days in London and Paris, but there happened to be a HUGE soccer championship between Real Madrid (winner) and Atlético Madrid, so we arrived the day of the game. Even though the game took place in Milan, Italy, the entire city was alive and partying. We went to Real Madrid’s stadium, drank some cheap Spanish beer, and walked around the area. Some streets were so crowded we could hardly move! Who would have thunk the most crowded part of our trip would be something Nathaniel wanted to do and NOT a Disney park?!? 😂
The game was being broadcast inside the stadium, but we decided to find a bar/restaurant where we could sit and watch the game on TV. This was such a crazy fun experience. It was like the Super Bowl, but the fans are even more excited. Even though I didn’t have any investment in the game, this was a very cool cultural experience (better than the terrible cultural experience from my trip four years ago - a bullfight - I do NOT recommend that).
The next day we visited a couple markets - San Miguel and a new one we’d never been to before called Matadero (also an art center), that my sister-in-law introduced us to. Both had lots of food, but the experiences are completely different. San Miguel is indoors, while Matadero has booths set up outside an old converted slaughterhouse. After eating a bit, we rented bikes from a shop at Matadero, and biked along Río Manzanares, where we saw some cool bridges, beautiful flowers, and a really odd bird.
Later than evening we visited with the family who hosted my sister-in-law while she did a semester abroad four years ago, and enjoyed a lovely dinner with them.
On our third day, Nathaniel's sister took us to Plaza de España and Temple of Debod, which has a beautiful view of the city. We grabbed lunch, and Sandra Oh (Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy) ended up sitting at the table next to us! We let her finish her meal in peace, but as she was leaving we asked for a photo with her, which she politely declined. We also went by a shop called Taste of America where they sell things like Lucky Charms and Crisco - basically all the American brands we take for granted are sold here at crazy prices. 😜
Our next stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid. I couldn’t believe how room after room was so ornately detailed, or that it actually housed royalty at one point! It’s almost overwhelming going from room to room, because of all the intricate details, but I would definitely recommend going! There were also horses and guards outside when we arrived, and the guards were chatting, using their cell phones and goofing off a bit - I thought about the guards at Buckingham Palace who can’t even move, and it’s funny how relaxed the Spanish are in comparison! Right next to the Palace is Almudena Cathedral, which is decorated in a modern Neo-Gothic style. Plus it's free 😉
We took a two day trip to Lisbon (which I will write about soon), and returned to Madrid for another couple days. Once we got back from Portugal, we were staying in Malasaña, a more newly gentrified area in Madrid. Before my sister-in-law finished work, we walked around that neighborhood a bit, and then we were able to get into our Airbnb. While in Portugal, I got the idea that I wanted to find a new purse, so I Googled some leather shops, found a few to explore, but first we decided to go to Mercado de San Miguel for a bite to eat again. Taller Puntera, the first leather shop we decided to visit, was right around the corner from the market, and it ended up being the only stop we had to make! This shop is gorgeous and has lots of purses, messenger bags, wallets, belts, etc. lined up along the walls. All of them are handmade (I had to interrupt someone who was currently making a purse in order to pay!), and very reasonably priced. I paid just €95 for my beautiful bag, which is a good size, and made of beautiful supple leather. If you are into this sort of thing or in the market for a new wallet/purse/belt, I highly recommend this shop!
Afterwards we met up with Nathaniel's sister and walked to Bellas Artes, which has a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the city. They do charge a couple Euro to go up, but the view was well worth it. After this stop, Nathaniel decided to go back to the Airbnb because he was feeling really sick and wanted to try sleeping off the cold he had. I went with my sister-in-law to El Tigre and met a lot of her friends and had a great time! This bar is a super fun one to go to with a group of people, and the drinks are HUGE! That’s where I ended my evening, but I think the rest of them stayed out. I guess I’m getting old and I’m not used to the late night lifestyle that the Spanish lead - they do everything late!
The next morning, Nathaniel was feeling a LOT better! Sometimes you just need to sleep and recover, even if you are on vacation. Once we got going after breakfast, we walked around Plaza del 2 de Mayo, then decided to take the Metro to Retiro and ate some macarons while we relaxed. We looked for an older man who makes big bubbles at the park, mostly for kids, but I really like it too. When we were there in 2012 we unfortunately missed out on an opportunity to take pictures with him, and we were hoping to get lucky this time around, but he was nowhere to be found! We knew that someone with a similar setup hung out at Plaza Mayor sometimes, too, so we decided to go there next. We saw his supplies, but he was missing, so, after waiting for him to return while drinking a beer, we decided to just play with them ourselves!
I had never seen a flamenco show, so, because plans to see The Lion King didn’t work out, we went to Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco. There were two guitarists, two singers, and four dancers (if I’m not mistaken). I had so much fun listening to the intricate rhythms. Flamenco music has different time signatures, interesting vocal style, and gorgeous dancing. I don’t even understand how they can stay on track with each other! If you go to Spain, definitely try to make time for a flamenco show - I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.
Afterwards we went to dinner with one of Nathaniel's sister's friends at a really good seafood restaurant (don't worry, I'll detail the food soon! Sorry I keep mentioning it in this entry!), and then to a Funk and Soul club called Maderfaker to dance. It had a 70s theme and some really strange paintings on the wall, and we had a great time!
The next morning, we had to pack up and go! We had one last breakfast with my sister-in-law in Plaza del 2 de Mayo, and then caught the Metro to the airport for the last little part of our trip in Amsterdam.