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We’re Madrid people (not Barcelona people) – it’s a great city that feels just right when you visit. I’d recommend spending at least 3-4 days in the city, and doing one museum a day, rather than packing them all in and risking brain overload. 

I’ve noticed over the years that people generally have a strong preference for Madrid or Barcelona. I’m definitely in the Madrid camp. The city is organized, easy to explore (really good public transportation system), and full of interesting people. 

These notes are aging, time for another trip!

Hotels:

  • *ME Madrid Reina Victoria: Didn’t like this hotel much. Good location, overly hip and not particularly clean.

Shopping:

  • ***Sargadelos Gallery (ceramics) – LOVE this. There are other locations, and it’s worth seeking them out.

Sites:

  • **Lazarro Museum (open 10-4:30): charming and odd. The guy was a major collector of all sorts of interesting things, from guns to jewelry to fabric. The Museum of Lázaro Galdiano (Spanish: Museo Lázaro Galdiano) is a museum located in Madrid, Spain. It houses the art collection of José Lázaro Galdiano. The building was constructed in 1903 as the residence of Lázaro Galdiano and his wife. 
  • **Biblioteca National – quite grand, free exhibits. Content is hit and miss, but really worth it if you like the subject matter. 
  • **Catedral de la Almudena: the new Cathedral, don’t miss it. The building itself is fairly traditional in style, with clean lines and white stone. The ceiling and apse are an explosion of color – all primaries, very modern design.
  • **Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida (Goya’s grave, church) – open 8:30-1 and 4-8:30: mildly interesting, worthwhile if you’re in the area. 
  • ***Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – so good! Really worth it, very digestible and a wonderful collection. Worth traveling for. It covers art from about 1600 to the present (earlier work from the collection is at the MNAC in Barcelona) and includes more than 800 paintings. The collection is arranged in such a way that it’s possible to see the development of numerous art styles. The audio guide explains why changes occurred, and also goes into considerable depth about the contributions and talents of individual artists.
  • ***The Reina Sofia Museum: I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that I only liked 2 sculptures and 3 paintings out of the entire collection. Odd. I can’t quite put my finger on why it was still a good experience – maybe the setting? The lighting was great, and the crowds were minimal. 
  • **The Palacio Real: If you’re into palaces, it’s a painless one to visit, and is quite attractive (claims to be the third best in Europe, after Versailles and the Schonbrunn in Vienna). The crowds were nothing like those I battled at Versailles. 
  • ***The Prado: overwhelming in size (here’s a staggering fact for you: the Prado only has room to display about 1,700 of the 19,000 plus works in its collection. Plans are underway to make a space large enough for it all). The Prado is much more specific in scope and artists (I think there were 8 rooms devoted to El Greco, for example), and much more crowded. If forced to choose, I’d definitely say that the Thyssen collection is better, but why choose? Any trip to Madrid is worth seeing both. 

Food:

  • Tapas crawl for dinner (late) – ***Cava Baja Street. This was fun! From the NY Times: The visitor who happens upon Madrid’s Cava Baja on a weekend evening could be forgiven for thinking a public celebration of the sort that accompanies World Cup championships or overturned dictatorships was under way. In fact, for the joyous hordes of young people who stroll its length while flirting, singing, smoking and occasionally stopping into a bar for a drink or a snack, it is just another Saturday night. Cava Baja is ground zero for that most Spanish of rituals, the tapeo. The street has a long history of hospitality. Located on what was, centuries ago, the edge of the city, it used to house inns that would fill with traveling merchants. A stroll that starts at the street’s northern end, called Puerta Cerrada (for the gate in the city walls that used to be locked at night), quickly takes you to two of those inns, recently redone as funky hotels fronted by modern tapas bars.
  • ***El Club Allard – Excellent meal, very elegant setting, pleasant service, creative and delicious food. 10 course tasting menu. As its name indicates, this one-Michelin-starred restaurant was once a private club and it still retains something of its exclusive air. Diego Guerrero’s unique cooking refines Basque roots into an ethereal lightness of touch: smoked salmon in aspic with Mojito-and-cauliflower air, ravioli of Tolosa beans with cabbage infusion, wild turbot with spring onion and basil aroma. The service is as creakily antique (note the white gloves) as the food is up to date. Calle de Ferraz 2 (00 34 91 559 0939; www.elcluballard.com). Ten-dish tasting menu from €148 for two.
  • **Taberna Angel Sierra: one of the oldest surviving pubs, on a lovely little square that’s perfect for lunch.

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