Mad, Mad, Madrid

Used to be the center of the world during the colonial era, it’s hard not to see grandeur in Spain. And its capital does not fall short. As a native of its former distant colony, I instantly felt a lot of connection when I set foot in Madrid. Just look at how this palace welcomes you right smack in the middle of a busy boulevard:

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Less is really talked about regarding Madrid except for the fact that it is home to the liveliest people in the planet. A generally timid person like me has no place in this city filled with people who never run out of things to say. I’m kind of thankful then that my mother used to not allow me to switch the channel during her favourite telenovelas when I was small. Spanish now sounded to me as a really sexy language so I don’t mind their loud conversations. Besides, we have adopted plenty of Spanish words in our native language so finally hearing and knowing about their origin is kind of a eureka, mind-effing sensation.

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But anyway, what I really love about Madrid are the green spaces. So far it is one of the few capital cities without a big port, bay, or river to thaw the urban hustle (well there is one river, but it looks like a canal and doesn’t cut through the center so it doesn’t really count). In the words of my Spanish friend, it is a [insert Spanish expletive here] desert but it doesn’t stop the city from growing yards of greenery to cushion the backs of sprawling Spaniards on a relaxing afternoon siesta. The gardens of Buen Retiro is famous for this. The name actually suggests that it is indeed made for siesta. Who wouldn’t want to lie down in this paradise:

Even building walls and train stations are not immune from the greenery. Just look at this oasis of tropical plants at the Atocha station. Mind you, there is a good population of turtles living in there. Yes, real, probably Spanish-speaking turtles… in siesta.

Also, Madrid is a very dynamic city. I guess the beauty of Madrid lies in the fact that it does not preserve a single type of architecture and design unlike most European capitals. You have the Palacio Real that can be easily mistaken for Versailles, somewhat channelling French baroque just right in front of a neo-classical Almudena Cathedral. The rest of the buildings seem to assume every level of influence from said architectural designs. But then you see sprouting modern installations here and there including post modern embellishments which gives it a fun and quirky edge.

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And speaking of fun, parties are also… well, you can’t talk about Spain without it. Fiestas and sangria are in the very core of a true Spaniard. These people are crazy! They eat dinner really late and they party until sunrise. La Latina is a good place to start. With strips and small streets featuring bars and tapa joints ready to serve hungry party-goers late at night. The only problem is, well, they don’t speak English. Like, at all! Maybe you can meet one or two who can say at least the words “left” and “right” to help you out with directions, but Godspeed to you. But hey, most of the time, they are not rude. They are actually quite helpful and friendly. Of course, you can’t force people to speak a language they don’t use everyday. But really, all you need is a night of exposure to Madrid night life and you’d feel that you don’t need Spanish at all to get by. Just a glass of a dizzying cocktail or a jug of beer and you are good to go. “Sangria or cerveza (beer)” and “aseos (restroom)”, that’s practically all you need. LOL.  You will leave probably having sufficient vocabulary to show off some Spanish after you leave Madrid (not only with hangover, that is). It is really a fun city and one that you will remember just for the people alone. No doubt about that.

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