This was our first full day in the bustling metropolitan city of Madrid, the capital city of Spain. The city of Madrid has a population of around 3.5 million people while the entire metropolitan area has nearly 7 million inhabitants. Madrid is the second largest city in all of the European Union just slightly smaller than Berlin. While the city has a modern infrastructure, it has preserved many of its historical neighborhoods and landmarks.
We ventured out from our hotel where we explored both the major shopping avenues and many small narrow neighborhood streets. It was a Saturday morning but the streets were bustling with many people out shopping, going to the theater and parks. The main avenue has wide sidewalks but there were so many people it was often difficult to walk without slowing down or going weaving in and out of the crowd. Along the way we found both homeless people and buskers wearing very oversized costumes of animals like pandas and Koala where you could tip them to get a photo with them.
On this day there was also an enormous protest down the main street where local retirees were demanding higher retirement earnings so they could live a decent life without struggle. The protest included one contingent after another with colorful banners, flags and noise making horns. There seemed to be no sight in end to the number of people involved in the protest.
The hotel concierge said that we should also check out the Chueca neighborhood as it was an artsy neighborhood. When we arrived there we soon realized that it was Madrid’s gay neighborhood named after composer and author Federico Chueca. The Chueca neighborhood is known for its lively atmosphere, many street cafes and boutique shops. It is also considered a very inclusive neighborhood regardless of one’s sexual orientation. During gay pride every year the neighborhood features famous and not so famous gay artists’ works.
Everywhere we went in the center of Madrid the streets are filled with beautiful vintage buildings with ornate architecture. Many of the historic buildings in Madrid were built during the reign of the Hapsburgs (Reigned from 1516 to 1700) using brick facades with ornate interiors, but the most common buildings today are from the late 19th-Century when the city expanded dramatically. These buildings line many of the streets are around eight stories tall, butted up side by side with plaster facades, ornate ornamentation and many balustrades. The streets and buildings are very regal and elegant looking.
Back at our hotel we enjoyed a bite of lunch in the private lobby area called The Level which we are able to use based on our hotel room status. They had a huge selection of tasty looking tapas treats to choose from and we indulged in a few too many. A tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and can be served hot or cold. According to the Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusia (Southern Spain) taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. The measure was used to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. Ham and chorizo were the most common meat used which are both very salty and would also activate the thirst. Because of this tavern owners would serve the snacks with the sherry and increase their alcohol sales.
Our dear friends Ric and Kevin arrived this afternoon from Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. We are looking forward to catching up with them and spending the next two weeks together exploring Spain and Portugal. Another friend, Carlos, was unable to join us as his father is quite ill and he had to travel to San Antonio, Texas to be with his family. We will miss him, but are wishing him all the best at this difficult time.
This evening we met up with the rest of the Vantage Travel group for an orientation and to meet our tour group leader Patricia and the concierge for our trip named Lidia. There are about 100 of us on the trip and mostly retired looking. The orientation was too quick and not clear enough for people to understand.
After the orientation we enjoyed a delicious dinner in the Melia Hotel’s dining room. They served us an avocado and shrimp salad for starters followed by a beef tenderloin with potatoes, stewed whole tomato and asparagus. For dessert they served a chocolate cake from a miniature Bundt pan with chocolate pudding inside the ring.