About a week after arriving in London, Dan was on the net looking for last minute holiday deals. He found a really good one through British Airways to Madrid (which was great, because he’d been wanting to visit Spain while we were here). So we decided to celebrate the 4th of July weekend in España!
After an uneventful flight on Iberia to Madrid (which had Dan freaking out in excitement because everything was in Spanish) and getting our hands on some euros, we finally settled in at our hotel. Which, since we have a flat share here in London, it was really great to have our own space for two days. We miss that hotel. A lot.
Here’s a look at the things we did:
El Palacio Real
Let us just say: Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are both beautiful … but they’ve got nothing on the Spanish.
The place is HUGE. Luckily, there were no state activities going on so we could go through it (and we got there early enough that we beat the tour buses!). The palace is absolutely breathtaking inside. Everything was so detailed. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live there. The tour also gave us the chance to see a bit more about the Spanish Empire and monarchy. While the Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, it is only used for state occasions; the current Royal Family has decided to live in a more “modest” palace on the outskirts of Madrid.
La Plaza Mayor
Following El Palacio we explored Madrid’s streets and worked our way to the Plaza Mayor. A lot of it was under construction, so honestly, it was a bit of a letdown. The architecture was really pretty, though. There were also randomly some characters to see: Winnie the Pooh, Kermit the Frog, and an overweight Spiderman.
Madrid is home to some of the best art collections in the world and has three major art museums, but we only had time for one, so we went to the biggest: El Museo del Prado.
It’s a big museum and we tried to do it all in like 3 hours. Insane. We know. The museum is home to multiple masterpieces including several paintings by Goya. Our favorite paintings in the museum were two by him: The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808.
What is interesting is to see them next to each other. In the first you see the Madrileños attacking the French soldiers who had taken over their city. In the second you see the French soldiers taking vengeance on the Madrileños the next day. What was really interesting about these paintings was that, even though they were painted by Goya, who is Spanish, they weren’t biased towards the Spanish. They just show the natural reaction human beings have towards fear and attack, no matter what side they’re fighting on.
El Parque del Buen Retiro
We loved eating gelato in and exploring El Parque del Buen Retiro (even though it was hot and we were tired). It was beautiful. Statues, green spaces, little cafes, fountains, a pond, and all these paths named after Latin American countries.
Museo de America
We had time to visit El Museo de America. It’s in this really pretty part of the city near the campus of a university (the area around the museum actually reminded us a lot of the south hills and stairs of BYU’s campus). The Spanish were obsessed with the American continent after Columbus’s discovery. The museum is basically a testament to that, with artifacts from and historical insights into the civilizations of the ancient Americas. We made this observation: through all the schooling we went through, we didn’t really touch on the history of the ancient Americans. Perhaps it comes from our connection with British Empire and not the Spanish.
We of course ate some good food while we were in Madrid. While looking around this giant tapas bar we found this woman selling spanish empanadas (“empanadillas”). We got churros con chocolate at this old chocolateria (we were in heaven!). Oh, and don’t worry, we celebrated the 4th of July by eating Burger King at the Madrid Airport 🙂
Some Final Thoughts:
We loved Madrid. It would’ve been nice to stay a little bit longer and take a day trip up to Toledo and explore some other sights in the area. We have been spoiled here in London, though. Most of the major museums here are free. In Madrid, they’re not. But lucky for us we have both BYU student IDs and international student IDs. Those got us student discounts and even free admission at several of the places we went. It also helped that the euro and the US dollar were almost exactly equal the weekend we went.
What was interesting about Madrid is that it didn’t feel as fast as London. The city definitely had more relaxed, “Spanish” vibe; something that Dan said felt familiar from Chile. People weren’t rushing around as quickly. The morning streets seemed a lot quieter (Madrid is known for its nightlife) and even the metro didn’t seem to move as fast as the tube. We also realized that we love Spanish architecture. A lot. We could wander those beautiful streets for hours.
The weekend also came with this realization: Yes, we are in London doing lots of cool things. But the fact is that for this summer we live here. Dan goes to an internship. Syd works 40-hours a week for her US company. So it was surprising to feel how Madrid was like a weekend vacation.
Perhaps the funniest part of the trip, though, was after we got back. We were walking out of the tube station and someone said something to Dan and handed him a flyer. Without realizing he responded to them in Spanish. Let’s just say it took him a couple hours to get out of the Spanish mode.
One more side note: British Airways is super nice, unlike some airlines (we’re looking at you, American). For our two-hour flight from Madrid to Heathrow we got a chicken & bacon sandwich roll, a sweet roll with raspberry filling, AND complimentary drinks.