I cannot write about European countries with the same frankness and interest. They seem too familiar and understandable to find the necessary piquancy in them and generate intrigue.
Indeed: after all, you also travel to the Middle East, Africa, or Iran for history — and it’s a history you don’t know well. Whereas you go to Europe for vacation. Well, honestly, who is interested in the Spanish Civil War and the history of Francisco Franco?
Let’s just go for a walk!
The heart of Madrid is Sol Square and the surrounding historical neighborhoods. The square itself is completely uninteresting. In the morning, it is traditionally littered with piles of garbage.
This is because every night the square turns into a gigantic party with impassable crowds of tourists and colorful neon advertising.
Next to Sol Square, there is another square called Main Square, or Plaza Mayor. And once again, we have an absolutely uninteresting, blunt square in the middle of the city. Even the monument is enclosed by a small fence — how quaint.
In the morning, Main Square also has piles of garbage, and in the evening, it is filled with tourists eating food. However, the square boasts remarkably colorful sunsets.
In Madrid, there are a few more squares, but from these two, it’s clear: open spaces are not the strong suit of Spanish cities. That’s why we’ll go explore the streets and alleyways.
And here are the streets in Madrid — divine. Just take a step off Main Square: a slanted house meets a converging alleyway. Bliss.
Madrid is one of the southernmost capitals in Europe. It’s always warm here, and in summer, temperatures easily reach 40 degrees Celsius in the shade. If it weren’t for trees in the city, Spaniards would go mad from the heat and might turn into Moroccans. However, Spaniards remain Spaniards, so the entire city center and residential areas are lined with trees.
Moroccan neighborhoods begin closer to the south of Madrid, and here one can already feel less care and more heat. Long, sinuous streets without a single tree ascend or descend from the hill, disappearing around corners and peeking out from behind turns.
But no city in the world can be spoiled if it is built on a mountainous landscape. The elevation change on a winding street is inherently the most dramatic urban scenery.
Even in the ghetto neighborhoods, Madrid remains itself — vibrant, warm, and cozy. Oh, if only houses in Russia were painted like this... well, no, maybe it’s better not to.
They say somewhere in Madrid, there are really scary African neighborhoods where you can get robbed, and every other gangster sells hashish. Well, I don’t know. Either I didn’t go there, or these neighborhoods are what they are.
In any case, there are indeed many Africans here, and it’s true that every other person offers to smoke hash with them. People still write about it in their blogs as if it’s something bad.
In one such neighborhood, next to a basketball court, a dog park, and a gathering spot for clearly Moroccan teenagers, I sat on one of the benches and carefully arranged my provisions: a piece of Camembert cheese, slices of sausage, a bit of Jamón ibérico, a chunk of watermelon, and a can of Dr. Pepper — and I devoured it all at once, oblivious to everything around me.
It seemed that a few Moroccans approached me with hashish, but I didn’t care: I was already on the verge of overdosing on illicit substances.
Yes, that’s right. Madrid is not perceived in broad strokes; it is beautiful in its details. Royal palaces and majestic cathedrals look alien in Madrid, as if they were brought here from Berlin or Rome and placed wherever possible.
The business districts and modern skyscrapers are unattractive and spoil the overall impression of the city to such an extent that one feels like running away from them.
Although modern architecture itself is not necessarily bad, this American-British style with monstrous semi-circular buildings covered in neon advertising doesn’t suit Madrid at all. Piccadilly Circus and Times Square are better left to London and New York.
In these neighborhoods, everything is filled with the traditions of a metropolis. African people are particularly good, trading various small items illegally and quickly wrapping up all the goods in a cleverly designed elastic sheet at the sight of danger.
This street, Gran Via, passing through the city alongside tall Empire-style buildings, is called the “Spanish Broadway.”
But Madrid doesn’t need its own Broadway — and you also want to escape from it. That’s why a traveler, after gazing at palaces, cathedrals, squares, and broadways, returns to where they started — to narrow alleys. And strolls through them again, scrutinizing the details even more diligently.
The details of Madrid are the true calling card of Spain. What will the traveler see first among the details? The city has the most incredible street signs.
Every street in Madrid named after a person has such a sign, assembled from 9 ceramic tiles with a portrait or drawing, and a caption in a soft antique font. By the way, these signs are quite new and appeared in the city several decades ago, but they look like historical ones.
I wonder, do workers clean the signs from the street or do the residents themselves do it from their balconies? It’s convenient: just extend your hand and wipe off Philip V.
The second noticeable detail is the beautiful sign of the Madrid metro, which resembles the one in London.
The entrance to the metro is also designed like in London and Paris: they place the staircase downwards right in the middle of the sidewalk. It’s beautiful.
But the greatest Spanish delight is the most beautiful balconies in the world, which you can endlessly gaze at.
What can we say about the Spanish balcony from the perspective of an ordinary tourist? It must almost certainly be adorned with greenery.
A balcony cannot be large: at most, you can stick one leg out of the apartment and stand, holding onto the railing.
The balcony must have shutters so that you can close them during the day to protect yourself from the heat.
It’s great if the balcony overlooks a tree — it will be even cooler in the summer, and you can also climb home through the branches directly from the pub.
If there is a sculpture in the house, it is essential to exhibit it on the balcony — let the street transform into a museum of contemporary art.
It is desirable to arrange the houses in such a way that the colors do not repeat and the balconies are at different levels. Having identical balcony designs is unacceptable. And you can only paint the walls with the sunniest paint.
It is very good if the balcony is covered with an awning.
And it is absolutely wonderful if they pour beer under the balcony and serve tapas.
The ultimate dream is an Irish pub with Guinness right under the windows.
I don’t know how it is for those Spaniards whose windows overlook countless promenade alleys. From midday until night, people here eat, drink, and loudly enjoy the lives of thousands of tourists.
Indeed, in Madrid, hardly any street can do without tourists.
And tourists in Spain, believe me, utilize all means of transportation and all methods of making noise.
Where can a simple Spaniard, accustomed to siesta and a fedora hat, go to escape the summer heat and tourist noise?
Oh yes, in Madrid, there are places to relax in the coolness.
The central city park is such a dense thicket that it feels cool here even when it’s +40 in the city. Additionally, in the park, you can see contemporary art and architecture.
In general, it turns out that everything exists in Madrid: palaces, streets, details, and pieces of a metropolis. I don’t even know how to find fault with the Spanish capital.
I would rather give the reader a few pieces of advice. Avoid squares, museums, and palaces — they spoil the overall impression of the city.
Don’t waste your time on the outskirts — instead of cozy courtyards, they build unimaginable horrors there.
Explore the narrow, shady streets of central Madrid, indulge in tapas, and drink sangria.
Go for a walk early in the morning, spend your days sitting by the fountains in parks, and meet in the evenings on the rooftop of the hostel in the old town.
If you follow these rules, it’s impossible not to love Madrid.