The Guidebooks Were Wrong: Madrid Is Full of Charm
We were prepared to be underwhelmed by Madrid.
From all accounts, it was simply a big city that happened to be in Spain. The old town sights were limited—a royal palace and the Prado museum—and they flanked the city with a mere 1 or 2 miles in between them.
Madrid was definitely downplayed.
Yes, there were very few “sights” but even that added to its charm. You didn’t have this feeling that unless you rushed from one place to another you simply could not see everything (like you do in Paris or London). Instead, you strolled. You got lost on winding narrow streets. You saw and noticed small things—a sad dog, an interesting entryway, locals on siesta. We soaked up Madrid’s oozing charm.
It was cold there. It rained. We paid more than we should for quite a few of our first meals there. There were gypsies. Many of the main streets were lined with familiar clothing stores and packed with tourists. The Prado made us feel like herded livestock. Plaza Mayor was packed with third world immigrants dressed as Minnie Mouse or trying to sell you the world’s most annoying noise makers.
Maybe it was the friendly-by-Spain’s-standards bartenders who kept showering us with free tapas. Or sitting in a beautiful old cathedral and watching a quite ticked off old woman make long slow laps around the pews muttering her complaints to whom? God? Maybe it was ducking into a nearly empty bar for bocadillos (sandwiches) and beer and at that very moment the sky opened up outside and rain poured down and the rest of Madrid filled the place up to capacity making it lively, loud, and exciting.
I can’t put my finger on it.
Neither can the guidebooks.
But it is what it is.
We were completely charmed by Madrid.