Written by Tom Thrun.
After bidding a fond “adios” to the south of Spain, we headed north to Madrid. The capital city is an easy 4-hour drive from Granada nonstop, but we made a couple of stops along the way. The orange and olive groves of the Andalusian hills become the arid landscape of Don Quixote’s La Mancha. We stopped here for lunch surrounded by the famous white windmills battled by the hapless hero.
Just 40 minutes south of Madrid lies the stunningly beautiful town of Toledo. It is a place made special by its Arab, Jewish, Christian and Roman influences. Perched on a hill above the Tagus River, the city that inspired many of El Greco’s 16th century paintings remains relatively unchanged.
We visited the Toledo Cathedral, a massive gothic structure that took 2½ centuries to complete.
A short stroll from the cathedral is the Iglesia de Santo Tomé, a small 14th century chapel that is home to El Greco’s masterpiece The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Every part of Toledo is a photo op from the architecture to city gates and the picturesque San Martin and Alcántara bridges. If you get hungry during your walk, try some marzipan. It’s a local specialty made by the nuns. This almond confection is more delicious than its German counterpart, and this is coming from a German.
Madrid is one of our favorite cities in the world. This vibrant capital of Spain is the country’s artistic and creative hub. Its walkable streets and bustling plazas offer an eclectic array of architecture, shops, bars and restaurants.
There is probably more world-class art in the neighborhood around the Prado Museum than any equivalent area in the world. The nearby Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum features Caravaggios and Rembrandts in its collection. Blocks away is my favorite, the Reina Sofia, with works by Miro, Dali and Picasso (his famous Guernica is housed here). Take a break and have a Spanish omelet at one of the many street side cafés or drink a DaliTini on the garden terrace at the Ritz.
This magnificent square lined with shops and restaurants is the focal point of the city. The action and people-watching here is second to none. You may even witness a spirited fistfight between a wayward tourist and Spiderman.
Mercado de San Miguel
Like most cities in Spain, some of the best local food is available in the markets. This mercado, located right next to the Plaza Mayor, is one of the biggest and best in the city.
This colorful street market near the Plaza Mayor has been going for over 100 years. On Sundays, it turns into the most famous flea market in Spain. The crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder and the array of merchandise is endless.
Madrid was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite stomping grounds and his footprints are all over the city. We went to a couple of his haunts that are still going strong. Cerveceria Alemana is a beer and tapas bar located in the Plaza Santa Ana and the “gambas” and clams are out of this world. We also made our second visit to Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. Papa Hemingway liked it so much that he mentions it in the closing pages of his novel The Sun Also Rises!
A highlight of our time in Madrid was attending a soccer game. Europeans are all passionate about soccer and the Spaniards are at the top of the scale. Madrid Athletico was playing their hometown rival Real Madrid. It was a hot ticket and we just had to go! The mood around the stadium was electric and we saw everything from police in riot gear to the Simpsons. The crowd sang and cheered throughout the entire match, which ended in a draw. No riot, just a riotous good time!