Ernest Hemingway once said it was “the most Spanish of all the cities” – and he would be surprised if he saw it today. Madrid, the capital of Spain is undergoing something of arenaissance – new modern building works are going up all over the city, the arts are flourishing, it’s home to the biggest Gay Pride in Europe, and for travellers Madrid is becoming known as the all night party capital. It’s a great time to visit!
DAY 1: Spanish presenter Adela Ucar, lands at Madrid’s funky new airport building – Terminal 4 – designed by London’s Richard Rogers Partnership. From there she is off by taxi to the city centre, bedding down in Los Gatos hostel where she stays for the duration of her visit. The hostel is aptly named Los Gatos – aka “The Cats” – a popular nickname that young Madrileños have taken to calling themselves. Why? Because cats come out at night and play. Likewise, Adela wastes no time in heading out herself for the evening.
DAY 2: Adela commandeers a bicycle to visit Madrid’s old town. She starts her tour at the imposing Plaza Major, built in the 16th century and formerly used by the Spanish Inquisition to publicly humiliate “heretics”, i.e. anyone deemed to have strayed from Catholic rule. Today, it’s the epitome of a modern European capital – crammed with cafés, ice cream parlours, and teeming with buskers and tourists. Adela cycles on to the Royal Palace which was built in 1764 and is a fine example of Baroque architecture, its lavish interiors paid for by the wealth and riches which flowed into Spain from the New World colonies at that time. Next, determined to pack as much culture as she can into one day, Adela sets off for one of Madrid’s newest and hippest art spaces – The Matadero– built on the site of an old abattoir. Here she meets up with Mit Borass a local video artist who accompanies Adela to El Prado Museum. Here at Madrid’s most famous classical gallery, they check out two of Spain’s greatest artists:Velasquez and Goya.
DAY 3: Adela heads out of town to El Escorial, one of the most significant buildings in the history of Spain. Part monastery and part palace this grandiose edifice was built by the fanatically religious and wildly ambitious King Philip II. Next up, she visits Segovia – an ancient walled city and home to an incredibly well preserved Roman aqueduct which is thought to date back to 1 A.D. En route, Adela makes time for lunch and dines on freshly roasted suckling pig which is considered a great delicacy in these parts. To demonstrate just how tender and delicious the meat is, the restaurant owner slices the baby pig himself – using a porcelain plate as a knife. Last off, Adela checks out the fairytale-like palace fort on the hill: the Alcazar. She is lucky enough to get a tour from Professor Antonio Ruiz who is in charge of the palace’s restoration.
DAY 4: Meanwhile back in Madrid, it’s Sunday and the perfect day to visit El Rastro – the city’s famous flea market in – in La Latina which was once the barrio bajo, or working class neighbourhood. This is where meat was traditionally slaughtered, tanned, and prepared formarket. As Adela soon discovers, tapas houses serving traditional Madrileño food abound in this area. Their speciality? Offal. After sampling zarajo – lambs intestines wrapped around wooden stick – she moves on to flavoursome tripe, and tasty pig’s ear, before concluding she’s definitely more of a pizza girl. Next off, she visits the city’s cathedral of bullfighting: Las Ventas Stadium for a spot of traditional Spanish entertainment. Here she interviews a young novice bullfighter – or torero– who is so nervous before the fight he can barely speak. Just like the bull – he feels like he is at the mercy of the Las Ventas crowd. Aside from the bullfighter’s reputation, it seems there’s big money in this sport.
DAY 5: Adela journeys by train to Toledo – the erstwhile capital of Spain. Built on a hill, and surrounded on 3 sides by a bend in the Tagus River, this UNESCO World Heritage city is steeped in history. Adela takes in city’s magnificent 15th century Gothic cathedral where she meets up with local guide Mario Campos who takes her on a Spanish Inquisition Tour. Along the way, they take in the gory Museum of Torture which showcases a collection ofmacabre torture paraphernalia. Adela steps back into a bygone era when she visits a traditional blacksmith where a local craftsman demonstrates the ancient art of sword-making. In fact,Toledo has been renowned for its forged metal swords since the Middle Ages – and you don’t have to be a fan of Lord of the Rings to appreciate the artistry.
DAY 6: Back in Madrid, Adela continues her history trail into the 20th century and The Spanish Civil War which took place from 1936–1939, and ended when fascist dictator General Franco came to power. Franco ruled the country until his death in 1975 – a period which fascinates English expatriate historian Stephen Drake. Stephen takes Adela on a guided Civil War tour and explains how Franco didn’t manage to conquer Madrid city by land. Instead, he called upon Hitler to bomb the city from the sky – thus the Republican army had no choice but to surrender.Local Madrileños also give their take on Franco, and why this very recent period of history is so often ignored, or swept under the carpet.
DAY 7: As it’s her last day in Madrid, Adela heads downtown for a delicious feast prepared by one of Spain’s most famous chefs: Pasco Roncero. Pasco makes a “deconstructed” version of the Spanish Tortilla which he serves in a cocktail glass. Last off, she winds up her trip with a visit to another of Madrid’s successful young exports: cutting edge fashion designer –David Delfin – whose amazing boutique looks more like a contemporary art space than a clothes shop. David gets Adela kitted out for Madrid’s Gay Pride festival. Not only is this Pride the biggest of its kind in Europe, it’s also a symbol of just how far Spain has opened up since the Franco years. It looks like Los Gatos really do know how to party!
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