In August I traveled to Madrid, a vibrant city with rich history and thriving culture. Madrid has beautiful architecture — every alley, every portico, every plaza is out of a movie— and it’s easy to navigate on foot.
We stayed right next to the Prado Museum, one of the world’s finest art museums, and we spent several hours there our first day. It’s free for all students and teachers! San Jerónimo el Real, a sixteenth-century gothic monastery was right next-door to the Prado. We went in on a whim and were able to stay for the latter half of Mass.
Our first day we also walked around Retiro Park, with its famous Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace) and man-made lake, where tourists often boat. That evening we explored Madrid’s famous street, Gran Vía, lined with endless shops, bars and restaurants.
The next day we took a bus tour, which was a great way to get a feel for the city and cover a lot of ground. We stopped at the Catedral de la Almudena, an extraordinary church where Pope J
ohn Paul II’s funeral Mass was held. It is enormous, and the ceilings are painted in bright colors and outlined in gold.
Beside the cathedral is the Royal Palace of Madrid, but we decided not to tour the inside since the line was long. From there we walked down a street past Plaza de Villa. One of my favorite parts of Spain was the number of unique plazas across the city.
We bought Italian-made leather handbags from a little shop on our way to Mercado de San Miguel, a covered market with beautiful architecture, tons of tapas and delicious sangria.
Nearby is another plaza, Plaza Mayor, a wide open square with red apartments and surrounding shops and restaurants. Walking through more streets and alleys, we discovered yet another plaza, Puerta del Sol. There were more shops and restaurants, as well as a fountain and statue of King Carlos III.
That evening we passed the mayor’s palace on our way to enjoy the sunset at Temple of Debod, a huge monument transplanted from Egypt to Madrid. There were a lot of people there, but the park offered a great view. For dinner we went to the La Latina district for late-night tapas and hopped from bar to bar,sharing small plates of food and sangria.
Our last day in Madrid we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest private art collections. We saw many original works by Hopper, Degas, Durher, van Gogh, Carvaggio and others. A special exhibit featured Balenciaga, the famous Spanish fashion company. It showcased a dozen fashion pieces and explained how the designer was influenced by classical art.
In the afternoon, we visited the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, which is the most ornate and beautiful church I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to describe, and the pictures don’t do it justice. It’s amazing to think not only about how the basilica was constructed but how the extensive interior detail-work was completed by many artists over many years.
Our three-day trip in Madrid was a great amount of time to see much of the city, and the morning of the fourth day, we took a train through Spanish countryside to the coastal city of Barcelona (
read all about my trip to Barcelona here).