Madrid 1: Museums and Street Life

I’ve had these photos edited for the past month, but my time in Madrid was such a whirlwind that I couldn’t figure out a cohesive way to share these photos until just recently. I’ve split them into three posts:

  • museums and street life
  • walking tours and Plaza Mayor
  • cafe culture and tapas

I fly to Madrid on a red-eye from Iceland, with an early morning layover in Hamburg during which I find an unoccupied airport bench on which to sleep for a few hours. Once in Madrid I take the subway to Puerta del Sol, a major tourism square in the city and a centrally located place from which to base myself for a couple of days. On my way there I have to switch trains a few times and accidentally go the wrong direction before realizing my mistake and having to backtrack, but eventually I arrive. From Puerta del Sol I walk a short distance to Sungate One Hostel. Throughout my three weeks in Spain and Portugal, it is a pleasure to pick hostels — there are so many highly rated options on HostelWorld that I have my pick of numerous places in each city. Many of them offer free dinner and drinks, too, as a way to build community. And then they send everyone out after dinner to party outside the hostel for the rest of the night. I very much appreciate that effort.

Here are a few photos from Sungate One Hostel:

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I paiy a little extra for a dorm room with only four beds — that’s mine below left. Not bad for $27 a night including dinner (it’s a little more expensive in the peak summer months).

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View from the room — many of the busy streets offer shade in the form of triangularly shaped fabric which helps block the sun:

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And a view from the streets below — as you can see, the cafe culture here is in full swing:

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Dunkin Donuts, I will never tire of seeing you abroad! Even if they do change your name to Dunkin Coffee over here.

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In the evenings, most museums offer free admission for the final two hours of the day — I arrive at Reina Sofia around 7p and have until they close at 9p to explore.

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By far, the most famous piece of artwork inside Reina Sofia is Picasso’s La Guernica. They don’t allow photos, but I found this one on-line:

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(image via)

From the upper floors of the museum, guests can walk around to views of the surrounding area and this immense complex.

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View of Atocha train station from Reina Sofia:

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Impressive library or archive on the ground level, closed at this hour:

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Another view of Atocha train station:

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I must tell you that Madrid is the first city I have ever returned to on my international travels. I visited here while studying abroad in the Netherlands in 2003 and instantly fell in love with this place. I’ve been looking for an excuse to come back ever since, but I’m usually drawn to new destinations so it’s taken awhile to make this Spain trip happen. Now that I’m here, those feelings come flooding back — I’m utterly charmed by the cobblestone streets and historic plazas and cafe culture. As the sun sets (late, around 9pm in early September) I wander slowly back to my hostel, taking in the sights and feeling high on life.

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I duck into a small cafe and order red wine and some tapas for dinner. I read my book and soak up the atmosphere. I never want to leave.

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The next day is very busy as I go on multiple walking tours. But I’ll skip past that for now and introduce you to the other famous museum in Madrid — Museum del Prado. I decide not to visit this time since I went back in 2003 and I only have about 2.5 days in this city. But I walk by shortly before the two-hour window of free admission and the line wraps around the entire building! There must be more than a thousand people in line and I can’t imagine they’ll all get in with enough time to properly explore. After seeing this, I’d recommend visiting during the daytime when it’s surely easier to move around with fewer crowds. It’s worth the price of admission (16 euros).

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I make my way back to the hostel, crossing through Puerta del Sol. The light at this hour is incredible and there’s a palpable energy running through the streets. It feels more than a little magical.

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Compared to broad daylight in the same plaza:

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More from Madrid tomorrow!

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