A Tale of Two Cities: Madrid and Amsterdam, Part 1 of 4

Plaza del Angel

Plaza del Angel

Madrid: Part 1 of 2

I just got back from an 11-day trip to Madrid and Amsterdam. They were vastly different. I had expected to like Madrid but to fall madly in love with Amsterdam. To my surprise, the opposite happened.

In the thick of my “third of life crisis,” I badly needed a break from my stressful job. I had wanted to visit my friend in Madrid and finally made good on my plan. I’d been flying through Amsterdam on the nonstop flight from Portland for years and I was curious to actually see the city. Moreover, even though I stayed with my friend in Madrid, I was truly all on my own in Amsterdam. I had never traveled so far alone.

Welcome to Madrid

Although Madrid is extremely crowded and the streets are bursting with pedestrians, I immediately felt the collective easygoing Spanish attitude.

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Unlike Barcelona, I was never cat-called or otherwise harassed or hassled in Madrid. Of course, women need to be careful wherever they are but if you are careful to know where you’re going and keeping your wallet concealed, you should be fine.

Just walking the grand, wide boulevards lined with majestic buildings and stopping for a glass of wine at a little bar that caught my eye was my favorite pastime there.

Old-fashioned vermouth taps.

Old-fashioned vermouth taps at Cafe La Palma.

Arrival and Getting Around

Upon arriving in Madrid shortly before 1 pm, I wisely decided on the direct bus into the city center. It is 5 €, so a bit more than taking the subway, but less than taking a taxi. You are not supposed to take the subway with large pieces of luggage, especially during rush hour. My plan was to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum until I could meet up with my friend after she was done at work. The bus to downtown meant I only had a few minutes’ walk down a major road to the museum, where I checked my bag for free. So easy and cheap!

Other than that, Madrid’s subway system is simple and affordable. A 10-trip card is 12 € and that was all I needed during my 5 days there as I usually chose to walk.

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Taxis are plentiful, safe and your best bet for getting around after midnight. Also, taxis can be ordered for trips to the airport for a flat fee based on your zone. From my friend’s apartment where I was staying, it was 30 €, a very reasonable price.

Tipping

Whether eating out or taking taxis, about 5% of the value of the bill is an appropriate tip. And the few times I only went in a cafe for one glass of wine, I did not tip at all and no one sees this as bad.

Museums

If you’re a museum addict like me, Madrid is heaven. If you’re going to be around at least two or three days, the Paseo del Arte is a great way to hit the top three museums for a good discount. It costs only 25,60 € and you can visit Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Museo Nacional del Prado and the Reina Sofia. Of all of these, the Thyssen was my favorite. It had a wide-ranging and stunning variety.

Degas at the Thyssen. Instantly recognizable.

Degas at the Thyssen. Instantly recognizable.

The Prado is usually named the “best” museum, but it soon becomes a blur of only three types of portraits: dead white monarchs, mythology scenes with boobs and Biblical scenes.

Contemporary art is never very compelling to me, but the standout in the Reina Sofia was Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Note that museums in Madrid all have a lot of free times. For instance, on tranquil Saturday afternoon, my friend and I visited the archeological museum for free.

If you only have time for one, make it the Thyssen!

Coming up in the next post: Eating and drinking, flamenco and parks.

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