La Latina and Lavapies, Madrid, Spain
There are many things to both do and see in Madrid, so let us just for some time (the time it takes to read this) imagine that I am your guide.
First, I would tell you to meet up at Puerta del Sol (the sun gate), the centre of Madrid and Spain. While waiting for me, look at the beautiful buildings surrounding the square in a half-circle.
We will then walk to the intriguing, 600-year-old Plaza Mayor (the main square), surrounded by some of the oldest buildings in Madrid. This square and the streets around it were built to impress and show off the wealth and power when Spain was a glorious empire. Next, we will go down Calle Mayor, passing by the old town hall, and end up at the cathedral (La Almudena) and the Royal Palace. If you like gardens and parks, you should persuade me to take you to the beautiful and quiet gardens around the palace.
We will continue along Calle Bailen towards a central and exciting neighbourhood called La Latina. One of our tips is that you should get up early on Sunday morning and take a walk to El Rastro. Every Sunday morning, they turn the entire neighbourhood into an open-air market, so if you want to buy gifts and not too tacky souvenirs, El Rastro is the place.
By now, you realise that you are hungry, thirsty and your feet are hurting. We press ourselves into a tiny and overcrowded bar packed with Spaniards that seem to have the time of their lives. We will order a small glass of beer (“una caña”), and some tapas (appetisers) will come for free.
With our renewed energy, we will continue to the neighbouring neighbourhood called Lavapies (“wash feet”), another central district, which has become a true melting pot of cultures and ethnic groups (over 70 nationalities live there, I have read).
This is where we will find a typical Spanish restaurant that serves “Menu del dia”, a fixed menu of the day, where we will pay very little money for three dishes and beverages. We will end the meal with a strong café solo and a chupito (shot) because there is more walking ahead.
As we make our way downhill, you ask, “What is that building over there with an exciting sculpture in front…it looks like a hospital?” “You are right”, I say, “it was a hospital, but now it is one of the hottest museums of modern/contemporary art in the world. The museum contains famous works of art like Picasso’s “Guernica”.
We are about to enter the “art triangle”, having left this museum called “Reina Sofia”, we will in a short time, and on the same side of the street find another museum, von Thyssen-Bornemisza, containing a private collection, now owned by Carmen Cervera – an ex-Miss España. To complete the triangle, you now cross the road, and you will stand in front of one of the world’s most important classical art museums, the El Prado museum.
We continue our walk past the museum, but now you are tired and want this walk to end. That is why we head towards another of Madrid´s treasures, the wonderful El Retiro park. We will immediately find a terrace there, sit down, stretch our legs and order drinks. When the drinks arrive we sit back and savour the moment, resting our eyes on sculptures, fountains, families, kissing couples, clowns, people selling fake Ray-Ban sunglasses and others just walking around having a lovely time.