"After Madrid, there is only Heaven."
This is the mantra of the Spanish capital, and though mine is still "Nach Berlin, gibt es nur den Himmel" (Hmm... doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?), I understand the dogged attachment of the Madrileño to his city. My first visit to the city was quite a surprise, as a close friend had recently sent a scathing review of the city. My second visit, though limited in scope, supported my taste for Madrid, and this third one has cemented it as my penfavourite European (in the British sense) city.
In my first visit, I was taken aback by how regal felt, how you are unmistakably in a European capital. And, admittedly, that was mostly through a taxi window and a long walk of shame. The second visit I delved into inner barrios, but this third was quite more extensive. Darrin set up a mostly-walking (!) journey for us that he thought I would enjoy: one building to represent each broad period of Madrid architecturally from the 15th to 20th centuries (I did the 21st on my own while Darrin tried in vain to get into the Prado).
Not every bit of the walk was inspiring as is central Madrid, but there was still the essence of the city to be learned around each destination. But as we did our reverse walk from outer to inner Madrid, we could see how the character of the city changed as it grew and aged, sometimes well-integrated, sometimes not. We saw some very untouristy things: council flats Madrid style, immigrant neighbourhoods, unimaginative blocks of flats. But we also saw new buildings tastefully and imaginatively integrated with old, locals enjoying long, slow lunches away from the throngs of central Madrid, and countless squares and random small personable places for people to sit, chat, converse, even if they weren't always picturesque.
I'm also understanding the nightlife a bit better, thanks largely to the help of friends and acquaintances there now, and Madrid is definitely aces in this regard.
Despite all its charms, I did feel a little surge of excitement to alight at King's Cross into the hectic, heterogeneous kaleidoscope that is London, and I am happy to be looking out my window over Crystal Palace in the distance. I don't have any trips planned for quite a while, and that's OK - it's good to be home.
Pics attached, more at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=352301&id=713081334&l=e610c501da
01 - Madrid's newest terminal is stunning and massive; I took this view of just one part of the luggage return for its cavernousness, but the nuns in passing have stolen the focus.
02 - An example of Madrid's attention to detail and charm, street signs in the centre are art as well as information.
03 - No city should take itself too seriously (Are you reading this Paris?) and metro signs are a good start.
04 - Condo-style cemetery
05 - (One of) the oldest buildings in Madrid, not so lovingly cared for with a high-voltage power line, graffiti and disused prison as its neighbours.
06 - Random riverside park. In the distance is a very cool footbridge over said river.
07 - Statue and view from the grounds of San Francisco el Grande Basilica.
08 - Came across this building and adorning, deceptive mural; my fuzzy, hung-over head didn't suss out the illusion until after I took a photo.
09 - Another stop along our historic walk, another beautiful cityscape.
10 - Should you ever run out of Jesus dolls, I know just the place.
11 - Modernity creeps in. I had seen this building (Torres de Colon) in the distance during the taxi ride from the airport on both of my previous trips, but never saw it up close. When we spied it on our walk, we added it to the itinerary. It's so very odd - two separate, uneven towers with Palast-style gold windows connected with an art-deco-like, seemingly functionless cap; it became my favourite building in Madrid.
12 - But classic is never far away.
13 - This is the 20th century centro commercial, with the 21 century one behind it in the distance.
14 - Puerta de Europa, gateway to the new centro commercial.
15 - Torres Blancas. It beat out Torres de Colon as my favourite building.
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