Postcards from Madrid

I just spent a week in Madrid, working on the next edition of our Rick Steves Spain guidebook. And, as always, I snapped lots of photos and took careful notes. Enjoy these “postcards” from my trip — and please share your own Madrid travel stories in the comments below or over on Facebook. Happy travels! —Cameron

Madrid, Spain

Spain’s bustling capital has a surprisingly compact and manageable historical core. It almost feels like a big village. But just a short walk away, you know you’re in a European metropolis. The main boulevard — Gran Vía — is undergoing an extensive renovation that will widen the sidewalks and reduce traffic congestion.

Breakfast in Madrid

Most hotels in Spain don’t include breakfast in their rates…and some don’t even offer it at all. No hay problema. That just creates a great excuse to head to a neighborhood bar and dig into a Spanish-style breakfast: hearty wedge of tortilla española (potato omelet), crusty roll, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and café con leche. At around €5, this almuerzo de campeones keeps me going through a late lunch.

Prado, Madrid

Madrid is home to the magnificent Prado (arguably Europe’s best museum of Old Masters). I toured the museum at a fairly busy time — late morning, just before lunch — and for the most part, I could see all of the paintings I wanted to, despite the crowds. But the one bottleneck was Hieronymus Bosch’s detail-packed The Garden of Earthly Delights. Art lovers camp out here for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a stretch, unpacking the many details. Who can blame them? If I were on vacation, rather than working, I might bring a folding chair and binoculars and really settle in.

Calle del Arenal, Madrid

I appreciate how the streets in Madrid’s historical center are all marked with colorful illustrations. In this case, Calle del Arenal is named for the sand (arena) that was stockpiled along here during the construction of the city.

Mickey Meth

In Madrid’s high-traffic, touristy areas, you’ll see hucksters dressed up in cut-rate costumes of Mickey Mouse, paunchy Spider-Man, and off-brand Minions. They prey on little kids — approaching them with a hug, then forcing the parents to pay for a photo. A local explained to me that these are down-on-their-luck people who have been left unemployed by the recent economic crisis (which Spain has been very slow to recover from). While I have sympathy, taking advantage of visiting children seems sleazy to me. I came to think of these characters as “Mickey Meths.”

Madrid's Mercado de San Miguel

Foodie tourists are attracted to Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel, just outside of the Plaza Mayor, like a bug zapper. This old market hall was recently renovated and filled with quality eateries. It sounds great…and it is. But it’s also extraordinarily crowded (especially on a holiday weekend, as when I was in town). I kept circling back to try to find a quiet time to graze, but it was always jammed. Oh, well. Next time…

I was in Spain to scout out additions and updates to our Rick Steves Spain guidebook.

If you’re more interested in the culinary side of Spain, here’s a rundown of my favorite Madrid tapas experiences from this trip.

10 Replies to “Postcards from Madrid”

  1. Nice! I follow your podcasts, very interesting. However spaniards do not usually eat eggs for breakfast, no tortilla but croissants or napolitanas or tostadas con tomate and cafe’ con leche. And orange juice sometimes. Usually it is sweet pastries for breakfast like the french and the italians.

    1. Hi, Beatrice! A Spaniard here :) Although it may not be an everyday breakfast, “un pincho de tortilla” is a very typical mid-morning snack.

    2. You know, Beatrice, I have been told that “no eggs for breakfast” thing, too. And I’ve decided I’m not buying it! Every time I’m in Spain, if I drop into a bar at breakfast time, I see locals eating tortilla espanola. Not tourists–locals. I think most people prefer the sweet rolls you mention (which are more typical), but I have definitely rubbed elbows with Spaniards in these places.

    3. So true. I have seen tortillas español for a snack and pan ajes with chocolate or caramelo sauce for late afternoon treta.

  2. Thank you! I am here right now and having a great time. I wondered about the Mickey Mouse people….Glad you are updating the guide because there are some changes, of course. Like the demise of the Madrid Pass. And one of the restaurants in Tapas Row is gone. Sigh.

  3. Nice pics. We popped up to Madrid on the high speed trains to see the Christmas markets last December. Obviously there’s much more to see than we had time for. I guess another trip should be in the works, but not until after Granada and Seville.

    Something that I don’t get is why Rick and company don’t do a review on Valencia. But then again perhaps I shouldn’t ask. We have tourists enough already.

  4. To me Madrid is a fairly new city. When I looked at all the modern buildings there I could not help but at the tops of them to see be there as a rooftop embellishment. If you have been there but forgot to look up, please go back again. Also the Quixote/Panza statuary in a small square in the city is beautiful.

  5. Looking to buy post cards of Madrid Spain . A ordain style would be nice .
    Do you have any idea where I might find them .
    Thank you
    Franklin Werthwein

  6. We were fortunate to be able to browse in, and eat in, Mercado de San Miguel. My regret is I did not order the barnacles. Our guide explained to me how dangerous it is to harvest barnacles and that is why they are pricey. She told me they have very creamy white meat inside and it is very good. I will be ordering them if ever I am in a place that has them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *