Madrid. Capital of the Kingdom of Spain. The largest city in Spain, with Barcelona a close second. In spite of their sizes, Madrid is very different from Barcelona. Perhaps it is because the city has been able to grow with any real physical constraints, unlike Barcelona which abuts the sea. Tucked well within the metropolitan’s current boundaries are gates such as Puerta de Atocha, Puerta de Toledo, Puerta del Sol, and on and on. These would have been the city gates long ago, but the city has outgrown them and spread into the surrounding plains. As it spread, the city becomes more modern, more suburban and more car-friendly. What a shame.
Another way Madrid differs from Barcelona is the large government buildings, each housing a government department. These buildings are dotted about the city, not set in their own district like the US capital. Their architecture is ornate, attractive and solid, fitting it to their surroundings while conveying a sense of stability. I hope they are not bureaucratic dystopias on the inside.
The oldest parts of the Madrid have narrow, meandering lanes which grew organically from footpaths and goat trails. Ok, I don’t know if they were goat trails, but it sounds poetic. No? The seams of these older parts of town are now marked by large boulevards. I could get lost in the maze, but got my bearings every time I popped out onto a major road. Ah, the feeling of being an explorer with none of the risk of actually being lost.
That all leads me to the notion that Madrid is a city for its residents, and not really one for tourists. There is no central “tourist area.” The sights are nestled into the fabric of a living city, whereas in Barcelona the sights seemed somehow separated from daily life. As a result, Barcelona always seemed over stuffed with people, locals and tourists, while Madrid was only comfortably crowded.
And the suburbs? Ok, before I start trashing Madrid, let me say it was hot the entire time I was there. Temperatures in the 90s and 100sF, with the hottest time of day 6 to 8pm. Temperatures would significantly fall until about 2am. That kind of heat makes everything less fun. Thermal mass will make you its bitch.
I wanted to try living the real Spanish life, away from the tourist traps and hustle and bustle of the city center. So, I rented an apartment on the edge of downtown. I won’t do that again. I thought it would feel more like real life. It did. Real life is just not what I want.
If I lived in Madrid, it wouldn’t be in the burbs. To trade more things to do for a slightly larger apartment, isn’t for me. I’d rather be stuck in it, or actually stuck right on the edge of it, than not. Or maybe on a hill with a view of the city walls, castle and cathedral for evenings at home, and quick access to the tourist subsidized restaurants for evenings out…