by Don Harris | January 2010

Madrid is a lighthearted city with an appealing climate, located in the approximate geographic center of the country. In terms of the long history of Spain, Madrid is a young city – about the age of Boston – created as the central seat of government when Philip II thought nearby Toledo was too ancient and crowded. Of course, being the location of the royal court, Madrid became the center of many cosmopolitan activities.

It goes without saying that Madrid’s museum offerings are extraordinary. The welcoming Prado has El Greco, Goya, and Velázquez, as well the works of Flemish masters, including Rogier Van der Weiden’s arresting Descent from the Cross. The collection of the neighboring private Thiessen Museum is comprehensive. A short walk away, the Reina Sophia museum has with a vast collection of modern art including Picasso’s Guernica. Two of the lesser museums which we enjoy revisiting are the Archeological Museum, with its precious Visigoth crowns, and Museo de América which has Mayan, Inca, and pre-Colombian art, including some amazing artifacts of pure gold.

Madrid is a melting pot for all of the gastronomies of Spain, creating a madrileño type of cooking that incorporates the best of the regions. The tapas scene is well developed in the city, serving the locals as well as visitors from around the world. We remember fondly our tapa-hopping nights in Madrid, especially the skewers of spicy pinchitos; creamy croquetas of bacalao (cod) and jamón ; and sizzling gambas al ajillo, little shrimp cooked in olive oil and garlic. 

For breakfast we enjoy café con leche served with a flourish from shiny espresso machines. The bartender often lines up about a dozen little cups with an envelope of sugar in each saucer so that he can serve with efficiency. You see, coffee in Spain is not just a matter of pouring from a pot, it is a ritual: the barista first disposes of the old grounds by rapping the individual container against the espresso maker; next he grinds the new coffee; then there is the steaming and frothing of the milk. Finally the café con leche is served. A toasted baguette and some mermalada is a frequent accompaniment. Or it may be time for a special treat of crunchy churros – dipped in very thick chocolate.

Madrid's ambiance and variety of cultural opportunities makes the area an appealing place to visit.

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