Madrid didn’t do it for me. Not the first time. Millions and millions of Madrileños can’t be wrong. But it didn’t make my heart sing. Not at first.
Let’s rewind. For a minute. Two years ago. Having moved my family around the world to Copenhagen, Denmark. We took a flight leaving Portland, OR to Vancouver, Canada on to Frankfurt, Germany then finally landing in Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark. That alone was exhausting. We picked up a tiny (at the time) rental car and dropped seven HUGE overstuffed overweight bags at my husband’s office. What a great first impression that was. And then, after only two days in damp, dark Denmark, we took our very first European family trip.
Why? Why did you do that? Well. We had a few weeks before my husband’s job contract was to start and the children had open spots in their new school. We had to move out of our house in Oregon because we’d already rented it to incoming Aussies. What better way to spend those gap weeks than traveling. Immediately. I know it sounds intense. (As it turns out – it was.) But this was part of the reason we took the job in Denmark to begin with. All those amazing travel opportunities.
We decided on Spain. For a week. We planned to split the week between Barcelona and Madrid. That Renfe express train between the two cities is amazeballs. You should try it. It was November. It was definitely not peak season to visit Spain. Perfect timing we decided. The weather was pleasant. Not too hot. Not too cold. Definitely warmer and brighter and lighter than the dark, near December we encountered upon landing in Denmark.
This was Spain. This was my first visit to Spain. My husband’s first trip to Spain. My childrens’ first visit to Spain. This is why I chose it. Why we chose it. I wanted our first familial foray into European exploits to be a FIRST for us all. Perhaps in retrospect, a wee bit of familiarity might have been preferable. Make our transition easier. Maybe.
Madrid is amazing. But Madrid is a metropolis. The third largest capital in Europe behind London and Berlin. Madrid is HUGE. And crowded and bustling and busy and loud and large. We were overwhelmed. Overstimulated. Exhausted. And because of this, I will admit, we were underwhelmed with the Spanish capital. Lo ciento España. I’m sorry Madrid.
We had a perfectly situated Airbnb apartment near Puerta del Sol. The epicenter of Madrid. Of Spain, really. This is kilometer zero. All mileage in Spain is calculated from this point. There is where first impressions are made. Ours ? A wary sense of outsider-ness. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.
It was different from Barcelona’s colorful, whimsical, mosaic’d and mercado’d beach vibe. Madrid hit us like a Flamenco dancer – fast and loud – clapping and stomping to a beat we couldn’t hear. We couldn’t understand.
Maybe it was the somewhat intimidating costumed characters strolling around the plaza at Puerta del Sol looking for a little pocket change in exchange for a photo op from passing tourists. Chubby spider men busting the seams of their suits; slightly tarnished Mickey and Minnie Mouses taking breaks with their “head” under their arms. But the most disturbing and definitely creepiest – was the red headed giant butcher knife wielding Chucky looming atop the fountain mid plaza. THIS is what my daughter, then 8, remembers most about Madrid. Did you see him? He was creepy.
I have to jog her memory (and mine) about the delicious chocolate con churros at world famous Chocolatería San Ginés. OH YEAH! Those were good! Can we get those again? Maybe. We’ll see. And how about that stroll through Retiro Park, listening to the live music at that outdoor cafe while boats paddled in the nearby lake? Oh yeah! That was good too. Is THAT where we had the milkshake? Yes. Yes it was.
And how about renting bikes and riding along the canals down to Casa de Campo (a gorgeous green space/park five times the size of New York’s Central Park?) Remember we found the ropes course and climbing structure? That was MADRID? Yes. Yes it was. OH. That was cool! A little stressful I will admit as parents letting our 8 year old ride an adult sized bike in a not as bike-friendly town as our new home Copenhagen, but she did it. In spite of the hills!
And how about that kilo of bacon we bought at the Museo del Jamon? HAHAHAHA! Group chuckle inducing memory jog. Having just moved to Europe and not yet used to metric weight system, I ordered one kilo of bacon. It seemed reasonable at the time. There are five us and three are growing children. As we watched him slice and slice and slice….and SLICE. And. SLICE. And keep slicing. We soon realized we’d made a critical error. OH. Kilos. Got it. (For those of you – who like me – didn’t get the conversion immediately – one kilo of bacon is exactly 2.2 pounds of bacon.) Yep. I cooked that bacon for an hour. Couldn’t take raw bacon home to Denmark you know. I will admit – although I couldn’t shake that animal fat smell for days – it was delicious.
So many fun memories when we sit and think about it. So why then the ho-hum response when we look back at Madrid on our list of places visited? Timing. Bad timing. Unfortunately I think our collective familial state of shock that we had actually packed up all our earthly goods, sold off half, put some on a ship and stored the rest in my mother’s attic and shlepped ourselves AROUND THE WORLD – before even establishing ourselves in our new home just MIGHT have had a little to do with it.
When my husband had an opportunity to travel back to Madrid for work, at first I wasn’t interested. Too many other places to see. Don’t need a repeat. But I am SO GLAD I did. Two years later. This September. I will be happy to show you how I made Madrid mine. More intimate. More accessible. More approachable.
How do you make a huge city feel less intimidating? More like yours? I’ve got ways. Now. I’ve had to learn. Ways we have made it work in the past two years. I’m happy to share. I’d like to hear yours. Madrid is mine part II to follow. Stay tuned. Memories help – a place looks better in retrospect sometimes. Look at all those things we did. We are grateful. That matters. It helps make a place like Madrid ours.
Cheers from Copenhagen, xoxo Erin
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Sharing with Faraway Files Travel Blog Community – a link up hosted by Katy at Untold Morsels, Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles and me – Oregon Girl Around the World. Click the badge to add your own post or come over and read where to travel next! Cheers, Erin