Escape of the Week: Reina Sofia

Located in the heart of Madrid is one of those places you’d be remiss to skip — the palatial Reina Sofia Musuem (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia).

The museum came highly recommend from my art-inclined friends back home.

“You can’t miss it,” one said.

“It is so breathtaking,” said another.

And they were right.

So, first thing on a Saturday morning, I lined up to experience this attraction for myself.

I was not disappointed.

Named after the Queen Sofia of Spain, the museum features mostly Spanish art, including works from Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Like the city itself, I quickly fell in love with the work on display.

The journey for me began with a walk through the immense courtyard.

Then, I wandered through the many rooms featuring different artists and exhibits.

One of my favorite exhibits ...

Getting there: Located near the Prado, take the metro to Atocha.

Destinations

A BRIEF intermission: The best of … Madrid

I LOVE Madrid. Any traveler who meets me and asks me “D, what is your most favorite place you have visited since you started traveling?” my response is always this:

“I adored Spain. I could live there. And Madrid, mmmm.”

Well, something like that.

I have gotten messages from people throughout my adventure asking my advice on where to go, what to do, etc. so have decided to share my insight with you!

Stay tuned … most cities will have a “Best of …” for your reading (and trip planning) pleasure.

Now, on to the good stuff … Madrid.

Where to … stay

I stayed at two hostels in Madrid, both were nice. But, in Madrid, there are heaps of really great hostels to stay at (just check out Hostel World), it’s just a matter of whether you want a social atmosphere or a place to rest your head. Regardless, location in Madrid is key. There is something to be said when you can open your balcony doors onto Atocha and hear the hustle and bustle.

If that’s your thing, look for a hostel located nearby these major Metro stops:

Gran Via

Sol

Atocha

Chueca (gay district)

La Latina

Lavapies (GREAT if you want some delish Indian food)

Where to … hang out on sunny, beautiful days:

Any day of the week is perfect to hang out at Retiro Park. Originally created as a royal park, the “Lungs of Madrid,” located in the heart of the city features everything from palaces to sport fields to boat-filled lakes to rolling hills perfect for an afternoon makeout or picnic. You can get there from the Retiro Metro stop.

On Sundays, the action is at La Latina. Streets lined with table and chairs fill up early, so stake your people-watching location before siesta. If La Latina is packed, head to Plaza Mayor or Puerta de Sol (both at/near Sol Metro stop).

If you want to play tourist, head to the Palacio Royal de Madrid, the Royal Palace (Opera Metro stop). Yes, if you want to see the interior, you will be inside, but simply strolling the grounds is breathtaking.

Where to … get filled up on tapas

Hands down, my favorite tapas experience was at El Tigre, located in the Chueca neighborhood (Chueca or Gran Via Metro stops).

At El Tigre, you order a glass of vino tinto (red wine) for two euros and then the Tapas God behind the counter hands you a plate piled high with tapas of every kind — tortilla, patatas bravas, jamon, queso … you name it — to accompany your drink. The best part is every time you order your cheap drink, you get another plate of deliciousness to soak up all that alcohol.

For a more varied experience, there is Mercado Plaza San Miguel near the Sol Metro. This gorgeous old building is PACKED with little stands featuring some of the freshest and tastiest food, including oysters, fruits and veggies, and tapas. Lots and lots of tapas.

Again, if you want to snag a seat, get there early. Otherwise, start practicing balancing a plate of tapas and a glass of vino tinto and eating/drinking at the same time.

Where to … get culture

I always like to mention the free stuff first, so the best free place to get culture is the Caixa Forum, a multi-floored art museum with rotating exhibits. This post-modern gallery even has a vertical garden just outside that changes with the seasons. It’s all sorts of pretty.

Then, every night (except Monday when the museum is closed) The Prado opens its doors to the public to take in all of the famous artists housed there for … free. Tuesday – Saturday from 6 – 8 p.m., visitors can enjoy everything the museum has to offer at no cost. On Sundays, entrance is free. Period.

My favorite museum is the elegantly beautiful Reina Sofia. No, it’s not free. But, for a 6 euro price tag, you have access to floors and floors of jaw-dropping 20th century art. Picasso and Dali mingle among notable Spanish contemporary artists.

All of these are a quick walk from the Atocha Metro stop.

Where to … eat the best chocolate you will ever have (outside of Belgium)

The best and most unique chocolates in Madrid can be found at Cacao Sampaka, a modern chocolate/coffee shop that offers up some of the most mmmmgood chocolates taste buds will ever enjoy. Seriously. They’ve got it all — balsamic chocolate, lavender chocolate, rosemary chocolate, liquor-filled chocolate, thick as molasses hot chocolates. It is a must. And, a half-second walk from the Alonso Martinez Metro stop.

Where to … shop ’til you drop

Gran Via has it all … bars, clubs, restaurants, prostitutes and TONS of stores no matter your budget. For those watching the cents, there’s Lefties and H & M, and tons of shoe stores featuring pretty cool shoes and cheapie price tags (I got a pair of knockoff high-top Chucks for 10 euros).

If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, there are also higher-end stores like Miss Sixty, Calvin Klein and some fabulous (non-American) shops, too.

Where to … meet locals and other people who speak English

Madrid is packed with English speakers and nearly every night of the week there is a mixer/language exchange where you can meet locals who want to speak English with you.

On Tuesday nights, there is Hello Lola at Ole Lola;  Wednesday and Thursday nights it’s J & J Books and Coffee; Friday check out El Seiscientos.

Where to … go on a day trip

There are a few places under two hours away from Madrid to check out that are worth the bus (or train) fare — the two most popular ones (and the ones I visited) were Toledo and Segovia.

Toledo, the former capital of Spain, is south of the city and treats visitors to a medieval city perched on a hilltop with stunning views and packed with history.

Then, there is Segovia, a slightly longer ride (unless you take the high-speed train), but worth every minute to get there. Segovia not only has a castle that draws comparisons to Cinderella’s digs, but also an ancient Roman aqueduct that cuts through its center. If you like pork, be sure to try the roast suckling pig, which is so tender and fresh it is sliced with dishes instead of knives. Truth.

To book travel:

Alsa — the major bus line in Spain and the cheapest option for short-distance travel

Renfe — the train

AVE — high-speed train

Want to add your favorite places? Leave a comment below.

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A love affair with Madrid

 I hadn’t expected to fall in love with Madrid. Many travelers I talked to said Madrid was “just another city” and “not safe.”

Yes, Madrid is “just another city” and, like any city, it isn’t always safe. But, I was fortunate enough to have a different perspective of the city than most travelers. I was able to live and breathe the city like a local.

I hadn’t expected to stay as long as I did in Madrid, but everything happens for a reason. For me, it solidified my desire to live in Spain and be a part of the magnificent and vibrant culture.

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