Though it has been a long-time-coming, I thought it would be better to share about our trip to Spain now instead of never. We went nearly a year ago, but it still gives me heart eyes to look at these pictures and scroll through last year's itinerary.
I haven't traveled extensively, but I've been enough places to say that Madrid is tops. I would say that it certainly rivals Paris in terms of culture and food. Though my American self would easily go for the early bird / retiree dinner schedule, I love the romantically long evenings that Madrid (and Barcelona) offer
Overall, I feel like it's easiest to travel through Madrid with some knowledge of the Spanish language. A little less touristy than the ever popular Barcelona, there are overall fewer English speakers (or at least they don't let on that they speak English).
On our first day in Madrid, we stopped through El Rastro, one of Europe's largest flea markets. While most of the flea market leaves much to be desired (you won't often find me buying clothes/bags/shoes in general), the intriguing part of El Rastro is actually in Plaza Mayor, where collectable coins and vintage knickknacks are for sale.
On our second day, we followed one of the Rick Steves walks and then toured the Royal Palace & the Catedral de la Almuneda (these two are neighbors). The palacio is essentially the equivalent of France's Versailles, and it was incredible.
We also spent some time at the Museo Nacional del Prado later on the second day, where we got our fix of art (specifically: paintings). Having our handy dandy Rick Steves guidebook was essential because the place is huge, but we also picked up the audio tour here to help guide us through the specific art we had set out to see (and then some). We spent a good part of the day here.
Upon our return from Madrid, we spent a lazy, gorgeous Fall afternoon wandering around Retiro Park; we took a row boat expedition around the small pound, which was glorious. While the row boat tour is not listed as an essential in Rick's guidebook, I highly recommend it as a wonderful way to experience the glory of the parque.
On our final day, we tackled some modern art, including Picasso's famous Guernia, at the Reina Sofia. Yet another massive art museum, it was incredibly helpful to have a guidebook to make sure that we hit the highlights of the museum. While this lacks some of the more traditional artwork of the Prado (many works studied by Picasso himself), the art is interesting, and the size and anguish of Guernica certainly make the museum worthwhile.
Apart from art, we had plenty of time to wander, which meant several trips to the Mercado de San Miguel. We stopped off there for snacks and even tapas and sangria one night before dinner; needless to say, the food was excellent, and the market selection was beautiful.
As with any trip, we did a number Rick Steves's Walks: the key one for Madrid is his Puerta del Sol walk. The best part of this walk was getting to learn a little bit about the history of the city and getting to see hidden gems within the city, like this ancient door (shown below) or the small little revolving door out of which cloistered nuns sell sweets.