After encountering our first impressions in Madrid, now we have got to a crucial point: by following some straight streets from Plaza Mayor for a while (mainly Calle Mayor), we will see the lovely, bluish facade of Catedral de la Almudena, and I think seeing it was the moment when I could put the puzzle pieces together and I saw the Madrid that the lovers of this city keep in their memories, or at least something similar.
Unfortunately I could not enter the building and did not have the time for it, but just as I was going around, I had found myself on a fabulous sqaure, Plaza de la Armería which was bordered by the cathedral from one side, and by the Royal Palace (Palacio Real de Madrid) from the other one.
The palace itself was a little bit like the presidential palace of Warsaw, a bit like Buckingham in London, Shönbrunn in Vienna, or some aristocratic mansions of Hungary, but although I felt that I had seen similar buildings at least a thousand times before, I truly have to admit that somehow the Royal Palace of Madrid was the best of this well-known genre.
It should not be a wonder, because this complex is located in the second largest city of the Eruopean Union in terms of population (behind Berlin), and also in a city which was the capital of a former global empire: a country, that is still a very potential European state in many terms in spite of its economic struggles.
It is a sort of unlucky situation that Madrid does not have such an iconic sight like the Big Ben in London, the Eiffel-tower in Paris, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Colisseum in Rome - however some people try to associate it with this amazing piece of architecture, which has thousands (!) of rooms in case the owner gets bored of sleeping in the same place every night. These advertising attempts are unfortunately not so successful though, because the palace does not have such unique characteristics that would made it different in the commercial touristic marketing.
It does not mean that we should not enjoy every possible aspect of it: the palace is embraced from different sides by the royal theatre, a fountain monument and a charming garden called Jardines de Sabatini, but the most fascinating apart from every human construction and art is the view one can experience from the terrace, which is located in the opposite end of Armería.
The picture which reveals itself for the traveler includes endless green parks, fields and forests, office towers and the silhouette of the contemporary metropolis on the left side, and some mysterious blue mountains and far away villages on the other one.
Getting a change to watch it during the sunset was truly an emotional moment, and besides, one can also feel like a king or at least the member of the royal family for some seconds.
I also explored it on the map after my trip that there were some walls from the Moorish times called Muralla Árabe (Arabic Walls), but I missed them. Obviously we cannot see everything, and this is never the real point of a journey either.
The last thing in this area to see is the Temple of Dedod: believe it or not, it is indeed a 2000 years-old original building from ancient Egypt! What is it doing in the middle of a Spanish city? Well, as I read in some articles, apparently it was a gift from the state of Egypt to Spain back in 1968 in order to express its gratitude for the help with the renovation of some ancient sights.
The surrounding park and having a closer look on the temple were both amazing, including another view, similar to the one from the Armería square. It was just a pitty that there was a strict regulation about visiting the ancient place, and there was an extremely long queue, while only one person could enter the building at the same time.
I remember such a hype about La Bocca della Verità in Rome, which was also a bit too much for me, but of course, I understand that there are always some tourists desrespecting the weight of centuries.
I rather do not see something myself either if this way it can be protected longer, although this also raises a philosophical question: what is the final point of human art if it is preserved so much that eventually no one can enjoy it?
Another location where many monuments are concentrated is the famous Retiro Park, which I would even consider an essential part of a trip to Madrid that one should certainly not skip. You may think that every park is just like the same and that one cannot be different, but it is not true.
Namely, Retiro is such an gigantic green area of the city that you could even consider it as a kind of forest: it is not as huge as for example the Silesian Park was in Katowice, but it is way bigger than the parks of Maribor and Ljubljana and may be compared to Városliget in Budapest; but in general, you just cannot compare it to anything in terms of size and capacities that we know from our Eastern-European region.
Before going to the actual park, we can find a wonderful museum on the way built in a classical style, which is in fact a worldwide famous attraction due to its collection: it is Prado, a remarkable art gallery with many different art works from many different countries.
You can find the statue of Goya, one of the best-known Spanish painters very close to the museum (known mostly for The Naked Maja), and by walking a little bit upwards, you can approach the church of San Jerónimo, which again woke up my tendency to compare cities, and reminded me to the Capuchin Church of Rijeka, although only the compositions of the two clerical buildings are likewise.
And now let’s go to the main gates, and enter the endless land of magic and wonders: it all starts with some flowers, hedges, stairs, pots and fountains of an aesthetic design, very similarly to Giardini Boboli (Florance) and Tivoli (Ljubljana) among the European parks I had seen before.
First I thought with ease that this was all, and I already saw the road going ahead. However, I learnt my lesson about giving it a try always instead of some superfitial judgements, and I quickly found much more: the gorgeous artifitial lake of the park accompanied by the monument of king Alfonso XII, who, you can guess, has a horseman statue on the top of the structure.
The arrengement of the monument with its hall of coloumns immediately gave me the association of the Hero’s Square in Budapest, but also of the Altare della Patria in Rome - also with a king as the central figure of the composition.
If we leave the lions and the sirens riding on fishes and turtles (really!), there are plenty of other sights in the park, like the Fisherman’s House (Casita del Pescador), the beautiful roses and garden of La Rosaleda, the Velázquez Palace and the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal), and besides, many fountains, like the one of the Galápagos or the Fallen Angel.
You may also ask where the famous royal residence, Buen Retiro itself is after all, if the whole park is named after the building: the answer for that is as simple, as sad it is, because it was fatally damaged during the Spanish Civil War, so the you will only find some old pictures and illustrations of it.
I was also thinking while walking how it is possible that a monarch could or had the right to afford such a luxury like this enermous garden, but after getting lost in the silence and the care of the green leaves, I understood the point: maybe it looks easy to be a king from the outside, but ruling a huge land, especially a world empire is such a responsibility that is not just a piece of cake to cope with.
Just think about kings like Charles the V of Spain, whose empire was considered in his times like ‘the empire on which the sun never set’ - it must have been such a duty, that the time for relax should be equally fair enough with this burden in order to let the ruler recharge their energies.
Maybe it only sounds like something to say in the defense of kings and emperors, but anyhow, nowaday every person has this right and opportunity to enjoy these amazing parks, and there are also some local associations for freetime activities from chess to outdoors sports.
Additionally, if your time is limited and you are looking for someting else, there are plenty of bars and restaurants, and although they might not be the best places to eat, you can grab some refreshing drinks in the shadow of the trees.
Nowadays you may also find seafood on the menus, particualrly due to the pupularity of Spain, Mediterranean cuisine and the thousands of tourists per year, but traditionally the meals of Madrid are not really into fish, but more like continental: a famous dish, cocido madrileño (Madrid stew) including chickpeas, lard, sausage, bacon and sometimes other vegetables as well.
I guess this is the food which is the closest to Hungary in terms of taste, but unfortunately I could not find it in its birth city, and when I am in Valencia I usually meet the tinned version of it, like I do with fabada asturiana (beans and sausage from Asturias) or llenties amb xoriço (lentils and sausage from Catalan territories).
About drinks, I already mentioned for instance tinto de verano, which consists of red wine, soda, lemon and sometimes rum, making it similar to sangría and our fröccs in Hungary. There in Madrid though I also discovered a (disputedly Basque) drink called calimocho (in Basque: kalimotxo), which is quite simply a cocktail of red wine and cola which is also popular in my country under a different name.
Apart from gastronomical pleasures, there are also many musicians all around the city and particularly in the park: just during my two days of staying I met various talented street players of sax, guitar, violin and accordion at least, if not of other instruments as well.
If we have taken the entrance from the side of Prado and the Royal Botanical Garden before, the best idea is to exit on the side of Carrer de Alcalá, because this way we can not only see the dynamic life of a world city constantly in motion, but we will have a chance to admire plenty of impressive buildings.
You will also notice another famous monument, which is similar to the Toledo Gate: this is Puerta de Alcalá, which is also the entering point where you can get inside the contemporary part of Madrid full of shops, restaurants, theatres, banks and office buildings.
Through the Alcalá Gate and the Fuente de Cibieles which I mentioned at the beginning, you can continue your journey on a wide avenue, Gran Vía, where one can really feel like in a huge city like Paris, New York or Budapest for a while.
I think this was the place where I also found the kind of Madrid which had existed in my head before, although I need to admit that the real-life capital is just as developed as I had expected, and turned out to be even more historical. Even more fascinating than what I could have possibly created in my mind.
So as a summary, this real-life Madrid is not worse, just different, or, in some terms maybe even better than what I had thought. Gran Vía will lead you to Plaza de España, which is not just a location for open-air programs and festivals sometimes, but it also hosts a monument of the most famous Spanish fictional character, Don Quijote de la Mancha, and of his creator, Miguel de Cervantes too, of course.
Since I am not that huge fan of football and the stadium was very far away, I could not visit Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the home ground of the club Real Madrid, although there is an important connection for Hungarians: Ferenc Puskás, the most famous Hungarian footballist ever also played for the team between 1958 and 1966. He was so popular that he got the Spanish nickname Pancho from his fans.
There are other Hungarian references in Madrid as well: Hungarian writer József Nyírő was buried in Madrid until his remains were transported to his homeland, Transylvania in 2010.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, a very remarkable art gallery does not have a half-Hungarian name coincidentally either: one member of the gallery’s founder family, Thyssen, married to Margit Bornemisza, a Hungarian baroness, and this is the reason for the double surname of the institute.
Back to the main topic, Madrid is obviously full of miraculous buildings everywhere - for example the Palacio de las Cortes, thus the Spanish National Pairlament, which has a very incredible neoclassical facade, although to be honest it is so similar to other museums and pairlaments of its kind that one does not necessarily feel that this is a place totally in the focus.
In spite of the short time that was given, Madrid has been worth compeltely with all the difficulties and adventures I had to face. It is also highly recommended to take comfort aside and buy a bus or a train ticket, because this way one can admire the beautiful Spanish landscape throughout the journey with all rocks, abysses, villages, olive fields, vineyards, pastures, farms and herds of cows or horses, which is indeed an amazing and authentic experience. Exactly how you can imagine Spain based on some Romantic or Rococo paitings.
Regarding imagination, my key advice for visiting Madrid, like in the case of many other cities and places, is the fact that you should not get sticked to your plans too strictly. Just improvise, chill, enjoy your time and do not be afraid to get lost in some smaller streets or alleys.
If something grabs your attention, just go for it, and you will see that besides your own, personal discoveries, sooner or later the greatest attractions of your wish list will also find you. Just remain spontanious and patient.