31 May 2011

Madrid, Spain (video)

To say that the transition from the modern, artistic beach city of Barcelona to the Spanish capital of Madrid was a letdown would be a bit of an exaggeration. But Madrid did not bring as many surprises and diversity as Barcelona - it seemed to be a fairly unspectacular government city and did not stand out among the many fantastic European cities that we have already visited.

The old architecture in Madrid was well kept and beautiful, but did not hold our attention like it did at the start of the trip. We have seen so many churches, cathedrals, and palaces now that all of them except the most awe-inspiring seem to blur together, becoming almost commonplace. The large public garden was a unique feature, with an outdoor pool for boating.

Coming from a coastal city, lack of easy access to a natural body of water is a hard sell. I had not realized this until walking in the blazing 39°C heat through the rows upon rows of endless buildings in Madrid. It's a kind of suffocating claustrophobia when you know there is only more city on the horizon. We will probably need to find a city with water for our final home over here. Or at least wide open streets to permit clean, fresh, cool airflow.

Madrid has been known lately for the protest going on in the main Puerta del Sol square, where protesters live in a tent city surrounded by banners placed over the storefronts of the major retailers in the square. Combine this with bullhorn-toting activists yelling in Spanish at passersby and of course the ever-present police force and you have a taste of Spanish public opinion on government. Apparently they have issue with the 20% unemployment rate in Spain (and a staggering 40% youth unemployment), the democratic system (they want a fairer system of democracy), and the quality of their living conditions. Given these troubles, it's easy to understand why not everybody would have a gleam in their eye and a bounce in their step.

However, Madrid did have a few fine eateries for us to enjoy. The Pink Sushiman was a futuristic sushi bar with airport stylings, while the Jardin de Princesa buffet offered a multitude of Asian choices, from Chinese to Japanese to even make-your-own Thai wok. A good chain restaurant we found was the Authentic Turkish restaurant, and good chain restaurants are not easy to come by over here.

The nightlife was also pretty good, with a seven-storey club that continued until 6am.

Madrid was a standard European city with a bit of the current political spectrum, some good cuisine, and all night adventures to boot. Not the most interesting or captivating of our European destinations but had its merits. We may have missed some of its glory by not exploring beyond the downtown core, so it may need a revisit at some later time. But maybe Barcelona first.