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After a lackluster first day in Madrid, it was great to get out and experience some of the city today! It feels very much like a city with compact buildings and lots of graffiti (far more than Paris, which is almost twice as big), which could lead to it feeling unsafe, but I don’t get that feeling in Madrid. So even if it comes off as a really “city-ish” place, don’t let that scare you off because there’s a lot of great stuff to see here!

We started our day (around midday, naturally :)) by paying a visit to the Puerta del Sol, a cool plaza and one of the historic centers of Madrid. There are some old buildings, shops, and more, but more importantly, this plaza houses the statue of the Oso y el Madroño. Although it isn’t a huge statue, this image of a bear (oso) climbing a strawberry tree (madroño) has become the symbol of Madrid. Be sure to pay the statue a visit and snap a picture of yourself with it! And while you’re there, avoid all the people with shirts that say Compro Oro/Plata/Diamantes (“I buy gold/silver/diamonds”) and the people dressed up in the creepy Smurf and Disney costumes. They’ll just try to give you fliers or get you to take your picture with them (for a fee, of course).

We did a bit of wandering from there, up to the Gran Via (big shopping street, so visit there if you want to get some shopping in on your trip) and through some other side streets until we got to the Plaza Mayor. Yes, another plaza – the Spanish people love them! This one is a great place to walk around, have a drink or a meal, and just do some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. As with any touristy place, keep an eye out for pickpockets and avoid anyone who wants to get you to take a picture with them, like the faux flamenco dancers or overweight guys in Spiderman costumes. Just keep on walking past them!

We continued our tour of the city by moving onto the Real Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanical Garden), much to Scott’s excitement (he loves plants/flowers). There’s a small cost to walk through the garden (€3 as of Sep 2013), but it’s a very nice walk and there’s a big variety of plants, flowers, and other foliage to see there. Definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of gardening or botany or even if you just want a nice view on your walk!

Have you noticed that everything we’ve done so far today has been both free (minus the €3 to get into the garden) and outdoors? Just shows there are lots of ways to see a city like Madrid without spending tons of money! We continued the (free) outdoor extravaganza by paying a visit to the Parque del Buen Retiro (Park of the Good/Pleasant Retreat), which is next to the botanical garden. The park is HUGE, so you could easily spend the better part of a day (or at least an afternoon) there. There were lots of people out and about there, running, chatting on park benches, and just generally enjoying the fresh air. While walking around here, keep an eye out for the various attractions within the park itself, like the Palacio de Cristal, the HUGE monument to King Alfonso XII, and the Fountain of the Fallen Angel. Travel tip – on those days like today when it’s especially warm and sunny, stick to the shade as much as possible.

Our last stop of the day was our only indoor one – the Museo Nacional del Prado. Lots of great stuff to see here from artists like de Goya, Bosch, Velázquez, and more. As I mentioned before, Scott and I aren’t huge art enthusiasts, so we just hit the edited highlights, so if you’re like-minded, I recommend doing the same. Although the Prado isn’t as large as the Louvre, it’s still pretty big, so it’s easiest to go into it with an idea of what you want to see. Since we don’t have any kind of museum pass here like we did in Paris, we decided to save ourselves the €14 entry fee by taking advantage of the Prado’s daily free entry (Mon-Sat from 6-8p). Since we were already out and about, we got in line at the museum around 5p. The line quickly got pretty long, but you don’t have to wait in it (here comes a travel tip!). Based on what we saw tonight, it seems like you can save yourself an hour of waiting in line by showing up around 630p because the people who had been waiting had all filed in by then. Of course, that doesn’t leave you much time to walk around before the museum closes at 8p, so keep that in mind.

Okay, time for photos!

Puerta del Sol1
Our first view of the Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol Panorama
Panorama of the Puerta del Sol (click to see the full version)

Jeff Oso Madrono
Me posing with the famous statue

Madrid Side Street
One of the cool side streets we saw throughout Madrid

Plaza Mayor1
The Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor2
I really love the way the statue cuts against the building, also in the Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor Panorama
The obligatory panorama of the Plaza Mayor

Botanical Garden
A shot from the Real Jardín Botánico

Retiro Park
Beautiful flowers in the Parque del Buen Retiro

Jeff and Scott Buen Retiro
Me and Scott in the Parque del Buen Retiro (in the shade, of course!)

Buen Retiro Panorama
A panoramic shot from the park

Buen Retiro Crystal Palace
The Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in the park

Prado Exterior
The exterior of the Prado (no pictures allowed inside)

After an exhausting day like today, we needed a good meal. Scott had a hankerin’ for some Thai food, so he found this place, which was great! It was a bit of a trek from our apartment, but the Metro in Madrid is great, so we used that to get there. Travel trip – when you’re visiting a new place, you of course want to try the local cuisine (like tapas in Madrid), but feel free to seek out other favorite foods to see what they’re like in those cities.

Roll on tomorrow! We’ll be hitting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the Templo de Debod, the Reina Sofia, and maybe one or two other places. Should be another great day!