Madrid In A Day

I recently took a 12-day trip through southern Spain and Portugal so for the next few weeks I will be sharing about my travel’s here on The Creative Push. This Portu-Spain Adventure travel blog series is about the beautiful places, culture, history, people, architecture, and food that I experienced along the way. Today showcases exploring Madrid in a day. The art, architecture, food, and history that I was able to experience at the beginning of my 12 days of travel.

Portu-Spain Adventure Travel Blog Day 1

In June I met up with 7 friends at BNA in Nashville before boarding our plane to start our adventure through southern Spain and Portugal AKA Portu-Spain Adventure! We would eventually meet 12 others from various cities around the US and 3 more Nashvillians including my wonderful friend, Spaniard, and tour guide Jose Aznar. 

headshot of Jose Aznar in blue shirt

Jose and I have been friends for more than 10 years and he is extremely passionate about his country especially his hometown of Alicante. He is a professor at Vanderbilt University and has offered educational adventures to students and teachers for years. He also puts together a few limited adventure tours so when I saw the Southern Spain and Portugal tour I had to go. You can learn more through his company website Worlds of Spain

I explored Spain and Portugal back in the 90’s on several occasions so I was excited to see how things had changed over the years. Growing up in Florida I love seafood which is a staple throughout the areas we were traveling so was looking forward to tasting all of the delicious food along the way. As my friends and I waited to board our plane in Nashville, I couldn’t wait to get my vacation started. Our first day included more than 15 hours in planes and airport but nothing was delayed so I was very happy.

Portu-Spain Adventure Travel Blog Day 2

On the second day of my Portu-Spain Adventure, we arrived at the Madrid International Airport around 7:00 AM in the morning, grabbed a cab, and headed into the heart of the city. We were exhausted but needed to waste some time before we could get into our rooms.

We met up with the rest of our crew at The Hotel Radisson Red, a 4* hotel in the city center of Madrid. After the long process of checking in and leaving our luggage with the front desk, we headed out to find some coffee and something to eat. There were several local cafes right up the street so we grabbed some tasty pastries and warm beverages while agreeing on a game plan.

three people walking in Madrid airport
Trip map created with Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Madrid History

Madrid was founded in the 9th century by the Moors, who ruled the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. The city was originally called Mayrit, which means “place of many streams” in Arabic. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Madrid became the capital of Spain, under the rule of King Philip II.

The average pay in Madrid is generally higher than in other parts of Spain, around 2077 euros per month which has led to a thriving middle class and a high standard of living. It is however considered quite low for Europe. The climate is generally dry and sunny, with hot summers and cool winters. Its Mediterranean climate is ideal for outdoor activities like strolling through the city’s many parks and gardens. 

One of the most significant events in Madrid’s history took place in 1808, during the Peninsular War. The French army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Spain and captured Madrid. On May 2nd hundreds of Spanish people rebelled and were then massacred by the French. Named Dos de Mayo Uprising, this began the Peninsular War and is now a celebrated holiday every year in the city.

bustling streets, downtown Madrid, Spain
Downtown Madrid, Spain.

Another important historical point was the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. Madrid was one of the main battlegrounds of the war, and the city suffered greatly. The most famous symbol of the war in Madrid is the Cuartel de la Montaña, former military barracks that were used as a prison during the war. Today, it is a museum dedicated to the history of the war.

Madrid Art

Estatua De Murillo Madrid Spain
Madrid Botanical Gardens

Madrid is a city with a rich history, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine and is home to some of the world’s most renowned art establishments. After eating we decided to head toward the nearby Prado art museum. We walked through the Madrid Botanical Gardens and by the statue of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a Spanish Baroque artist from Seville and admired artists of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The line at 10 AM to get into the Prado museum was massive but we knew it was the best way to keep us busy while waiting to get into our rooms despite being a bit tired and grumpy. The general admission cost to get in was only 15 euros but unfortunately, I had to leave my backpack of camera gear in a locker at the entrance.

Prado museum sign

The Prado Museum was built in 1785 by the order of King Charles III but did not open to the public until 1819. Today it houses a vast collection of European art from the 12th to the 19th century including some of the greatest art masterpieces by Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Bosch, and many more. Its extensive unmatched collection of Spanish paintings is better than any other museum in the world. 

Having studied art in college I was excited to get to see so many beautiful paintings in person with collections that span centuries showcasing some of the most important works in Western art history. The people, the cherubs, the animals, the food, the landscapes. I studied the brush strokes and intricate details of each painting wondering how each had been created. 

So much of the art seemed to carry sadness, death, religious connotations of both good and evil, lack, and indulgence. Some were sinful like the triptych of The Garden Of Earthy Delights by Bosch. Some gruesome such as the Goya painting Saturn Devouring His Son. I pondered the meaning of each piece as I tried to take in as much as I could. Unfortunately, we were limited in how much time we had there. It would have taken days to see everything in this massive and very busy museum. I could have looked through each room, floor, and collection for hours on end but we had a full day ahead, were tired, and after several hours had to get back to check into our rooms. 

Madrid Architecture

cross statue near Plaza Mayor
A cross statue near the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

I love the beauty of old historic cities, the cobblestone streets, the ornate architecture of the old buildings, and the misunderstood chatter of the people whose language I can’t understand. As a kid, my mother had several antique shops so my love of old things runs deep. As a photographer, my passion is to try and capture the essence of how I feel in the moment as I frame whatever point of interest is within my viewfinder.

group walking into the Plaza Mayor

At 7:00 PM we met in the hotel lobby and then went to the city’s central iconic square, the Plaza Mayor. It is an enormous must-visit landmark in the heart of the city dating back to the 17th century. The square is surrounded by historic buildings, souvenir shops, and lively restaurants. Its stunning Baroque architecture and arcades provide shade from the hot Spanish sun during the daylight hours. 

Plaza Mayor Madrid
Plaza Mayor

It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the square, but what sets it apart is the lively atmosphere. Street performers and musicians entertain visitors as they enjoy tapas at one of the many outdoor cafes lining the square. The aroma of delicious Spanish cuisine wafts through the air at every corner. In the center, there is an equestrian statue of King Philip III. This gathering place for locals and tourists alike has been the heart of the city since the 17th century, witnessing bullfights, public executions, and royal coronations over its history. 

Madrid Food

Jose Aznar in front of Restaurante Botin
Jose Aznar of Worlds Of Spain at Restaurante Botin

At 8:00 PM we had reservations at the Restaurant Botin, historically known as the oldest restaurant in the world. The restaurant has been operating since 1725 and is famous for its roast suckling pig and lamb cooked in a wood-fired oven. We were seated upstairs in a small dining area, the atmosphere was cozy, the traditional Spanish decor was charming and the service was friendly. Jose had the entire dinner planned from starters to desserts including wine and all was inclusive of our trip cost. 

Restaurante Botin Chef iat oven n kitchen

We all seemed to have bottomless glasses of red and white wines that livened up the group of tired travelers. For starters, we enjoyed baskets of fresh baked bread with plates of local Manchego cheese, made from 100% sheep’s milk. It was wonderful like every other cheese plate I was able to enjoy while in Spain…YUM! 

Roast suckling pig on shelf

Then we were served croquettes, small breaded, Spanish cured ham, and bechamel sauce-infused fried fritters. The popular Spanish tapa with a velvety creamy flair was awesome, one of my favorites. Next, we tried the black sausage also called Mordilla, a type of blood sausage that was savoury but I didn’t care for the texture. Another tapa we tried, callos Madrid style, which is beef tripe stomach lining. The chewy fatty texture was a bit overwhelming for my taste. 

Next came the main courses which included baked Cantabrian hake-fish, roasted lamb, and suckling pig with roasted potatoes. I tried the lamb and pig and both were incredible! The suckling pig was tender and moist with a crispy roasted skin on top that cracks when you cut into it. The tender flavorful lamb was a bit gamey for some at our table but I loved it. The roasted potatoes like the meats were flavorful and wonderfully seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

By the time dessert was served, I wondered whether my love of sugar could bypass my full belly but who could pass up a variety of mixed desserts that included chocolate cake, cheesecake, Spanish cream-filled pastries, and carrot cake. As we waddled back to the hotel our full tummies and exhaustion grew with each step. Everyone quietly slipped off to their hotel rooms to end our first very long travel day.

diners at Restaurante Botin being served deserts

On our Portu-Spain Adventure exploring Madrid in a day, although brief, our single-day excursion exploring the art, architecture, food, and history was wonderful. Madrid is a very large city offering a blend of rich history, vibrant culture, great shopping, and delicious food. The prices seemed cheaper than Nashville for most everything. I was looking forward to the smaller towns ahead but what an amazing beginning to our travel adventure!

The Creative Push Vlog on YouTube

You can watch the Portu-Spain Adventure Travel Vlog day 1-2 on The Creative Push YouTube Channel or in this video.

The Creative Push Podcast of Madrid In A Day

You can listen to the Portu-Spain Adventure Travel Blog day’s 1-2 here or on The Creative Push Podcast!

Thank you for reading, if you liked this story please share it with others and stay tuned for the remaining 10 days ahead of travels through Southern Spain and Portugal. If you are interested in booking this southern Spain and Portugal trip feel free to check out my friend Jose Aznar’s site Worlds of Spain!

I hope that you will sign up to be a part of this creative tribe! 

To read artists’ interview stories visit The Creative Push blog!

To listen to interviews check out The Creative Push podcast!

To see my photography visit Sheri ONeal Photography!

There are more stories on the way!!

Have you traveled to Spain or Portugal? Please feel free to share your stories in the comments! I’m always looking to connect.

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