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Madrid, Spain

Madrid, the capital and largest city of Spain, dazzles with its royal history, grand opulence and non-stop activity.

Everything in Madrid seems larger than life. The extravagant Royal Palace with more rooms than any other European palace. Retiro Park with its expansive grounds containing enormous monuments, fountains and galleries. The Prado Museum with its extensive art collection featuring works from renowned artists like El Greco, Goya and Velazquez. Even the nightlife feels big and bold. The hum of the city buzzes into the wee hours of the morning. Not a surprise, given a population of over 3.3 million Madrileños.

In the center of the action lies Madrid’s most famous public square, Puerta del Sol. The iconic Tio Pepe sign, the city’s first billboard, hovers above Puerta del Sol (Gateway to the Sun.) Locals gather beneath the beloved El Oso y El Madrono, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue. We passed through the bustling square on arrival, and every day during our visit. Never tiring of the fantastic people-watching.

Every hour of the day, Madrid feels alive. The capital city moves quickly, pulsing to a constant rhythm.

Leisurely strolling down the sidewalk, locals often raced past us as if on a mission. A little granny emphatically shoved us out of the way. Clearly our touristy snail’s pace slowing her down. Seems even the elderly have somewhere to be in the city. After checking out the main tourist sights, we hit the amazing local markets. Feeling hungry, we stopped at Chocolateria San Gines and discovered the most incredible chocolate and churros. The first time we’d tasted these fried dough delights was in Seville. Like eating gelato in Rome, there’s no wrong way to do it. On a chilly night, nothing’s more delectable than crunchy churros dipped in steaming hot, melted chocolate.

One afternoon while watching costumed street performers in Playa Mayor, an attractive Spanish newscaster approached Brian. She needed help with a televised news segment. He agreed and before we knew it, cameras were rolling. The woman proceeded to climb on Brian’s back. Speaking in rapid Spanish, a crowd quickly gathered around Brian and his piggyback partner. To this day, we’re still not sure what the story was about, but Brian enjoyed his five minutes of fame.

On our last evening, we headed to Retiro Park, a peaceful respite in the heart of the city’s hustle and bustle.

Perched on some steps overlooking the lake, we sat and watched the world go by. A group of young kids played in a drum circle below. Families milled around. Couples snuggled on park benches. Outside the park gates, the city carried on as usual. Whirring cars. Swirling lights. Hurried crowds. In our tranquil oasis, it all seemed miles away. We lingered underneath the stars, soaking up the lesser known side of Madrid. One slow drum beat at a time.

Lodging: Pension Aliste |  Food: Cerveceria 100 Montaditos, Vinoteca BarbecheraChocolateria San GinesCafeteria Dulcinea, La Fragua de Vulcano | Activities: Royal Palace, Retiro Park, Prado Museum, Puerta del Sol, Playa Mayor

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