I came to Spain knowing nothing about Madrid or how big it is. The city is very large, on par with any other major European city. It has a large subway system, hundreds of people on every street, and on certain avenues, feels a lot like Manhattan. When we arrived to Madrid, we hopped in a cab, only to find out that our hotel was about a block and a half away haha. Our hotel, on Calle Atocha, was smack in the middle of everything we wanted to see in Madrid. Once settled, we picked up a map of the city and started walking around town.
Heading north-west from our hotel, we first ran into Plaza Mayor, the most famous plaza in Madrid. The plaza used to be used for everything from dances to executions, announcements and bull fights. Now it is lined with tourist shops and cafés. Next we headed out to the Royal Palace, El Palácio Reál, and checked it out from the outside, as well as the adjacent cathedral, Catedral de Almudena. They would be for another day. We walked up along La Plaza de Orientes, the park next to the palace, and then down to La Plaza del Sol, one of the bigger, non-pedestrian, plazas. From here, we walked around one of the shopping areas of town, crossing north to Gran Via, one of the biggest avenues in Madrid. This is the street which made me think of Manhattan, with its tall building, theaters, shops and diners, as well as a major Times-Square-esque intersection with neon lights. We had dinner along this road and walked back to the hotel... accidentally along the city's prostitution and sex-shop avenue haha. My mom stopped an bought shoes in a shop that had 4 hookers hanging out outside. Dinner in spain is from around 8:30 to 11 so the evening was up already for us, we just went to bed and got ready for the next day.
The next morning, we had breakfast in the hotel and headed out again to La Plaza de Orientes to meet up with our tour. We embarked on a half-day panoramic tour of the city, with only one stop... the Hard-Rock Cafe. We got a laugh because there really isn't much around that area, but we were given a coupon for the Hard-Rock store, and we wondered how much Hard-Rock made off of the dozens of busses that stop there every day, full of tourists. I went in wanting to buy one of those cool rocked-out forks, but they were not for sale. The tour took us all around Madrid, much farther than we would have ever gone ourselves. We went past the Plaza del Toros, the Large Fútbol Stadium that houses Reál Madrid, The University area, including Madrid's Public university, home to over 100,000 students. We drove through downtown and the modern business areas of Madrid, with its towering skyscrapers and large glass buildings. We passed through maybe 12 or so major intersections, something not that interesting in the US but in Madrid and the rest of Europe, it is a sight to behold. There are usually at least 5 or 6 Major Avenues leading into a large round-about, usually with some sort of Monument, large fountain, or major statue in the middle. There are usually at least 4 or 5 lanes around the circle, which no one pays attention to as cars whiz around very fast. It was pretty cool to see the big bus traverse the intersections.
The bus dropped us off again near the Palace and we walked to see some of the things we had briefly drove past on the bus. We headed south to one of the old gateways of the city, then through one of the older parts of town around la Plaza de San Francisco. We headed up along some of the smaller roads and through local shops before coming across the Plaza Mayor where we settled for a late lunch. It was a hot day so we decided to take a siesta and headed back to the hotel for a few hours. In the evening, we walked a good distance to El Templo de Debod, a gift from the Egyptians to España. It is an authentic egyptian temple, moved stone-by-stone, then reassembled in the middle of a hill-top park. We sat and talked for a bit at the park, then checked out a local music festival they had going on nearby.
We woke up early the next day to beat the lines at the Goya's Black Paintings, a collection of black, distorted, grotesque and even horrific paintings. from the mid 19th century. After the Prado, we explored the Parque del Buen Retiro, a grand park in the center of the city. Inside we saw several fountains and lovely flower-beds, as well as a large lake and a huge monument to Alfonso XII. Next-up: Barcelona!