What makes Madrid "Madrid"?

This item appears on page 37 of the March 2010 issue.

In the first of our writing “contests” about inspiring destinations, we posed the question “What makes Madrid “Madrid”? From the responses received, it is clear this city makes for vivid memories. We are accepting no more submissions for this contest and will print a few more of the entries received in the next couple of issues.

As was stated, the entries will not be judged, but a number of entrants will receive prizes. Randomly selected, the following participants each will receive a one-year extension to their ITN subscription: Dianne Jurczak, Haslett, MI; Dan Levine, Tampa, FL; Kathy Lovell, Boston, MA, and Carol H. Probst, Bethel Park, PA.

And a grand-prize 50-dollar gift certificate from the mail-order travel-products firm Magellan’s will go to Bob Lata of Paso Robles, CA.

Watch for more essay contests in the future.

There are extraordinary places to see in Madrid, including the Palacio Real and the Prado Museum, presumed by some to be the greatest art gallery in the world. However, the true treasure of Madrid is its people. They define its ethos! Nowhere have I found a more hospitable and friendly populace.

Madrileños are passionate about their city and anxious to share it with visitors. From the moment I arrived at the city airport until I left 10 days later, I was impressed with the welcoming atmosphere of Madrid.

During my first night in the city, after resting in my hotel on the Gran Via, I ventured out. Seeking a nearby café for dinner, I expected the streets to be deserted. Instead, they were full of people strolling and greeting one another along the way.

So I joined the crowd, finding an outside café farther afield, in the Plaza Mayor. It was as if the whole city had turned out and was throwing a party. In the Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe, everyone seems to have a good time.

Later, due to the time difference in the States, I awoke at 3 o’clock in the morning to find that the sidewalks were still crowded with people. Madrid is a city alive at all hours, and you are invited to join in the celebration.

Betty Carroll

Decatur, GA

(visited October ’09)

What makes Madrid “Madrid,” to me, is the Chocolatería San Ginés, where the Madrileños gather for churros (fried-dough pastries) and the wonderful, thick hot chocolate!

It is a very tiny shop very near the Church of San Ginés, and people out for their evening stroll line up first at the counter to pay for their snack, then wait on the narrow, winding stairway leading down to the small room where the chocolate is served.

There are cushioned seats lining the two longer walls as well as narrow tables with chairs, leaving only enough room for the waiters to pass through with the trays of hot chocolate and churros.

Whenever I think of Madrid, memories of my husband and me joining the local people at St. Ginés come flooding back… and they always bring a smile to my face. Those churros plus thick, pudding-like, dark hot chocolate. Yummmmmmm!

Dianne Jurczak

Haslett, MI (1996)

The Prado Museum in Madrid is a cultural highlight. The most important paintings from the 12th century to the 19th century from the Italian, Venetian, English, Spanish and Dutch schools are housed there — some of the finest art in the world.

I am not knowledgeable about art, but a museum tour guide made me so impressed with the art that it is still vivid in my mind 15 years later. One of the painters is Francisco Goya, whose scenes of the early days of the Peninsular War are famous, such as “Los Fusilamientos.” Among other works of his are “Charles IV of Spain and His Family” and the “Majas.”

The guide explained the subtle details in “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez. Velázquez’s “The Surrender of Breda” was another favorite of our guide.

I was surprised to enjoy an art museum so much. So were others in our group.

The museum permitted novice artists to come in to copy the great works. This amazed me. The copy we saw in progress that day looked perfect to my untrained eyes.

The Prado is what I think of first when someone mentions Madrid.

Barbara McIntosh

Roseville, CA