Once you have visited several cities in Western Europe — you start to notice a certain “Europeaness” about the places you go. Despite that the city will have it’s own language and it’s own culture, there is a distinct unifying quality that makes it similar to other European cities. Madrid is no exception to this rule. However, unlike most major European cities — there aren’t many main landmarks here which attract visitors. The architecture of the city is beautiful and there are some fantastic sights such as the Palacio Royal (Royal Palace). But, what seems to be the big draw for travelers is the attitude of the city which is distinctly and completely Spanish.
The rhythm of Madrid is much slower and more relaxed than anywhere else I have ever been. People wake up at 10 or 11 in the morning and have a cafe con leche and churros with a cup of bitter-sweet chocolate for breakfast. Lunch is about 2 p.m. and is no mere meal. It is a long feast which might be enjoyed over two hours with tapas and Tinto de Verano (red wine and Sprite) . Even business professionals are given two hours for lunch every day. Then dinner is at 10:30 and can go until midnight. There are plazas all over Madrid where bars have outdoor seating and customers can sit, enjoy their food and drink until 2 a.m. Even people who aren’t sitting at the tables and chairs provided by the bars may still enjoy the plaza by buying cerveza from vendors in the square and sit on the ground in small groups to chat and relax once the sun has begun to set.
The locals, the tourists and the ex-pats all co-exist relatively well in this diverse place. Everyone seems to have a dog and it’s not uncommon to see unleashed canines following behind their masters or playing with other canines on small brick roads. Flamboyant gay men walk about — dressed to the nines. Middle-aged prostitutes stand on street corners smoking cigarettes looking tired and weather worn. Overall, it’s a unique yet unremarkable city. It’s not a place I have found myself falling in love with (unlike Edinburgh or Nice). I don’t feel the need to go unearth any secret amazing bars or monuments. Yet, I appreciate why this place would be an ideal city to live in for a few years. The idea of living in one of the beautiful old style apartments with their balconies and French windows in a city that doesn’t wind down until 4 a.m. is a pretty enticing thought. Madrid provides a vivid and laid back charm that is impossible not to appreciate.