There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day.
Can I get an amen to Ernest Hemingway?
After five weeks in Madrid, Spain, I still can't get the country's schedule down. Between siestas that close shops for hours to 11 o'clock dinners, my recent change from night owl to morning person -- obsessed with getting a solid eight hours of sleep, no less -- has been tested in sleep-deprived Spain. Spanish sun has also taken some getting used to, with a grueling 16 hours of intense daylight; siestas, fans, and cañas (small beers) are Spain's weapons in fighting the oppressive heat, especially during the heatwaves rolling across the country now.
But please don't think I'm complaining about sleep schedules and sun in Spain, because there are many things to gush over in this amazing country. The architecture, the food, the plazas, the culture, the list goes on. Mango and I rented a small apartment downtown in the trendy Malasaña neighborhood for three months and it feels amazing to sit back, relax, and act like a local for once. I arrived here thinking I'd apply for residency for a few years, but it seems more complicated than expected so I find myself again traveling without a destination. Until a light bulb goes off in my head, I will continue to enjoy all that Madrid and Spain have to offer, starting with three of my favorite places in Madrid.
Parque del Buen Retiro
The "park of the pleasant retreat" is the perfect place for reading a book on a blanket in the shade or taking a leisurely bike ride around the expansive grounds. The Spanish Monarchy founded Retiro Park in 1505 and turned it into a public park in the 19th century, when it quickly became the green heart of the city. There is a lot to do and see in the park, from walking through art exhibit space Cristal Palace to paddling a rowboat around the Estanque to admiring the fountain of the fallen angle (supposedly the world's only public statue of Satan), plus book fairs and summer concerts and other community events.
Atocha is Madrid's largest and oldest railway station, serving high-speed commuter lines and intercity trains. The original red-brick building was inaugurated in 1851 and suffered a major fire in the 1890s that prompted a wrought iron-heavy redesign of the building by architects Alberto de Palacio Elissagne and Gustave Eiffel (yes, as in that Eiffel). Tragically, or at least in my opinion, in 1992 Spanish modernist architect Rafael Moneo designed a wildly incongruous new terminal to replace the old one, casting the grand old terminal off as a shopping mall and nightclub with an unexpected tropical garden. Most recently, in 2004 Atocha station was the site of various bombings inside the station and in trains that killed almost 200 and wounded 1,755.
Along Paseo del Prado
The grand Paseo del Prado is one of Madrid's oldest boulevards and is a protected cultural good (Bien de Interés cultural, or BIC, in Spanish). There are all sorts of beautiful old buildings and marble fountains along this busy, tree-lined avenue, from the famous Prado and Reina Sofia art museums to the stunning Cibeles fountain.