By Genevieve McCarthy, Wine Tours Organizer | Madrid
What is your idea of a perfectly happy day in your city?
I love Sundays in Madrid. My perfect Sunday would entail waking up early, getting the papers and going for chocolate and churros near the Plaza Mayor for breakfast. I´d then wander down towards the Rastro flea market for a few hours (the earlier the better as it gets packed). You´ll find everything for sale here: hippy chic clothing, vintage leather, jewelry, plants and flowers, kitchen and bathroom knicks and knacks, kids toys, lingerie, light fittings, even antique furniture. It´s fun for people watching and the streets are lined with atmospheric tapas bars and after the market.
I’d join friends for a pre-lunch aperitif in La Latina quarter. My favorite aperitif tipple is Vermut (vermouth), which they sell on tap in Madrid. Then around 2 p.m. we’d sit down to an afternoon of tapas, wine and good fin at one of my favorite foodie haunts in La Latina. The perfect day!
Knowing your city and its citizens, what is your greatest fear?
Madrileños loooove cars (and honking!) and the city has become a lot more clogged and congested in recent years. I have friends who drive to work when they would arrive to work in less time and less stressed if they took the (fabulous) metro or just walked.
I would be afraid that the traffic continues to get worse as the population increases. I hope the mayor follows through with a proposed bicycle plan in the works and more Madrileños give up the cars as they are really a drag downtown. If the city could adopt a ban on cars in the historic center like they have done in London, the quality of life would increase 100%.
Which historical figure would do best in your city?
Author Arturo Perez Reverte has a brilliant series of novels called “Capitan Alatriste”, set in Madrid in the 17th century. This period was full of larger- than-life swashbuckling figures and I can imagine other similar (fictional or non-fictional) characters fitting into Madrid during that turbulent time of poets, corrupt politicians and ready swordsmen.
Which do you admire most about your city (something from recent years)?
They finally implemented the smoking ban this year! They had tried unsuccessfully to do it a few years ago, but they finally got it together. It has made going out to cafes, bars and restaurants much, much, much more pleasant for all (even smokers) and finally made it possible to bring kids out more often.
Which is the trait you deplore most about your city?
The traffic and honking are no fun. Luckily, you can always escape the madness of rush hour downtown by nipping in to the Parque del Retiro, which is Madrid´s answer to NY´s Central Park. Located right downtown, it is an oasis full of beautiful walks, manicured gardens, sports facilities,cafés, a few art galleries, a manmade lake you can row, and plenty of grass to picnic on. In high summer, it´s the best place to be besides the pool.
What is the negative trait that others falsely accuse your city of having?
Weirdly, I have heard people say Madrid is dirty, but I have rarely seen a cleaner capital city (excluding those in Scandinavia of course!)
What is the greatest extravagance one can experience in your city?
Art, world class art! For under $10 you can visit the Prado Museum, which has one of the greatest painting and sculpture collections on earth. Down the street you have the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, comprising the famed art triangle of Madrid. There is no other capital city in Western Europe, in my opinion, which has so much art available at accessible prices to its inhabitants. And apart from paying museums, there are countless free cultural events throughout the year.
What is a positive trait your city is known for that is actually false?
Some foreigners think that it is always sunny in Spain (no matter the city!) While the climate in Madrid is continental with very cold winters (often dipping below 0 Celsius) and hellishly hot summers (often going over 40 Celsius). The best time to visit Madrid is March-June and September-November. I would say the same for many of Europe´s cities, in fact.
What do you dislike most about the architecture, city layout and general appearance of your city?
Downtown historic Madrid is beautiful, generally very clean for a big city, and the architecture is lovely. But some of the suburbs outside the center have high density eye sore tower blocks. Really horrid. Most tourists only see them when driving to and from the airport.
When was your city’s hey-day?
Bourbon Madrid (under Carlos III) was an enlightened period during which theRoyal Botanical Gardens, the Prado Museum and many of the city´s finest buildings were erected.
If you could change one thing about your city what would it be?
Pedestrianize more streets, put in bicycle lanes and ban unnecessary vehicles in the historic center. It would be so, so much nicer for all.
What do outsiders (or transplants and long-time visitors) to your city generally answer to the last question?
If it had been last year, I would have said that most foreigners and long-term transplants would have banned smoking in restaurants and bars, but now that they have actually done it (hooray!), I suppose the biggest complaint is that of any big city: traffic. Many people would like to see cars limited in the historic center.
What do you consider your city’s greatest achievement?
The public transport, especially the Metro, is incredibly efficient and an amazingly good value. Where else in Europe can you get to or from the airport to downtown for less than $5 and in under an hour?
If your city was destroyed and one day its ruins discovered, what do you think they would find and/or learn about it?
Cigarette butts, ha ha. Seriously, they could find Moorish walls, Bourbon palaces and some Belle Epoque architectural gems. Hopefully some of the the art collections would survive (the Prado is said to have underground vaults stuffed to the gills with paintings as their collection is so huge they can´t show it all at one time).
What is your city’s greatest artistic or architectural acquisition?
Spain is blessed with an artistic patrimony second to none (Picasso, Dali, Velazquez, Miro, Goya, Chillida, Sorolla..) many of whose works of art can be enjoyed in Madrid.
[Editor's Note: Genevieve also happens to be an expert in other parts of Europe, most notably as a wine tour operator for Cellar Tours. They organize private tours in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and France]