04 Feb NEW STROLLS IN MADRID
A traveler arriving in the capital of Spain is unlikely to ask the same questions as a Tourist.
What to do in Madrid ?
The tourist may join any of the ”free tours” through Madrid Downtown. Departure from Puerta del Sol or Plaza Mayor . For the tourist, it’s enough to stroll in the streets of Downtown Madrid. And to have fun listening to rave anecdotes proclaimed by ingenious amateur guides.
Preparing a ”free tour” is easy, if you know the recipe.
1.) You have to memorize some historical data about streets and characters.
2.) To colect some funny occurrences to entertain your public.
3.) And recite by heart all what you have learnt, pretending you are improvising.
Anyone with empathy can give a ”free tour”.
In short, the main goal of a ”free tour” is to entertain tourists, so that, in the end, they leave a good tip in your hand.
Many travelers, yet, will ask a licensed guide to go with them on a private stroll in Madrid. Travelers appreciate to walk in Madrid Downtown. But also to stroll in other Madrid neighborhoods, searching for genuine experiences. A traveler likes to hear coherent descriptions about the urban evolution of the city.
On Madrid’s anecdotes, travelers from U.S.A. will get a lot of interesting ones. For example, at the demolished Hotel Florida in Plaza Callao, two good friends broke up, at the beginning of Spanish Civil War. One of them was Ernest Hemingway, who enjoyed at the hotel “full-board service” provided by communist comrades of the Republican Government. The other was John Dos Passos; who had already unmasked the totalitarian eagerness of the socialist hierarchy.
Supposing the traveler comes from the Philippines, he will wish to stand in front of José Rizal’s office. Or, in the case of Chilean travelers, where Gabriela Mistral lived when she was consul in Madrid. And why not, many travelers will be glad to see the Casa de las Flores that housed Neruda, García Lorca, Alberti and Miguel Hernández.
Tourists who join a ”free tour” are passive listeners. Enthusiasts non-licensed guides recite to them, all the time, the same memorized script.
Travelers, on the contrary, are active listeners. They receive personalized information from his licensed guide. Furthermore, during the tour, the guide adapts its itinerary to the traveler’s preferences. There is no point here in repeating texts learned by heart.
So, only those who have been walking around Madrid for years, can pass on accurate information. This is the main reason why experienced travelers choose licensed guides.
Will these new tours meet the needs of discerning travelers ?
Our mutual director, Irina Karasenko, explained us some aspects of these walks. Its objective are individual travelers. Visitors who like to absorb everything about Madrid. History, culture, architecture, urban design, idiosyncrasy, etc.
One of the things that travelers note is the good condition of the buildings in Madrid Downtown. They are pleasant surprised when the guide unveils them what many façades hide. Amazing archaeological treasures. Like the remains of walls, towers and caves which tourists have seldom the chance to see.
Some narrow and winding streets of Madrid Downtown reveal its Umayyad origin. The Umayyad founded Madrid around 2200 years ago.
Many travelers find it hard to understand why in 1561 a small village, embedded in the centre of Spain, became the Court of Spain, after King Phillip II defenestrated Toledo, the former capital.
Charles III, the good king with a big nose, entered Madrid in 1759. Few things had changed, since 1561. When he saw the panorama around him, he must have asked himself : “What I’m doing here ?” The same reflection had his beloved wife Amalia, suffering mother of a large royal offspring. Smelly roads and sidewalks dotted with holes. Miserable houses scattered everywhere. Dirt as far as the royal eyes could see. The Madrilenians hiding their faces under pompous hats and huge cloaks…
Poor Amalia, such was her displeasure with her new destiny that she passed away, only 8 months after her arrival.
More and more tourists and travelers arrived in Madrid in the 1980. Many of them, attracted by the airs of freedom that invaded the city after Franco’s death. But, they came across an inhospitable city. Old, Madrid Downtown caused them unhealthy experiences and mixed sensations of disgust. In fact, on one side, the nightlife of Madrid was impregnated with the music of the Movida and the aroma of cannabis. Both were part of the air of freedom that flooded the society after a long dictatorship. Yet, on the other side, the excessive consumption of drugs became a social issue. This led to an increase in crime, public insecurity, urban deterioration and filth, throughout all Madrid Downtown.
The rehabilitation of Old Madrid and other damaged neigborhoods began in 1994. For 6 years the state, regional and local authorities carried out the Rehabilitation of Madrid Downtown. In a vast area of 320 hectares.
All administrations invested together a total of 316 million Euros. At the end, the Plan was a full success. The social and urban reconstruction of Old Madrid became a splendorous reality. Its inhabitants enjoyed a new quality of life. Inhabitants, travelers and tourists lost the fear of walking through the streets.
Lavapies : The idea behind this walk designed by Irina is simple. The guide will take the traveler through the literary, artistic and historical traces left in this popular neighborhood of Madrid by great artists and novelists. Several stops, so that the guide summarizes for the traveler all the stories and events that sprang up in the past from the multicolored streets and alleys of Lavapiés
Through entertaining descriptions of famous authors works, the traveler will get to know our culture and the background of the places he visits.
Pío Baroja, Benito Pérez Galdós, Mesoneros Romanos, Valle Inclán, Arturo Barea, among many others, chose Lavapies as the impressive setting for some of their most successful writings.
Special emphasis will be placed on the outstanding sculptor Pedro de Ribera. He was one of the most conspicuous inhabitants of the Baroque Lavapies and author of significant sculptures scattered throughout the city.
There are ceramic plaques that stand out in the street corners. They have drawings that explain each name. Some Street names are endearing. Like Fe, Oso, Tres Peces, Encomienda, Rosa, Olivar, Primavera etc., These plaques serve also as pleasant reminders of past times that will never come back.
Plaques, streets, squares of Lavapies which contain a thousand and one stories !
Lavapies also benefited from the Rehabilitation Plan. The whole area got renewed. Public services, improved. The Valle Inclan Theatre opened in Lavapies Square. Off Broadway type theatres emerged. Architect Linazasoro transformed the battered Escuelas Pías into a spectacular Cultural Centre that houses today some University faculties.
However, speculation was the main culprit in the failure of the Rehabilitation Plan here.
A considerable amount of illegal immigrants settled in Lavapies. The neighborhood became the biggest multiracial community in Madrid.
Likewise, young anti-capitalists and counter-cultural movements found in Lavapies a perfect framework to practice their postulates.
But beyond ideologies and social circumstances, Lavapies neighboors like the same things than other people from Madrid. They meet in terraces, chat, eat and drink.
In this neighborhood, there are bars and restaurants that house real gastronomic treasures.
And for all these things, and many more, Lavapies is always worth a visit.
This Stroll begins in the old neighborhood of Maravillas, today Malasana. Its current name is due to a young seamstress of 15 years old. She was shot during the Napoleonic invasion. Her crime, to carry a scissor in her sewing basket. And repel the French soldiers who tried to rape her.
Malasana is a neighborhood of colorful 18th-century facades. They are adorned with iron balconies.
The names of its streets reveal its past.
In the 17th century, a stream ran, between palm tres, through Calle de la Palma.
In the Corredera de San Pablo there was a chapel where the parishioners came to venerate the Saint.
In Espiritu Santo street, about 400 years ago, a ray destroyed the unhealthy huts where evil people practiced obscene rites.
Malasana is the sustainable fashion district. Countless vintage fashion stores encourage us to buy clothes there instead in modern boutiques. Greta Thunberg would welcome this assertion. All persons should help to reduce the carbon emissions produced by clothing factories.
The Squares of San Ildefonso, del Rastrillo and Dos de Mayo are 3 oases of leisure. On each square a Bar with terrace serve their clientele at all hours of the day. Yet, it is at dusk when the terraces reach their greatest effervescence.
Here in Malasana reborn the legendary Palentino. Unfortunately, new Palentino has nothing to do with the previous one, where you got the cheapest gin tonic in Madrid and meet movie stars talking lively with ordinary pedestrians.
Times have changed. Everything changes. Malasana his now full with tourists from Airbnb.
Many neighbors have hung yellow protest posters on their balconies. Excessive night-time noise. Impossible to sleep at night.
Don’t let the traveler worry. Your stroll with a private guide through Malasana neighborhood will unveil you many spots which became protagonists of films and books. Typical places that the traveler would never find by himself.
The best break will come when the guide will invite the traveler to taste the best coffee with milk in the city. This is quite significant, considering that in Malasana there are lots of competitors. One bar for every 80 inhabitants, more or less ?
Chueca and Salamanca are more ”chic” than Malasana. These neighborhoods have a different character as well. In fact, each neighborhood in Madrid has its own personality. No two neighborhoods are alike.
Something like Malasana is happening to Chueca. Mass tourism is taking away the local flavor. What a tragedy. As we have mentioned several times: everything changes.
You have to walk around Chueca, before its ‘lifelong’ habitants pass to another life. And before the non-binary residents, who fixed up the neighborhood, move to quieter parts.
Main reason : In order the traveler doesn’t end up like some tourists, who only hang around trendy bars and restaurants. Many travelers who enter those spots, leave later with the feeling that they have not seen anything new. The same kind of people that swarm around Montorgueil, Peckham or Greenpoint.
So, dear traveler, go better with your guide through some unique examples of modernist architecture. You will hear about the spirit of the era that forged the Chueca neighborhood. Your guide will tell you about Unamuno, Machado, Baroja, Valle Inclán… Also, about how hard was the fall, when Spain lost the last colonies of its Empire. It was at that time when many intellectuals became concerned about the social imbalances which caused the lack of an Industrial Revolution in Spain.
At the end of the 19th century, Chueca turn into the university district of Madrid. In its bars and taverns, students started to talk about “essential social reforms”. Philosophy returned to the classrooms.
The liberal bourgeoisie and the wealthy class were in the doldrums.
To make things worse, the university moved to another location. The students disappeared. Their place in the streets and taverns were taken by scoundrels and thugs.
Chueca then became an outmost dangerous neighborhood. Until its resurrection, at the end of the 20th century. Thanks to the arrival of non-binary population that changed for better the neighborhood, without any kind of state aid.
After all, modernism was indeed a tough period. During that turbulent time the Generation of ’98 was born. Brilliant intellectuals who described in literary masterpieces the dramatic end of an era.
Our traveler will easily learn the essential characteristics of the Generation of ’98. Surely, in a traditional bar where people can enjoy some tapas prepared according to grandmother’s recipes.
He will be happy to skip those ”deconstructed omelettes” that are a hit in ”cool places” everywhere.
And not to change the subject, where can you get the best Spanish omelette in town ?
In the Salamanca neighborhood. Until not long ago, the most ”posh” neighborhood of Madrid. It was the favorite place to live of the richest people. Not everyone has left. Several stayed. They live in luxury homes in stately buildings. In the streets below, shine boutiques, restaurants and bars. Foodies from the whole world come here, attracted by the well-deserved fame of Salamanca’s classic and brand new ”temples of good food and wines”.
But, what about the best Spanish omelette ? The answer comes in two words: Casa Dani. A family bar in the Mercado de la Paz. Her will enjoy the traveler the refined atmosphere of the market where Salamanca neighbors do their daily shopping.
- To be continued –