Learn about Madrid,
Spain, by reading The
Capital of the World - Hemingway's Madrid by Gary W. Bloom,
WTA Member and Leisure Traveler/Writer.
It features all you'll need to know to plan your trip
including how to get there, objective information on places to
stay, and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've
provided a summary of the contact information for your easy
Capital of the World - Hemingway's Madrid
by Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and
The Streets of Madrid, Spain
"Madrid is where one
learns to understand," Earnest Hemingway wrote in his short story,
"The Capital of the World." He first traveled to Madrid in 1923
and returned many times. The city and culture influenced his writing
throughout his life. The reoccurring themes in his novels and short
stories of man's struggle with life and death, his lust for life and his
fascination with death are shared by all Madridians.
Madrid is situated on a
plateau 2,200 feet above sea level, making it the highest capital in
Europe. Its clear cobalt skies were an inspiration for Velazquez's
paintings. The city has its share of beautiful palaces, museums and
monuments. But Madrid is not an architectural gem or a historical find
along the lines of Paris, Rome, or Istanbul. Its beauty is within, its
style is its people, its history are those who have painted, written, or
simply lived here. Madrilenos, as they are called, live each day as if it were
the last. It is a city in a different time zone from the rest of the
world. Lunch is at 2 or 3 in the afternoon; dinner starts at 10 and lasts
well into the night.
Madrid may not be known
for its architecture, but it is famous for one of the premier museums in
the world, The Prado. According to biographer A.E. Hotchner, Hemingway
entered the museum as if he were entering a cathedral. One of his favorite
paintings here is Andreas Del Sarto's "Portrait of a Woman."
Hemingway returned to The Prado and this portrait of a woman that he loved
many times over the years. The Prado's collection of paintings, with over
7,000, is considered the best in the world. The museum is especially noted
for its collection of El Greco's and Goya's.
Much has changed in
Madrid since Hemingway was here, but the bullfight has not changed, nor
the Spaniards fascination with death. Hemingway described the bullfight
not as a sport, but as a tragedy. There was danger for the bullfighter, he
said, but there was certain death for the bull. The Plaza de Toros is the
largest bullfight stadium in Madrid. It also houses an interesting museum
on the history of bullfighting. For a less formal introduction, there are
many bars and restaurants in Madrid that contain collections of
bullfighting memorabilia. One of the best collections is in the Antonio
Sanchez Tavern at 13 Meson de Parades. This tavern was named for the
founder's son, who was killed in a bullfight. The bullfighting memorabilia
here includes the stuffed head of the bull that killed Antonio.
To really experience
Madrid, as Hemingway did, you have to go on what is called a "tapas
crawl," or Hemingway crawl, as it were, through the taverns and
restaurants that were frequented by Hemingway and appeared in many of his
stories. A night of bar hopping is so much a part of Madrilenos' lives
that there is even a verb for it. To "tapear" is to spend the
evening going from bar to bar and eating tapas, the hors d'oeuvres that
usually include fried fish, olives, sausages, squid, and maybe even the
tail of a bull or sauteed bull testicles. Many "tascas" or
taverns have a house specialty - tapas that are their piece de resistance.
A good place to start on
a tapas crawl is the Puerta del Sol. This public square is considered the
center of Madrid and all of Spain. Kilometer 0 is marked here, and the
distance from this point is displayed on highway signs throughout the
country. No matter where you are in Spain you always know just how far you
have to travel to reach the heart of Madrid. The taverns around this area
are a favorite of matadors and aficionados.
Just a short distance
from the Puerta del Sol is the Plaza de Santa Ana, where the Cerveceria
Alemana was established a century ago. Hemingway and his friend, the
famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin, once quaffed beers here. The
tavern overlooks the small plaza that was the theatre and arts district in
the 17th century and is now the center of Madrid's nightlife. A statue of
playwright Pedro Calderon de la Barca stands in the plaza. The Cerveceria
Alemana is one of Madrid's most famous tapas bars. Inside are marble
topped tables that are still used as writing desks by fledgling poets and
novelists. Not far from here, at the corner of Calle Cervantes and Calle
del Prado, is the house where Miguel de Cervantes lived and died. The
prolific playwright, Lope de Vega, also lived nearby, at 11 Calle
Cervantes. Vega, called the Shakespeare of Spanish literature, wrote more
than 1,800 plays.
Continuing on the
Hemingway crawl, we come next to the Chicote at 12 Gran Via. The Chicote
was the setting for Hemingway's only play ,
The Fifth Column. It is still a haven for artists and the literary
watering hole was the upscale Palace Bar located in the Hotel Palace at
Plaza de las Cortes 7, facing the Prado Museum. This early century bar
retains its Old World elegance and sophistication. It is the meeting place
of writers, politicians, and the social elite. As A.E. Hotchner put it, at
the Palace Bar "...every woman looks like a successful spy."
After an evening of tapas
hopping, it may finally be fashionably late enough to eat dinner in
Madrid. The Botin would make a good choice. The Sobrino de Botin, at 17
Calle de Cuchilleros, was immortalized by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. The restaurant was founded in 1725 and has
changed little since then. Inside it looks like a "cuevas," a
"drinking cave," what Madrilenos call their taverns. It is dark
with low ceilings and exposed wood beams. The open kitchen has copper pots
hanging from the ceiling and a tiled charcoal hearth. The ovens are fired
with oak. The specialties are roast sucking pig and roast Segovian lamb.
The Botin is said to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Francesco Goya
worked as a dishwasher here before he became a famous painter.
The Botin is near the
Plaza Mayor, which has an interesting history of its own. It has been the
scene of beheadings, the public burning of heretics, royal marriages, and
bullfights. The infamous Spanish Inquisition imposed the public
punishments here. For all its bloody past, the Plaza today is one of the
most beautiful public squares in Europe. The surrounding streets are named
for the trades that were once practiced there, such as Calle de
Cuchilleros, " knife makers street," and Calle de Botoneros,
"button makers street." There are nine arched gateways leading
into the Plaza Mayor and it is surrounded by more than 100 stately houses
built in the 17th century.
"Nobody goes to bed
in Madrid until they have killed the night," wrote Hemingway. The
people of Madrid are called "gatos" or cats, because of their
nocturnal habits. But by now, if it's three or four in the morning, you
may be finally ready to go back to your hotel. Or you could watch the
sunrise at a sidewalk cafe, watching Madrilenos on their way to their
jobs. As Hemingway said, Madrid is where one learns to understand. What
may be hard to understand is how the people of Madrid can keep up this
The Barajas Airport is about 7 miles east of Madrid, served by major
carriers, including American, Continental, Delta, Air France, Spanair, and
Iberia. Flights leave New York, Miami, and Washington, DC and take about 7
hours. In May 2001, fares from NYC were around $400.
Set your watch three hours ahead, and you might be on Madrid time. Things
start late, with lunch around 2pm and dinner around 9pm.
- The Sobrino de Botin is
open every day and serves traditional Castillian cuisine priced from
4500-6000 ptas ($24 to $32 USD)
Cuchilleros 17, near Plaza Mayor, Call 011-34-91-366-4217.
- The Cerveceria Alemana and the many other tapas bars serve a variety of
food, such as sardines, olives, tortillas, fried fish, and mussels. Small
servings usually come free with drinks, which cost about $1.50 USD, with
the option of paying for a full meal. Tapas bars are one of the best ways
to experience the many types of foods and drinks of Madrid without
spending a lot. Most tapas bars have limited or no seating, however, and
the prices are usually higher if you're seated.
Note: Hotel rates vary by season, with the summer usually higher.
The Westin Palace Madrid has one of the best locations - directly across
from The Prado Museum. Doubles are priced from around $290 USD. The hotel
bar was a favorite Hemingway hangout and is still one of the most popular
meeting places in Madrid.
Plaza de las Cortes 7
Toll free: 800-325-3535
- Hotel Villa Real is a
small hotel of 115 rooms, located close to The Prado Museum and 10 miles
from Barajas International Airport. The hotel is furnished with period
furniture and embodies 19th century Spanish architecture. Singles run from
PTA34,900 ($183 USD), Doubles from PTA 41,600 ($218 USD), and Suites from
PTA50,000 ($263 USD).
- Hotel Villa Real
Plaza de las Cortes, 10
- The Reina Victoria, a
four star Tryp hotel, is located between the Plaza Mayor and The Prado
Museum. This historic landmark hotel was a favorite of Hemingway's and up
and coming bullfighters. Doubles are around 30,000 PTA($158 USD) per
Plaza De Santa Ana 14
Spain is one of the most popular destinations for Europeans, so the summer
months tend to be crowded, but more so along the coasts. In fact, Madrid
can be relatively empty during August when many Spaniards take their
vacation. But generally, the winter months are the least crowded and the
cheapest, but temperatures can get down to the 30's. To avoid both the
crowds and the winter cold, fall and spring are the best months to visit.
Madrid is compact enough to get around on foot easily, but taxis are
relatively inexpensive and everywhere. The Metro costs only about 75 cents
and runs from 6am to 1:30am.
The currency unit in Spain is the peseta (PTA). Exchange rates are $1 US
to about 190 pesetas. The dollar's continued strength against the peseta
and the Euro has made Spain an excellent bargain. Just a few years ago the
rate was 140 pesetas to the dollar.
The Prado Museum is open Tuesday to Saturdays from 9am to 7pm. They are
closed Mondays, January 1st, Good Friday, May 1st, and December 25th. On
other holidays, Sundays, and from December 24 to 31, the museum is open
from 9am to 2pm. The museum costs 500 PTAs ($2.50 - 3.00 USD), but is free
to those over 65 and under 18. Admission is also free on Saturdays from
2:30pm to 7pm and on Sundays form 9am to 2pm.
Villanueva Building, Paseo del Prado
Call011-91-330-2900 for information.
- The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, or Las Ventas for short, is Spain's premiere bullfighting ring.
Prices range from 225 to 16,575 pesetas (about $1.40 to $105 USD) for
tickets, depending on the seat in the arena. The season runs from March to
October, on Sunday afternoons.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
Office of Spain, USA
Call the location nearest you: (212) 265-8822, (305) 358-1992, (312)
642-1992, or (323) 658-7188.
Notice: This information is current as of
May 2001. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or
visit the websites above to determine any changes to the