One of the funniest lines in modern musical theatre mentions two important cruise-related locations: Spain and Florida. It happens in the Addams Family when Gomez is asked about his lineage and responds that his long-lost relative set sail from Madrid to the New World, and three weeks later he was still in Madrid because it’s 200-ish miles to the nearest ocean. Eventually–somehow–the Addams ship makes it to southern Florida, a land infested with “mosquitoes, crocodiles, and many Jewish peoples.”
Of course, Madrid is not a cruise port. But don’t let that stop you from including it as a pre/post shore option, albeit one reached by train, plane, or bus from the major port of Barcelona or elsewhere in Europe.
While soooo many gays are in love with Barcelona, Madrid is a pre- or post-cruise option that you should consider. I recently went to Madrid by sort-of-accident: it was much cheaper to fly there than Barcelona so figured “why not spend a few days in a city I’ve never visited?”
And WOW, what a city!! Bring your walking shoes! Here’s what you should do with a three-day pre- or post-cruise visit to the capital of Spain:
- Arrive in style. Assuming you arrive from Barcelona on Spain’s outstanding high-speed rail, spend a few minutes wandering the exquisitely reimagined Puerto de Atocha train station, which is now a botanical garden unlike no other (if you’re visiting Madrid prior to your cruise, give yourself enough time here before your train to Barcelona! You’ll be glad you did).
- Check into your MisterB&B accommodations in Central Madrid. MisterB&B is like Airbnb but for us gays! I stayed with a gay couple in the heart of Madrid, and it was a) cheaper than any decent hotel, b) an amazing cultural and social experience and c) a really nice place. I learned so much about modern Spain from my hosts, and they even tipped me off about a brilliant Spanish Netflix series called “Money Heist.” Wow.
- Visit Madrid’s royal palace. It’s busy but not as busy as some other castles around Europe. With nearly 1.5M sq/feet of space, there are plenty of pompish rooms and facades in a variety of European decor styles to sate your most outlandish gay taste! Be sure to wander the lovely surrounding gardens, which are free.
- Gay Tapas Tour. Evening gay tapas tour with Paul. Among the best things I’ve done in Spain was a superb evening wandering from one tapas place to another in Madrid’s gay village of Chueca, with a gay guide named Paul. It changed my understanding and appreciation of tapas, and was really fun and memorable…not to mention filling and great value! And it was a wonderful way to make new friends.
- Breakfast: ask your hosts where their fave place is to eat “tortilla,” aka Spanish omelet. To my mouth, it is neither of those (not in the sense of a Mexican tortilla nor a French omelet). It’s very similar to scalloped potatoes…except its also nothing like that. It is uniquely Spanish and sooooo dammmmnnn good. My fave was a decidedly non-touristy spot called La Austriaca. Yum.
- Reina Sofia Museum. There’s nothing else like this, anywhere. The museum is as notable for its stunning blending of old- and new-world architecture as for the outstanding collection of 20th Century art–mostly Spanish–Picasso, Dali, and more. This museum was the place I finally began to appreciate Picasso! I also fell in love with the courtyard of the older Sabatini building. Of course, Madrid’s Prado Museum is more famous, but I found it overwhelming, both in the number of global visitors and the sheer number of art pieces crammed onto most walls.
- Wander gay Chueca and just get lost. There are so many interesting shops, galleries, bars, and just simply cool places that it’s impossible to list them. Go a-wandering in this gay, yet all-welcoming neighborhood.
- Have the best “hot chocolate” in your life. And I’m not kidding. The legendary Chocolateria San Ginés, established in 1894, serves up a cup of gooey melty chocolate with churros for dipping. It’s among the best and richest things you’ll ever indulge in.
- Oxymoron: seafood tour of Madrid. This tour, likely hosted by the same guy you went tapas-dining with last night, is as fascinating for what you’ll learn about Spanish seafood as it is delicious. Despite being 400 miles from the ocean in all directions, Madrid is renowned for its abundance of fresh seafood. Paul’s tour tells you the hows and whys that make this possible. Exquisite.
- Take a “bath.” Madrid has several gay bathhouses (saunas, in Europe), and each caters to a different crowd. Ask your MisterB&B hosts which one might be right for you. I had a particularly enjoyable time at Octopus.
- A walk in the Park. If you enjoy grand parks, Madrid’s Retiro Park is hard to beat. It is huge and the Crystal Palace, run by the Reina Sofia Museum, is simply sublime. The park is legendary for its trellised rose garden, and a majestic statue walk.
- Stand in the very center of Spain. Plaza del Sol is a special place. It’s bustling and you’ll want to keep a hand on your wallet, but worth spending some time just absorbing that you are smack in the middle of the Iberian peninsula. There’s often something festive happening in the plaza. Cool stuff.
- Pick a direction, and start walking. My experience of Madrid was that it is infinitely walkable, and no matter what direction I went, I found interesting shops, foods, and people. I never felt unsafe, and the fact that I’m suggesting you go to Madrid is a sterling recommendation. It mesmerized me and is a place to which I pine to return.
- Off you go…whether by train (see above) or plane back to your home.
Have you been to Madrid? What did you love about it? Share your thoughts in the “comments” section below.
*Founding Editor Randall Shirley traveled to Madrid at his own expense.