This past September I went to Spain where after partaking in a language program in La Alberca in the Salamanca area (see my previous blog) I then spent a few days in Madrid and enjoyed myself tremendously. Beside the fact that Madrid is beautiful and has exquisite architecture with wrought iron balconies I found that there were a lot of similarities to Montreal where I was born and raised and still live today. This is an observation on my part so it may not be completely accurate but this is what I discovered in my own way.
To begin with they are both fairly large cities with about the same population. Madrid has roughly 4 million residents and Montreal has about 3 million residents. They both have city centers with suburbs on the outskirts where families reside.
Another similarity is the transportation systems that both cities have called the Metro. In both cases there are stops all over the city and it is clean and easy to navigate with portable colorful maps which are also posted inside the metro cars. One small difference is the one in Madrid has a lot more lines than the one In Montreal with only four lines but you can purchase a single ticket, 10 tickets, or a monthly pass and charges vary according to zones. There are also buses and trains that run throughout the two cities and into the outskirts.
I have found that both Madrid and Montreal are relatively safe to walk around in at all times but there are areas in each of them that are better to stay away from late at night. Also there are pickpockets which are a common theme in larger cities but if you keep your wits about you and use common sense, especially as a tourist, they generally don’t bother you. Just do not stick out in the crowd and keep your purse securely closed else you will attract these types of people.
Both Madrid and Montreal offer lots to do due to their larger sizes and more urban lifestyles. There are plenty of restaurants to eat at in the various barrios or districts to please all palates and there is plenty of night life including theatre, movies, pubs, and dance clubs as well as museums. You can also take bus tours and walking tours of both cities and of course there are the sites to see and behold. What I liked is that the museums offer free times in the early evenings so that one can enjoy the splendor of exquisite artwork from either prehistoric or modern times.
One of my highlights was walking around Retiro Park which I thoroughly enjoyed because there was a lot to see and photograph there. There were several fountains and monuments of famous figures and also a waterway where those who wish can rent rowboats. There is also Crystal Palace where people can hold all types of events and it is right on a picturesque pond with ducks. I enjoyed walking through the various pathways leading around the park and even saw an art exhibition being displayed in one of the buildings. There are plenty of facilities if you wish to have a snack and also restrooms. There was also an area where some huge event was being held. I went to the doorway but the looks I got from the well dressed participants told me I’d better not enter. I did walk around the garden area which was a sight to behold and saw a peacock which I photographed even though its feathers were not spread out. A few minutes later somebody walking with a baby stroller showed me the exit out of there. Guess I was not supposed to be there in the first place but how was I to know not being able to speak much Spanish.
Retiro Park reminded me of Westmount Park in Montreal because of many similarities. Although Westmount Park is about one tenth the size of Retiro Park it also has a pond with ducks, various buildings, and different pathways. Crystal Palace reminded me of the green house in our park because both are transparent and bring in lots of light and sunshine. In Westmount Park you can sit on a bench and relax along the water and even take in a Sunday afternoon concert or Shakespeare in The Park theater performances in the summertime.
What I also loved about Madrid was that you could eat inexpensively if you know where to go. Many options include San Miguel market where although it can be crowded and a bit on the touristy side you have a wide variety of choices of delicious tapas galore and you can purchase either one or a plate of several to share with your buddies. You can also buy drinks including wine and sangria to wash down your tapas. What I enjoyed most of all is the bars where you order any drink you want and you get a nice plate of tapas for free with it. At the bar down the street from my hostel I got some nice tapas including a potato pie and scrambled eggs with mushrooms and each time it cost me no more than 2 Euros! Talk about eating on the cheap!
It is best to go to restaurants which are off the main strips and which are recommended by other travelers watching their budgets and to stay away from the restaurants on the Plaza Mayor. The prices rise the closer you sit at the front of the restaurant and even more so if you eat out on the terraces. However, on the informative walking tour I took almost after I had just landed in Barajas Airport we stopped off at a delicatessen like place to use the restrooms and have a sandwich and we were told to go straight to the back and not sit at the tables but instead to stand and eat at the counter or sit on the nearby stools so that the prices would be much lower.
While there are similarities there are some differences as well. In Madrid meal times tend to be later than in Montreal. In Madrid meal times are breakfast at 9 am, lunch at 2 pm, and dinner at 10 pm before retiring to bed for the evening. In Montreal breakfast is generally at 7 am, lunch is at noon time or one pm, and dinner is generally at 6 pm leaving the rest of the evening for doing activities or relaxing at home before bedtime.
Another difference is that in Madrid pretty much everything is geared towards Spanish culture for obvious reasons but Montreal encompasses various cultures, particularly French, with its European flair. In Madrid, Spaniards tend to eat paella and tapas in restaurants but in Montreal, you can find every kind and any kind of restaurant that one’s heart desires. Another amazing thing about Madrid is that they claim to be host to the oldest restaurant in the world! It even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records! Quite the feat! (See my pictures below as proof).
In Montreal you get frowned upon if you walk into a restaurant just to use their facilities and then leave immediately without purchasing anything. I occasionally will sneak into a MacDonald’s or Wendy’s or other quick place to use their washroom and I have generally gotten away with it. In Madrid I was able to go into pretty much any restaurant and use their restrooms, particularly the pubs, and they did not mind at all.
There are also differences in the climates of each city. This is because Madrid is further south than Montreal is so the temperatures tend to be milder there. Also Montreal has severe winters with plenty of snow whereas the winters are milder in Madrid with little or no snow.
I basically only stayed 6 days in Madrid with two day trips to Toledo and Segovia included so I am sure that there is plenty that I did not see but again I am talking from my observations. I found Madrid to be beautiful and a great city for walking around and enjoying each area. What saddened me though is that the unemployment rate in all of Spain is about 27% and that there are many Spaniards who have still not found jobs after 2 years of searching. A tough situation for Spaniards to be in, however, they appear to be enjoying life all the same.
I would like to hear from any of you who have been to both Madrid and Montreal whether or not you agree with me or if you have had other observations of these two wonderful cities.
Puerta Del Sol - the center of Madrid
Palazio Royale - The Royal Palace
Retiro Park - one of the exquisite monuments along the water
Retiro Park - Scenic view of Crystal Palace right on a pond
Plaza Mayor - The main square of Madrid
The oldest restaurant in Madrid and the certificate to prove it