“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” I sang the entire train ride from Valencia to Madrid. The My Fair Lady lyric wasn’t entirely inaccurate– indeed, we did traverse a vast plain, but no rain arrived. Rain or no rain, I was grateful for my first class train ticket – only 6 euro more than regular seats – the AC and extra leg room were definitely worth it.
Madrid is replete with public art. I observed the magnificent city through the train window, changing in front of my eyes from graffiti’d overpasses to towering sculptures. When we arrived at the station, the taxi line in front rivaled any I’ve ever seen in New York City: five lanes across and as deep as the eye could see. Luckily, the process was well managed by attendants and soon, we were whisked across the city to Hotel Indigo Princesa, a fine spot for our explorations. Hotel Indigo is part of the IHG chain and while not as gay as the Kimpton Hotels (my favorite) they’re still pretty hip. Our room had a small patio, which felt luxurious in such a packed urban environment. From our hotel, fantastic restaurants, a taxi stand, subway stop, bars, massages, mani/pedi and shopping were available within two blocks.
We’d already been in Spain for six weeks when we arrived in Madrid, so a few things had become de rigueur – the fantastic sangria and tinto de verano on offer at every bar, the patatas bravas with spicy sauce, and the warmth of Spanish people, slapping a shoulder while they chat on.
But still, we’d not had such magnificent tortilla de Espana as in Madrid. Every morning, my sweetie would merely cross the street from our hotel to bring back a potato omelette, piping hot with fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee. Los Bocadillos, the breakfast shop, doesn’t even have a website. Americans should also note that you’ll be yelled at for trying to customize an order. But after that first try, we found no need to customize perfection.
And before leaving the topic of magnificent potatoes, right next door to Los Bocadillos is a window full of Patatas Fritas (fried potato chips) at Fca. They have no need for a website, as their big greasy window full of chips beckoned me as soon as I saw it. Those chips, in the middle of the night, in bed, with a drink, after a Balinese massage at Chada Thai massage down the block. I’m telling you, that’s living.
My partner and I did leave the hotel, I swear. We were just around the corner from the Arguelles Metro stop, but we mostly took taxis that were easier to hail than crossing the street. Downtown Madrid has traffic restrictions on private vehicles, much like London does, to ensure a lack of congestion in the city center during the day. There was still congestion though, and lots of taxis. If we took the subway, we’d have missed so much public street art, and art was our primary focus on our four day trip.
The Prado was our first stop, and no photos were allowed inside. Just outside the exhibits one can take pics with the Defense of Zaragoza sculpture by Jose Alvarez Cubero. I saw no fewer than 12 older ladies on a tour photographing each other as though they were cupping the statue’s balls. Ah, people and their pleasures.
Inside, the crowds were gathered around particular paintings, so thick the paintings were hard to enjoy. Heironymous Bosch’ Garden of Earthly Delights (1515) was one, and Veracruz, Las Meninas (1656). The latter is a meticulous study to be sure, but didn’t thrill me in person as some paintings do. My favorite part of the Bosch painting was actually the back of the triptych, which one rarely sees – and I could get closer without the crowds. I nearly slipped into a dark emotional abyss in the room of Goya’s Black paintings. El Greco was moving as well; some things are just better in person.
We dined at Honest Greens which reminded me again that great food in big cities like Madrid is still reasonably priced for those of us in stronger economies. This sort of organic, vegetarian, fresh fare would’ve been nearly twice the price in a big U.S. city.
Madrid is incredibly queer friendly. There are queer neighborhoods, like Chueca, where the subway sign is literally rainbow colored. I walked around that neighborhood another day and found plenty of drag bars and holes in the wall offering brightly colored cocktails served by twinks aplenty. Loads of lesbian bars too – Barbananarama is in Chueca and so is Black and White – one of the longest serving lesbian and gay bars in Madrid. Just remember, nothing’s happening early!
Chueca is also the area for more great veg food like that at Mad Mad Vegan. And if you’re not full of caesar salad and chik’n strips, stop for a cock or pussy shaped waffle, complete with sugary squirting goo, of course. La Coñería is a fine choice for pussies in particular, but every few hundred feet you’ll find genital-desserts. Like other small neighborhoods in the older parts of Madrid, Chueca has numerous squares and pedestrian alleys, lined by small streets where, yes, it’s still possible to hail a taxi.
We made a visit to the Spanish National Museum too, Sofia Reina. I wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica, which was drawing a crowd, as expected. Alas, I was underwhelmed where others were feeling such emotion. And it isn’t just that lesbian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s work has thoroughly dethroned Picasso, in my humble opinion. I was truly moved in Barcelona at the Picasso museum. Look, Guernica’s great, but not my favorite. My sweetie is more fond of Juan Gris, when it comes to modern Spanish painters and there’s plenty to admire. Salvador Dali is there as well and The Great Masturbator is indeed a stunner drawing a crowd. I would’ve liked to see more women artists at the national gallery and was particularly put off by the omission of surrealist painter Remedios Vara.
Next door, we dined at NuBel, which was a feast for the senses in every regard. The shiny red interior and low tables and chairs (like, really low) made it feel more like a disco than a restaurant. The food was…exciting. We literally had to ask what to do with one thing we were served. One course looked like a cappuccino in a shot glass – brown at the bottom and white on top, but one sip proved, no, that white stuff was cheese foam. It was a mushroom-cheese fluff for the bread. Aha.
It’s not as if this was a queer establishment, but how is a place like this not a bit queer with the disco decor and head-tilting servers slowly explaining what you’re eating as though you’re an uncouth child? We loved being talked down to (literally, in those super-short tables) when served mysterious treats! We learned that, at NuBel, the person serving your food knows best. Better go along. And it’s easy to do in a city like Madrid which is not only super-welcoming for LGBTQ folks, it’s full of history, art and cozy crannies in which to eat all the fantastic patatas one can stand.
Photos by Kimberly Dark.