This past week I took a trip to Madrid, the capitol of Spain, an experience I have been looking forward to the whole semester. Not only was I excited simply because I enjoy exploring new places, but it is also the first time I would truly experience “Spain.” I say this because, as I discussed in my post about National Day of Catalonia, I have been living in a region of Spain that had developed its own identity years before it was overtaken by Spanish rule. So, although I have been in the political boundary of Spain, it is arguable that I have not really been immersed in true Spanish culture.   I was eager to go to Madrid because I was curious to compare similarities and differences between these two major cities in terms of architecture, street scape identity, parks, food, people, etc. 

RENFE-AVE (Bullet Train)
Olivia and I decided to spend the extra cash to experience the Renfe- AVE “Bullet Train” from Barcelona to Madrid. If you take a regular train between the two cities it takes over 8 hours, but with the AVE, the trip is a fraction of that time and is only 2 hours 45 minutes! It tops off at a whopping 300km/hour (186 mph) and is an incredibly smooth ride. The terrain goes whizzing by at such high speeds that the landscape up close is blurry, and it is almost impossible to see the utility poles passing by. The ride was memorable, and the people we met on the train from NYC were nice to talk to and compare our travel experiences. I asked where else they have been, and they said they had traveled to Israel, among many others destinations. I told them I had taken a 5 week trip in high school to Israel, Prague, and Poland, and it turns out that their children took the IDENTICAL trip! This is one of the reasons why I enjoy striking up conversations with anyone, because you never know the things you have in common until you say, “hello!” 

(Click on the video to see what 300km/h looks like from the AVE)
So we made it to Madrid before noon, prepared to find our Hostel called U-Hostels, and then conquer the city. Our first impression of Madrid was an unfortunate one, due to a strike that is currently being had by the Trash/ Maintenance Force over wages. As soon as we stepped out of Atocha Train Station, there were trash cans overflowing with garbage piling on the ground, litter lining the streets and blowing in the wind, more debris stuck inside the tree pits and gutters, all as if the city had been abandoned! It essence, it was, and still is “abandoned,” and could last through X-mas. It is actually an interesting predicament that I have often thought about: how quickly would a city become undesirable if the garbage trucks stop working, and the street sweepers stop sweeping? The answer = VERY quickly. I was disappointed that this was the current situation as I heard Madrid is usually a very clean city, but I was hoping to not let the trash spoil my day! (Pun intended) Thanks to a friend who is studying in Madrid who informed me prior to my arrival, I was not caught by surprise. 

After two days of tireless walking around all of Madrid, we saw nearly all of the well known sites. As two landscape architecture students both interested in urban planning, we meandered through various neighborhood streets to get a view of Madrid aside from the main tourist locations. In addition to the sites, we of course spent some time shopping at the many tourist shops, and enjoying some local food at the best restaurant called “El Tigre.” For 15 Euro, we had 8 beers, and 4 full plates of stomach filling Paella, Bravas (Steak fries), croquettas (better versions of our cheese sticks), bread with spanish ham, cheese, other ingredients, and more. You basically just pay for the beer, and they continue to bring you food until you say stop! I rarely say no to food, but this was such a good deal that my idea of a cheap/ hardy meal is now changed forever. The best part is, the restaurant does that EVERY day, it wasn’t just some special they run on a random day of the week. Cheers to that!

One drawback of Madrid is it's signage, which is very lacking for tourists who know nothing about the city. In Barcelona for example, there are signs at almost every corner pointing you in various directions to the sites in the area. Our experience with navigating Madrid was not an easy one, often times confused if we were headed in the right direction. Through all the traveling I have done in my life, this city was one of the most difficult to navigate with a map. We eventually got our bearings and had a better time on the second day.  

We also made it a point to visit the Rio Madrid project, which was recently completed by the well-known landscape architecture firm West 8. We made it to the site at the most perfect time of day and time of year. The sun was setting, allowing the rays to hit the fall trees at a sharp angle to illuminate them with a red and orange glow. Many leaves have already fallen, blanketing the ground with colorful leaves. 

The mosaics on the ground at RIO Madrid remind me of the paving techniques I saw in Lisbon a couple weeks ago. The limestone and basalt stones create a contemporary mosaic of abstract flowers throughout the entire site. The custom benches wrap around the paving pattern to create a seamless transition from ground plane to vertical, which also have a dual purpose as the planting bed for trees and shrubs. This project easily became one of my favorite pieces of urban LA design, and is a great example of how good design can be simple and sophisticated at the same time. 

In terms of overall architecture, the city’s buildings seem more majestic and royal that those in Barcelona, are less “Gaudi,”  and have more formalized decorations. Also, their are fewer parks than in Barcelona, but the two major parks are MASSIVE. Casa de Campo is park that is 5 times larger than Central Park in New York City, and Retiro Park is so big you need to visit multiple times to gain an understanding for its sheer size. Madrid also has much more topography change than Barcelona, however not as much as Lisbon. Despite this, there are no overlooks to view the city from above like in Barcelona, and you need to go to the lookout decks in various buildings to get the panoramic view that all travelers are after.  

After speaking with the NYC couple on the AVE train and a Spanish local at the hostel, Olivia and I decided to extend our trip one day in order to take a day trip to Toledo. Toledo is an hour bus ride to the south of Madrid, and was once the capitol of Spain many years ago. It’s old buildings and fortress walls sit up on a hill, surrounded on three sides by a river with rocky terrain. We spent a few hours walking the streets, viewing the sites, and were quite surprised at how small of a city it is. You look at the map and think it will take a long time to walk from one end to the other, but before you know it, you’ve traversed the city in less than an hour. We did not go into many buildings because most of them cost money, and due to planning this trip spur of the moment, our knowledge of the best sites was lacking. I once read a quote about traveling: 

“Tourists see the sites they came to see, and travelers see what they see.” 

In this particular instance, we were travelers simply enjoying the act of walking around this very old city. I took too many photos, as usual, because every corner there was something cool and interesting to snap a picture of. Scroll through some of my favorites in the slide show above

I enjoyed the trip to Madrid and Toledo, and glad that I saw another side of Spain that I was in search for. The next trip is to Rome, Italy in a couple of weeks. For now, time to get some work done on the project! Cheers!



11/17/2013 10:20am

Fabulous descriptions & photos of your tour. You are definitely absorbing the architecture & culture of Spain.

11/17/2013 2:02pm

I am enjoying it indeed! It has gone by very fast and its hard to believe I come home in a few shorts weeks

Steve Busa
11/19/2013 9:19am

You don't have to come home…
we could use the basketball ticket!!

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    zach     kalette


    Everyone is a pedestrian, including you! 

    As a lifelong resident of Syracuse, NY, I have grown up in an automobile world with little sense of pedestrian culture.

    Here in Barcelona, the city has an extreme level of pedestrian culture! I will be taking a look at the design  of various urban streets and how their physical form affects pedestrian behavior. 

    study     question

    How do the physical elements of urban streets influence pedestrian behavior, as well as create a walkable environment while interacting with vehicles and bicycle riders in Barcelona?  


    1. Gran Via de les Cortes
    2. Carrer de Comte
    3. Carrer de la Cera
    4. Carrer de l'Hospitat
    5. Rambla del Raval
    6. Carrer de Sant Oleguer
    7. Avengida de les