Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals ****
Madrid is a strange city in terms of large European cities. Unlike cities in the UK, Germany, Italy and France, and even another Spanish city like Barcelona, there is not a large Sikh population in Madrid., this means when you walk around, you will find people looking at you. This is not all unfriendly, as I have found out during my travels, a lot of this is just curiosity.
Madrid is a city with a lot of history, and every corner of the city seems to be teeming with historically important architecture or monuments, Some of the grandest buildings, including the parliament building and city hall are located by Plaza de Cibeles, with parts of the fountain being built in the late 18th century.
Puerta del Sol is similar to a lot of squares in cities around the world with street performers and entertainers putting on shows in exchange for money. It's nothing you wouldn't see in any other European capital but the surrounding buildings are different. Many of the buildings were built during the era of the Spanish Empire, but there are also a number of building built during the Franco Era.
Built in 1778, Puerta del Acala is the traditional gateway to Madrid, and shows the perfect mix of new and old Spain as the gate is surrounded by a large roundabout, packed full of cars whether its the night or the day. The arch still looks impressive and grande and is well worth the trip.
One thing I really enjoyed in Madrid was the food, and down almost every side street you can find the small cafes selling different types of tapas or full meals from all over Spain.
The Market of San Miguel is a nice indoor market, near the centre of the city. The stalls sell everything Spanish, and there is a nice friendly atmosphere around the place. It was open relatively late when I went, and was still very busy. In the winter there are little stands with heaters where you can rest and get some food.
I decided to stay with an old flatmate of mine, who lives just outside of Madrid, and local knowledge definitely helped me understand the city and culture a little more, however, if you are travelling alone or with non-Spanish friends, a lot of people do speak some English, especially the younger ones and the Metro system links all the major sights as well as the airport, so getting around shouldn't be too much of a problem. The only time someone specifically approached me about my appearance was when I was asked if I was a Muslim. Its a difficult question to answer, because while I'm obviously not, saying it in such a straight forward manner makes it seem as though I am justifying that it is okay to be prejudiced against Muslims. I replied that I am a Sikh, and asked whether it would be an issue if I was a Muslim, to which the response was no.
The city also has a thriving nightlife (although not quite a big as the one in Barcelona). people are generally friendly and you can get tapas pretty much anywhere in the city late into the night, something quite unique about Madrid. We went into one of the larger clubs in Madrid, Kapital, on one night. Spread over what felt like 5/6 floors, its one of the largest clubs I have been to and played different music in different rooms, from Latin to hiphop and house in the main room downstairs. On the second night we went to a smaller club frequented by students which was no less fun, although with a more relaxed feel.
The food in Madrid is reasonably priced for a large European city but it can be a little difficult to find food if you are a vegetarian. If you eat meat, options are plentiful so this would be one thing to bare in mind for non meat-eaters.
As a football fan who has visited stadiums across Europe, seeing the Santiago Bernabeu, one of Spain's largest football stadiums was high on my list. I managed to visit during a Real Madrid v Sporting Gijon match. There has been many instances of Sikhs being barred from large sporting events in North America, but there were no issues with security in getting into the match. The stadium itself is large, although not initially as breath taking as the Nou Camp. The fans were friendly, with the ultra's sitting behind one of the goal stands, singing throughout the game. The game was pretty much an exhibition with goals from Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema giving Real a 5-1 victory. 20 minutes into the game I felt a warm heat against my head, looking up I saw there were heaters all around the stadium roof, something I haven't seen before.
The city has something special about it, and there is a lot to do, whether its a short weekend or a longer week, there is enough to do and see to keep you busy. As a Sikh, other than a few curious stares and one question, there wasn't a time during my time in Madrid that I ever felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
Thank you to Fernando for showing me around
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.