by Brian Raymond
When you think major gay pride events, you probably think New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. To that list I’d recommend adding Madrid Pride (Orgullo in Spanish). Centered in the trendy gay Chueca district located in the heart of Madrid, it has grown to be one of the world’s largest gay pride events with over 2 million participants. Chueca had been the city’s decaying center until the gays moved in, transforming it into the city’s entertainment and nightlife hotspot.
With the third largest airport in Europe, getting to Madrid is easy. And with the largest high-speed train network in Europe, getting around Spain is even easier. Their AVE trains reach 185 mph and connect Madrid with most of Spain’s major cities and even to Paris.
Madrid parties late and has something for every taste and inclination. Many bars have “darkrooms” where groups of friends go to the saunas on Sundays for cocktails and play. Most gay clubs don’t open until midnight and close around 7 a.m. and bars like Paso, Hot, LL Bar and Bear Bar open early and offer a two-for-one happy hour every day.
This year Madrid Pride runs July 1-5. The main parade is on Saturday with free concerts, DJs and performers located throughout the Chueca district. Thursday is La Carrera de Taccones, the classic stiletto heel race which is hysterical to watch.
Madrid welcomes the gay community and you’ll find the festival full of families and Madrilenians (locals). While some U.S. states battle against gay rights, Madrid has moved beyond merely tolerating or accepting gays to embracing and appreciating them. Their Pride demonstrates what the world can be like when an enlightened viewpoint prevails.
With over two million participants, it gets a bit crowded so take a longer vacation and enjoy the city without all the crowds. As a major European capital, it has beautiful grand fountains, plazas, parks and French Provençal buildings galore.
Don’t drive. With an excellent subway system called the Metro, the city is easy to navigate. It can take you from the airport to most areas of the city, and with your passport you can get a multi-day tourist discount pass. The gay district stations are “Chueca” or “Gran Via.”
But Madrid has so much to offer beyond the gay scene. At the Puerto del Sol (Metro station) you’ll find the famous statue and city emblem, the “bear and Madroño Tree.” From there walk through the winding streets lined with brightly colored buildings from the 1800s to the Plaza Mayor which itself dates back to 1576 (current structures were built in 1790 after fires leveled the plaza). This plaza’s past includes serving as a center for bullfights, a soccer venue and a place for public executions during the Inquisition. Today it is a serene area loaded with shops and cafes; perfect for people watching.
Off the southwest corner of the plaza you’ll find Calle Cava de San Miguel. Here you can experience a true Spanish tradition, “ir de tapas,” which means going from one tapas bar to the next while sampling each bar’s style, whether it be Castilian, Basque or Galician. Tapas or pinchos are small bites or servings, so in one evening your palate can experience flavors from around the world. Of course you have to try some uniquely Spanish jamón ibérico (cured ham). It is expensive but the ham has a smooth texture and a rich, savory taste.
Next head to the 18th-century fountains along Paseo del Prado and visit the world famous Prado Museum featuring works by Goya, Velazquez, Bosch and El Greco. The works of Picasso, Dali, Gris and Miro can be found at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
One of my favorite Madrid pastimes is to walk through Retiro Park on Sunday afternoons when the park comes to life as entire families come to spend the day. Listen to one of the bands playing in the gazebo and then stroll down the boulevard, watching the paddle boats on the lake to the left and street performers and artists to the right. Experience one of the talented caricature artists at work or enjoy kids enthralled in a puppet show. Now stop and listen; notice that the park is full of people but it is peaceful and quiet. There is no music blaring – everyone respects the park’s peace and tranquility by using ear phones. The Retiro is a place to escape your hectic life and find inner tranquility.
Madrilenians are friendly and a large percentage of them speak English. But try to learn some Spanish and absorb the rich proud history of Spain and its people.
To plan your own or group travel, contact Brian Raymond at [email protected] or 866-217-2341.
Photo by Kent Christianson
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