MADRID, A TRIP DOWN NOSTALGIA LANE
Some cities, no matter how often we return or forget them, are linked to very precise memories in such a way that their physiognomy is changed forever. Madrid will always look like these few months spent walking its streets as the Movida continued to deliver its excesses. How do memories juxtapose with the changes and renewal of cities? Let’s explore a Madrid that may still exist, that connects us to something that has forever marked our image of it, to see if nostalgia is indeed a meaningful way to travel and if the Madrid of yesterday continues to infuse its spirit into the Madrid of today, for a city guide with a difference.
MADRID AS IF IT WAS YESTERDAY
At the end of the 80s Nilda Fernandez sang beautifully “Madrid Madrid, the price I pay is a few more hours without sleep, to remember you”. At the beginning of the 90s the city was in the middle of nowhere, landlocked in the centre of Spain, not so easy to get to (the high-speed train was not yet there, you might catch night trains from France that arrived in Chamartín, or planes depending on budget) but it was still at the centre of the world: the movida madrileña was making its mark on everything, which made the moment incredibly exciting: the abundant creativity, a lifestyle in a totally offbeat rhythm, renewal everywhere, an “Auberge Espagnole” feel.
Being 20 years old in Madrid, coming to spend 6 months there, living for the first time outside the family circle, was exactly like in Cédric Klapisch’s film: a thousand adventures and discoveries in a city that really never sleeps.
MADRID, THE RHYTHM OF THE CITY
Because it seemed that the day followed a reverse order, starting in Plaza Ana in the bar that remains indelibly anchored in the memory: Viva Madrid, with its sumptuous ceramic walls, its generous tapas and its joyful atmosphere. The bar is still there, in an unchanged decor, just refreshed a bit and toned down as it was taken over by the team that designed Salmon Guru, a fabulous cocktail place on the same Plaza Ana, which has lost its shady side in the process. This was usually followed by a trip to Joy Eslava, the mythical disco next to Puerta del Sol (always faithfully in place), until its closing time in the early morning and the Chocolatería San Ginés opened up a few steps away, where we would drink a thick chocolate in which we dipped regressive churros before going straight to school. Ah not needing to sleep! This is probably the only thing that has really changed, for the rest the Chocolataría is still there, loved by tourists and a great Madrid experience.
WALKING THROUGH ITS NEIGHBOURHOODS
Regularly we had to give news to the family back home, at a time (do we even remember?) when mobile phones did not exist and the internet was reserved for specialists. So we used to go to the huge central post office in Plaza Cibeles to post letters, which is still a must-see building even though the post office is no longer located there.
In the flats rented to students, no landline telephones to avoid uncontrollable bills, we regularly spent a few hours in the large Telefonica centre of the Gran Vía, locked in a telephone booth. The Gran Vía was the artery of cinemas, kitschy shops and a beloved bookshop. Always majestic, its style has changed considerably with the arrival in the last 3-4 years of luxury hotels (the Four Seasons, the W among many others) in a city that previously had only one, the mythical Ritz, completely renovated under the Mandarin Oriental brand.
Madrid has seen a strong development in tourism, notably thanks to the saturation of Barcelona, and has opened up to a more elitist, more global clientele. It must be said that the Madrid of the 90s had its shady sides, directly stemming from the Movida movement, and its neighbourhoods whose names were pronounced with a little trepidation: Chueca, Malasaña… Names that sound like Manu Chao songs and that evoke all kinds of excess.
Today these two districts are trendy, creative, exciting, and have taken the place of the traditional historical districts (Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor) in the hearts of those who want to experience a festive and modern Madrid. In fact, there are two great hotels in this area: the Urso and the Only You, elegant and intimate, in the heart of an authentic Madrid.
There is also, as a nod to the passing of time, the Mallorquina, an old patisserie (1894) on Puerta del Sol, with its cream cakes and violet sweets, which has remained as deliciously vintage as ever, but whose taste always takes you back years.
Madrid moves, reinvents itself, but is still one of the most endearing cities in Europe, to be visited again and again to anchor your own memory.