I didn't know what to expect from Madrid, but we loved the city! It was beautiful, 30-degree weather, with fewer crowds than Barcelona, and it has palaces and art museums that rival better-know counterparts in France, methinks.
We caught a high-speed train (285 km/hr) from Barcelona which cuts the travel time from 9 to 3 hours. It was interesting to watch the scenery change from lush green in Catalunya to the high, dry plains as you get closer to Madrid.
We got to our hotel which was conveniently just off Puerta del Sol which is literally the center of Spain - all distances are marked from there anyway. We went for a walk from there to Plaza Mayor, loaded up on maps and info from the TI, and had a good look around.Everything is clean and well-kept.
My knees couldn't face a long walk that day, so for the first time we broke down and bought tickets to ride the hop-on-hop-off bus. I usually think that's too touristo for me, but Madrid is a bit more spread out, and it was nice weather to ride on the open-air top deck of the bus. In face, we had a siesta, then went out and rode it again in the evening! Even though Madrid was hot during the day, it cooled down quite a bit at night. The pleasant evening temp was also great for dining outside and people watching each evening. Never dull watching entire Spanish families out for their evening stroll on the paseo.
Wednesday we had a nice walk to the Royal Palace. Saw some lovely sights on the way - the Mercado de San Miguel was the nicest market, with high quality food (and a champagne bar!). There were lots of locals getting their lunch there - what a great spot.
Farther along we stopped at Madrid's main cathedral (there's actually one on every block) which was relatively new and very beautiful in a simpler way than many of the older churches. There is a shine to St Isidro, the patron saint of farmer that I thought nice.
Next door is the Spanish Royal Palace - technicially still in use for King Juan Carlos. The Spanish Bourbons intentionally tried to out rival their French relatives at Versailles, and I think they suceeded. We did the audio tour of 30 rooms or so, plus they had an armory museum that Peter enjoyed. After a 3-hour tour we had a nice late lunch there. I was happy to find the only salad bar I've seen in Europe so far!
Another evening at an outside restaurant and I ducked out for some shopping. Clothes and especially shoes seem so nice and well-priced in Madrid - I wish I had more (well some) extra room in my suitcase. I left all the winter things, but did buy a long skirt to wear in Morocco, as wearing shorts there is not advised for women. I wasn't too hungry either as we'd also stopped on the way back from the Palace at a famous churro spot.
Thursday, we headed the opposite direction from Puerta del Sol to hit Madrid's museum district. There were 3 I wanted to go to, but we ended up spending almost 5 hours in the Prado, so we didn't have time. Prado has lots of major works, with a big Spanish collection obviously. We saw El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, plus more like Drurer, Bosch, Raphel, and the list goes on. Cultured to death, but we loved it.
We hit a beautiful spot on high up on a beath-taking building for drinks on the walk home. Found a great jamon bocadillo spot too on the walk home that spoiled me for dinner. After a rest, we walked back to Playa Mayor to check out a famous bar - La Torre del Oro. It's a shrine to bull fighting with the mounted heads of 6 famous bulls in the tiny joint, but tons of photos covering the walls. Some where gory enough to put me off ever wanting to see an actual bullfight. The bar was enough for me. A few celeb pics on the walls too - Bruce Springsteen and wife, Bobby Kennedy, Che Guevara were the only ones I recongised though. Peter got stitched up for some very expensive anchovies there, so we called it a night.
Three nights in Madrid was barely enough, and it's a fun city that I would recommend others to visit.