I’ve been off the grid, more or less, for the last two weeks during an extended holiday in Madrid and surrounding countryside– Castilla y Leon with its fairy-tale castles. It was good to spend a part of summer’s end away from Garden State allergens, the Intertoobz, work related projects, and other daily grind matters. But also great to return to cooler weather and the spirit of renewal that’s an essential part of fall in northeastern US. Darn, I will miss that Spanish sun.
One very noticeable difference in Madrid and other small Spanish towns versus NYC and its burbs: far few people were walking around focused on their smart gadgetry. Not that iPhones and Droids were non-existent, but they were less a part of the cityscape. I saw instead, entire communities talking, eating, and drinking on Plaza Mayors and winding streets that lead from them–the original hub-and-spoke network.
I wasn’t completely independent of digital life during my time away. I received a great travel boost from Spotted by Locals‘ website and their IOS app. Along with my rechargeable shaver, teeny tubes of Crest, and a good pair of walking shoes, the iPad has become a travel necessity. I use it for a few things: email access, travel-related docs I’ve collected, and Spotted by Locals city-specific app, Madrid in my case.
I’ve written about SbL a few times before, but let me repeat its overwhelming value prop: you get travel commentary on culture, food, and advice from informed city residents with very specific points of view. Sure, they’re not the only ones doing this and there’s inevitable overlap in their recommendations and other travel sites, but overall their execution is on a very high level.
Let me give the Madrid Spotted by Locals team 5 out of 5 churros for their work in covering their home town. The somewhat quirky commentary may not appeal to every traveller, but I liked their non-Rick Steves perspectives, and it helps that I’m on the same wavelength as Aldera, Nikko, Carlos, and the rest of the gang.
Yes, I will confirm that the Las Vistillas gardens is a great spot for viewing sunsets over the distant Guadaramma mountains. Maria Pandora is one of my favorite places in any city to end an evening– drinking the house cava and thumbing through their collection of books from which I was able to discover some interesting Spanish writers. Meson A Ria de Noia, a Galican restaurant across the river, is well worth visiting. And afterwards, you get a free show as you watch Madrilenos skate, bike, hike, and stroll around the new park area that’s been created along the Manzanares.
The Sorolla Museum is the serenest interior space I know of. And SbL is absolutely right, you may not know his name but you have seen Joachim Sorolla’s work. And for Goya appreciators, which I am now one, the Ermita of San Antonio— St. Anthony of Padua for English speakers– with its stunning Goya fresco is worth the effort to get to this somewhat out of the way cultural spot. Sorry I missed the Goya Metro station with the Capricios lithographs, but we did make it to Madrid’s Fine Arts Museum, where there are more lithographs and other works of the Master.
So the Spotted by Locals app takes all their blog posts for a given city and maps it out on iPad or Android device. When I visited a barrio of Madrid , I just checked the map’s virtual pins, which can be filtered by food, culture, etc. The app takes you back to the original post if you want to get more information. You pay just $3.99 for each city that SbL covers, and then gain the convenience of having all their content available on your gadget you without needing a WiFi connection.