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Video: Travel to the city where they dance ‘til dawn

  1. Transcript of: Travel to the city where they dance ‘til dawn

    MATT LAUER, co-host (Madrid, Spain): Welcome back to day two of WHERE IN THE WORLD IS MATT LAUER ?, 2011 . It is Tuesday, November 8th , 2011 , and you are looking at the beautiful Plaza Mayor in Madrid , Spain . And I 'm sitting now at one of the many cafes that line this beautiful plaza, guy's got to eat. It is now, what, about 1:30 in the afternoon in Madrid , 7:30 in New York and that's where Ann Curry is back in Studio 1A . Ann , good morning again.

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Boy, Matt , we're so envious looking at you there in that plaza. But this was actually a bit of an unexpected destination even for you because you mentioned yesterday the weather. How hard was it to switch gears and make this switch?

    LAUER: This was a big deal. We had always worried about weather at our second destination, it can be iffy there, so we had told producers and crews around the world and other locations to be ready. But I would imagine the people here in Madrid still had a minor heart attack when they got the phone call yesterday morning before the show that in fact we were coming here. So hats off to them. Hats off to our flight crew as well. They had to completely change our flight itinerary. They were really nice, they waived the $50 change fee for us, which saved NBC a fortune. That was really nice. But they did a great job. Let me tell you how we got here. From Namibia yesterday, we took about a nine hour flight to Madrid , it was about 4500 miles, so -- and it's nonstop, which is great, we didn't have to stop for fuel, got to love those hybrid jets. We have now flown about 25 hours and about 11,700 miles. And we have just begun. We've got three more days to go. Coming up, from Madrid , we are going to talk about one of the most talked about women in the world over the last year or so. She's the Duchess of Alba , remember her? She's a twice widowed billionaire, she's 85 years old. And recently she got married for the third time to a man 24 years her junior. Well, she has six palaces around the world, one is right here in Madrid . It is a home she actually uses. And we're going to go inside and see her vast art collection , including she has one of Christopher Columbus ' original maps of the Americas . It's an amazing sight. And we're going to get to that, Ann.

    CURRY: Hm. Well we have somebody here, Matt , who loves history, and that's President Bill Clinton . He's here out with a new book offering his ideas for turning around the economy. So we're going to talk to him about that and the current presidential race. Plus we also have other famous Arkansans. The Duggars are here with their 19 kids and two grandchildren and they have a big announcement to share with us exclusively as they have before, Matt. So we'll get to that.

    LAUER: Yeah, here we go again .

    MATT LAUER, co-host (Madrid, Spain): But first, let me show -- show you a little bit more about where I am. Madrid is a city of 3.2 million people, the third largest capital in all of Europe and Madrilenos love to take advantage of the energy of the streets here and they do it at all hours of the day and night. The grandeur, the legacy, European by location, but uniquely Spanish in spirit. This is Madrid , sprawling and splendid. Established as Spain 's capital almost 500 years ago, it's the country's largest city, and one of the greenest capitals in Europe. There are more than 40 urban parks. Cosmopolitan with distinct neighborhoods.

    Mr. ANTONIO BANDERAS (Actor): It's a melting pot. Madrid , people from all around Spain and from some other places in Europe. So you can find a kind of diversity on the streets.

    LAUER: Its pulse, La Gran Via . Its heart, Puerta del Sol , the geographical center of Spain . Locals dine on tapas, small bites of fresh seafood, cheese, and their beloved Iberian ham. Vermouth, local aperitif, is served on tap. And don't rule out exploring the city after dark. The Spaniards here are nocturnal, embracing a love of night life and socializing.

    Mr. BANDERAS: You can go for dinner in Madrid , probably by 11. You may get out of dinner by sometimes even 2:00 in the morning, and that's the moment that the night starts.

    LAUER: Dancing till dawn and then stopping for churros, fried dough dipped in hot chocolate. Madrid 's national pastime, soccer, or futbol, as it's known here. Real Madrid is the most successful soccer club of all time. Its home, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium , its face, Cristiano Ronaldo . The other

    passion: bull fighting, a tradition steeped with honor and controversy. Flamenco's fast footwork moves to the sounds of the Spanish guitar . And some of the most famous art collections in the world are all minutes from each other. Del Prado , with its star painting by Velazquez , and La Reina Sofia , Madrid 's modern art museum where you can see Picasso 's masterpiece, "Guernica" up close.

    Mr. BANDERAS: It's an old city in an old country with a very, very renovated spirit. Madrid is a very alive city. To me, Madrid is life.

    LAUER: And because Madrilenos tend to stay up a little later than a lot of people they get started a little later in the morning. But Plaza Mayor is starting to pick up in the pace behind me. Ann , have you spent much time here in Madrid ?

    ANN CURRY, co-host: You know, I actually haven't. I was actually in Barcelona the last time I was in Spain and I've always wanted to go to Madrid and you look like you're having such a good time.

    LAUER: It's nice. We're going to show you a little bit around more as we continue throughout the morning. We'll check out some food and also the fashion of Spain . Ann , we've got a lot to get to.

TODAY
Matt Lauer broadcasts live from Madrid's Plaza Mayor, a town square that is hundreds of years old.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 11/8/2011 7:45:44 AM ET 2011-11-08T12:45:44

No one forgets Madrid. Whether discovering the city while studying abroad, when nights are filled with dancing followed by churros and hot chocolate at dawn, or enjoying its endless Rioja wine and jamón on a whirlwind European honeymoon, the Spanish capital offers experiences for all the senses — and plenty of surprises.

Matt Lauer lands in Madrid on the second day of Where in the World

While Spain’s coastal cities entice with their rugged sun-bleached cliffs, seafood, archeological ruins and hedonistic beaches, Madrid holds a darker mystery, one of smoky, cave-like bars on winding alleys, and the famous poems, novels, political rebellions, flamenco ballads and romances created within.

Established by the Moorish caliph Muhammad I in the ninth century during centuries of Muslim rule, Madrid was from its birth an unlikely center for a nation that would eventually rule and plunder multiple continents a world away. Though the city is at the basin of the Manzanares river, Madrid is dry and unbearably hot in summer, and often cloaked in smog because of the lack of sea winds. But the mysterious pull unique to Madrid must have existed even for centuries as it was continually invaded by the Romans, Germanic Visigoths and French.

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Following its glory years of conquering the New World, Spain was long cast aside as Europe’s poor, gregarious and anything-goes playground. Francisco Franco’s 39-year-long brutal dictatorship helped keep the capital locked in the past, missing its chance to modernize at the same pace as London, Paris and other cosmopolitan European cities. Once Franco’s rule ended with his death in 1975, Madrid became a symbol for the country’s recovery. Now visitors are just as likely to encounter contemporary Spanish design boutiques as historical architectural treasures. This is Madrid’s charm: her history and present constantly blend into something novel and transfixing.

Classic Madrid
On a first visit to Madrid, hitting the highlights, including two of Europe’s finest art collections, is a must. The Museo Nacional del Prado was inaugurated in 1819 by King Ferdinand VII as a showcase for the royal art collection. The museum is home to works by Spanish greats Goya, Velázquez and El Greco, plus Renaissance religious scenes and 17th-century depictions of the conquest of South America by lesser-known Spanish painters. Fast-forward to the present at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a post-Franco temple of 20th-century modernism in a converted 16th-century hospital, with classics by Dalí, Miró and Picasso, whose famous commentary on the Spanish Civil War, “Guernica,” is on the second floor.

Despite the country’s multiple distinct regional languages, contemporary Spanish society is based on national cultural commonality. This camaraderie is on display in many of the outdoor cafes on the central Plaza Mayor. From the streets outside, the structures hiding the plaza don’t reveal their breathtaking interior: a trip back in time to the late 18th century under the Hapsburg dynasty, when the plaza was rebuilt after a series of fires, to a majestic square enclosed on four sides by red buildings topped with turrets, with hundreds of balconies looking out over passersby gathered below.

Video: Matt Lauer takes over Plaza Mayor (on this page)

With a cold clara (beer with lemonade) on a warm night, the square is an ideal spot for reveling in Madrid’s history and a bit of contemporary people-watching — local families come for evening strolls, and throughout the year there are concerts, stamp shows and even celebrations of the city’s patron saint, San Isidro. For a bite afterward, the newly renovatedMercado de San Miguel,a public market for nearly 200 years, boasts dozens of tapas bars amidst stalls selling produce, fish and baked goods. This is an ideal place to get handfuls of Marcona almonds, slices of jamón and perfectly cooked mussels.

With newfound stamina, stroll a few blocks to the Puerta del Sol, which is at the center of Spain’s national road network, dubbed the “kilometer zero.” The plaza has been at the center of Madrid life for centuries, for everything from royal receptions to popular rebellions, and is the site of New Year’s Eve countdowns, which end with Spaniards stuffing twelve grapes into their mouths for good luck — a ritual invented in 1909 as a stroke of marketing genius by the country’s grape growers to boost sales after an unusually bountiful harvest. It is now a tradition across the Spanish-speaking world. On one corner is the quintessential national department store, El Corte Inglés, where everything from souvenirs to what may become a new favorite outfit or pair of boots can be purchased. Nightclubs nearby, such as Joy Eslava, heat up past midnight.

Video: Travel to the city where they dance ‘til dawn (on this page)

Madrid’s growing crop of design hotels translate the city’s present and past into unique accommodations. Hotel Urban pairs ultra-modern furniture with wood sculptures, and Vincci Vía 66 has a sleek minimalist aesthetic, all the way up to the rooftop bar with an expansive view over the city. A block from Vincci Vía 66 is the city’s self-proclaimed “most delicious museum:” the Museo del Jamón, an old-Madrid-style restaurant centered around Spain’s famous aged ham.

Know the city like a local
After hitting the traditional hotspots, get to know Madrid like a local. Start by adopting a barrio, such as bohemian Malasaña, a mix ofentrenched and newly transplanted residents, including thriving gay and immigrant shopkeeper communities. Named for Manuela Malasaña, a young seamstress executed under French rule in 1808 for carrying a weapon — her scissors —to an uprising of madrileños, the neighborhood was the epicenter of the la movida counterculture movement in the late 1970s and 1980s after Franco’s death, bringing to the world the creative talents of musicians, artists and filmmakers (including Pedro Almodóvar) who could finally express themselves.

Meander Malasaña’s narrow cobblestoned streets, stopping at specialized mom-and-pop shops such as comics trove Elektra. Fill up on a hearty meat-and-potatoes lunch at Taberna de Pez alongside businesspeople downing red wine mixed with soda, or spend the evening at a table on a plaza savoring spinach pizza topped with pine nuts, feta and raisins at Lamucca. Tiny new boutiques also abound in Malasaña; Wanda, which is full of avant-garde Spanish designs for men and women, is a highlight. But beware: No matter how modern Madrid becomes, many shops still close for a siesta from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Video: Shopping in Spain? Snag a pair of espadrilles! (on this page)

If all the walking, shopping and eating becomes exhausting, discover Madrid’s most relaxing secret. Make sure to make a reservation at Medina Mayrit, an Arab bathhouse invoking Spain’s Moorish legacy, just a short walk from the main train station. For 90 minutes, and just 38 euros, take your pick of warm, cold or hot baths, topped off with a visit to the sauna, a 15-minute massage and sweet mint tea streaming from a spigot in the wall. To prolong the escape, stay for lunch or dinner at the restaurant onsite, specializing in fusion of Middle Eastern and Spanish flavors, such as tajines with couscous, with belly dancers for entertainment. Pick up music from the medina at Mayrit’s bazaar, which also sells soaps and tea.

Wind down
The best way to eke out a few last Madrid moments is by spending a Sunday outside. In the morning, check out the Rastro, a blocks-long flea market in the neighborhood where madrileños have been hawking leather and used clothes for centuries. (The market’s name, Spanish for ‘trail,’ comes from the trails of blood flowing onto the streets from local slaughterhouses as far back as the late 1400s.) Ogle and barter for everything from art to used clothing, but keep wallets hidden, as the Rastro is known for its pickpocket problem.

Finally, devote the afternoon to the Parque del Buen Retiro. The royal family gifted the enormous park to city residents in the 19th century, and in addition to manicured gardens and sculptures, now there are paddleboats, street performers, ice-cream vendors, and — on summer Sundays at lunchtime — free classical music concerts by the Banda Sinfónica de Madrid. But the most enjoyable way to experience the park is a lo madrileño: a few hours with a picnic, blanket and Sunday paper under the shade of the perfect tree.

If You Go...

What to See, Do & Eat

Museo Nacional del Prado, Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23, +34-91-330-2800, 12 euros, open seven days a week

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Calle Santa Isabel 52, +34-91-774-1000, 6 euros or free with valid college ID, closed on Tuesday

Plaza Mayor, near the intersection of Calle Mayor and Calle de Bordadores

Mercado de San Miguel, Calle Cava de San Miguel, accessible from the west exit of the Plaza,

Puerta del Sol, where Calle Mayor meets Calle de las Carretas

El Corte Inglés, Calle Preciados 1, +34-91-379-8000

Joy Eslava, Calle del Arenal 11, +34-91-366-3733

Taberna de Pez, Calle Pez 36, +34-91-521-0448

Lamucca de Pez, Plaza Carlos Cambronero 4, +34-91-521-0000

Elektra, Calle de San Bernardo 20, +34-91-521-3975

Wanda, Calle de Manuela Malasaña 23, +34-91-593-1735

Medina Mayrit, Calle Atocha 14, +34-90-233-3334

Rastro, Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, 8am to 3pm, Sundays and holidays

Parque del Buen Retiro, numerous entrances, including one at the Plaza de la Independencia

Museo del Jamón, Gran Via 72, +34-91-431-7296

Where to Stay

Hotel Urban, Carrera de San Jerónimo 34, +34-91-787-7770

Vincci Vía 66, Gran Vía 66, +34-91-550-4299

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