In the 1980s, Madrid’s bohemians, particularly those who were LGBTQ settled in the Chueca barrio, just off its most illustrious streets, Gran Via. They broke the mould of the nuclear, mother-loving, at-home-dwelling family and created strong communities as a result. Although it was one of the most depressed areas in the city, they made it their home and in time they transformed Chueca into Madrid’s gaybourhood. The area became the stronghold of the first gay rights demonstration; and consequently, the starting point for all visible struggles and a beacon of hope for marginalised Madrileños regardless of sexual orientation. And for the next few decades, its strength became even more symbolic – sadly, like the rest of the world, Madrid was not immune to the AIDS epidemic. It is no surprise, therefore, that saying the name Chueca alone evokes freedom, respect and acceptance and can bring tears to the eyes of locals.
“The atmosphere is absolutely electric, everything I would imagine the fictional world of Bosch’s painting to be.”
It’s the day of the parade (or march) itself and I’m perched at the front of an open-top bus, a Pride float – sponsored by Netflix. Times have certainly changed – and the clichés and commercialism of Pride festivals across the world exist here too – to both good and bad effect. But judging by the sea of people, in their millions, in attendance as our float crawls its way slowly (very slowly), through the streets of Madrid, the sentiment obviously hasn’t. Madrileños, Spaniards, visitors – male, female; straight, gay, lesbian and trans; black, white and Asian; bears, twinks and a surprisingly large demographic of muscle-men; some with their families and friends, others with their pets – swamp the streets for as far as my eyes can see. The atmosphere is absolutely electric – everything I would imagine the fictional world of Bosch’s painting to be. And beyond the parade, a week-long cultural programme takes place. Millions of people from around the world pass through Madrid’s airports and train stations and the Congress building lights up in rainbow colours for the very first time. And you know what? I feel immensely proud and compelled to tell you all about it, even if it is a little bit of a departure from what we do here at OutThere. Besides the annual revelry, the same evolution has turned Madrid into a truly international city with its hipster cafes, award-winning restaurants, lauded museums and other landmark events. Language is not a problem either, most people will speak English with a British (coveted) or American (picked-up) lilt – but like the city’s personality, never at the detriment of its Spanish roots, sexy lisp and all. Madrid will take you on a journey, through time and space, just follow the vibe and the good-looking crowd – it really is a garden of earthly delights. And a bountiful one.
Photography courtesy of the Prado Museum, H10 Villa de la Reina and by Eivind Hanson and Uwern Jong
Get out there
… visit the museums. Madrid is a fabulous city to experience great art. My story starts at the Prado Museum, which houses the Spanish royal collection among other amazing works.
… take a whistle-stop tour of the city if you’re in for a short visit. There are many options, but my favourite is on the back of a Harley Davidson.
… go out in the evenings. Everything happens really late in Madrid. Dinner starts at 10pm and the bars only really get busy after midnight.
… miss out on the food markets scene. A great way to snack to prep for those late dinners is to visit Madrid’s many food markets. Try the Mercado San Anton in Chueca or Mercado San Miguel.
… hide away in the hotel. Get local with your people-watching. Sit al fresco with a beer at a cafe; or order a goldfish bowl gin and tonic at a chic rooftop bar; or hit the streets and squares of Chueca after hours.
… forget to visit Calle Pelayo, the heart of Madrid’s gay rights movement. At any weekend, but especially during Pride, hang out here or in Plaza de Chueca or at Plaza de Vasquez de Mella to soak in the vibe.
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