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DAY 1: HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS
Like many European cities with the Mediterranean mindset, Madrid starts its day slowly. It's no surprise when you consider that much of the population would have been out until daybreak the night before - just about every night of the week. So sleep to your heart's content and get up at your leisure to start your day. First stop will be your daily dose of cortado (a shot of espresso with just a dash of steamed milk), and a nice piece of tortilla espa?ola. Be sure to put on your walking shoes and bring your eye drops; it's time for an art extravaganza. Make your way to the Golden Triangle of Art, which consists of three of the most spectacular art museums in the world, all located along the Paseo del Prado.
Plan to spend an your morning at the Museo del Prado (Paseo del Prado; +34-91-420-2836) lost in the remarkable collections of Goya, Vel?zquez, and El Greco as well as masterpieces by Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and many others.
The nearby Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Paseo del Prado, 8; +34-91-369-0151) houses a good modern collection in a former palace, while the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Calle Museo NacionalSanta Isabel, 52; +34-91-744 10 00), mainly known as the home of Picasso's Guernica, also features Dal?, Mir?, and other contemporary artists.
In between museums, take a short stroll to nearby Plaza Santa Ana, where you'll find some of Madrid's best and most authentic restaurants. Just around the corner from the plaza is Casa Alberto (Calle Huertos, 18; +34-91-429-93-56, fax +34-91-429-0706; 35 - 40 EUR), founded in 1827, which serves classic Madrile?o tapas in old-world style.
After your art fix, head back to the hotel and take a little siesta -- shops are closed in the afternoon anyway, and you'll need your energy for the night ahead. On your first evening, it's worth exploring the fun, funky Chueca district, home to most of the gay action in town. Get to know your way around; you'll be back.
The first stop on any gay traveler's shopping list is Librer?a Berkana (Calle Hortaleza, 64; +34-91-532-1393), the well-stocked and modern gay bookstore at the top of Plaza Chueca. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will tell you all you need to know about Madrid's gay life, and the selection of books (many in English), cards, and assorted ephemera is quite impressive. Another popular bookstore in the area is A Different Life (CallePelayo, 30; +33-91-532-9652), a two-level bookstore with an annex down the street. The friendly owners will point you in the right direction. Be sure to pick up a gay map of the city, such as MENsual, and a copy of ShangayExpress to get in touch with the latest in the social scene.
Dinner in Madrid never begins earlier than 10 p.m. and that's even early in some cases. For a meal that nourishes the soul as well as the body, hit up Gula Gula (c. Gran Via, 1; +34-91-522-87-64; 30 EUR); it has an outrageous salad bar/buffet, but only half as outrageous as the nightly drag shows and the hunky, punky waiters. The crowd can skew more straight than gay, but it's a guaranteed wild night regardless. The show lets out after midnight, but the night is still young -- most bars don't get hopping until midnight, and the discos really heat up at around 3 a.m.
Pop in for a drink at Why Not? (c. San Bartolom? 7); it opens around 10:30 p.m., but things don't get going until much later at this funky, subterranean bar that features good music and a mixed, friendly crowd. If you've still got the stamina to go dancing, Refugio (Calle Doctor Cortezo 1; +34-91-369-4038; 7 EUR), in its cave-like setting, is hottest on Friday nights. And remember, if you're in bed before sunrise, you're not getting the full Madrid nightlife experience.