We recently flew to Spain for six days. Two days were spent in Madrid. We had a great time. Our travel is usually 100% self-directed. Hopefully you will be inspired to travel to Spain and spend some time in Madrid.
Wednesday, May 1st:
We booked the RENFE high speed train from Barcelona to Madrid. Tourist class seats ran about $75 each way. We booked online from home. Airport style security at the Barcelona train station. We are about an hour early. Our platform is announced. More security to access the platform. We see a line forming. We get on it. The agent checks our ticket, saying something very long in Spanish. We look perplexed. She says “English?” We nod yes. She says “Wait.” Apparently you can’t access the platform until 20 minutes before the train pulls in.
The trip was fast, about three hours. The speed reaches about 186 mph, however, the train sways. You discover this carrying coffee back from the café car.
We arrive in Madrid. Getting a taxi is easy. We stated at the AC Hotel Carlton, one of the brands under the Marriott umbrella. It’s near the train station. This sounds like a liability, but Madrid thoughtfully put a huge art museum opposite the station. It’s a nice area. Great hotel, reasonably priced.
We take the metro (subway) into the center of Madrid. We get off at Puerto Del Sol, a big open space similar to Times Square. They are setting up for a concert. May 1st is International Workers Day. This is big in Spain. Stores are closed. Fortunately restaurants are open.
We walk away from the square to avoid the crowds and touristy restaurants. We find another square with sidewalk cafes. The first cafe we visit is run by a Chinese family. The food is pretty good, but we see fancier umbrellas in the distance. Sitting in the shade, we notice areas similar to “jungle gym” areas for kids. They are actually outdoor gyms, primarily done with pipe fittings, where adults can work out in the fresh air! The square also has two commercial gyms in buildings on either side of the square. One even has a café with Moet Chandon umbrellas on the roof!
We wander over to the sidewalk café with the fancy umbrellas. It’s outside a local police station. What could be safer than that! We order a bottle of wine. They bring almonds. We people watch. We order food, including French fries with two fried eggs on top, topped by slices of Iberian ham.
We retrace our steps, decide it’s prudent to take a taxi back to the hotel. We have our afternoon siestas.
The hotel recommends a nearby neighborhood restaurant for dinner. They show us on a map. We optimistically head out. Fortunately, it’s daylight until about 9:00 PM. We get totally lost. The house numbering system doesn’t work like it does in the US. Desperate, I point out a place a say “Let’s try here.” Jane replies. “That’s a dump. Let’s keep looking.” Miraculously we find the place we wanted, a small hole in the wall with pretty good food and recognizable Ikea furniture. The place is packed.
We head home during what appears to be Madrid’s official dog walking hour.
Thursday, May 2nd:
Guess what! Madrid has another holiday the following day! Many stores are closed. I head out to do reconnaissance, leaving Jane in the hotel for a bit. Taking the train back to Puerto de Sol, I see the square is packed even more than Wednesday. Pedestrian barrier fencing lines the streets. Police do bag checks. Big crowds. Police helicopter overhead. Looks like today’s festivities involves a parade.
I explore the area, first checking out Grand Via, one of the major shopping streets. Very touristy. Hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops. It’s the high rent district. Another place I want to check out is Plaza Mayor. This is a huge square, lined with stately buildings and yes, more sidewalk cafes. Heading back, I’m getting hopelessly lost, even with two maps. There’s a small square about every two blocks! A police officer points me towards Puerto de Sol. I do a bit more reconnaissance, then its back to the hotel to collect Jane. It’s time for lunch.
This next adventure is a major reason we visit Madrid. They have a couple of branches of Spain’s major department store chain, El Cortes Ingles. They tend to have buffet dining areas on the top floor, sort of like a giant cafeteria. However, some still have a linen tablecloth restaurant. This one did!
It’s very elegant. They start you off with an amuse bouche. The bread basket contains slices of a rustic loaf you would think was cut from a tree! I go to enjoy the steak tartar, prepared tableside by an experienced waiter! It’s perfect! Although we’ve never traveled Queens Grill on Cunard, this is what I imagine it must be like. We order a reasonably priced bottle of Rioja. It’s perfect. FYI: If you buy the exact same bottle at home, it won’t taste the same. Atmosphere is everything. The bill for two with appetizers, entrees and wine was about 88 Euros. No tipping. I tried our server refused.
We explore a bit. We shop a bit. We head back for our afternoon siestas.
Our shopping included getting picnic supplies. Our last dinner in Madrid was a picnic in the hotel room. The hotel supplies wine glasses. We have fresh strawberries, cheeses, Iberian ham, olives and fresh bread – The whole Mediterranean experience.
Friday, May 3rd:
It’s our day to head back to Barcelona. Yes, the train station is nearby. I’ve paced out the route. I ask the hotel for a taxi. They tell us to walk. I ask again. Eventually, it sinks in that there’s a short cut! The hotel is actually two short city blocks from a side entrance to the station! After breakfast, we set out with our roller bags. About 10 minutes later we are in the station.
We want to come back to Madrid again!
Story and photo courtesy of Bryce Sanders.