The first thing I think about when I hear Madrid is of course bullfighting alive and well in this beautiful city in Spain. (Now outlawed in Barcelona, the original bullfighting ring has turned into a multi-level shopping centre in the historic part of town near the famous Las Ramblas.) Some people I talked to believe it will be outlawed in the rest of Spain, eventually.
My scenic drive inland to Madrid took nearly 4 hours and was longer than I thought it would be, but lovely and relaxing, nevertheless. Driving in Spain on perfect highways was the norm. All drivers are required to go to the far right at all times unless passing. Then, immediately after passing, they are needed to move back to the right lane. The result is quick moving and stress-free driving with speed limits averaging 120 km an hour, slowing to 100 when near off-ramps and 60-80 when taking an off-ramp. Frankly, they have it all over North American drivers in this regard in my opinion with the very little horn honking. I didn’t see one incident of road rage either.
I arrived in Madrid around 3 in the afternoon and probably at the beginning of their rush hour. I didn’t mind- the slowness of the traffic gave me a chance to check google maps to see if I was heading in the right direction. Luckily, I only missed the street once and had to reevaluate, but I ended up where I needed to be. A quick call to my host Enrique met me on the road a few minutes later, and he showed me where to park the car in the lot a block away. After a quick tour, he handed me the keys. I arranged to pick up tickets for a flamenco show later that evening which he offered as part of the service.
The building was an old one, and I soon saw it was more like a series of small rooms off a long hallway. There was no common area as one would expect, but there was a laundry room right off my room, which I would use during my three night stay. The ad, which had mixed reviews which were mostly very good, however, listed as, HABITUATION 2 GRAN VIA CENTRO PUERTO DEL SOL
It was probably the smallest bedroom you could find in all of Spain. But, it had everything you could want; a single bed, hairdryer, bathroom, shower, small fridge, coffee pot, cups, dishes cutlery, towels, soap and even a drying rack with which to hang your clothes after washing. Granted, it took up the whole room when it stretched out, but it was terrific how well stocked this room was. And at around $52 a night it was reasonable given its proximity to everywhere I needed to be over the next few days.
After another nap (it was getting to be a requirement) I decided to head out and explore for a bit. I found by accident the meeting place Puerto Del Sol, where I needed to be for the next day’s tour and took photos of the surroundings. Then I headed over to the entertainment district, about a 20-minute walk, to catch the Flamenco show. Firstly, I stopped and had dinner at the bar of a tiny but bustling restaurant where they served Moscow Mule Cocktails, something I had tried in Canada a few weeks before. It is a lovely drink made with vodka, ginger beer and mint and traditionally served in ice cold copper mugs. Delicious! However, the food and familiar to most places I ate were too salty, although tasty nonetheless.
The theatre where I was to watch the flamenco show was intimate and cosy. You could choose, according to how much you paid, general seating, a private table with dinner,(not worth it a friend of mine warned before I left Canada,) or just a seat and a drink. I chose the show only, and because I was alone, I was able to secure a prime one on the aisle, just three rows back from the pricier ones. It was riveting and easily worth the 20 euros I paid.
I meandered back to the hotel, getting lost at times but taking lots of photos of the bustling streets filled with people enjoying drinks and food at the many bars and cafes along the way. Again, another prime opportunity to people watch and take pictures, and I made the most of it.
Day 2 The next day, I had booked a “free tour” with OGO Tours. I also had another one booked with them for the next day, which was 16 euros (around $20 CDN), so I left a 15 euro tip at the end of this one. In hindsight I should have left more, it was that good. I was interested as it advertised itself as being in Old Town, and history buff that I am, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the city. The ad read:
Discover the secrets of the capital of Spain with our Madrid Free Walking Tour through the Old Town. For about 2,5 hours we will explore the main attractions of Madrid de Los Austrias neighborhood,designed during the period of Spanish Empire, one of the largest empires in world history!
Our guide, Tatiana, was bubbly and friendly and knowledgeable about the history, sites we visited, and Madrid’s life in general. The small group of 12 was manageable as we wandered the streets. We stopped at all the points of interest that included the world’s oldest restaurant, continuously running since 1725, (yes you read that right), and favoured by Ernest Hemingway who often lived in Madrid to write Sobrina de Botin. Their speciality was Roast piglets in the original ovens. In addition to that, we covered many other sites starting at the Puerto Del Sol Square
- Plaza Mayor
- The Bakery House
- Posada del Peine
- San Miguel Market
- Royal Palace
- Almudena Cathedral
- Attack against King Alfonso XIII
- Plaza de la Villa Square
- Remains of Santa Maria Church
- Plaza de Oriente
- Royal Theatre
It was an incredible tour, and at nearly 3 hours, tiring as well. I gave it a 5 out of 5 and looked forward to the next one in a couple of days.
My next adventure was that very night. The Original Madrid Tapas Crawl intrigued me, advertised like this:
I offer you a real, local tapas crawling journey. Over 3 hours we’ll be visiting 5 spots, including a market cuisine restaurant, a well-known ice-cold beer bar for locals, a new slow food tavern, and a one-century old bodega in a high quality and non-touristy tapas area, which we madrileños love. You’ll be able to see people from Madrid going out for real tapas. And you’ll feel like one of us. All the included spots are a family-owned business, and I’m lucky to know the owners (Manuel, Jesús, David, José y Paco) since many years ago. I grew up in this fantastic district called Chamberí, and I have been trying their many bars and dishes throughout my life, so I know them in detail! There’s a lot of food on our tour (12-15 tapas servings), we recommend you make a light lunch!
I took their advice and skipped lunch, so I was pretty hungry when the tour started. There were ten guests, from all walks of life and parts of the world. Over the fantastic food and many drinks, we bonded quickly. I overate (and drank far too much) which made me uncomfortable later that evening, but it was definitely worth the time and money as we visited numerous pubs and restaurants. Our guide, Raul, was excellent and passionate about the food, the local owners and the neighbourhood. Everyone had a fantastic time, and I would recommend this tour to anyone, especially someone travelling alone as it was a great way to meet people.
Day 3 – Today was the day for my second OGO Tour with Tatiana as my host. One of the great things about this tour and there were many, was that I was once more the only participant. It made for a very personalized tour. Tatiana tailored it around me as to the starting time we made for 2:00, and which gave me a few hours to visit the Prada in the morning by myself before meeting outside the famous museum later. We also planned to end the tour back at the Puerto del Sol to find my way home quickly.
Before I get to the tour itself though, allow me to tell you a bit about the Prada, which people told me I should not miss. First of all, I booked with Skip The Line, a company designed to presell tickets so that you won’t have to wait in line, ever for entry into any museum. They are all over Europe (maybe even the world)and saves long hours of standing in the hot sun. Well worth the $20 or so euros.
I copied the information from the museum site:
The Prado Museum opened on November 10, 1819. The building designed by Juan de Villanueva conceived initially as a house of science but, encouraged by his wife Maria Isabel of Braganza, King Ferdinand VII finally decided to use it as a museum, to store the royal paintings. Years of private donations and acquisitions led to a notable expansion of its collection.
At the start of the Spanish Civil War, the artworks were moved to the basement and sandbagged to protect them against possible bombings. Then, following the League of Nations’ recommendations, they were forced to Valencia and finally evacuated to the Geneva headquarters. When the Second World War broke out shortly after, they returned the collection to Madrid.
The Prado Museum, which is commemorating its 200th anniversary this year, is the crown jewel of one of the city’s most popular tourist itineraries: the Paseo del Arte, where you’ll also find the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía museums. The Prado walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Vequez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Its collection comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, so we recommend deciding what you want to see before stepping into the museum. If you are short on time, the Prado’s website suggests three itineraries, lasting 1, 2 and 3 hours and covering the museum’s most important masterpieces.
I am happy I did not miss this critical museum as in addition to architecture and history, art and music are passions. It is lovely to say I have added it to my growing list of important museums and galleries that I have visited in the world, and I consider myself very fortunate indeed.
. The ad read:
Back to the second tour with Tatiana, who was even more engaging and enthusiastic as we made our way on foot. The ad read:
Discover the exact place where Miguel de Cervantes was buried
Explore the majestic Madrid of the Bourbon dynasty
During this 2,5 hour tour we will discover two fascinating stages in the history of Spain, the arrival of the Bourbon dynasty which transformed the country and the Spanish Golden Age, a period of flourishing in arts and literature never seen before (Miguel de Cervantes, Diego de Velazquez, Lope deVega, Murillo, Quevedo, Calderon de la Barca among others).
During the first part of the tour, we will visit the emblematic “Barrio de las Letras” (Literary Quarter) where the great geniuses of Spanish literature lived (16th-17th centuries). All writers, poets and playwrights settled in this neighbourhood when they came to Madrid seeking fortune and success. It was undoubtedly the most exciting district in Madrid at that time: taverns, brothels and inns were full of “Madrileños” and strangers. It is said that even King Philip IV, a great lover of arts, visited in disguise this neighbourhood to feel this unique atmosphere.
After this part, we will discover the majesty of the Bourbon Madrid, an area designed in the eighteenth century full of palaces, gardens, boulevards, museums and monumental fountains. With this project, the new dynasty wanted to equate Madrid with other major European capitals like Paris or Vienna.
After the tour, I felt as if I had made a new friend, and we hugged goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I have kept all contacts in my WhatsApp if I ever return, or someone reading this would like to experience the beautiful excursions I have throughout my trip.
Getting out of Madrid the next day was tricky, and I could not for the life of me figure out why my GPS kept turning me around in circles. I belatedly saw later, after hiring a taxi to lead me out (20 euros well spent) that I had set the settings to walk, not drive. Another important lesson learned one I am happy to say I did not need a repeat.
Next stop was the beautiful and intriguing city of Granada.