At dusk, walking up to the palace I could see a statue of a horse and its rider silhouetted against the palace. The rider’s sword was raised high, standing out against the darkening sky. Groups sat on the steps of the fountain enjoying the view and each other’s company. In the evening, the area took on a fairytale atmosphere with a multi-coloured, twirling carousel and twinkling fairy lights. We were serenaded by a Spanish guy who said his mother was from the same city Viva is from (what a coincidence – it’s just too bad he knew absolutely nothing about the city or where it was) and then asked us for 10 euro. An Instagram Husband/Boyfriend provided much entertainment as he followed his partner around taking multiple pictures - maybe he was happy to do this because she only smiled at him when he was taking a picture. The palace and the vast gardens are very romantic and it was good to see that Madrid is accepting of LGBT+ couples with multiple couples freely walking around the park hand-in-hand.
We had a fantastic walking tour with Sandemans Tours (Joaquin was our guide) starting at the Plaza Mayor. The vast plaza combined with the red paint and white windows is an imposing sight. The area is lively with waiters trying to persuade tourists to dine at their restaurants, street vendors selling hats, key chains and postcards, and masseuses offering a quick foot massage. We had a quick introduction to Spanish history where I learned the names of the kings mainly shifted between Felipe and Carlos. I also learned that the illustrated plaques with street names are a handy way of translating the Spanish words. Joaquin is a great guide who provides information as well as humour. The Almudena Cathedral stands out, and that’s before finding out that there are three distinct architectural styles!
One of the hidden treasures of Madrid is a convent which sells cookies. Here’s how the process of ordering works: you ring the bell and are let through into a room. A voice says: “What do you want?” to which you respond by writing down your order on paper that is provided. Payment is made into a designated vessel and you receive the cookies! If the convent is closed, you can still buy the cookies at El Jardin del Convento (minus the eerie experience of transacting with a voice). If you’d like to dine where Hemmingway once dined visit Sobrino de Botin.
Matadero Madrid is an arts centre that is uniquely located in a former slaughterhouse. The café’s design is an interesting mix of red brick and iron; the food options were quite limited at the time of visiting but it is a nice place to work or have a break. This area is a student hub and is great for people-watching. It is worth visiting the buildings to see how the slaughterhouse has been repurposed; the rooms have high ceilings and polished floors but the ceilings have been left unfinished. There is a range of events, some of which are free – check online or at the help desk. It was heart-warming to see grandparents spending time with their grandchildren at the centre. There is plenty of space to kick a football around, have a picnic or read a book.
Dinner was at a Turkish restaurant close to the museums. At 4.50 the falafel wraps were excellent value for money; they were tasty and filling. The plated dishes also have good portions. El Brillante has calamari boccadillos which are large – they are brought over quickly so it might be good to order one and then decide if another is needed. Although they are supposed to be a specialty, I didn’t find the boccadillos to be particularly tasty.
Chocolateria San Ginés is famous for its churros and the walls are covered with pictures of celebrities. There is constant stream of people coming in and service is quick. The churros are tasty but the chocolate is more bitter than usual. One portion has 6 large churros.
One of the highlights of Madrid is its museums which are conveniently located close to each other -although there is so much to see in each one that you could spend days in each without stepping over to any of the others! Museo Reina Sofia has a collection of works by Dali and Picasso. The museum hall housing Guernica was crowded with visitors striving to get a glimpse of Picasso’s most famous painting. The museum buildings are also beautiful and are the perfect setting for celebrated pieces of art. Velazquez’s Las Meninas is displayed in Museo Nacional del Prado.
On the way to the airport, the taxi driver dropped my friend off at one terminal then said the journey had been ended even though we had set the drop off point at the second terminal. After a circuitous route he said the cost was 15 euro – I refused saying that Uber set the price at under 5 euro. He then agreed to take 5 euro in cash. We later discovered that we had been charged double the price for the first journey as the drop off point had been changed from the airport to an unknown location in the middle of nowhere but we were able to get a refund from Uber. This has taught me to make sure I am aware of the rough price for longer journeys (applicable to every country) and that I check Uber receipts.
On the plane I overhead someone saying: “I write for the Daily Mail and it is very easy for me to write an article on how poor the service is on this airline if I don’t get a free meal… but I’m not trying to be threatening”. The staff brushed aside this threat, I mean comment, and carried on with their work to the reporter’s annoyance.
Note: The Prado is free for students at any time and also has free entry for adults at selected times but be prepared for long queues. The Palace is free from 6-8 but you have to enter by 7.