“Madrid has none of the look that you expect of Spain… yet when you get to know it, it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people, month in month out, the finest climate…”
– Ernest Hemingway
I have planned going to Spain three times in the past, (September 2010, October2011, and July2013) including booking my flights and wasting it because I have to cancel my trip. Recently, this long overdue Spain trip have been realised!
My friend, RH, asked me to join her to her Ibiza trip (as we have originally planned it last year with our friend Ariane). I hesitated at first because of financial reasons, but when I found out that her trip would partly cover the last Wednesday of August, I just said YES! What’s happening on the last Wednesday of August? Of course, the La Tomatina Festival! And I’ve been dreaming to experience this for so long now. See a separate entry for this trip HERE.
I just consider this trip as a birthday gift for myself, so I hurriedly booked my flights. My friend and I decided to meet at Madrid first before we head off to Valencia for the La Tomatina Festival, and it’s also easier to get international flights to Madrid (or Barcelona).
Madrid as the very first Spanish city I saw was a good introduction of Spain for me. Most people I know that visited Madrid and Barcelona would prefer the latter more, then I met a Spanish guy during my trip in Lisbon, and he told me that because this people visited Barcelona first, or perhaps because he is Spanish and most Spanish don’t like Barcelona that much hehe. People tend to compare this two cities, but for me they are completely different on its own.
Madrid for me is more classy and classical, whilst Barcelona is more bohemian and cosmopolitan. How can you compare both then?
I arrived Madrid through an 8-hour bus ride from Lisbon. I was a day early from my friend RH’s arrival, but even if I arrived quite early, I just decided to stay at our hostel and call it a day by summing it up with first Spanish meal in Spain, a Spanish omellette and a glass of so many Sangrias I will have for this trip!
The next day I joined a “free” walking tour (tip based), and I’m surprised how small Madrid’s city centre is that you can walk from one side (Real Palace) to to the other side (Parque de El Retiro) in less than a day. I told my friend when she arrived that night that I will just do the “walk tour” for her and she just need to give me the tip hehe.
Our hostel, Room 007 Ventura, is very close to Puerto del Sol, so basically we are also right in the heart of the city centre. I love the location because even if the bars and restaurants are just on the next street, our hostel’s street is one of the quiet ones. I stayed at dorm room for one night, and moved to a double room when my friend joined me already. Both rooms are clean and you cannot fault anything. The only downside for me is that the main common area is not at the reception area. It’s at the rooftop that you needed to go up there if you want to meet other travellers which is a bit of a “decision” if you want to go up or just stay in your room or be better to just go out of the hostel. But that’s just me.
The places that I visited and visited again together with my friend were:
- Puerta del Sol – this is the closest metro station to us too so this is the very first place I saw upon arriving Madrid city centre.
- Plaza Mayor – this is the busiest and touristy area for me, so you have to be vigilant around you especially with the street performers who will distract your attention.
- Teatro Real – a not so impressive architecture from the outside but seeing the photo of the interior, it is very grandeur.
- Palacio Real – it will give you a feeling of a French garden and palace, well because it was rebuilt by King Philip V who grew up in France after it got burnt “accidentally” :P Philip V is the grandson of Louis XIV of France, so the similarities to Versailles Palace can be noticed too.
- Catedral de Al Muneda – there is a Madrileño joke about “Al Muneda”, they say if a girl is “Al Muneda” then she’s just pretty from behind especially those with big bum :P So I guess you get it by now on how this cathedral looks like for the locals hehe
- Casa de la Villa – an interesting courtyard that used to be the “Beverly Hills” of Madrid, because this is where the rich people live in the old times.
- Parque de El Retiro – I went here alone and spent quite a good afternoon walking around this park seeing Monumento Alfonso, Palacio de Velazquez, Palacio de Cristal, and the most interesting monument here is the Estatua Del Angel Caido, or The Monument of the Fallen Angel, strange that the only prominent sculpture of Lucifer is in the one of the most Christian country in the world. It is coincidence too that it’s 666 meter above sea level!
- Museo Nacional del Prado – I went here during its free entry hours (5-7pm), I arrived at 6pm though because I rested too much after the walking tour in the morning, so by the time I got in, it didn’t took too long then they were already asking the people to exit >.< I’ve only seen the works of Picasso that is exhibited right after the main entrance. Then when we tried to go back the next day with my friend, it was only 3pm but the queue was already too long! So yeah, we missed seeing the most visited museum in Spain with one of the most finest artworks in Europe like De Goya’s, Velzquez’, El Greco, etc.
- Reina Sofia Museo Nacional Centro de Arte – We went here instead because it’s free entry also from 7-9pm (double check with their website). It’s more of the modern artists like Picasso, Dali, Warhol, etc.
- Mercado de San Miguel – My friend and I stumbled upon this market coming from Plaza Mayor, it was very timely when we saw this place because we were starving already, it’s a market with lots of stalls selling wide variety of tapas! Yum!
I love Spanish food. It’s very close to a lot of Filipino dishes too so my taste bud didn’t really adjust that much, except for other Madrileño’s food like the Callos a la Madrileña and Cocido Madrileño that I didn’t quite like :P
We were supposed to have dinner at El Tigre at Calle de los Infantas but they were closed when we went.
After dinner, we tried to watch for some free Flamenco shows at some Flamenco bars that does not charge any entry fee, or simply a bar where flamecos go after their show to hang out. One of those bars is El Callejon de Madrid, unfortunately we went on wrong night, it was Monday.
And since we have covered most of the places we wanted to see in Madrid, we went to see Toledo, the former capital of Spain, for a daytrip.
We took the Renfe train to Toledo at Atocha Station which has an hourly train from 9am to 5pm. From Toledo Station there are feeder buses that goes to the centre or Plaza de Zocodover, but I suggest if you will take the train again going back to Madrid, better wait for the Toledo City Tour Bus and start your tour from there. I find this tour bus practical if Toledo is just your daytrip from Madrid, because it covers all the viewing stop points in Toledo all the way to the train station.
However, this tour bus stops only at the outskirts of Toledo so you still need to do a lot of walking inside the medieval cobbled streets if you want to go and see attractions inside this old town. Or take the Tour Train if you don’t want to walk around.
Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is only an hour away from Madrid that is worth a visit. Toledo used to be the capital of the Spanish empire not until the royal court moved to Madrid. It is on top of a hill surrounded by river with architecture features of both Islamic and Roman. Guaranteed a very photogenic place!
I’m happy that I chose to visit Madrid first than any other city in Spain. I think it helped a lot on making Spain as one of my favorite country amongst the countries I’ve visited already. Though I think I prefer Barcelona more because it fits more my personality, but I cannot take the credit from Madrid for making me fall in love with Spain for the first time.
Like I said, I hesitated at first on joining my friend on this trip because of financial reasons, Dubai was in slight recession at that time that my projects are slow and collections were on hold, it all seemed like the wrong time to go on a holiday.
But when opportunity presented itself and, well, I still have a little extra to spend, I just grabbed it. If I keep on postponing my plans, it may never happen anymore. Besides, I was taught not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own ;)