Madrid (4th-7th December 2016)
We arrived in this beautiful city on Sunday after a four hour fast train journey from Cadiz. The day was overcast and a lot cooler in temperature than Chiclana when we emerged from the metro to the sight of a very large Christmas tree on the Gran Via. The city was buzzing with families and couples out enjoying their Sunday. This week in Madrid there are two national holidays, Tuesday celebrating the Constitution and Thursday the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Gran Via street was partially cordoned off for the large crowds and there was a heavy Police presence.
Having Petit Palace Hotel right in the centre of town, just off Grand Via gave us easy access to explore the streets and plazas surrounding us. There are so many interesting places to see and experience in this wonderful city, and we have four days to explore.
Plaza del Sol
This was our first stop and the plaza was busy with people. The decorations on the various buildings were beautiful, and the lights on buildings and Christmas tree amazing. We even found the famous bear and strawberry tree, the heraldic symbol of Madrid. If in Madrid at New Years Eve, this plaza is the place to meet.
Plaza de Mayor
Another wonderful experience entering the plaza square surrounded on all four sides by residential buildings. The centre of the plaza was filled with Christmas stalls selling items like nativity figurines and Christmas fun items, and we were entertained by buskers and comic characters.
Madrid is home to the arts, ballet, opera and flamenco music. Walking by the Opera House we found the Dulce Christmas stalls – a sugar fix – with all sorts of baked cakes, sweets, roasted sweet nuts and some rather large doughnuts.
Mercado de San Miguel Market
Wow – this is one of the oldest markets in Madrid and was “pumping” with people busy enjoying local bite size local food items and drinks. There are plenty of standing tables to use to bring back different foods to try along with local wines, sangria or a coffee – something Spain does well.
The Mercato del Gato was a place to buy artisan items like jewellery and clothing.
Is the national art museum of Spain with European art dating back to the 12th century. This museum was the recommended must see. Sunday has free entry from 5-7pm and you need to get there at least 1.5hours before as the queue when we arrived at 4pm was already sooo long.
The waiting area is at the side of the building with the many interesting statues. There is an alternative queue at the front of the building where you pay half price at €7.50 (NZD10) each to enter from 5-7pm, this is the best option unless you are on a tight budget.
City Hall (Communications Palace)
This amazing building is situated on a busy roundabout across from the the Buenavista Palace now housing the Spanish military. The first Wednesday of the month it is free otherwise the cost is £2 each. We arrived at 10.15am for a 10.30am opening and no problems with the queue. Take the lift to the 6th floor and then a short climb up 4 flight of steps, and we were greeted with 360 degree views of the city.
El Retiro Park
This huge park is a block up from the City Hall and an enjoyable place to have some time out. Passing by the Puerto da Alcazar triumphal gate the park was alive with people walking and others rowing on the pond, while we walked amongst the trees and pathways to find the Crystal Palace. Being late autumn, the trees and colours are spectacular.
The Royal Palace
The Palace became a residence in 1764, 30 years after the last one burnt down. It’s supposedly styled on Versailles and is a magnificent building with the interior taking 100 years to furnish. Today it’s only used for state occasions. We enjoyed the Campo del Moro, a garden to the side of the Palace giving another view. The Plaza del Oriente in front of the Palace has sculptures of the different kings and queens. With the Almudena Cathedral next door, we walked across the Segovia viaduct for more views across to the Cathedral.
Teleferico (Cable Car)
We visited the rose gardens, a little late for the blooms, but it was here we wound our way up to the entrance of the cable car. The opening times are sporadic during the winter months, starting at 11am and for us, the queue so long due to the public holiday, we gave it a miss. The cable cars are small taking two to four people, across the Manzanares River to Casa de Campo park, giving you another chance to see the city from a different viewpoint.
Templo del Debod
A highlight was being able to view the the Debod Temple dating back to the 2nd century BC here in Madrid. A gift to the Spanish from Egypt for their help in moving many historical buildings during the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s. The temple was originally to worship the gods Amon and Isis, but today anyone can enter the temple giving detail of its placement here in Madrid. The temple is situated on Parque de la Montana so we also had fabulous views of the city.
Gran Via was packed with people enjoying the Christmas lights and shopping. For us, we wanted to escape the crowds to have some food and drinks in the Malasana area (literary quarter) amongst the locals to try some local specialities like patatas bravas (spicy fried potatoe), marinated anchioves, and Boquerones (whole anchioves). The local beer and wine to complement the meal and we were happy.
Madrid is a great place to visit. Thirty years ago we only saw the inside of the train station as Madrid wasn’t a safe place. Today its vibrant, friendly and a great base to explore nearby places like Aranjuez, Toledo and Segovia (see separate post).