Love Affair with Everywhere--Madrid

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Flag of Spain  , Madrid,
Friday, March 4, 2011

So, I am back in Europe on business...this time I had a weekend between London and Madrid, so figured why not head over to Madrid a bit early to check out the city. I considered heading up to Barcelona, which still sits close to the top of my fave cities in the world list, but thought it better to try a new city. I'm glad I did.

Some dear friends joined me on this lovely weekend which made the visit all the more enjoyable. Thank you HB, RE and ER for yet another fab weekend!!

I love Spain. I always have...even though I have seen so little of it. I am convinced that in my next life, I will be born Indian-Spanish :)) I love the idea of an afternoon siesta, which mind you, still seems to be practiced here in Madrid. I equally love the idea of the evening starting around 10pm with some tapas and wine and then seeing where the night will take you...

My philosophy on travel as some of you who know me know, is to find the 'beaten path' and then wander off it. You get to see what you want/need, but in a way different than most do. I think I love Europe so much because most of the cities are 'walking cities'. Even though my feet hate me at the end of the day, it is still the preferred method of travel in my mind.

To Stay:
I stayed in 2 hotels while here.

The Westin Palace Madrid is a beautiful 5 star hotel centrally located close to sights, great food and nightlife. It is directly opposite the Museo del Prado and a few minutes walk to Parque del Retiro, Puerta de Alcala and Puerta del Sol. It is quite pricey, so book early and you can get some early booking discounts. The hotel is an old palace and much of the decor in the lobby, bar, and public areas are from the original palace. If you happen to be passing by, stop in for a tea in the lobby and you can see the original stained glass dome and chandelier.
(for those of you interested in rewards programs: Westin is an SPG property)

Hotel Don Pio XII was a typically European hotel. It is located 10 minutes north of Madrid, easily accessible by metro (Pio stop). It is a lovely quaint hotel with large rooms and a friendly staff. You won't find many foreigners here, so it does add to the ambiance. Good for business travel, especially if you need to be in the more industrial areas, not the center. Things close early around there though, so if you are there for fun/tourism, I would recommend staying in the city.

Ok, now on to the fun stuff...what to do and see in Madrid...
It is probably best to group things together that you want to see/do.

Madrid is the capital and the largest city in Spain. It is a city filled with culture, history, business, gastronomy and nightlife....on every street you can find a fabulous tapas restaurant or one that boasts the best paella mixta! In every bar you can enjoy a variety of local beers including san miguel, estrella and my new fave, mahou. If you prefer wine, you can't go wrong with even the house red, which will likely be a fabulous rioja (vino tinto) and if you are looking for something more bubbly, try the cava!

My friends headed off early on Sunday, so then I headed off on a mini walking tour of my own.

Now, I should probably tell you I wandered aimlessly most of the way and at some points ended up way further than intended, but I had no time frame and no set plan, so I didn't care. Just checked the map and headed back in the correct direction. But for the purposes of this post, I will summarize....

Started at the fontana de neptuno (Neptune Fountain) right in front of the Westin and headed up past Museo del Prado and the Iglesia de San Jeronimo el Real and into Parque del Retiro. This was a perfect morning to do so as the sun was shining and the locals were out for family day or a run or a stroll in the park. I sat with my tea and kindle for a long while stopping in between to watch the goings on in the park. A perfect way to start the day...While in the park, walk up the Paseo de Argentina and you will come across a mini lake with rowboats. Was a picturesque setting on this gorgeous day.

If you walk through the park heading back toward the city, you will eventually run into the Puerta Independecia at the Puerta de Alcala. Walk back in to the city passing some beautiful buildings and you will end up at Plaza de la Cibeles. Now that may mean something to the football fans out there--it is the plaza where Real Madrid gathers to celebrate championships.

So we continue on past the Palacio de Comunicaciones and on to Gran Via--the main shopping street. One can walk Gran Via the whole way, but I would recommend steering off at some point to avoid the crowds--the parallel streets will take you where you want to go as well. So off the main street over to Puerta del Sol, a plaza which serves as a nice meeting point. Continue in the direction of Mayor Street and you will end up in the most famous plaza in Madrid, Plaza Mayor. It is worth stopping for a bite to eat or a drink here to take in your surroundings..especially on a gorgeous sunny day. The Plaza has many entrances and exits and it is worth wandering in and out of them to see what else is around. One must is to head off continuing west to the Mercado de San Miguel. This is a fabulous indoor market with fresh meats, fish, cheeses, fruit, muesli, flowers, wine, cava, you name it. Everything is set so perfectly, it doesn't look edible--but it is! It gets packed so go earlier to check it out and then come back to eat where you're hungry. I think we could have stayed in there the whole day!

When you're ready to leave the market, continue on Paseo mayor and you will manage to reach Catedral de Almudena and right behind it the Palacio Real de Madrid. I'm not a big fan of entering most tourist attractions like palaces and such, but in case you want to, make sure to go early as the lines can be very long.

Madrid also boasts an active nightlife scene. Madrilenos are known to party till the early morning hours. If you are looking for a 'chill' relaxing evening, you can do that in any number of tapas bars and restaurants.

If you have 24 hours or a weekend, Madrid is definitely worth a visit. All of this can be done by foot in a day if you are short on time, or you can spread it out over the weekend. I will definitely be back....I still haven't found the perfect paella!

Buen Viaje!!!

next stop: berlin

Thanks for reading, feel free to add comments or share your own experiences...
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