It has been a while since my last post, but I was keen to dedicate my next one to my 5 day city-stop in Madrid – so here it is!
The thing that struck me first about Madrid were the buildings that lined the traffic-ridden roads. Impeccably finished stonework was flattered with each homeowners individual flower arrangements, I found it refreshing to see people taking such pride in their own little balcony. The grandeur was only surpassed by the tidiness and cleanliness of the place, not once did I find myself side-stepping round canine depositories. Thinking back to my visits to Paris, where no-one seems to care about that kind of thing, it also felt like the city took pride in itself as a whole – setting a great standard for other western cities to strive toward.
This trip was somewhat of a reunion; consisting of me, Scott and four close friends who we went to school with. It was a great mix of characters and I am sure it was for that reason we were able to easily endure the minor issues we came across during our stay in the Spanish capital. It was the first time that we had extended the invitation (managed to convince) our female friends that traveling with us would be fun and eye-opening! It was great to have a new vibe, notably more sensible than our own and brilliant to catch up with friends from school. Traveling as a group has a few major benefits; cheaper (and normally better quality) accommodation, more people to help speak the language and a whole host of people to reminisce with when you get back!
The biggest disappointment of the whole trip, was without a doubt the building works going on in the apartment block we were staying in. With no prior warning of the building works at all, we were a little gutted to be faced with a building site for a hallway and one questionably safe elevator. Thick dust layered nearly everything that passed through, including ourselves – as a result I felt almost reluctant to get ready for a night out as I’d be filthy by the time I made it to the front door! We negotiated a small refund with the management agency, so I feel slightly less cheated than I would have done had I paid full whack. As I have mentioned before, I hate letting small problems take up any more time than they must so we quickly adapted to the situation we were in and got to exploring the city.
Prior to arriving we had tried to source tickets for the Madrid derby at the Bernabeau, we didn’t have much luck though. Logging in to the Real Madrid website the Monday before the game, as we were instructed to, only offered us tickets ranging from £160 – £460 per person! Not ideal. We were resigned to the fact that tickets to the game might be out of reach, so instead we opted for the stadium tour on our first day. You start by making your way up multiple escalators for a view out over the stadium, before slowly scaling your way back down through museums full with footballing relics and multiple photo opportunities. It was really well put together and well worth a visit for the 19 euro entry fee. Finishing the tour with a dressing room walkthrough and the club megastore, we decided to head to the ticket office and have one last go at sourcing tickets for the game the following day. Unbelievably the ticket attendant informed us that there were four tickets available for 70 euro per person!!! We snapped them up and headed back to our apartment to reunite with the girls for a curry out and plenty of vino tinto. Staying up till 3am playing ‘guess the intro’ was one of the highlights of the trip for me – I love seeing how diverse everyones knowledge is and there are always a couple of musical gems that pop up!
Waking up slowly (red wine?), we made our way to the Bernabeau, once again, for the big match. Ambling up from the metro we wandered in and out of football fans before stumbling upon a large group of ‘ultras’ with flares, bangers and megaphones. We later found out that these ferociously passionate fans were protesting for the clubs president to resign, it seems that the near £1 billion pound squad just isn’t good enough for some, but it was great fun to have a few beers on the streets while the atmosphere brewed! After scaling up the escalators I mentioned earlier once again, we took our seats which were right at the top – literally, but also right next to the small amount of away fans in the stadium so there was a great vibe! Even more so when Atletico took the lead and the full time whistle blew seeing them 1-0 winners. We headed to a large sports bar called the Irish Rover to catch the second half of the England Vs. Ireland six nations game to cap off a sports laden couple of days.
We spent our penultimate day visiting Madrid zoo and it was a great day out. Sometimes I can find it a little difficult visit these places, the small enclosures and squalid conditions aren’t that great to see. However the zoo was very much on par with the rest of the city and the animals appeared to be well kept with plenty of space and care provided. My personal favourite was seeing the panda cub Xing Bao, I had never seen a panda in real-life before and he seemed to really be enjoying the bamboo that covered his enclosure floor! The zoo offers a few interactive shows including a birds of prey demonstration and a dolphin show, if you’re travelling with kids this place really is a must – don’t get me wrong though, the big kids can enjoy it just as much. On the way back we stopped off at the Royal Palace of Madrid, a very impressive building with a enormous courtyard! We stumbled past Mercado San Miguel, so decided to nip in and soak up the hustle and bustle. Before heading off for our short walk back to apartment we all snapped up some warm chocolate and churros – surprisingly (as I love my chocolate), I would have only give them a 5/10 – but I still saw them all off.
As I am sure you know, Spain is well known for its tapas dishes and we sampled plenty of them during our stay. The first thing we ordered after dumping our luggage at our apartment was a few plates of patatas bravas and seis cervezas (6 beers) – a great start if I say so myself! On the last night we went all out and ordered various dishes; patatas y aioli, jambon croquettas, the nicest fried honey chicken I have ever tried, as well as your standard calamari. The dishes were pretty good wherever we went, however I would say though that the food as a whole didn’t blow me away quite as much as I had hoped, but that may be down to the places we ate at! On one occasion the bar we were eating in tried to overcharge us, but soon removed the extra three beers we hadn’t ordered once we had queried the bill. Again, this could have just been a one off, but it just goes to show that it pays to be pro-active in checking your bill after a meal or drinks out.
We spent the last day wandering around Retiro Parque, the biggest central park in the city and it was a great way to see out our final hours in the city. Hoping on a rowing boat I, acting as the coxswain, buoyed our crew to successfully row from one side of the lake and back again. For 6 euros per boat, this is a must do and fits in with an travelling budget.
I really, really enjoyed Madrid. The place was beautiful and seemed to strike a great balance between the city side of life and the relaxed ‘mañana’ mentality that I love so much about Spain. I have to admit though, it doesn’t quite take Barcelona’s mantle as my favourite Spanish city, but it is very much up there and I wouldn’t hesitate to revisit if the opportunity arose!
It would be great to hear about your experiences in Madrid, or if you have any questions that you feel we might be able to help with – give us a shout in the comments!