Wednesday, September 7, 2011

5 days of experiencing Madrid

Languid days spent walking around the narrow streets opening up into gorgeous 17th century fountain plazas. The sun refusing to set before 9pm, evenings ideally centered around lounging in the sidewalk bars sipping on Sangria and munching Tapas. The past 4 days in Madrid could very well be summarised thus.

Our hotel, Westin Palace

Besides the protests against the government on the streets, there is not much evidence of Spain's dire economic situation. People bustle around to and fro from work and spend their evenings thronging bars till the wee hours of the morning. The windows of our gorgeGous suite at the Westin Palace overlook the Plaza Neptuno and the sweeping eye can see the parliament, the Ritz hotel and Prado museum, all across the road from the hotel. The upgrades in the hotel helped us get this amazing suite, 2 bottles of wine and a stupendously amazing lunch for 4 at the Rotunda, the stunning dome restaurant at the hotel. If you ever happen to visit the restaurant, please do order the Tenderloin with Fois Gras which literally melts in one's mouth. Thanks D for pulling this one!

Rotunda Restaurant in the hotel where we had our 3 course meal

Here are the top things we did and highly recommend you do in Madrid:

1)  Spend a day walking around exploring the Royal Palace. A beautiful 18th century structure with opulent rooms like the Throne Room and the Dining Room, the palace is the official residence of the royal family but they do not live here anymore. The ticket line gets quite long so make sure you go early. We reached there at 10am when it had just opened and did not have to wait long. The entire palace took 2 hours to take but once you enter, you need to finish the palace to get out of the building or you need to go all the way back (the rooms lead into each other).

2) Evening spent around the Plaza de la Sol, the center of town. Calle Carmen is a great walk for shopping and eventually leads into Gran Via. After you're done shopping, have dinner at any of the numerous cafes or restaurants around. And finish off your evening with Churros (a deep fried flour stick dipped in molten dark chocolate).

3) Appreciate the work of masters like Van Gogh, Monet and more at the 3 galleries in town. Prado is the most famous (free everyday from 6-8pm) but I almost died when I saw Van Goghs for real at the museo thyssen-bornemisza (entry 8euros). The Naval Museum in the same neighborhood is a great place to see how the mighty Spanish navy ruled the oceans for hundreds of years. Replicas of age old ships and real artifacts makes this a must see. It is supposed to be free but the involuntary 'donation' of 3 euros per person is the entrance fee of sorts.

4) Stroll around the HUGE El Retiro Park. With lakes and the Crystal palace inside, it can take the good part of your evening to explore it. Locals come here after work with their children to see the ducks or just for a jog!

5) Go bar hopping having a small glass of Sangria or beer at each and hopefully some free olives or tapas thrown in by them.

6) Use the metro for travelling around town. It is highly convenient and each journey costs 1.5euros. But if you take a ticket for 10 journeys, you only need to pay 9.30

7) See the historic bull fighting arena at the Metro stop Ventas called Plaza de Toros, the oldest and largest bull ring in the world.

8) Dress VERY fashionably! The spanish like to look good. The women have make up on even early in the morning and I looked like a total tourist in my shorts amongst the elegant women in slim dresses and high heels.

9) Look for bargains at the crazy El Rastro Flea Market on Sunday mornings. Reach there before 10:30am and be done by 2:30 when the 3500 stalls start shutting. I bought a gorgeous dress and some accessories from there.

As we bid adieu to Madrid tomorrow enroute to our onward journey to Granada, the city shall be remembered for its high fashion, great art and architecture and a general buzz of excitement!

Coming up in the next post - Top things to eat in Madrid and where! Watch this space for more!

Later Senor & Senoras!!

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