For my visit to Madrid I decided to give the Hotel a miss and try the self – catering option of a centrally placed apartment. The Grand Via (Great Way) is as central as you can get in Madrid so I naively chose a first floor apartment above a restaurant. It is Madrid`s busiest east-west thoroughfare with a large collection of theaters, Hotels, night clubs, restaurants and international stores. A mass of people shopping, eating, or strolling along simply to marvel at the big-city buzz. If I had known it was also called the `Spanish Broadway` or `The street that never sleeps` I may have reconsidered my choice of location. I went to bed with the sounds of the city outside my window throughout the night. Police sirens, people talking, shouting, constant traffic, laughter and screams punctuated by café chairs being dragged away in the early morning and dragged back out again a few hours later ensured an interrupted night`s sleep. Despite this minor annoyance, nothing that a couple of ear plugs could not solve, I had a fantastic four days in Madrid.
Just around the corner from my apartment was the Plaza de España (“Spain Square”) a large square with several small market stalls and the impressive monument to the Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
The stone sculpture of Cervantes overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
I dutifully had my picture taken alongside the sculpture before walking the short distance to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).
I had already purchased the MadridCard which entitles the holders to free entrance to more than 50 Madrid museums including the Royal Palace. The card also includes priority access with no queuing so I was able to enter at a different gate by-passing a very long queue.
If you are visiting Madrid I would recommend you invest in this card to save money and time.
I was expecting to spend at least two or three hours inside the Palace but because I had arrived early in the morning and managed to queue jump there were very few people in the Palace I was out again in less than 90 minutes but I was still able to linger and look at everything at a more leisurely pace.
The Spanish Royal family do not live here anymore but it is still an absolute paradise of red velvet thrones, crystal chandeliers and ceiling murals aplenty.
The main staircase, throne room and decorative furniture placed around the rooms are spectacular.
The Almudena Cathedral is next door and is well worth a visit as it has some wonderful frescoes and beautiful stained glass windows.
If you have time visit the area in the evening as it looks even more beautiful under lights.
Madrid has many delightful squares; the Puerta del Sol attracts many visitors eager to take pictures beneath the `Bear and the Strawberry Tree sculpture`.
The Oso and Madrono is the official symbol of Madrid.
I was expecting it to be a lot larger but it is in fact quite a small sculpture but no less important to the city.
Plaza Major is a huge square where Bullfighting used to be practised but today street performers and questionable life-sized cartoon characters have taken over the cobbles.
I decided to spend a day visiting the famous `Golden Triangle of Art`, three of the world`s greatest art collections within a mile of each other. The Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofía National Museum.
It is impossible to visit all three museums in a day so I decided to visit the Prado and resolved to visit the other two at another time, despite my impatience to visit Reina Sofia to see Guernica.
The Prado should need no introduction because it contains one of the world’s most important collections of paintings.
Famous works of art by Velázquez and Goya hang alongside giants such as Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, Rubens and El Greco.
The Museum was extended in 2007 and is very brightly lit because of the increased natural light in the public areas.
The Prado is situated close to the Buen Retiro Park and as the weather was good I decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the sandwiches and drink I had remembered to pack.
The Park was a real find but very large (1.4 km2 – 350 acres) so take a map with you.
A magnificent park which is filled with beautiful sculptures, monuments and a peaceful boating lake. A great way to spend some time if the sun is shining as it was for me.
I was very much looking forward to the following day because I was going to visit the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium home to one of the world`s greatest football clubs, Real Madrid Club de Fútbol or simply Real Madrid.
The tour allows you to follow a route around the ground at your own speed without guides starting at the highest point in the stadium for a panoramic view of the whole stadium then on to visit the changing rooms, media centre, interactive museum, team benches, pitch side, presidential boxes and more.
I have visited many football grounds in Europe and this was the best tour I have ever enjoyed, it really was the most comprehensive stadium visit allowing you to take a look at almost every part of the ground.
The following day I went to a small chocolate café called the Chocolateria San Gines.
I ordered six churros (fried-dough choux pastry in long strips) and two cups of chocolate and that was enough for the two of us.
I dipped the slightly crunchy churros into the thick dark, warm chocolate and enjoyed the chocolate experience but after two churros I was feeling a little sickly.
I tried drinking the chocolate but it was far too thick too drink so we had to leave some of the chocolate and the churros. Beaten!
Other highlights of my visit to Madrid included the eleven minute blue cable car ride (Teleferico Madrid) between the Rosales Metro and Casa de Campo which provided some incredible views of the city and the Sunday flea market at Plaza Cascorro which was huge and very busy.
I would suggest you try and get to the market as early as possible if you don’t want to be banged and knocked around by the crowds.
Keep a close eye on your belongings too as this is the sort of place that offers pickpockets rich pickings.
I rounded off my brief sojourn to Madrid with an early evening Flamenco experience at a club just off Plaza de España.
Flamenco is both a passionate and seductive dance with music.
The rapid plucking of guitar strings, the snapping of fingers and the stamping of feet is a hypnotic combination.
The male dancer reminded me of the Matador at the bullfight standing proud with sudden rapid movements full of passion, colour and romance. The women in their large colourful gypsy style dresses spinning around with castanets and hand painted fans added to the spectacle.
My visit to Europe’s highest city was memorable for many reasons but I shall not forget the spectacle of the flamenco too easily.
During my few days in Madrid I visited many of its attractions and sights but I am already looking forward to going back because there is still so much more to see.
Adiós Madrid espero verle pronto