14 May 2010

Beer & Tapas - Madrid, Spain [Day One]

For once I decided to be sensible and get a flight at a reasonable time of day, rather than the normal 2am wakeup. I flew out of Gatwick Airport at about 9pm Friday evening, 1st class all the way, baby! (RyanAir). I arrived into Madrid sometime after midnight, and had an airport shuttle pick me up and take me back to Tryp Diana Hotel - a really nice place close to the airport. I finally made it to bed at about 2am.

Saturday morning I allowed myself a small sleep-in, and woke to beautiful sunshine streaming in the window. I took a look outside; the sun was beating down and the sky was blue. Perfect! I dusted off my shorts and jandals, which I hadn't used in months, and navigated the metro into the city. I exited in the centre of Madrid - the hostel I booked was only 100m walk off one of the sidestreets. I decided to go and drop my bag before embarking on my exploration for the day.

The hostel was nice, the staff really friendly - one guy sat down with me and explained all the major sites and how best to spend my time. So with that, I headed out.

I first spent some time wandering Puerta del Sol, a large open square in the centre of Madrid. This area is one of the most liveliest places in Madrid - at the time people were setting up seating for some kind of parade or show. The square is also home to the famous Tio Pepe neon sign.

From there I headed down beautiful, narrow cobble stone streets, with terraces from every window. I ended up in the Plaza Mayor, where there was some sort of celebration going on. There was a lot of people, costumes, dance. After being in Madrid for a couple of hours I noticed something I thought was quite strange - there seemed to be a lot of people dressed up as disney or cartoon characters. I assume they are "busking" / street performers / after money, but they werejust standing there, a few with blow-up swords I guess they were trying to sell. I have not seen this anywhere I have been before (apart from Disneyland of course). Some of them, like my friend Spidey, were not in the best shape. Also note Mickey taking a rest in the last photo below. But there were some really interesting street performers - people making music with wine glasses, a lot of 'statues', and plenty of other interesting ones. There were also these guys making huge bubbles! (see photo)

From the Plaza I wandered past the Almudena Cathedral, the Royal Palace and Sabatini Gardens. The Cathedral is huge! And has a massive dome overlooking the city. The Royal palace was also very impressive - so wide I could not get it in one shot. And the gardens had perfectly sculpted trees. I found more street performers - this time singing and dancing - they were very good!

Next I stumbled accross Parque del Oeste, a park with amazing views over the city. The park also contains an Egyptian Temple dating back to the second century BC. The temple was donated to the Spanish by the Egyptians in thanks for their help in saving the ancient temples of Abu Simble (see my blog about these temples here)

Not far from the park is Spain Square (or Plaza de EspaƱa), which has a huge monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and lots of small market stalls - mostly touristy stuff.

That afternoon I headed out for tapas and beers with a couple of people I met at the hostel. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon - relaxing in the sun, drinking beer and eating good food.

Once I had recharged the batteries, I wandered down to Buen Retiro Park. This is a large park near the centre of Madrid, which contains sculptures and monuments, as well as a large lake filled with small row boats. It was really beautiful - I just lay back for a while and enjoyed the sun. One of the smaller lakes is filled with these big fish and turtles, which I attempted (unsuccessfully) to catch.

Later that evening I joined some people from the hostel for a dinner of Paella (a very Spanish rice dish) with a large jug of Sangria on the side. The food was amazing, but I'm not a huge fan of sangria. From there we headed out for some drinks, which was a bit of an experience. They have guys out in the streets doing everything they can to convince you to visit their club. They offer free shots, free cocktails etc. Most clubs have a cover-charge for guys, but are free for girls. We went into one of these places - I paid €5 to get in, but this included a free drink. I asked for a tequila, expecting a shot, but they barman proceeded to pour a glass almost full of tequila! Later we went to an irish pub a bit out of the centre city with the promise of free shots. Along the way we ran into at least four guys selling cans of beer on the footpath - smart move with all the drunk people around. The pub seemed like your standard irish pub, until you headed downstairs, where there was a crazy rave going on!

After a while I decided I had had enough, and made my way back to the hostel. Impressions after the first day were good. I had expected, like most other large European cities, that it would be a bit dirty, and have a more dodgy side. But Madrid was the complete opposite. The city was beautiful and clean, the food was amazing, the people friendly and the drinks cheap. What more could you want?

-- A couple more random pictures that don't fit in anywhere. An upside down elephant, and a cool building - not exactly sure what it is though?

Next Post - 'Turtles in their Hundreds'


  1. Brings back memories of lots of beer and tapas from when I was last in Madrid...cool city...

  2. the random building is la casa de correos (the post office hq)


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