GUEST ARTICLE: During one of our around the world trips we spent a weekend in Madrid. It was mid November at the time and fall was upon us. Rolling hills dotted the terrain and every now and again amongst the patchwork of mottled warm browns we saw patches of vibrant green crops below.
The Madrid airport is massive and the architecture inside really modern and interesting. By taxi it only took us 30 minutes and €35 to get to our hotel downtown Sercotel Suites Viena (great hotel by the way). There is also a train to downtown as well but we thought we’d grab a cab to take in more of the scenery.
We really enjoyed the drive through the city and being Friday it was a beehive of activity. We drove down Gran Via or otherwise known as The Spanish Broadway. The streets were lined with tall ornate buildings with beautiful architecture. Parking appeared to be a big problem, especially along the narrow back streets. But somehow even if the space seemed impossibly small they would squeeze themselves in (and there were numerous dented cars to prove it).
For dinner that night we walked to a real local’s restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge. The restaurants usually don’t open until about 8:30pm and by that time the temperature had really dropped (see your breath kind of cold). It was definitely scarf and mitts weather. For dinner we ordered their specialty – seafood paella. Accompanied by some local vinos tintos (red) and for dessert they served us a platter of dried fruits and sweet dessert wine – yum!
The next morning after breakfast we waited for the temperature to warm up. At the time it was only 6°C and pretty chilly. But with the sun shining and bright blue skies it didn’t take long. With a city map in hand and our journey planned for the day we began our first sightsee.
Our first stop was to a park just down the road from us called the Plaza de España. Tall trees with autumn amber leaves lined the park and in the middle was a beautiful marble fountain of Don Quixotte and his squire Sancho Plaza. A few vendors had stalls set up selling everything from food to trinkets. By this time a few other sightseers were out and about also admiring the tranquility of the place.
We kept on walking and came to the Jardines di Sabitini. A picturesque garden located just below the Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid). That was a lovely area showcasing well-manicured hedges and leafy green trees. After a little stroll we continued on toward the Palacio Real and Almudena Cathedral.
Unfortunately there were long queues to get into the Palacio and Cathedral so we decided against going inside, but that was fine with us because the view from the outside was impressive. The Palacio is still the official residence to the King of Spain and is used primarily for official ceremonies. It’s a magnificent structure built using Baroque, Classicism architecture. Large stone pillars surround a massive courtyard and iron gates secure the premises.
Not far from there is one of their popular walking streets called Calle Mayor. There were quite few people milling about at first but that soon turned to thousands. On the way we went into a really cool market called the Mercardo de San Miguel. Inside were fabulous booths showcasing a number of delicious sweets and savories. Their displays were immaculate and looked enticing. Hundreds of people milled about happily tasting and drinking the local fare. It was lunchtime so we joined the crowd and grabbed a couple glasses of their best vino and some plates of paella (both were very good by the way).
After lunch our journey continued. The sidewalks got really thick when we reached one of the main squares in Madrid’s center called Plaza Puerta del Sol. Thousands of people filled the area.
Particular areas were much busier than others and those were the lottery shops. At that time of year there is a lottery called the Spanish Christmas lottery (Sorteo de Navidad), which is considered to be the biggest lottery worldwide. An entire ticket costs €200 but you can also but a tenth of a ticket for €20. We saw massive lineups of hopefuls patiently waiting for one of these tickets. They say 98% of Spanish people buy a ticket!!
We continued on our way and walked up the Paseo del Recoletos and then down the Paseo del Prado. That was a nice peaceful walk along concrete walking paths flanked by autumn colored trees. Near the end of the Paseo del Prado we stopped at the Madrid Botanical Garden (Real Jardin Botanico).
After paying our €2.50 entry fee we entered one of the most spectacular gardens we’ve ever seen. And because it was fall time that made it even more dazzling. The grove of plants and trees consisted of a myriad of vibrant colors, like fiery reds, burnt oranges and warm yellows. There were quaint pathways leading throughout and benches to sit and gaze. We could have easily spent all day there but since we were on limited time we had to venture on.
Next we went to one of Madrid’s most popular parks called Buen Retiro Park. It’s a grand park covering 1.4km2. We passed large grassy areas with people lounging about enjoying the day. Tall leafy trees covered the whole area and lined a network of dirt pathways. The serenity of the park was really nice and a great place to relax after the hustle and bustle of the city. On the way we happened upon an area that was home to a number of stray cats. Some locals took it upon themselves to give them food and set up makeshift shelters for them – how nice!
As we continued walking we started seeing more people so we knew that we must have been nearing one of the more popular areas of the park. Soon we came upon a magnificent monument made out of marble and bronze in honor of King Alfonso XII. In front of the monument was a large tranquil pond filled with happy tourists in small wooden boats.
Buskers were ever present showcasing their talents. Little kids especially liked the giant bubble making buskers and screamed in delight while trying to pop them. It was getting late in the day by this time and we were getting pretty exhausted from all the walking so we decided to start heading back.
On the way home we saw an enormous beautiful white building and found out it was Madrid’s City Hall. Even though we were tired we decided to have a quick peek. We were glad we did because not only was the inside spectacular but they offered a free platform viewing area located outside on the top floor. The view from up there was fantastic and gave us a good look at Madrid.
By the time we got back to our hotel we were spent so we relaxed for a few hours before we headed back out to explore the nightlife. We were eager to get back out because we heard that Madrid had just put up its Christmas lights and we were looking forward to the display.
The streets were jam packed with people all eager to get out and enjoy Saturday night. Walking was a bit of a chore amongst the throng but it made for interesting people watching. We even passed two people on rollerblades – ‘What The?!’ The light display was mesmerizing. A plethora of colorful streetlights were each creatively displayed along every street. And the main squares were also beautifully lit and each had giant Christmas trees all attractively decorated.
After another lovely dinner we leisurely strolled home taking in our spectacular surroundings one last time. What a day! What a weekend! We really enjoyed our time in Madrid, it’s a magnificent city filled with beautiful architecture, engaging people and rich in culture. Autumn is an excellent time to visit Madrid. The leaves, the crisp air and the Christmas lights combined to make this a special weekend. This city is a must do but next time we’ll try to spend more time to savour it.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking roads less traveled!