(This blog is part 2 of the series I’m writing about Globetrotting for 4-weeks using Miles & Points, from Oct. 12 to Nov. 6, 2015. Destinations included on our trip are: Madrid, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, Maldive, Hong Kong & Macau, India’s Golden Triangle (New Delhi, Jaipur & Agra).
Tapas, Bullfighting, Flamenco shows, these are things that come to mind when I looked back to our brief visit to Madrid. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go on a bullfight, perhaps a good reason to come back.
Madrid is one destination that I had no itinerary planned in advance. All I knew was we will be taking the Madrid City bus tour (Hop On/Off, HOHO) to get a feel for the city. It turned out to be the easiest, least expensive way for us to get around. The bus tour has two routes: Old Madrid and Modern Madrid and equipped with audio guide in several languages. It cost E12 euros per person for seniors good for 48 hours.
Where we stayed
We split our stay between New Apartment hotel ($97 US per night) for 1st two nights and our last 2 nights at Hotel Preciados ($225 per night). The largest Pharmaceutical Convention was scheduled at the time of our arrival in Oct. 2015. The cost to stay at Hotel Preciados were marked up to E1,200 euros per night during our 1st two nights, so I had no choice but find a cheaper place.
New Point Hotel Apartment is on a pedestrian street, very convenient and very lively place. Literally out the door, we are in the middle of action…restaurants, small shops, street vendors. II is close and walking distance to bus stops for HOHO, to Puerto Del Sol and metro station.
Hotel Preciados was also a good choice. Our room is nicer, newer and modern. Located on a pedestrian street lined with restaurants and tapa bars, made it very convenient for us to go for late night tapas. Breakfast which was included, was very good and offered many selections we were able to skip lunch.
It is very near to Plaza Callao which turned crowded and lively, esp. when night falls. People lined up at the Cinema theater, several vendors display their merchandise on the ground ( shoes, handbags, toys, etc ). Nearby is El Corte Ingles, a huge, multi level dept. store where you’ll find on 9th floor, the Gourmet Experience that is opened until midnight. Not only does it offer a good range of gourmet products, but eating establishments, both international and local.
Gran Via is a major street and became our reference point wherever we went, either from New Point Apartment Hotel or from Hotel Preciados.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRIP.
As food lovers, food and tapas were top on our list.
Museo de Jamon: was the very 1st place we went upon arrival in Madrid, only a 10 min walk from New Point Apartment Hotel. The display of hams, and meats on display were overwhelming. The place was crowded and had no space on their stand-only eating counter. We waited for few minutes, then squeezed ourselves in. We looked around what people were eating and pointed to the guy taking order, we want that.You could either order from the take out or eat at the standing only counter. We waited until a space became available and squeezed in. The menu is listed on a big board, and most items are reasonably priced between E200 -E350 euros, the most expensive being Jamon Iberico sold at E9.99 euros per gram.
Montaditos 100: less than 50 meters away right outside of New Point Apt. hotel. This place is a chain, fast food kind of eatery, and very popular among locals and tourist alike.The place gets packed on Wednesday when everything on the menu sells for only E1.00 euros, with exception of few items (chicken wings, salads, etc. E250 -E300 euros). The menu is extensive with 100 items on the list, with small sandwiches being its specialty. Their foods are good, fast service and very inexpensive, including drinks.
You bet we ate here a few times. Our favorites are their sangria (Pinto Tinto), green olives which are not very salty, chicken wings and some sandwiches I can’t remember what they’re called. A place not to be missed when visiting Madrid.
Mercado San Miguel: is where you’ll find all kinds of tapas, a dizzying array of choices for one bite-sized tapas, seafood, paella, sweets and many more. Very popular among tourist, thus prices a bit higher, always crowded and hard to find tables to eat. A must see, even only to look, or sample few tapas.
We decided to eat at a nearby restaurant to take advantage of the “menu of the day”, a 3-course meal priced at only E10 euros per person. Their paella was one of the best. The Madrilenos eat their heaviest meal at lunch, usually around 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm., then eat tapas at night until midnight.
Mercado San Anton: their choice of tapas is only about a third of what’s available in Mercado San Miguel. Prices are a bit cheaper, less crowded and therefore, easier to find table. It is a true market in the sense that it sells fruits & vegetables and fresh meat.
Chocolate & Churros: Oh my gosh, they were sooo good, simply the best churros and the best chocolate. Unlike what’s served in California, these churros are very light, crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. The chocolate is so thick, deep and richly flavored… perfect for dunking the churros. Madrilenos typically eat this for breakfast, but we had it for afternoon snack. I could still taste it in my mouth…so yummy . Another place to add to your must do list in Madrid.
Lavapies Festival: every October for 10 days, dozens of restaurants and bars in Lavapies district join forces and serve beer and specialty tapas for just E2 euros.This neighborhood is where Chinese, Africans, Indians and Arabics concentrate. Thus, you can expect restaurants that offer typical foods from these cultures; as well as creative fusion from different cultures.
Take a day trip to Toledo or go to Lavapies Tapa festival? Being food lovers, the choice came easy. Armed with google map directions, we went on foot instead of taking a taxi. We struggled getting here, asked locals a few times for directions but finally found the place. But getting lost and discovering local places along the way was part of the fun, and with added bonus of getting our exercise for the day. This is a good way to spend a whole or half day if your visit coincides with the festival.
Corral de Moreira: is one of the top places for tablao flamenco in Madrid, and had been visited by many celebrities:Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Richard Gere, Demi Moore, to name a few. The show lasted a little over an hour and was electrifying! The dancers have mastered their craft, were extremely good, danced with passion and intense emotions! We were not allowed to take pictures during the show, but I managed to steal a shot or two. Simply the best tablao flamenco, and worth its price!
We booked an early dinner show at 7:30 pm (2nd dinner show at 10:30 pm, late dinner more popular in Madrid). You can go for the show only, show & cocktails, or show & dinner (the latter giving you a chance to get better seats). We chose the 5-course tasting menu, and each course was very good and served before & during the show, which made it difficult to focus on your food or the stage.
Retiro Park and Crystal Palace: a huge park, popular with tourists and locals who come here to ride their bikes, jog, to relax and enjoy the lake and its scenery. Such a beautiful sight to see trees turning the colors of autumn; tourists & mostly couples renting a boat to row around the lake; listen to various performers playing musical instruments.
Took a while to find the Crystal Palace, but was worth the hunt. It was built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. The architect was Ricardo Velasquez Bosco, and its design was influenced by the glass and iron structural techniques of Joseph Paxton who built London’s Crystal palace. It’s stunning right next to a small lake with a fountain in front of it. The structure has been restored and is now used for art exhibits. It is definitely worth your time to see this palace.
Prado Museum: is the main Spanish national art museum and features one of world’s finest European art collections dating from 12th century to the early 19th, and the best single collection of Spanish art. Definitely a haven for art lovers and enthusiasts, one day is not enough to explore this museum.
Admission costs E12 euros per person, but learned Monday to Friday from 6:00pm to 8:00pm admission is free for all. So after our visit to Retiro park, we came to Prado Museum as they are in the same area, and took advantage of free admission. The line was already long at 5:30 pm, and got even longer but it moved rather quickly. With free admission, we only had access to art collections on the 1st floor of the main building. If you only have time or want to visit only one museum in Madrid, this is it.
Plaza Mayor: is the city’s main square, and a popular attraction for tourists and local’s alike. It’s a good place to rest our weary legs and tired feet while admiring the impressive architecture of the surrounding buildings; and watched street performers, or simply people-watched.
Plaza de Cibeles: a landmark of Madrid and famous for the Palacio Cibeles (City Hall) and the fountain with same name. The fountain depicts the goddess, sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions.
Admission to the palace is free, but if you want to go all the way to the top and get an outstanding view of the city of Madrid, for a small fee get your ticket from the ticket counter (to the right) of the main entrance. On each floor of the palace are several interesting art exhibits, and a café where you can dine while enjoying the view of the city.
Palacio de Real: is one of the top tourist attractions in Madrid. It is the official residence for the Royal family, but these days they only use it for state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not live in the palace, choosing instead to reside in the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.
Final Thoughts: Madrid left its mark in our tummies. We love to eat, and love tapas. We prefer eating these small portions so we can sample a variety of foods. Normally, you have tapas with drinks but we don’t drink much. A beer or glass of wine is tops for me, double that for my hubby. For our last night in Madrid, we stepped out of Hotel Preciados and joined the big crowd on one of the tapa bars on our street. This was on a weeknight, and at almost midnight the place was full of young and mature adults. Such is their way of enjoying life!
Part 3 Globetrotting: UAE in Abu Dhabi to follow.