My trip to Sweden & Norway in the summer just so happened to coincide with Rich’s 25th birthday celebrations meaning that when I returned, I had some making up to do. Not wanting to stay in the bad books for too long, I thought a surprise trip away would more than make up for my absence. Plus, what better birthday gift than one that I can enjoy too?
I set about researching somewhere that would be both sunny and inexpensive to travel to in the month of September. After weeks of stressing myself out trying to find the ‘perfect location’, I finally settled on Madrid.
Neither of us had been before and so once I revealed the surprise destination, we began looking at where we should stay. After my summer in Scandinavia, I was a little strapped for cash so finding a good deal was top of the agenda and so I went straight to Lastminute.com to find a cheap hotel. As ever, the best rates are usually for the hotels a little out of the main tourist trap, but that suited us just fine and so we chose the NH Parque Avenidas, just a short tube ride into the centre.
As we touched down, we purchased two 3-day travel passes for around 14 euros each and we were set for the rest of the weekend. A half an hour metro ride later, we threw our bags onto the hotel bed and headed straight down to the pool for a quick snooze in the sunshine.
Next on the agenda was lunch. En route to the hotel we hadn’t really noticed many restaurants around but by now we were fairly hungry and didn’t fancy making the trip into the centre just yet. We had a short wander around and finally settled on a small bar a couple of streets away from the hotel.
When I first moved to London I decided to learn Spanish one evening a week, mostly to give myself something to do until I made some new friends, but also in case I finally manage to save up enough money to take a trip to South America. It was a beginner’s class, so I’d picked up the basics but certainly not enough to carry a conversation. We soon discovered that the bar owner had a similar grasp of the English language and so we settled for the two things we did know how to pronounce – una sangria and una cerveza, por favour! The rest of the afternoon is a blur..
Mercado San Miguel
After our boozy afternoon in the local bar, we headed back to the pool to sleep off the copious amounts of Sangria and then it was time to head out for dinner. A friend had recommended the Mercado San Miguel – a bustling indoor market space with tapas, wine bars, pastries and more, loved by both tourists and locals alike.
But after our lack of lunch, we were ready for a more hearty meal and so after a quick wander through the market, we settled on a small restaurant – La Bodega Bohemia – just on the outskirts.
Now one thing I have learnt from my travels, is that you should never eat in the main tourist squares of a city. You’ll either take a big hit to the wallet or leave disappointed by the quality of the food. Unfortunately for us, it was the latter. Luckily we were too hungry to be too concerned and the food was fine, but to be honest, I’ve had far better Spanish food in Central London!
Now, as soon as I had mentioned that we were heading to Madrid, Rich was excited to go to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Not being a big football fan, it wasn’t exactly my idea of a fun day out but I was happy to oblige.
We did the typical tour of the stadium, laughing at some of the tourists who were getting a little too snap happy – a picture of the toilets, really?! About half way round, I started to get a little more into the spirit of things and started posing for my own photo collection…
By the end of the tour, I seemed to be enjoying it more than Rich was…
El Parque Del Retiro
By the time afternoon came around, I’d earned my brownie points and it was time for my reward, a romantic boat ride in El Parque del Retiro.
We made our way across the city towards the park, stopping off to grab some supplies from a nearby bakery, ready to make a picnic on the grass in front of the Prado Museum and Prado House.
We then took a stroll through the beautiful park, stopping when we reached the central boating lake where we hired out a small rowing boat and took our turn paddling from one end of the lake to the other. By this point the midday sun was scorching and after half an hour in the boat, we were ready for a laze under the shaded trees with an ice cream in hand.
Not long after we headed back to the hotel for a siesta and to dress up for the evening before heading back into the centre for dinner (By now we’d learnt to get off the metro at Opera – a bustling area of the city, or La Latina – perfect for an afternoon snack or an evening drink, or the central square – Puerta del Sol). If this all sounds like a bit too much travelling around, I would definitely recommend staying somewhere a little more central but for us it was no bother and we soon got the hang of the different metro lines to take and which would be quickest route.
Not wanting to make the same mistake again, we asked one of the hotel staff for a recommendation of where we should go for dinner that evening. When we arrived at the recommended restaurant it was actually closed but luckily the steak house just a few yards away wasn’t and so we settled on that instead. A fantastic red wine, delicious salad and steak later, we were ready to take in some more sights and burn off the excess of dinner.
On our final day, I woke up early and decided to sneak out to surprise Rich with breakfast in bed. The local supermarket was closed and so I headed in the opposite direction and happened to stumble across La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas – the famous bullring. I couldn’t believe it, all this time and we’d been only a stone’s throw away from one of the biggest attractions of Madrid.
I checked out whether there was a bull flight taking place that day and unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, it was closed. I’m not sure I was too disappointed though – although I think it would have been a great experience and something fascinating to see, I’m not a big fan of seeing animals in zoos, never mind a bull fight! But it was an incredible building in itself and so once we’d had our breakfast, I took Rich back to wander around. Then it was time to head back for another stroll around the park before we had to collect our bags and make our way to the airport.
With one Spanish city under our belts, next time we decided to try out the capital but first off I had a work trip to the city that never sleeps…