In early June, a friend and I travelled to Madrid. I was very excited for the trip as I had never been to Madrid (yes I know, that's weird considering where else I've visited) and I was travelling there with an old friend (who made an excellent tour guide as he lived in the city for 1 year during undergrad). Highlights included:
1. Taking the double-decker bus tour around thecity.
Growing up, my family would always take the double-decker bus tour when visiting new cities. It's a great way to see the highlights of the city and figure out parts to visit later. Bonus if the bus is a hop-on, hop-off bus. This remains my favorite thing to do in new cities. The Madrid bus tour was great, as it allowed us to see all the sites without over heating (the temperature made it miserable to be walking outside during the day).
2. Seeing pictures on buildings. Many buildings in Madrid are covered in pictures. Usually these are painted on the building or created from tile mosaic, however some are more unique and of wood carving, etc. Even the street signs have pictures on them (and not graffiti). Word to the wise: if you're not constantly looking up, it's easy to miss the pics.
The Mercado de San Miguel is an indoors, up-scale farmer's market with small booths selling the speciality foods and drinks of Spain. People meet here after work to snack on tapas from the different stalls and drink good wine. The few bar tables in the center of the building are always packed. This is a good place to make Madrid friends and share a table.
4. Watching the Sunset on the Calle de Bailen (near the Jardins de Sabatini).
Madrid locals make an event of the sunset viewing. Around 8:30pm, groups of friends go to the park next to the Royal Palace, eat tapas and drink Spanish wine, enjoy the company of friends, and watch the sunset. Madrid locals definitely know how to enjoy life.
5. Window shopping on the Calle de Claudio Coello.
The southern most part of the street is crowded with the stores of many designers. I like the the northern part of the street better which had stores of up-and-coming designers selling things at reasonable prices. This area is great for people watching. It's also interesting to see the reaction of sales people when you walk into their store (I looked very unglamourous on my afternoon visit as I spent the entire morning walking around and sweating in 100 degree temps). Madrid has great fashion.
All in all, it was a very good trip. On my next trip, I'll stay out later. Madrid is a town that comes alive at night and should be seen then. Also, I'd like to go to a club where locals are dancing modern flamenco. And I'd like to visit the Museum of the Americas, which I've heard provides a great history of Spain and showcases it's relics.
Restaurant & Hotel Review. (for all who wanted to know my thoughts on where to stay and eat)
Restaurant: El Estragon (Plaza de la Paja 10, 28005 Madrid). Great vegetarian restaurant in a non-veggie town. Thie dishes were flavorful and contained large amounts of the essential nutrients which vegetarians have a tough time getting (protein, calcium, iron). The service & location were great - I wanted to sit there for hourse and people watch.
Restaurant: Teatriz (Hermosilla 15, 28001 Madrid). This has an amazing set-up as it's in an old theatre. Tables are located in all audience sections, including the box seats. On stage was a bar with huge mirrors around it. And the food was amazing (my descriptions of food only go far).
Hotel: Suites 33. This was a good hotel at a good rate (I stayed here the 1st night when I was by myself). It was located 2 min from the Plaza de Espana, but it was on a quiet street. The hotel room & bathroom were large and clean (by American standards). The A/C worked. And there was free wi-fi for all guests. The concierge was very helpful.
Hotel: Westin Palace. Fabulous is the only way to describe the Westin (my friend and I stayed here the rest of the trip by using friequent flier points). The room, bathroom, and service was all fabulous. The highlight was the breakfast buffet. It included every breakfast food possible, including champagne, and was served in a gorgeous atrium. On weekends, a piano player and opera singer serenade everyone. Bon Jovi was also staying at the hotel while we were there. Groupies camped out 24/7 to catch a glimpse of the band.