Part 1 of 3: Madrid
We reached Madrid in the afternoon and the airport… sadly it reminded me of Calcutta International Airport. Nothing about it cried international, well, other then the planes coming in from other countries. Lame, dirty and unhelpful. But this was our gateway and we embraced it. Foreign exchange was a little hard to get to, especially if you are hauling 2 carryons and 2 suitcases on 2 bad backs plus a baby in a stroller. But that’s what we did because we needed to get the bus. No taxi would take us because they didn’t have a car seat (? which is strange because later other taxis did) although we were okay (not proud just okay) with carrying our baby on the lap without the car seat in local in-city routes… after all son (J) & I just got back from India.
So we took the bus to Cibeles and what would have been a short easy walk to our hotel, we panted and dragged ourselves and our belongings to Hotel Petit Alfonso XII right next to Retiro Park. When I was planning this trip this was the first hotel I had booked and did so with very little research (i.e. I didn’t pour over all the negative reviews on TA and just liked the location on the map so booked it) and we lucked out. At 80 euros, this was a fabulous deal.
So after freshening up, while my husband was taking a shower and baby napping, I stepped onto the cute little Juliet porches and marveled at the iron railings that make Madrid so characteristically Madrid. The intricate designs, the ornate cornices made me think of all the stories that they had to tell, the tall windows made for nooks where you could sit and listen to those stories.
My day dreaming was halted abruptly as it was time to go out and the take the city by it’s horns. Huevas/ Sol here we come. Madrid is a walker’s paradise. Since at one point the city had walls around it (http://www.gomadrid.com/sights/city-walls.html for a list of those walls that still remain) the city grew inward rather than out. So in a day or two it is easy to cover everything in Madrid by foot.
Between the first day and the last couple days of our trip we walked a lot but still missed out on Chueca and Salamanca- two places I wanted to hang out in. Attached is an approximate map of the route we covered. We discovered some pretty good and varied tapas (Maestro Churrero, Mercado San Miguel and many others near Santa Ana and Cava Baja like La Perejilla etc.) and Madrileno stews (Toma Jamon) and chanced upon a fair share of horrible food that made me sick (Ricote). We had some delicious coffee, hot chocolate and cakes from totally understated bakeries (Uvepan) and stood in line for Chocolateria San Gines only to be somewhat disappointed by their custardy hot chocolate.
- wear comfortable shoes, start in a circle and walk.
- Visit Cava Baja early on in your trip so you can get a list of tapas places on a map you can go to. Please note most Madrid restaurants only open for dinner after 8 and are closed Sundays. You would need to plan accordingly.
- Please be careful of pickpockets in the mercados and plazas because they can get very crowded very fast. We lost 40 euros to a pickpocket which obviously soured our mood a tad. Just know that it happens and carry as little cash with you as possible since almost all places take card although they might have a minimum they want you to spend…just not American Express.
- If like us you are traveling with a baby, it is easier to baby wear using a Bjorn or Meitai wrap rather than pushing a stroller on the cobbled streets and busy market squares.
- Book a hotel that is central to the places you want to go to on a certain day. We stayed at Petit Palace Savoy Alfonso XII and One Shot Prado 23 which are on near Retiro and Sol respectively and served us very very well.
Overall we really enjoyed Madrid and our walks through it’s varied neighborhoods. Here are some pictures https://www.flickr.com/photos/kolika/sets/72157649167104730/
For photography tips, tapas deals and walking route suggestions, send me a note. Will happily share what we found helpful.