April 24, 2009

A 9-Day Road Trip in Spain; Madrid in Two Days

Once I discover something and use it at the best of it, with no serious problems and after-fact issues – I tend to stick it for years. This happened with the services of Hotels.com, Expedia.com and Ryanair (for in-Europe travels). Their hotels’ section do wonders. Don’t underestimate the conditions of a three- and four-star hotel. Our arrival time, November 11/21 at 9:55 a.m. (or just 9:55 local time.)

Arrive in Madrid: Madrid-Barajas Airport is the main international airport (we arrived on 11/21 at 9:55 a.m.) Taxi, unless you can figure out a bus or a train (which we thought of using first, and it could have saved us our 40 Euros in taxi fees, but one thing you should know – hardly any people speak English, only a few people in metropolitan cities speak some English, so to figure out a bus stop, bus schedule and bus destination could have taken some time out of our tightly-packed road trip schedule.) So, taxi it was. 40 Euros, from Madrid Barajas Airport to our hotel near Prado Museum (Museo del Prado), Calle de Ruiz de Alarcón 23, Madrid, Phone: +34-913-302-800.

Hotel we stayed in Madrid:Agumar Hotel, Paseo Reina Cristina 7, Madrid, 28014, Phone: +34 91 5526900. I mapped out the distance between the hotel and airport, using Google maps and Mapquest.com. It said: 16 min. drive from MAD airport, which is an approximate fare of 15-20 Euro, which was a bit off, as we paid about 40 Euros. So, the tip is – always have extra cash (again – in local currency.)

(Madrid's paella)

The hotel was clean, in residential area, with a bus stop right in the front. Some local restaurants and attractions were in the walking distance. The basic necessities were there: clean bed sheets, TV, AC, cold/hot water, shampoo, toilet paper, soup, concierge service and an on-site restaurant (don’t laugh, it’s important when a hotel is less than 5-stars.) However, our room was above the lounge, and if we weren’t extremely tired from all the driving, sightseeing, eating and walking around, that would have been a problem. I think unlimited amounts of Sangria intake took care of that noise for us.

The bus was a direct ride to the very center of the city – the “Old Madrid, but it did get pretty full at the end of the ride, which brings me to my next tip – never loose sight and feel of your bag, there are pickpockets in Spain, as there are in any other big city. New York City is not an exception.

Must-Do Things in Madrid

1. Architecture of "Old Madrid“ and numerous modern buildings in "New Madrid“
2. Moorish Quarter, Oriente Square, Espania Square, Puerta del Sol, Cibeles, Neptuno, Atocha, Puerta de Alcala, Colon, The Bullring, Castilla Square's "Europe Gate“, Santiago, Bernabeu Football Stadium.
3. The Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.
4. Seafood paella in a non-speaking English eatery
5. Churros with hot chocolate to dip it in6. A stew of beans and chorizo (Spanish sausage)
7. Share a drink with an after-work crowd of Spaniards – opt for local Spanish wines. Happy Hour Spanish wine go as cheap as 2 Euro a glass.
8. Patatas ali-oli – a dish of simply cooked potato cubes with local mayo sounds simple and boring, but once you try it, you’ll never look at your favorite French fries the same.
9. Opt to wake up earlier to catch first glimpses of Madrid’s morning sun rays, as mornings and afternoons felt cozier than evenings in Madrid.
10. If you are looking for a public bathroom while on a walk around the city, it might be a challenge, But you can check out local McDonalds and Starbucks – not for the food, but for the local adaptation of your favorite burger, and for a hip crowd of locals that can afford a 5-Euro latte. I've noticed their fast food eaters incorporate more healthier ingredients than the ones in America (including local veggies, fruits, meats and bread buns.)

Again, a trip is different from a trip. This is just something that one can do on a 9-day trip. Two days in Madrid is not enough, as it is with the other major European cities, but if one gets only a 10-day vacation a year (which is very strange to Europeans who get a 1.5 months of vacation), then it's hard to explain to a Spaniard how one can spend only one, two or three days in a major European attractions' city?
So, don't be mad.

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