05 October 2014

Madrid - Spain

Madrid - a city that must surely be loved by many who visit.
Our start in Madrid was not great as the luggage took forever. The carousel let out one lucky guy's suitcase and 2 yapping dogs and then the screen closed down. And stayed down....Eventually the belt started again, spitting out some more cases before crashing closed again! So we waited, rather impatiently I might add. Somebody had told me that Madrid airport was the pits so we had visions of lost luggage or worse, crushed suitcases. Suddenly, the carousel breathed into life again and our cases miraculously appeared. Whew!!!

Next was to find out where the hotel shuttle would be. I have found that the hotels don't answer requests on Booking.com so we did not know where to go or if they were actually going to fetch us. We asked a gent at a kiosk and he offered his phone for 2 euros but James was already on the cell. Eventually, we found the hotel pick up point outside Terminal 2 and then again another wait as we missed the 22.10 hrs due to the slow luggage arrival.
Our Ibis Hotel shuttle arrived as promised and we could check in and head to their 24 Cafe for some refreshments! 

After a good night's sleep we headed off into the city. The Madrid Underground is a rabbit warren on steroids with escalators up, escalators down, and many branches like octopus tentacles. Going into the city was a breeze of 3 tube changes and much walking up and down! The train goes very fast, is clean and everything is well signposted so it would be very difficult to get lost even if you speak no Spanish.

We opted to do the Madrid Red Top Bus as our time here is so limited. The buses only started at 13.00 today due to a cycle race. There are 2 routes - number 1 does the city centre and Number 2 goes further afield and also passes the soccer stadium which is HUGE. The stadium used to house 100,000 fans but this had been cut to 80,000  for safety reasons. With many season ticket holders,  it must be rather difficult to obtain  a ticket for a match here. There are stalls selling soccer gear outside the stadium and tours are available. 

The architecture of Madrid is simply stunning. The buildings are so beautiful that one has to imagine being an architect in those days. Hats off to all of them for such beauty for all of us to enjoy today.
The avenues are all lined with trees, turning to their autumn colours - so peaceful. Traffic was busy even though it is Sunday so I shudder to think how hectic it must be during working days.

Pavement cafe's are all over the city - some so close to the road that all that protects them from the vehicles is a thin stainless steel railing! I am not sure if I would appreciate the noise or the fuel fumes! 

Madrid has many places where you can rent a bike. These are at bike stations. Pay the required fee into the ticket machine and off you can go to explore the city. A great concept.

The city is alive - every street has people walking around and this makes for a great atmosphere. The city centre square is huge and has hundreds of people - trying to walk against the tide is near impossible. There are many places to eat and many, many hotels if you wish to be in the mayhem of Madrid at night!

We went into Parque Madrid which is huge and well used by locals to sunbathe, row boats on the lake ( one chap looked as if he was ready to propose but also looked as if he was going to capsize his boat in the process!). The autumn foliage is spectacular and the mood is festive! Again, there are many places to eat and it is a favourite place for the locals to relax and let off steam. Unfortunately, somebody had left a suspicious package lying around and the cops were picking up any bag left unattended. We did not hang around.......

For those with more time in the city, there are numerous museums to visit.
On the way back to our hotel we found the underground to be very busy so I would hate to be on it during soccer match days - it must be bedlam!  But organised bedlam!!!

A walk in the immediate vicinity of our airport hotel was an eye opener.  The butcher /greengrocer /fishmongers had wonderful displays of their produce. The tiny florist flowed onto the sidewalk, the haberdashery had loads of wool for sale  (do people still knit?). Old ladies out and about with their shopping baskets or sitting at a pavement cafe having their morning coffee. Others rushing to catch the bus or heading off to the Metro. 

We chose a pavement cafe set back slightly with a hedge giving some relief from the passing traffic. It was a great choice as the owner was lovely. We were given free tapas to start, then we enjoyed our tomato/tuna/onion/olives/boiled egg salad. At the end of the meal we were given delicious chocolate balls. I would recommend this place, Restaurant Campanillas, if you are ever in the area near the Ibis Hotel, in Barajas.

In Spain, people appear to wait for the green man before crossing the street. Even when there is no traffic in sight. Very law abiding. 

But the Spanish do love smoking and this has sometimes been a problem. You can see clouds of smoke at busy bus stops or outside the cafes. Luckily the Metro is a smoke free zone.
Our stay in Madrid was a short stop over to break the long journey back to Cape Town but what an amazing city. Wish we had more time here....!

Gracias and Goodbye.

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