Category Archives: Madrid

The Flight and Beyond…

The Flight and Beyond…

Unfortunately our plane was delayed for about an hour and a half at DFW, so we were going to be behind schedule.

DFW Pre departure

The plane was packed and we were stuck in the middle section of five seats. (We had wanted the two seats along either side, but none were available.) Even though I had requested seats, we didn’t get them assigned until check in and there was going to be a person between us. I figured we could just ask the person to swap because who would want to be stuck between two people traveling together? As it turned out, the seating arrangement was even weirder than we thought originally. It was: a pre-teen girl, me, a random woman, Curt, and the father of the pre-teen girl. So we rearranged everyone and ended up sitting beside each other in the end. It was cramped, for sure, but not horrible. It also was not freezing like it usually is, but it was like a TB ward with some kids hacking and coughing behind us. We swear by the Cold Eeze lozenges, though.

The flight we took in September was also filled with coughing people and we both ended up with terrible colds. The next trip in January we took the Cold Eeze and even though there was some hacking on the plane, we were healthy on that trip. So we decided to stick with what seemed to help keep us healthy and took Cold Eeze before departing, again before sleeping, and again upon waking up. Better safe than sorry!

The girl I was sitting beside has been living in Madrid for the past two years and loves it. She and her husband decided to go on an adventure and teach English in Spain for a year. They got TEFL certified and ended up loving it, so they extended their time for a second year. They are able to live in Spain with a student visa, and have been traveling around seeing a lot of Spain, as well as other countries nearby. They decided to extend one more time and  will be in Madrid for one more year. (note to self: get TEFL certified.)

We really had a decent night’s sleep and I didn’t feel too bad when we landed in Madrid. Except that for some crazy reason my feet had swollen up and were totally scary! I’d never had that happen before, and it was terrible. I spent the in-flight time wearing comfy socks, but of course I had to put my shoes back on to leave the plane… and my shoes were so tight on my swollen feet — it was nasty.

Swollen feet

Swollen piggies

Getting the car sorted out at the rental counter was no problem, and we decided to get a couple of coffees and take a look at the map before leaving the Barajas airport.

Coffee at Madrid Barajas airport

After the 9 and a half hour flight.
Fresh as a daisy!

Our original plan was to leave Madrid and drive toward Gibraltar via Cordoba, stop for lunch in Cordoba, and arrive at our La Linea hotel in the evening time. Since we were running so far behind schedule because of the plane delay, we figured we should drive to La Linea via Granada instead because that would shave a little bit of time off of our trip.

The lady at the car rental counter told us the wrong parking spot number and we first walked up to a teeny tiny fiat that looked like one of those car you’d expect to see twenty clowns climb out of, but thankfully the actual car we rented was just beside it. This car was a great size and quite comfy. We needed to make sure it was big enough to hold the bike Curt was planning to buy.

Mercedes B Class

Mercedes B Class

Rental car Merecedes B Class

Plenty of room!

By the way, all cars in Spain come equipped with a roadside safety vest in the glove box. People are super good about actually wearing this thing when they are broken down. Reflective road wear is serious business here and anyone doing road works is wearing highly reflective garb.

Spanish roadside safety vest

Safety first!

The girl on the plane seemed to think we were a little crazy for making such a long drive after just flying in, but we wanted to see Gibraltar the next day and if we stopped overnight in Madrid that would take up another whole day. At least we felt somewhat rested from the flight. So we hit the road.

To GIbraltar from Madrid

On the road to Gibraltar

Back to Madrid

Back to Madrid

It was time to pack up our things and leave our newly acquired home… time to get back to reality, back to work, back home…

We bid adios to the neighborhood gato and the flowering sweet almond…

Cat and almond tree

“Hasta luego, gatito!”

We locked everything up and drove back to Madrid. We arrived in the evening and checked into the Hotel Clement Barajas.

View from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Looking out the window from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Clement Barajas view

Barajas

Barrio Barajas

Leaving Madrid

Leaving Madrid

We planned to leave Madrid early the next day. The Hotel Victoria provided breakfast, which was the continental type: fruits, yogurt, breads, cereal, and of course coffee, tea, juices, or milk. Definitely not an “American” breakfast, but you really don’t get a huge eggs and bacon and pancake breakfast in Spain. The cool thing was that they had this gigantic automated coffee machine that had a bunch of different choices as far as what type of coffee you wanted. You could select an espresso or cafe con leche or whatever. Put your cup under the dispenser, press your selection, and you hear the machine grinding your coffee beans and then dispensing your cup o’ joe. Surprisingly this was a really good cup of coffee!

We had parked in an underground parking near the hotel. (Much of the parking in Madrid is underneath plazas if it is not curbside or in a private garage.) So when we finished up breakfast, we headed over to Plaza Santa Ana to get the car. You can see by this next picture that the street cleaners were busy early in the morning; we did need to close the hotel room window in the wee hours of the morning because it was a little noisy, but it’s nice to get up and find the streets freshly washed.

Madrid in the morning

Near the Hotel Victoria

 

An evening out in Madrid

An evening out in Madrid

Madrid is such a beautiful city, and we had only explored a tiny portion of it, so we decided to take a walk east of the Hotel Victoria and see what we could see. We walked to the Museo del Prado, one of the most famous museums in all of Europe. It houses the largest collection of Spanish art, including some of the best works by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya.

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado

When we got to the Prado, there was a HUGE line that literally wrapped around the building! We thought that this was a line to see one of the temporary exhibits or something, but it was just a huge line of people waiting to get into the museum for FREE. (Yay for free stuff!) It turns out that the Prado museum is free to enter from 6 pm to 8 pm Monday through Saturday and from 5 pm to 8 pm on Sundays. We had no idea, but it saved us from spending the 10 euros per ticket!

After we browsed around all of the paintings and sculptures in the Prado, we walked over to the Cheuca neighborhood to check out El Tigre, which is a bar well known for generous servings of tapas provided with each round of drinks. El Tigre is located at Calle de las Infantas, 30. This is a fairly small street, and at first we weren’t sure if this was a “nice” neighborhood or not, but it actually seemed to be fine in the end. On our way over we did pass by a small plaza that looked like it was the hangout for neighborhood teenagers… and I mean ALL the neighborhood teenagers! There were a lot of people hanging out there!

El Tigre, Madrid

El Tigre for tapas!

When we walked in, the place was fairly crowded. It is a narrow space, with a small entry area and then a long bar directly on the right. We wanted to scope it out and then decide where to plant ourselves, so we squeezed through the crowd past the bar. Beyond that there was a sort of “hallway” with long, narrow, wooden bar tops attached to either side of this narrow room. No chairs here. Just sidle up to the tabletop and someone will come take your order. It used to be customary to get free tapas with any drink all over Spain, but this is more of a rarity now, so we were really interested to check out El Tigre and see what this was all about. We ordered a beer and a sangria (6 euros each for larges) and this is what we got:

Tapas

Yum! Tapas!

It got more and more crowded as time passed. People were really friendly and seemed to enjoy chit-chatting, especially when they found out we were Americans and from Texas. (yeehaww!) A lot of university students hang out a El Tigre because, as some of them told us, they are almost always broke and with free tapas you can get a decent meal. Some nice girls took a picture of us.

Us at El Tigre

On the way out we were baffled because someone had just come in with a BABY. Curt had to help hold the door open for them to get their stroller back down the steps and out the door. That was pretty weird because it wasn’t like they just popped round the corner and *poof* found themselves in the middle of a bar. They had to get that stroller in the door and up a few steps to end up in the entry area. Ah well… who knows what those people were thinking? At least I’m guessing they didn’t stay long…

All we knew was that we we had a great time at El Tigre. The people were friendly and the food was decent. It was a fun place to hang out, and we would definitely go back again!

Madrid at night was really pretty! The walk back to the Hotel Victoria was nice.

Madrid at night

Madrid at night

Madrid

Gran Via

Madrid after dark

Metropolis Building

Eating in Madrid

Eating in Madrid

Going straight to the Plaza Mayor after checking in to our hotel when we arrive in Madrid seems to have become a bit of a tradition (okay, okay, so we were only on our second trip, but maybe I should say we were starting a tradition), so we walked on over and had a seat at one of the tables outside the same restaurant where we ate at last time.

Cerveceria Plaza Mayor

We ordered two bocadillos jamon y queso and two coffees. This is a really “simple” meal, but so awesome! The ham is paper thin and slightly fatty. It’s hard to describe just how good the ham is, but trust me — it’s amazing! The bread is perfectly crispy on the outside and just soft enough in the middle and the Manchego cheese has this distinct “sheepy” flavor. It’s a mix of being creamy yet sharp at the same time. It makes me hungry just remembering about it!!

Bocadillo Plaza Mayor

Enjoying a bocadillo at the Plaza Mayor

Yum! Bocadillos and coffee!

You’ll notice that the Plaza Mayor was not anywhere near as crowded as it was when we were here in September. That is because it was a whole lot colder. As the sun was going down it was getting downright chilly!

We walked around a bit more and saw this interesting fella. This was at a tapas bar window, but we weren’t brave enough to try out this dish!

Madrid Octopus

Maybe next time…

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Our room at the Hotel Victoria was on the top floor and was interesting because it was set into the roof line and had a different sort of layout than you would expect. It was modern and clean, and while the bed was not anywhere as comfortable as my dreamy cloud bed at home, it was just fine.

Hotel Victoria

Hotel Victoria room

To look out of those windows beyond the desk, we actually had to stand on a chair, but it was nice at night because we just left the window open and although it was a little loud (what with the happy, singing Madrid partiers) the January night air was cool and made sleeping quite comfy.

Hotel Victoria views

Views over the rooftop

 

View Hotel Victoria

Out the window and looking down a side street from our room.

 

We went for a walk down that side street and this next picture is a view looking back at our hotel room. It’s the one at the top left with the window that we (ooops) left open.

View to Hotel Victoria room

See the top left dormer? That’s our room!

Off to Spain again!

Off to Spain again!

We arrived at Madrid’s Barajas airport. The last time we flew into the older part of the airport, but this time we arrived in the newer part, which is beautiful. A bit of history: The airport was originally built in 1927 and of course has gone through numerous remodels since then. This newest terminal was built in 2004, so it is quite new. The architecture is very attractive!

Madrid Barajas airport

Barajas airport

This time while in Madrid we decided to try out a different hotel. We really liked our stay at the Hotel Plaza Mayor last time, but just wanted to stay somewhere different. We picked the Hotel Victoria because it was located in what seemed to be an interesting side street very close to Puerta del Sol.

Across from Hotel Victoria

See what a cool side street?

There were all these awesome tiles decorating the exterior walls of shops and restaurants.

Beautiful tilework

So pretty!

…and it was right down the street from the Museo del Jamon!

Museo del Jamon

Remember? We went there on our last trip.

There were quite a few photo opps just within the block outside the Hotel Victoria. Here is Curt being oh-so-serious in front of another set of tiles. (We did NOT go to another bullfight, by the way. Once was enough for us, I think!)

Toro tilework in Madrid

So serious!!

 

Back to Madrid!

Back to Madrid!

We left Casa Olivos the next day at around noon and got back on the road to Madrid. Our plane was leaving early the next morning, so we wanted to make the five hour drive back to Madrid with enough time to relax and walk around before calling it a night.

Outside of Casa Olivos

peaje

Back to Madrid

We booked a room at the Hotel Clement Barajas. It was located fairly close to the airport and we figured this might make for an easier drive in the morning before we had to catch our flight.

Hotel Clement Barajas

 

The Hotel Clement Barajas turned out to be a great place to stay because it was modern and clean, had underground parking, and had a gas station right across the street.

Room at Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Barajas underground parking

The hotel was located in the Barrio de Barajas which was not “touristy” at all. We went for a walk that night and really enjoyed seeing all the local spanish people out for the evening with their families: walking along the streets, having drinks in the bars, and sitting outside at the plaza.

Barrio de Barajas

Adios, Madrid!

Adios, Madrid!

…But first a quick dash into the Museo del Jamon (which by the way, is not a museum of the history and importance of ham in Spain, as we thought, but a restaurant!!) for a couple of bocadillos mixtos!

Museo del Jamon

…then back into the bowels of the parking garage to retrieve the car…

Whaaat?!? Why is this police car now blocking the exit to the garage as we are trying to leave?? Oh well, “we are in Spain”… so we open the bag of bocadillos and have lunch while we wait for the police to get back from the traffic accident…

Police car blocking garage exit

And now we are on our way to Albox and our stay at Casa Olivos!

Leaving Madrid

 

Windmills! But otherwise pretty barren.

 

Beautiful Madrid!

Beautiful Madrid!

Madrid Sol

The architecture in Madrid is awesome, and we enjoyed walking around and soaking it all up. There were lots and lots of people everywhere, especially at Puerta del Sol, but the bustling vibe is what made it even more interesting. The Puerta del Sol translates to Gate of the Sun. It gets its name because this was the location of the city’s eastern gate which let in the rising sun.

Madrid

This building above was just across the street from a Starbucks. Just to let you know, Starbucks is no big deal after having a coffee at the Plaza Mayor!

Sol

The statue above of Carlos III was in the Plaza del Sol.

Even the view from our hotel windows was fantastic. We looked out over a street in one direction and then out of the other window we could see a relief carving that was on a building next door.

Out the hotel window

Little plaza in front of Hotel Plaza Mayor

Looking to the right from the hotel window

Wall of adjacent building

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

Bullfighting is such a cultural tradition in Spain, and while I hate the thought of animal cruelty, we decided to go see a bullfight to experience this tradition first-hand. The Plaza de Toros in Ventas is a beautiful building! You can really see the Moorish influence in the architecture: amazing tile work and lots of arches throughout the entire arena.

Ventas is within Madrid and we were able to take the subway from Puerto del Sol to the Plaza de Toros. The day had been quite warm but as the sun went down and we sat outside waiting for the doors to open, it became very chilly. We sat on a bench and did more people watching. It was funny because we could spot the Americans instantly! We hoped that we weren’t so obvious!

The inside of the Plaza de Toros was pretty, but it was COLD and the seats were stone benches. I was only wearing a sundress and sweater, so I was freezing!

I have to say that we didn’t enjoy the actual bullfight because it really was brutal. The bull was just taunted and it was cruel. The highlight for me (I hate to say) was when one of the matadors got caught by the bull and was speared in the behind! I found myself rooting for the bull!

Note the hole in his pants!

 

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor, MadridDuring the Middle Ages, the Plaza Mayor was a market place outside the city walls; eventually it was made into a real square. There is a lot of history that goes along with this plaza. Its surrounding buildings used to be wooden and actually burned down and were rebuilt multiple times. The Plaza has been used for all sorts of festivities: from bullfights to soccer games to the crowning of kings! It was also the location of more gruesome activities such as executions during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Plaza Mayor is surrounded by beautiful red buildings. Apparently, after Franco was no longer in power, a vote was put to the city and the people were allowed to choose the color for the buildings. Some of the buildings also have really beautiful murals and there is a large statue of Felipe III in the center of the Plaza.

Along the perimeter there are many restaurants with patio seating and this is where we had bocadillos con jamon y queso, sangria, and a great cup of coffee.

Bocadillo!

This was  a fantastic spot for people watching! The Plaza Mayor is closed to traffic (there is parking underground.) It was fun to watch the tourists, and there were many street performers for our entertainment as well. Actually, I use the term “performers” loosely, because while there were some true entertainers, like these musicians:

Musicians, Plaza Mayor, Madrid

there were also some strange people dressed in costumes in hopes of having people pay for candid shots with them. Surprisingly enough, many tourists did pay to have a picture taken with the less than svelte Spiderman and the psychedelic cabrito.

Spidey at Plaza Mayor

Cabrito at Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor was packed with people, but it was a great place to sit back and relax…

Spiderman at Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Even Spiderman needed to take a load off

Cheers!

Cheers!

Seriously.

Not “Cheers” subtitled in Spanish, but an actual remake of Cheers with Spanish characters! Instead of Norm, there is a character named Blas who is greeted with a hearty “Blas!” as he enters. Sam is “Nico” and is a womanizing soccer player (as opposed to baseball player), and instead of the theme “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” it’s: “Dónde la gente se divierte” (Where people enjoy… or have a good time, I guess… I really need to learn Spanish!)

We were quite entertained by this strange show, but didn’t spend too much time watching it because we had Madrid to explore! We left our quaint room to see what Madrid had to offer.

Room 503

Hotel in Madrid

Hotel in Madrid

We checked in to the Hotel Plaza Mayor. We had an awesome room: the one on the top floor with the window facing straight out above the hotel entrance. The trickiest thing was the parking situation because the hotel stated that they had parking available for half the price of public parking. Little did we know that this was one parking space in a “preeevaht” garage and as the girl at the desk let us know, “Eeees berry cohmpleeecated.”

The complication she was talking about was how to find the private garage which was on another street and beneath a totally different building.

The actual complication was manuevering the car through this garage which had to have been dug out of the cellar of the building because no one in their right mind would have designed a parking garage with such tiny lanes. To make things more challenging there were supporting columns placed in what seemed to be total random fashion throughout the levels of the parking garage. The columns were knicked and had broken bits of concrete off their corners, so we knew it wasn’t just the “crazy Americans” who had a hard time in there. At least we didn’t crash into anything!

Madrid parking garage

That’s our rental: the dark car backed in to the spot. We decided to back it in while we had room so that leaving would be a simple straight shot out of the space.

Hola Madrid!

Hola Madrid!

After landing and gathering up our luggage (all carried on) we headed over to the rental car agency booth. In line in front of us was an interesting character: a muscle-bound American who was unhappy… cursing and dropping f-bombs… made me embarrassed to be thought of in the same cultural category. He was rude and annoying. The people behind the counter didn’t seem to notice too much, though. Maybe the Spanish really are as laid back as they say in all the guidebooks…

The drive from the Barajas airport to the center of Madrid was rather eventful. Actually we did not drive from the airport to the CENTER of Madrid exactly: we drove AROUND the entirety of Madrid proper and returned to the airport and THEN drove to the center. We laughed and said that when we later told people that we “drove all around Madrid” we REALLY drove AROUND Madrid.

Luckily we are easily amused.