Spain’s capital city is a far cry from home. What brings me here? Simply a visit to a friend and a yearning for a change of scenery.
Spain is a country that surprises curious travellers. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many parts when time allows, I still have a good few places on the list yet to be ticked off.
It was time to revisit Madrid. We’d been before as a family trip, one Easter way back when Ryanair still flew there from Girona (not anymore). Just about one hour flight I recall but you still have to catch a cab into the city. It was early April and cold, so I ended up buying a warmer jacket and scarf. We saw many of the colourful Easter celebrations and numerous religious processions. A very different affair from what you see in Girona.
I took the fast train AVE service (Renfe.es) from Girona, which takes just under four hours to cover the 700 kms. Buy them online as tickets are cheaper if you book a few weeks in advance. Plus, if you’re living here, over 60 and travel a lot on trains it’s worth getting the Tarjeta Dorada (gold card) at 6€/ Yr (2023 price). Purchase them at the train station ticket desk, just have your passport/TIE for id purposes. Simply input your personal number when booking online to get 25% to 40% discounts depending on which day you travel.
I should also mention that this route has opened up to other competitors and I keep hearing of ridiculously cheap Barcelona to Madrid fares so do your research.
Back in the UK there used to be an old advertising slogan ´let the train take the strain”, and in this case that’s true.
With the national carrier Renfe you get an assigned carriage and seat (or choose your own + 5€) which is comfy enough, and even has a charging point for phones or laptops. Most services also have a buffet car or you may have a trolley service too. Stops from Girona are few and include Barcelona, Lleida and Zaragoza. There’s even a digital display which shows you the speed of the train, at times reaching almost 300 kms an hour.
The big plus point is you arrive smack in the centre of Madrid, at Atocha station and there are plenty of taxis outside. This must be my third time here, each time staying in a different part of the city.
The advantage of having a friend who lives here as a guide is a big plus, as well as speaking better Spanish. This time I’m in Chamberi, an upmarket residential area that is walkable from downtown or a 10€ cab ride. It also seems to have a sizable student population as they inhabit many street bar terraces. My apartment is a stone’s throw from a noisy music bar nightclub that remains noisy until the early hours. Patrons congregate outside, people coming and going
How do these places coexist in a residential block defies comprehension, surely they get endless complaints. I mustn’t forget that Spaniards are noisy a lot in general and that’s not a complaint.
If you’re here on a Sunday then you ought to visit the popular El Rastro street market, a real cornucopia of stalls and then proceed onto La Latina area. Look out for an Argentinian bar/cafe that serves yummy empanadas washed down with a mojito or margarita.
Park Retiro is a well known green oasis with lakes and rowing boats, but I realise that I’m near Parque del Oeste which is huge. While it may be a bit hilly in places it’s a welcome retreat on a hot day in May with large shady trees to rest under. I’ve got time to visit the nearby Museum of the Americas, although it closes mid afternoon I get time to whizz through it all just before it shuts. Covering the whole of the Americas, art and archaeology from the distant past to today.
Another cool, vibey fun area to visit for drinks and eats is Malasanna, and close to the city centre. Tourists and locals stream through here constantly, streetlife at its busiest every night and more so at weekends. It was here that my friend introduced me to tinto de verano, a popular refreshing summer tipple made with red wine and lemonade.
It’s a vibrant city where you can turn a corner and a new experience awaits you.Just popping into a normal looking bar for a drink will more than likely result in being offered a free tapas, sometimes so plentiful it can negate the need to have supper.
An abiding memory is the fact that you can eat out very late here, 11pm is not a problem, unlike Girona where a funny look is more likely.