Weekend in Madrid
By Irena Bodnarec If you fancy a couple of days away from Benidorm or the Costa Blanca, why not let the train take the strain. One very accessible place is the capital – Madrid and only a 2hr 35 minute journey that flies by on the very comfortable high speed AVE from Alicante. If you are flexible, you can really bag a bargain – promo fares can be had for as little as €19.70 oneway.
Once you arrive at ‘Puerta de Atocha’ you are basically in the centre and there are plenty of hotels close by. To get around I would recommend a travel pass to use the public transport network, which includes the bus, tram and underground. A 3-day pass for zone A, which covers the centre is a steal at only €18.40, especially in comparison to London, which could virtually leave you bankrupt; it is available to purchase from the ticket machines at all the underground stations.
Some of the touristy things that have to be done, even if you’re not a football fan like me, is to visit the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – home of Real Madrid. The Zone A pass gets you there and it’s best to prebook. You can opt for a guided tour but most people walk about themselves -Tickets are €25 for adults and €18 for children – audio guides are €5. I would give yourself a couple of hours for this trip. You get to go inside the changing rooms and die-hard fans look for their hero’s locker to have a picture taken next to it.
Sergio Ramos’s was probably the most photographed locker, with an orderly queue for their moment. You can sit in the VIP leather seats in the actual stadium but are not allowed onto the hollowed turf itself.
The majestic Royal Palace is another must - €11 to get in, but pensioners get discounts and certainly worth a visit as it is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in Madrid. In some parts, you can take pictures but others are off limits.
Rest assured that security are there and if they see so much as the flash of a mobile going off they will come over and remind you of the rules! You have access to the lavish halls, banqueting rooms, the throne room, residential areas, the Royal Armoury and Royal Pharmacy. It was here that Spain signed a treaty that gave them acceptance into the EU in 1985. Behind the palace are the Sabatini Gardens, beautifully landscaped and free to wander around.
The Templo de Debod is an Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century BC that was transported to Madrid. It was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government in 1968 due to the construction of the Aswan High dam, and rebuilt stone by stone - it opened to the public in 1972 and is one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside of Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain. When you see the scale, it’s a remarkable feat.
The Prado Museum displays some of the most important art collections in the world with works by artists such as Goya, Rubens and Murillo. Paintings date from between the 12th and 19th centuries and the sheer scale of some is astounding. One impressive piece is by Rizi, depicting the Spanish Inquisition taking place in the Plaza Mayor.
Entry on a Sunday is free as well as on national holidays, although at other times it’s only €4 so will hardly break the bank.
There are actually over 40 museums and art galleries in Madrid and others of interest include the Museum of America, bursting with artefacts from Spain’s colonisation of the America’s, the Traje Museum, all about clothing from different periods and the Naval Museum. You certainly won’t be bored, even if the weather isn’t great.
Plaza Mayor is the home of Restaurant Sobrino de Botín, apparently the world’s oldest restaurant and where Goya worked as a waiter before he entered into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It opened in 1725 and now has four floors which retain the original 18th century interior.
I didn’t get time to eat there but it’s not extortionately priced at all, with the average main dish coming in at around €20. Definitely, on my list for next time though. There are, as you would expect in any capital, plenty of restaurants. Although not quite as cheap as here in Benidorm, they are reasonable. If all else fails, there are plenty of the standard fast food chains!
Puerto del Sol is Madrid’s most famous square and where the television crews all broadcast New Year’s Eve from. It has a humongous Christmas tree, a bit like Trafalgar Square in London – although the tree was up it hadn’t been switched on when I was there. Just outside the old post office is a stone slab to mark Kilometre Zero – the official starting point for Spain’s six national roads. The original stone, placed in the plaza in 1950 had deteriorated so in 2009 was replaced. The square is also home to the most famous symbol of Madrid – El Oso y El Madroño. A 20 ton statue of a bear feasting on the fruits of a strawberry tree.
El Retiro Park is a tranquil oasis of calm and popular on Sunday mornings with families taking a stroll. There is a boating lake and majestic fountains and lots of street artists and musicians performing.
The fact that you can get to Madrid so quickly by train makes it the obvious choice – parking is expensive and difficult so really not worth it. I did it once and vowed never again, getting lost numerous times in the underground tunnel system as the sat nav didn’t work, so I had no idea which exit to take. www.benidormallyearround.com