Week­end in Madrid

Costa Blanca News (South Edition) - - About Town -

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

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