We have both re-capped on our highlights of Paris (here and here) from our trip a couple of months ago but have yet to speak about the second leg of holiday; Madrid. Ilaria visited the Spanish capital a few years ago on another girls’ holiday and fell in love with the vibrant city – so much so that she chose this as one of her favourite European cities and thus, formed part of our “spring break” to Europe.
Getting to Madrid proved to be an interesting morning: in hindsight, an early flight (7.30am) out of Paris was perhaps not the best idea. But this seemed to be followed by every possible poor turn of luck we could have asked for: a dawdling taxi driver, taking the wrong tunnel in the Chatelet-Les Halles metro station, nearly taking the train to the wrong airport, getting onto another wrong train, before finally making it onto the glacially-slow carriage to Charles De Gaulle. By the time we arrived at the airport, we knew we had missed our non-refundable Air France flight to Paris and immediately began scurrying to book another flight. Again – we were faced with some challenges: unable to connect to the internet (resulting in a hefty data bill), credit cards not processing over the internet website, a trek to the departing terminal to find no counter, finding a phone, buying a phone card that could not connect to a Spanish number, eventually convincing a very sour French airport official to let us use the phone to realise the bank was blocking the transaction, unblocking the credit card, Spanglish-spelling over the phone then to discover upon check-in that Sam’s surname was completely misspelt meaning boarding the plane would be impossible. It was enough to reduce at least one of us to tears. And then – FINALLY – some luck kicked in: as we had booked the flight together, and the fact that Ilaria’s surname was correct, we would be allowed to fly.
By the time we boarded the plane (sweating over possible discovery of Ilaria’s misspelt name) we were finished, hungry, and grumpy. But what we were greeted by in Madrid, quickly made up for the morning’s comedy of errors: a beautiful spring day, long hours of sunshine and of course, Sangria!
We booked an Air BnB apartment on the Plaza del Callao. It was a charming, bright, one bedroom with beautiful white wooden shutters and a view across the sqaure. Ilaria’s accommodation choice could not have been better; the Gran Via was a few minutes stroll away, as was the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and the tapas bars of the area. After attempting to conquer sprawling Paris in our few short days, the size of Madrid felt completely manageable for our exhausted feet.
We quickly adapted to the Spanish way of life; luxuriating in our time, enjoying lazy mornings and late dinners. The city was dead quiet until after 9 every morning – and despite the vast number of people of everywhere, we never once felt rushed or frantic in our activities; it was the perfect antidote to the pace of Paris. We even enjoyed a spa afternoon at the Hammam Al Andaluas – the Arab baths of Madrid built on a century-old well – where we soaked in the spring pools, before experiencing a traditional scrub and massage.
Madrid is a magnificent city, befitting of its Royal connections. Owing to said tired feet, we opted to take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours around town; we loved being able to spot the places of interest, the different architecture styles of the neighbourhoods and casually stroll off the bus when we wanted to visit a certain place.
While we were unable to tour the Royal Palace (twice), we did get a feel for the majesty of the complex by strolling through the nearby gardens, and taking an afternoon nap in the glorious Retiro Park originally designed for the use of the only the aristocracy.
If we are completely honest though, Madrid became about one thing: shopping. Together, we are a (terrible) team when it comes to this pastime and Madrid once again proved this to us. At times, the selection was so overwhelming (and the prices of Mango and Zara so appealing), but we soldiered on and ended up with the living room of our apartment looking like a graveyard for shopping packets. Of the European cities we have both visited, Madrid is one of the most ‘affordable’ (affordable being a relative term at R13.50!) and definitely the type of city geared up for shopping – even the locals shop all the time.
By the time our few days in Madrid had ended we had eaten enough jamon (ham), cheese, potatoes and bread to sustain us for the next year. We had drunk Sangria, Rose and Roja, vase-sized mojitos, dunked churros in pure chocolate for breakfast and sampled more than few paellas.
With our exploding bags, expanded appetites and rested bodies, we dragged ourselves off the airport (very early, just in case) and boarded our plane back home.
There are probably a million things more that we should have done in Madrid – visited the Prado Museum or perhaps not have missed our walking tour (oops, Sephora) – but we can both say we were truly blessed to be able to spend these few wonderful days, together, in this stunning city.