Our final day in this beautiful city began. We woke up and had to pack our stuff up then leave our luggage at the hostel so that we could spend our final day exploring. We made our down Gran Via, full of the leftovers from the previous evening including sick and prostitutes. Apparently nights out in this part of town get pretty wild. As I mentioned before the streets are empty at this time and so we made our way through the ghost town to Plaza Mayor where everything was just starting to open up. Thankfully one of the restaurants had opened and so we grabbed a Spanish crossaint (glazed, sweet and yummy) and an orange juice before locating the red free walking tour umbrella.
Having visited a few cities in Europe I have used Sandemans previously. The company offers free walking tours in many of Europe’s main cities for free with a system whereby you pay your guide what you think the tour was worth at the end. The idea is that the guide will try really hard to make your tour fantastic since he isn’t guaranteed any money and you can judge for yourself what to pay based on his performance and your personal budget. Our tour guide was Edward and he was fantastic. He has lived in Madrid for 18 years and was able to tell an extraordinary amount of history and information about the city which made the tour great.
The starting point was the Plaza Major where Edward described in gory detail how the plaza would have looked and more importantly smelled several centuries previously. He then led us out of the Plaza and down past the San Miguel Mercado to an underground cave restaurant. He explained the story of a Robin Hood like character who stole money from rich females by making them fall in love with him, trust him and then run away with their riches. However, he was finally caught out when he did it to the Queen’s dressmaker who was less than impressed and as a result was executed.
We then learned about the motto of Madrid which is ‘built on water with walls of fire’ – ‘Fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son. He pointed out some bears leaning against trees which are the emblem of Madrid and can be found throughout the city if you look closely, even on bins. At this point we stopped for a 15 minute Spanish history roundup where Nicola was chosen to play the part of Felipe IV, the king who lost all of Spain’s wealth but who commissioned some great artwork. Everything swings in roundabouts I suppose. The history lesson was really interesting and I learned a lot about Spain I didn’t know. Edward was great at breaking things down into small manageable chunks with fun anecdote stories to lighten the mood.
After a quick pit stop we finished the tour by stopping at Pallazzo Real, the adjacent park and finally the opera house. It really was a great way to learn more about a city and after thanking our guide Edward we headed off to lunch to the world’s oldest restaurant – Restaurante Botin. The restaurant was first opened in 1726 and as you step inside you are taken back in time to day gone by. The décor is really interesting and although we didn’t manage to sit downstairs (apparently the best part) we were lucky to get a seat at all. Having had some recommendations from Edward we ordered jug of sangria with garlic prawns, suckling pig and grilled veal. We were in absolute heaven! The food was amazing, some of the best we have had on the entire trip and the sangria was also great. This is very much a must visit on any trip to Madrid.
Feeling full and happy we wandered to Chocolateria San Gines, apparently the best place for chcolate con churros in town. It was again quite busy but we ordered and found a table as the heat of the day was starting to rise. A cup of molten chocolate arrived with 6 fluffy pastry sticks. These were very tasty and a great way to end our last proper meal in Madrid.
From here we took the subway downtown towards the Prado. When I asked a few people I knew who had been, what was the top thing to do in Madrid, this museum scored consistently high. Having loved the art museums in New York I had high expectations and at 14Euro a ticket it wasn’t a cheap experiment. One of the exhibitions I was most looking forward to was a touch experience, whereby you put on some blacked out glassed and went down a row of famous painting replicas feeling the textures of the paintings. Although this was fun there was no English audio which was a slight let down. It was also located out of the way of the other exhibitions and quite difficult to find. The other main exhibition I had been looking forward to was Picasso. I am by no means an art buff but I have heard a lot about him and was looking forward to seeing some of his work. My analysis of it – ‘Weird’ – is probably the best description I could give. This was not what I was expecting.
The rest of the gallery was focussed on works from different countries with a focus on Spain. Almost all of the work was very similar in that they were quite dark and had religious or royal connotations. I found myself wandering through works of great artists just zoning out as although there were subtle stylistic differences, many of the pieces has a similar feel. My highlights were probably a landscape room, filled with some beautiful paintings from the likes of Carlos de Haes. I also quite enjoyed a Goya painting that was of a lonely dog set against a brown background.
Although I was definitely disappointed with what the Prado had to offer I would say it is worth a visit of maybe a couple of hour’s maximum of your time, longer if you are interested in historical/religious art. As we left the gallery the sun was shining and we made our way back to the hostel, via supermarket to pick up some wine. We re-packed our luggage in the foyer and changed before heading back to the world’s worst airport (in my opinion). The flight back was stunning! It was the longest day of the year and so we had a fantastic sunset for almost the entire duration of the flight.
I have had a wonderful weekend break in Madrid and would definitely recommend it as a city to anyone who enjoys could food, nice architecture and sun. A welcome break from the poor excuse of a summer we get in Scotland.