In this year we kept our plans for a week of vacation open until the very week we reserved to go, ideally to a beach somewhere in the Mediterranean. We planned to catch a last minute or ultra last minute offer somewhere, but were disappointed to realise apartments of any decent standard, that are not ugly, or awful, or plain rip off, weren’t available. Decent ones start at 200+ € per night, in Greece, Croatia, Italy, the Baleares, Cyprus. Further on, flights are not any cheaper either.
So we searched and searched and searched some more until we stumbled upon Madrid. It was offered at a very competitive flight price of 120€ per two way trip for a person and offered us a splendid apartment in the dead centre of the old town for 80€ per night. It looked way better than the ones we perused in the days before finding Madrid.
The flight was an Iberia operated Airbus 321, from Zagreb. We drove there, parked in the city and rented an Uber to avoid the parking fees of the airport. The flight was nice, it’s just that we arrived very late, at midnight. There we took a cab to the city, at a regulated 30€-anywhere-from-airport tariff. We came to the apartment, were met there by the lady administering check-ins to the multiple flats their company is managing and paid the late arrival fee. Initially the company asked for 50€ for the after-midnight arrival but I complained and also complained to Booking.com, which first led me to the tenants reducing the fee to 25€ and then also Booking.com offering me a 20€ payback as a good customer, so the fee ended up being 5€.
When we first entered the flat at Cava Baja we felt a bit claustrophobic due to the small size of the rooms, but later we found out the space to be quite functional and also sufficient. The location also contributed largely, as we were practically 100 m away from Plaza Mayor, a major central spot in Madrid.
We started our first day with a stroll around the city. We were met by a slightly sleepy city, still quite empty at 10 in the morning, but found out it gets busier and busier as the day moves towards the evening and becomes flooded with people. We never caught on to when the city starts calming down again as we started going to sleep before that, at 10 or 11, when this city feels the most alive.
The main attractions that we visited in the following days were the Royal Palace, El Prado, the Zoo, Museo Reina Sofia and a few others.
The food seems to be very central to the experience of enjoyment in our family. Madrid was surprising, although we nagged a bit towards the Asian cuisine, as we always do. We did get a few really punchy local dishes though. Snails take the first prize, no doubt. I thought we would get a bowl of a stew, a goulash sort of, but we got snail on snail on snail, in a thick, greasy, yet very tasty sauce. The next dish were tripes, an even fattier affair. And tasty, yummy tasty. I do regret we didn’t go for cocida madrileño, a stew of everything, including their tasty chorizo sausages.
Art impresses me. In Madrid art is everywhere. You don’t need to stroll down the corridors of galleries to experience it. But when you do, there’s so much to see. It again puts me in this awkward situation where I start thinking about the need to have more time for this. It is clear I don’t have the time, especially not because the time for my family still trumps art and always will. Art as such is a spice, a must-have spice in my life. That makes me happy. Did I mention Guernica?
Homelessness. That’s a tragedy. I don’t remember a city with as many homeless people as Madrid. One particular person at Gran Via, the aorta of streets of Madrid, still haunts me. He must have scratched his eyelids so much, he was left without any. That split of a second still feels mentally convulsive. I still don’t understand how we can have such incredible wealth on one side, and also a complete lack of compassion or even this absolute wall of ignorance in us. And I’m ignorant too, however moved I feel about it. Not moved enough to really do something.
Walking. Walking is our favourite activity. We did 29K steps four days in a row. The number wasn’t planned, or collected into this string on purpose. It just happened.
Madrid is the capital of a proud nation. A city with a big cruel heart. A city with not enough trees, with floods of people in the streets at the cusp of dusk. A city of energy, beauty, splendour, misery and charm. Madrid is a woman, a mother of many children, very experienced, yet still full of life, seductive, and strong. Maybe the best mind shot to frame in the gallery of my soul is that of two young boys playing as the bull and a matador in a playground of any other city they would sport a ball, but here the had the bull’s horns and a proper cape. Ole.