After spending a weekend in Germany for the Christmas markets over this past winter break, I hitched myself back to Paris for one night before catching an early flight to Madrid the following morning. Now, I’d been to Madrid before last year in February during the holidays, which you can read here, but for this post, I’ll be sharing with you the “winter holiday edition,” as I’m calling it, of my second-time around in the Spanish capital.
Although I was tired arriving back in Paris after a two, three-hour train ride from Aachen, I spent the night with an American friend who was living in the city as a Master’s university student and together, we went to an underground club where we listened to his friend’s band perform. For about three hours, we listened to some chill, ambiance music from the opening act, then the indie-rock music of his friend’s band. It was an interesting experience and I shared beers with my friend’s girlfriend (since I didn’t want to spend more on drinks than I already had in Germany). Any case, we got some late-night Greek fast food afterwards, and my friend was kind enough to let me crash the night at his flat, since before I’d just assumed that I would be going to the airport afterwards to sleep there for the night. It was actually better that I slept in his flat, just because I’ve slept at airports and aside from being uncomfortable, I had to be careful with my belongings.
Any case, I woke up super early the next morning and took the RER B metro to the Charles de Gaulle airport. Went through all of the security and stuff, then boarded my 8h00 flight and afterwards took off. Landed around 10h00, and for the next four, five hours, I hung around the Madrid airport, since I was to meet with my family who were coming in around 14h00-15h00 and we would spend the week together traveling in Spain. That said, I grabbed lunch at the airport and basically just chilled until they arrived.
Around 14h30, they arrived– my mom, my dad, and my sister– and together we took a shuttle over to our hotel in the city center, located near the Palacio Real. Checked into our hotel, dropped our stuff off, and headed out to explore the city before it got dark (because it tends to get dark early in the winter).
Walked over to the Palacio Real and the Almudena Cathedral, which were great: we didn’t enter the former, just because there was a line to get in and we weren’t that interested in checking out the interior (I haven’t been inside, but have heard that it’s quite nice- it’s just that, again, I don’t know a lot about the place, so that’s why I haven’t visited). We did, however, go inside the Almudena Cathedral, which I have been inside of, and let my family check out the wonderfully gilded Mother Mary at the altar, as well as the lovely nave.
Afterwards, we headed up Calle Mayor, the “main street,” towards the heart of the city center. Along the way, we checked out Plaza Mayor, filled with Christmas markets and lots of tourists milling around the place. We then headed towards Puerta del Sol, but considering that it was a Sunday that day, let alone being smack-dab during winter break, there were SO many people that it was so backed up with people heading over there that there was no way that we could make it through. It was probably one of the most crowded (and claustrophobic) situations I’d ever been in, and I’m not exaggerating! We ended up having to turn around and just head back towards our hotel just because of the craziness of it all. Still managed to get in a shot of the plaza lit up in the evening (albeit from afar):
We returned to our hotel where we rested for a bit until heading back out again for our dinner reservations at a restaurant near the Palacio Real. The Spanish eat late, considering that the earliest we could book was at 20h00. Usually, I eat at 18h00, so it was definitely a struggle to hold on until then! The restaurant that my parents had reserved was excellent: service was actually quite nice, and our waiter spoke good English (which, from experience, is hard to come by in Madrid, let alone parts of Spain). Ordered lots of different dishes to try, including the huevos rotos (“broken eggs,” or rather lightly-fried eggs with fries and Serrano ham. I’m told it’s a dish from Madrid), callos a la madrilena (beef tripe stew, also a Madrilean dish), some grilled calamares (squid), and tapas. My dad and I ordered a pitcher of sangria to share, which was great, because I love sangria. Overall, a very warm, hearty dish. I loved it! ❤
With our bellies full, we returned to our hotel where we rested for the remainder of the night. The following morning, we had a full day to cover the rest of Madrid, so we first hit up the San Ginés Chocolateria for some churros and hot chocolate (churros con chocolate), which is another distinctive Spanish dish. I had it before at San Ginés last year when visiting on my own and absolutely loved it. It was only 4 euros per person for a cup of hot chocolate and six churros, although I think they gave us a lot more churros than expected (it came in a large plate this time, family-style). Hot chocolate was thick and rich, the churros thin and crispy and although it was definitely overly-oily to start off the morning, it kept us full for the day.
Next, we headed all the way east to the Atocha station, which not only is a train station, but also a botanical garden where they house some really cute turtles. I was there last February as well and had visited; it was a treat to see their little shells again!
We didn’t stay too long in the Atocha station, and after we went over to El Retiro Park, a large park with plenty of green and space to take walks in. I’d gotten lost inside of it last time I went, but this time around, I was with my family, and we actually did all right! Essentially, we went to check out the Palacio de Cristal, made almost entirely of glass and had been used to house flora and fauna from the Philippines, a Spanish colony back in the day. Today, it is a wide-open room for people to wander around in.
Also checked out the Monument to Alfonso XII, which is centered on a man-made lake where people can row idly and enjoy the sun, even on a winter day! Definitely a beautiful, tranquil sight to see.
Shortly afterwards, we left the park, passing by the Puerta de Alcala and the Cybeles Palace on the Gran Via as we made our way back to our hotel. Along the way, we also bought napolitana con chocolate (a Spanish chocolate croissant- beats that of the French, sorry!) and bocadillos de jamon (Serrano ham sandwich) and bocadillos de calamares (fried squid sandwich), all of which are distinctively Spanish dishes. Enjoyed the sandwiches, but really, the star was the napolitana con chocolate, which I had for breakfast the following morning before we left Madrid. And every day during the trip to the Andalusian region of Spain, I would have it for breakfast. Call me crazy, but it’s just too good! 😛
We had the sandwiches for lunch (even if we were still a bit full from the churros and hot chocolate for breakfast) and rested for the afternoon, later going out again at night to another Spanish restaurant, which personally wasn’t as great as the one we had the night before, but the service was nice (even if it was a bit difficult to communicate between Spanish and English, since neither side were any good at each other’s languages) and the seafood rice dish was really tasty. A bit salty, but delicious nonetheless. Afterwards, we turned in for the night, and we woke up early the following morning to take a four, five-day tour to the Andalusian region, which I’ll write posts about later.
However, we did return to Madrid after our tour, spending one night there before we checked out the following morning. My family and I were going separate ways after Christmas, with them moving on to Portugal (jealous!) and I returning to France for the rest of the holidays.
After checking out, I headed out on my own to enjoy the rest of Madrid as I could before I needed to catch my flight back to Paris later that afternoon. Not too many places were opened for Christmas, but it didn’t matter as I strolled along the big streets, checking out Plaza Mayor again and managing to reach Puerta del Sol without so many tourists backing up the place like the first night. Popped into a Starbucks for matcha tea latte (mm…) and Wifi before taking the metro over to the airport, taking my flight back to Paris, then taking the train back to Normandy where I arrived back at my flat that night.
Whew! And that concludes my visit in Madrid. Even though it was my second time visiting, it was nice to have my family come along and enjoy the city together. Personally, I had “just-okay” feelings about Madrid last time I went alone, and I would have to say that those feelings stayed this time around. Don’t get me wrong, Madrid is not a bad place to visit- I just find it too touristy and the locals not as friendly as other places that I’d been to in Spain. Any case, it was a good time. 🙂
I’ll be posting my adventures in the Andalusian region of Spain soon. Next up: Cordoba, Spain!
— The Finicky Cynic
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