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Madrid February 2008

Having been to Belgium, Berlin, and Paris in winter time, I decided to go somewhere a little warmer. So I set my eyes on Spain, both Madrid and Barcelona. One of the coworkers I went to Berlin with a month before had been to Barcelona. So I thought we go to Madrid this time, and save Barcelona for next time when I know I would be travelling by myself.

Day Zero – Flying KLM from Amsterdam to Madrid

We had a pretty late flight going from Amsterdam to Madrid; we didn’t get to Madrid until 11:30pm. Best thing about late flights is that they are usually cheaper; bad thing is that they are so late that most public transportation out of the airport were unavailable by then. So there weren’t many options, either shuttle vans or taxi. If it were up to me, I would take the cheaper option, the shuttle van. But by that time, shuttle vans run only once or twice every hour, and my coworker just wanted to get to the hotel as soon as possible, so we took the taxi instead (which was very expensive.) I do think it was a wise decision, we got to our hotel just before midnight.

12:00am Sofitel Madrid Plaza de Espana
Sofitel Madrid Plaza de Espana
The hotel is not quite in the historic Madrid center, but it is close to one major attraction, the Royal Palace, so it is not completely quiet late at night. It is also close to a Metro station, so it’s not a bad location. The room was quite nice, but as usual, other than sleeping, I didn’t spend much time in the hotel.

Day One – Museum, Museum, and more Museum:
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Museo del Prado, Parque del Buen Retiro, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol

And just as usual, I had an ambitious schedule, covering quite a few places. I was a little surprised my coworker didn’t freak when I said we were visiting three museums in one day.

10:00am Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Prado Museum
Museo del Prado - Ticket Office
Unlike the museums in Paris, they do not normally allow photography in museums in Spain. So I don’t have a lot of pictures for the first day, as we visited 3 museums, all within walking distance, all in one day; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in the morning, Prado Museum in the afternoon, and Reina Sofia in the evening. It’s probably not how I planned originally, but that’s how it turned out.

Normally I would at least take a picture of museum’s building, but not for Thyssen-Bornemisza museum; mostly because it is really an art gallery in a plain looking private building, or maybe I still have Paris’ Louvre museum in my mind. After spending a couple hours in Thyssen-Bornemisza, we were staving, and we were going to have something to eat at the museum’s cafe. But it was jam-packed, and they have some confusing process of taking orders, and servers there weren’t too helpful. We ended up walking out, without even paying for the drinks we had. Then we decided to head to the next museum, and just picking up something to eat on the way.

The Prado museum on the other hand is huge with plenty of green space surrounding it. Both museums have great collections of European art, but I enjoyed Prado museum more, mainly because of background information provided by the walking tour in Rick Steves’ guidebook. I also had way too much fun of finding specific pieces of art, as the museum have rearranged the rooms quite a bit.

5:00pm Retiro Park
Parque del Buen Retiro - Estanque, the artificial lake
After visiting two art museums, we could use a little break before going to the third one. Retiro park, Madrid’s answer to New York’s Central Park, is just a few blocks away from Prado museum. A couple unique things in this park: there is one big artificial lake in the middle, where people can paddle boats. There is also a Crystal Palace that is used for museum exhibition, but at the time we were there, it was completely cleaned out. I didn’t see any special events going on in the park, but there were a lot of people with their families and kids. Visiting this park is probably my favorite experience in Madrid.

7:00pm Reina Sofia Art Center
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
I actually had doubts if we could really visit three museums in one day; it’s just too much art. But it sure helps when our third museum of the day, Reina Sofia museum, does not charge any admission on Saturday evenings. The mood there was a little like the Retiro park, with a lot of people bringing their families, looking at some funky art. So it was actually kinda fun, even though it is a modern art museum. But really, it has a great collection of work by Spain’s most famous artists, Picasso and Dali, making this visit of third museum in one day quite enjoyable.

10:30pm Plaza de la Puerta del Sol
Plaza de la Puerta del Sol
After having a quick dinner at a place near the Reina Sofia museum, we were ready to head back to the hotel. But since we needed to make a transfer at Puerta del Sol, the center of the city, I thought we could make a quick visit there, allowing me to take some pictures at night time. It is literally the heart of the city because roads in Madrid start numbering from this point.

Day Two – Whole lot of walking in Madrid:
Plaza de Espana, Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, Edificio Metropolis, Parque del Buen Retiro

With some much museums we saw on the first day, we really needed to see more of Madrid. So my plan was to follow two walking tours described in the guidebooks.

11:00am Royal Palace
Palacio Real and Plaza de la Armeria
The walking tour in my book was going from the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, to the Royal Palace. But since the Royal Palace is very close to our hotel, we did the walking tour in reverse, starting with Plaza de Espana (which is next to hotel) and heading to the Royal Palace first. I wasn’t sure if the palace was worth a visit. But since I only had two walking tours in my plan, I thought we could spend some time at one attraction. Like the museums, cameras weren’t allowed inside the palace, so I only have pictures in the square and outside of the palace. It might be true that Madrid’s best attractions are the art museums, but I think the Royal Palace is a great place to visit. I found the Armory and the Royal Pharmacy particularly interesting.

1:30pm Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Leaving the Royal Palace, walking toward the Puerta del Sol, we passed by the Plaza Mayor, a great looking square with tons of tourists. There is also a street with some good restaurants nearby the square. There was one restaurant, Casa Lucio, that we want to try for lunch but it was fully booked; it is supposedly popular with well-known public figures. We ended up trying another restaurant nearby, called Julian de Tolosa. It was not bad, but a little more expensive. This ended up to be our best meal on this trip; most other meals we had were really quick bites.

4:30pm From Puerta del Sol to Edificio Metropolis
Edificio Metropolis
After our late lunch and much needed rest, we finished our first walking tour when we reached Puerta del Sol (literally means Gate of the Sun.) Even though it was already 4:30pm, Madrid still has another two hours of daylight. The second walking tour we followed was going from Puerta del Sol to the Retiro park. One of the nice buildings we saw on the way was the Edificio Metropolis, with the rounded tower covered by 30000 leaves of 24 Carat gold.

6:00pm Retiro Park
Parque del Buen Retiro - Estanque and Alfonso XII
After seeing some more interesting buildings, we were back to the Retiro park, with just as many people as the day before, but we didn’t stay long this time around. Originally we were going to have something to eat back in the city center. We walked back pretty much the same way, but once we got there we didn’t like what we saw, so we walked all the way back to the hotel, and had something to eat at a restaurant in the area. With this dinner, our second day ended a little early, but we were surely exhausted from all the walking. And besides, we had a early flight to catch to get back to work the next morning, always the saddest part of the trip.

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