By Sam Payne, aged 16 at the time of writing - Travel & Tourism Student
I had a dream of visiting Madrid since I studied Spanish in year 9 of British secondary education and on the 8th July 2017, that dream finally came true. I have visited Spain prior to this trip, to Murcia in 2009 and 2015, and will revisit in 2018. This blog is based on my account of travelling accompanied by my Grandma. You'll discover lots of great experiences and I hope I'll convince you that Madrid is a city for all generations.
8th July 2017
Photo credit: Hotel Cortezo
After a short drive from our home on the south coast of England to London’s Heathrow Airport, we arrived at Terminal 5 to catch our Iberia flight to Madrid Barajas Terminal 4 at 9:15 am. After arriving shortly after 12:30 pm we soon immersed ourselves in the city the best we could. A short taxi ride took us into the heart of Madrid’s bustling city centre and to our lovely hotel, Hotel Cortezo, near the Teatro Calderon (theatre); a building that on first impression is both white-washed and crystallised.
Photo credit: Hotel Cortezo
On entering, a giant staircase beckoned high up and the helpful receptionists guided us in Spanish and English. After dropping our things at the hotel, we threw ourselves in at the deep end to start off with – trying some Spanish delicacies. My Grandma and I shared a prawn salad which was really nice as I love seafood anyway, and other tapas dishes like Gazpacho (cold tomato soup) which to me was a strange concept – I mean I love soup but not cold soup! It was unappealing for me.
Photo credit: Recetas Cocinas Faciles
The weather outside was not really on our side: rainy, but however quite warm still. The city smelt of people smoking and a sudden cloud of humidity smothered us. Despite the rain, the city was still full of vibes with tourists and locals immersing themselves in the start of the weekend, even though it was only Thursday. The Spanish are cheerful people who always crave a good laugh and a get together with family and friends.
We strolled down to the picturesque Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol – two very different squares, but with so much going on: bustling crowds and restaurants filling the area. We couldn't resist the traditional chocolate shop, ‘San Gines’ which offers churros (a Spanish batter, similar to a donut, which is long and thin in shape).
Photo credit: Cat Howell
Salty to taste, dipped in chocolate - churros are heaven! The gold emblem of the shop’s name appealed to me and with the surrounding apartments gleaming with beautiful architectural traits. I felt as though this was a lovely place to hang around in, and with the Plaza Mayor nearby – it's perfectly situated for all to have a sweet treat at what ever time they liked.
As the sun broke through the clouds, the umbrellas were put away and more tourists came out in their masses. We took a walk down to Gran Via (a shopping district, which would become one of our favourite places to visit during our stay in Madrid); the district has big names on the high street, such as ‘H&M’ and ‘Primark’.
The whole street was lined with buildings that were special and were huge feats of Spanish architectural design – every building was different! The atmosphere was electric: with people shopping and others eating tapas and drinking sangria – what could possibly go wrong in a relaxed city like this?
Our next wander was back towards Puerta del Sol to join a ‘Big Bus Tour’ of Madrid which has got to be done if you go there! It was very informative – and took around an hour to go around the main sights of the city – at a very reasonable £20, it is definitely worth trying to do!
We toured around the inner part of Madrid and some of the border towns. We saw some amazing sights such as the white-washed and gold Cibeles building (town hall), the grand and beaming Royal Palace and the plain but effective Puerta de Alcala. The bus was full and everyone was eager to know more about Madrid. My phone and camera were non stop!
We walked down towards La Latina and bucked the trend in Madrid by having an Italian dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese. Once having a taste of Spain and Italy in one place, we headed back along to Gran Via – and a favourite shop of mine, ‘Ale Hop’, which sells trinkets for tourists, books, stationery, gadgets and gizmos. I always find something new in there which always tempts me to go back in. We thought by this time we were done for the night; so hailed a taxi and departed back for the hotel. An early-ish evening for me: to top the day off, I cracked open a small can of beer and headed for bed! This was enough for me for one night – tomorrow would be a very busy day!
9th July 2017
I woke up the next day from a very good sleep – and already by 8 am it was very warm outside. We set off on the very easy and efficient metro, which took us to the ‘Palacio’ station – the stop for the Royal Palace. This would turn out to be an amazing experience for both of us.
The world-famous Royal Palace is truly breathtaking with a distinctive 18th century look and feel. I had once been to Buckingham Palace in London before, but the two places are very different. I am not always interested in history, but I was absolutely taken away with this place, as was my Grandma who was learning about the history of the place, while I admired the striking architecture.
It was great how much of the palace that you can visit. Visitors can make their way around 50 rooms at their own pace, including the massive banquet room, which is still used for state ceremonies, but the palace does not accommodate the Royal family who moved out not so long ago. Small tours take place with guides giving insightful knowledge about the palace.
Photo credit: Tour Travel & More
The setting surrounding the Royal Palace was also beautiful with white-washed pavements and beautiful botanical gardens.
It was then a hop over to the equally-amazing Almudena Cathedral which has a distinctive Gothic style of architecture which opened in 1993. We could not believe the stunning way the building was completed! Upon entering the cathedral, you truly appreciate the size – it is huge!
We stood around for about ten minutes whilst a mass was going on. Catholicism is an integral part of Spanish culture and the colour was very different to what you would think a cathedral would look like: this one was grey, white, gold and blue. The spires rose into the air; the patterned ground outside invited people in their droves. The place was just so elegant and every feature of it was stunning.
After two breathtaking sights and with the weather fairly uncomfortable, my Grandma took shade whilst I took a Segway tour of central Madrid – something I have always wanted to try out! My guide took me around the Plaza de la Villa, Plaza Mayor and the Debod Temple. My guide was great and his advice about where to visit during our stay was very helpful.
If you get the chance to go on a Segway in Madrid, definitely look for Real Segway company located right next to the palace. Well worth the 15€ for around 45 minutes.
We then decided to take a stroll to a traditional Spanish market, San Miguel, located not far from the Palace. Here, you will find delicious delicacies such as Jamon Iberico (the best ham you will ever taste) – a salty to taste food but to the right palette it is delicious. They also sell chocolate, sweets, cheeses, meats and fish. If you are a foodie like me, then this is the place for you! Some small trinket shops surround the main bar areas inside selling tourist favourites: fridge magnets, key rings and pens!
Onto the Debod Temple it was with the hot sun beating down on us. By now it was time to soak up more amazing cultural and historical sites including this Egyptian temple. The temple was given as a gift by the Egyptians for the work Spain did to save the Abu Simbel temples in 1968 and opened to the public in 1972. However, the monument dates back to 200 BC.
The Debod Temple was so different to places I have visited before because there were no crowds, so we could roam around the place at our own accord. But also the location was so relaxed with green areas, beautiful tree-lined walkways and stunning views out beyond the city, to mountains and the city of Toledo! Another place that I put on my wish-list to visit some day.
We decided to have our dinner at a lovely restaurant – in the, by then, chilled Plaza Mayor. It was still quite warm but so relaxing. I tried vegetable paella and my Grandma opted for a prawn and avocado salad. The paella of mine was different to how I had imagined it to be, but also to try new things like aubergines was really nice too. It was a nice alternative to having meat, but I would like to try the traditional paella one day.
By dusk, it was time to leave for the hotel. We watched the sunset on the relaxing hotel balcony overlooking the Tirso de Molina district of Madrid and La Latina – this definitely did not fail to impress! Just my Grandma and I relaxing together was great and with a cold drink and sun loungers, watching the sunset was lovely.
10th July 2017
In the morning, my Grandma and I set off on a walking tour, revisiting some of Madrid's iconic sights, and seeing them again was great. We saw the Gran Via, the Plaza de la Villa, the Royal Palace and the San Miguel market, exploring beautiful side streets with hidden culture on them. I then decided to go on another Segway tour because I had so much fun on the last one – I could not resist it! The guide took me further into the heart of Madrid.
In the afternoon, we headed for the ‘Teleforico Cable Car’ in Parque del Oeste; this was amazing! We were nestled in with the trees and greenery which was beautiful. Although the land was quite remote and barren it was still interesting to see. In the distance the mountains, Segovia and Toledo could be admired, as well as views over the rest of Madrid, including the AZCA business district.
After disembarking from this eye-opening experience, we headed for the Parque del Retiro, via Cibeles (the town hall) which is a stunning building, white-washed with the Spanish flag proudly waving above it. On arrival to Retiro, we took a short stroll through the shade away from the heatwave; bought an ice cream and sat down for a little while. Even though the park is right next to the road, the ambience and the birds singing was so nice to experience. We wandered down to the lake and the Crystal Palace; where we jumped into a boat and paddled alongside the famous monument. It was great fun and perfect for taking photos of the beautiful, surrounding scenery.
To dinner it was and our last night in Madrid. We both wanted a relaxing evening sat in; you guessed it – Gran Via! We stopped once again at ‘Ale Hop’ on the way as well. Back at the hotel we enjoyed another Madrid sunset before going to bed.
11th July 2017
It was a bright and early start for me: our last day in Madrid. My Grandma and I were both feeling sad to leave this great place as we had a great time together. It is not everyday you hear a 16-year-old student take away his 71-year-old Grandma!! We wanted to have a fairly chilled out last day, so we checked out of our hotel and headed for the very pretty district of La Latina. This hidden quarter of Madrid is great with its small cafés and bars – this is authentic Spain at its best. A square with a church is just breathtaking!
To make our last day in Madrid memorable, we decided to do some last minute shopping in Gran Via which was a great way to top off our super trip together! We hailed a taxi for the airport and took in some more places around Madrid we had not seen, such as the Spanish Parliament building (Congreso de los Diputados) and the outskirts of the city centre. Whenever I leave a place, I always wish I could stay – usually – and this place meant I felt just like that.
I do feel as though Madrid changed me because I had such an amazing time. It was Spanish culture at its best! I got to experience so many different things, and travelling with my Grandma too we experienced each other’s interests together, which was so nice. An amazing trip I will not forget!!
CITIES IN SPAIN YOU MIGHT LIKE
Travel & Tourism Student
Hi, my name is Sam; I am 17-years-old now and am studying for a Level 3 diploma in Travel and Tourism.
I first travelled abroad at the age of 9 on my first foreign holiday with my family to Murcia in Spain. A few years went by having ‘stay-cations’ in the UK and I caught the travel bug in 2017 with two amazing trips during that year – the first to Sicily in Italy and the second to Madrid in Spain.
I follow several travel blogging agencies and websites like Lonely Planet and Beautiful Destinations which gave me some inspiration to visit places around the world. I know I am a ‘foodie’ and will sample new foods that interest me!
This year I visited Prague with my Grandma in May and am planning on visiting Murcia in Spain again in the summer, Berlin in Germany possibly in November and Amsterdam in The Netherlands next February – so a busy few months for me! Anyway as a new writer for Jackie, I hope you find my first blog interesting and it entices you to visit Madrid.
Listen to Sam on radio over at Itchen Radio
You can follow Sam on Twitter.