Travel Notes: Madrid

I had a lot of fun blogging last summer’s travel adventures, so I figured it would also be fun to take a look back at some past trips. I’m starting with some notes on my 2010 France and Spain trip; this post is one of several in that series.

For the Madrid leg of my France and Spain trip, I was traveling solo. Though I love traveling with friends and family, I have to say that I also enjoy exploring on my own occasionally – in a selfish way, it’s always nice to get to do exactly what you want, when you want to do it. And so that’s just what I did in Madrid.

My hotel was right on the Puerta del Sol – the main square in Madrid. I knew that when I booked it, but I didn’t realize until I arrived that I was literally right in the heart of it all. It was such a central location and I easily walked to every sight I wanted to see. The square came alive with activity and even though it was a bit noisy at times (Spaniards literally seem to stay awake until 5am), I’ll take a little noise in exchange for that location.

Kilometer 0, located on the Puerta del Sol, is alleged the very center point of Spain:

I arrived fairly early in the morning, so before heading out to explore, I stopped at a bakery for a treat (needing to gather strength for a long day of walking, of course). The bakery was bustling with activity and with locals who looked like they knew exactly what they wanted to order. I was a bit intimidated but I ended up with a delicious pastry, which I ate while sitting right in the center of Puerta del Sol, people watching. Perfect.

I stopped by Plaza Mayor and loved the rich colors of all the buildings. It too was an excellent spot to just sit and people watch.

After walking around for awhile, I grabbed lunch. I had heard about bocadillos de calamares – basically, a calamari sandwich (talk about carb-overload) – and was eager to try one. I walked into a sandwich shop and ordered, and the guy served me on a real dinner plate. I had been planning to take my sandwich to go and eat it on Plaza Mayor, but I didn’t know how to communicate that – so I ended up standing at the counter, eating my sandwich with all the local businessmen on their lunch breaks. It was actually kind of cool.

I also spent a fair amount of time exploring the Royal Palace. In terms of decor and opulence, it was a lot like Versailles – minus the immense gardens and the crush of tourists. Seriously, I must have arrived at the exact perfect moment, because there were hardly any tourists in sight. Fantastic.

In the afternoon, I visited a place I had heard about from Samantha Brown (my overly peppy, perpetually optimistic travel idol). Basically, local nuns sell delicious baked goods – but the catch is, you never see the nuns. You go to a poorly marked door, they buzz you in, you find the little turntable, you place your order and put your money on the table, they spin it and take your money, and then a box of cookies comes spinning back out. Voila! Pretty cool. And the cookies were delicious, too – they lasted me through Madrid, Sevilla, and Toledo.

And finally, a few more shots of Puerta del Sol. My hotel balcony looked right out onto the square. It was seriously so cool.

I also went to a couple other places that I don’t have photographs of – the most notable of which was the Prado Museum. I am a sucker for a good art museum, and this was one of the very best I’ve ever visited (I think it ties with my number one all-time favorite, London’s National Gallery). I could – and did – get lost in there for hours.

And that was Madrid – cosmopolitan, modern, but also with little old-world Spanish touches here and there that made it special. I totally loved it.

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