I recently returned from a fantastic 3 week trip through Spain and Portugal. My cousin recently celebrated her 70th birthday and this was her Birthday wish – to see Spain. I’ve been to Spain before, but on this trip we visited places I hadn’t visited. Our friend, Mary Kay, tagged along with us, she’s been to Europe, but not Spain or Portugal – so this was a new adventure for all of us.
Day 1- Arriving in Madrid
After a long wretched flight, we finally landed in Madrid. We were groggy and barely remember arriving at our lovely 4 star Hotel de Las Letras. This hotel is centrally located, right on Gran Via and walking distance to most major sites. Our room was large for three people and we had a nice balcony overlooking the city center.
As much as we wanted to lay down and take a nap, we forced ourselves to rally and head out into the bright Madrid sunlight. We walked around Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor, going cafe to cafe until we came to the beautiful Royal Palace, the third largest in Europe.
This evening we went to a great Tapas bar recommended by our hotel called Mercado de la Reina. We feasted on jalapeno brie poppers, foie gras with apricot jam on toast, fried mussles in cheese sauce, cured ham with asparagas on brie. All this plus about eight glasses of wine, Sangria and a wonderful dessert for only $50!!! That’s right – about $50 U.S. Dollars, putting to rest the notion that “Europe is too expensive”. We did not find Spain to be expensive – and Portugal? Well it’s downright cheap!
They don’t begin serving dinner until after 8:30pm, this means your evening won’t end until well past midnight. So on day one, after traveling for over 24 hours and staying awake all day, we finally got to bed around 1 in the morning.
Day 2 !Holy Toledo!
When the alarm went off at 9am, I was sure we had just gone to bed! We dragged ourselves out after having a nice buffet breakfast of various hams, cheeses, breads, eggs and fruit. We headed to the train station planning to catch the next train to Toledo, a charming medieval walled city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, about 45 minutes south of Madrid.
Alas! This is not the Europe of the 80’s where you just hop on and off of trains. Today there is more security and our first mistake was not having made advance train reservations (which is easy to do through Carefree Vacations or the Rail Europe website). We weren’t sure which day we were going to Toledo, that’s why we didn’t make advance reservations. Live and Learn. The line at the train station was so loooooooog, we missed the first couple trains and finally arrived in Toledo in the late afternoon. We jumped on the hop on/hop off bus which was sitting outside the train station. After riding around and getting a sense of this place, we walked back toward the main square and through the magnificent 13th Century Cathedral Santa Maria.
In the afternoon it poured rain (our only day of rain), so we made our way over to the famous Hacienda del Cardinale (a lovely hotel) outside the city walls for a few glasses of wine. It doesn’t get dark until well past 11pm this time of year, so around 7pm the sun came out and we wandered back to the train station. We had some time before our train departed, saw a local pub across the street and wandered over to it. The place was filled with cute, adorable, old toothless Spanish men who didn’t speak a word of English, but seemed to enjoy our company. After a few more vinos, we caught the last train back to Madrid.
Day 3 Madrid
We spent our last day in Madrid visting the Prado Museum and inside the Royal Palace. Wednesday was our lucky day! Museums and the Palace are free on Wednesdays in Madrid!!
The Prado Museum is amazing, not quite as large as the Louvre in Paris, but every bit as impressive (in my opinion). The Royal Palace is also impressive, built in the 9th century, it looks like a mini-Versailles.
After walking many miles, we came to the Mercado de San Miguel, a great marketplace of food stalls – everything from paella and wine to olives and ham. Madrid has some of the best food we tasted on our entire trip.
We stopped at the Museum of Jam (Jambon) as well as the Meson del Champinon, both restaurants were great and dedicated to what they served: Ham (every kind imaginable) and Mushrooms.
Each evening we noticed more and more protests in the Plaza Mayor and Puerto del Sol areas. They were peaceful protests, but were getting larger each day. People were protesting the inequities between the wealthy and middle classes in Spain, channeling most of their anger at the banks.
All in all we found Madrid to be a great city filled with historical monuments, beautiful, large squares or plazas, friendly people and wonderful food.
for more photos, check out our Carefree Vacations facebook page.
by Nancy Kivlen
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