Ger’s unplanned trip to Madrid

Nov 27th, 2018, 02:31 PM
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Ger’s unplanned trip to Madrid

Hello all:

Yes, I have only recently returned from a 17-day trip to Spain (from Bilbao to Toledo), but I can’t get enough of glorious Spain!

Since March of this year, I have been working on a very interesting and demanding project that was expected to continue till the end of November. Client decided to push for an early closure and we worked insane hours and managed to complete a couple of weeks early. So, I found myself ‘on the bench’, doing internal work and working from home – a rather pleasant change from the hectic schedule of the previous nine months, when I was away from home 3-4 days a week.

I had a thought! If I am working from home, could I not work from home at a different location? I floated the idea with the Partners, and they said go for it! I LOVE my company 😊.

I considered various venues. Madrid was high on the list, as although I had been there several times, even working on projects with Telefonica over several months, I had not been there for at least a decade, and I had fond memories of the spectacular museums. I also considered Nice and Malaga, mostly for the weather at this time of year. I finally decided on Madrid, as it would offer the right balance between maintaining my work ethic and providing entertaining distractions when I had free hours.

I quickly booked a flight on easyJet from Gatwick (£100 one-way) for Thursday 15th afternoon. I have travelled several times with easyJet and am perfectly satisfied. The website is excellent (better than many of the premium airlines). I choose to book seats in the front rows (about £25 extra) which I prefer as I am a nervous flyer and this also provides fast check-in and boarding and ability to bring both a roller and bag into the cabin. They provide various options for checked luggage (23/26/30 Kgs), which many airlines do not. Cabin crew are always delightful. I also have loyalty, as I have worked on two projects with them, and they are a rather fun and enthusiastic bunch.


I had already started investigating a week before, so I had identified some options. Hotel costs were outrageous, as November is a popular month for conferences in Madrid.

This trip was unanticipated and therefore unbudgeted, so it had to be done on the relative cheap, within reason, of course - I certainly did not consider staying in a student hostel! Therefore, I had to have a kitchen, so I could cook occasionally, and I had to have a working environment. I needed an apartment. I have not rented a holiday apartment on my own for years, so, to be candid, I was somewhat nervous at the prospect.

I set a budget of around £55 per night and did massive searches on Air B&B, and the places where I wanted to stay were way way over that – not surprising for booking so late. Then I had a brainwave. I had three free nights on and they also have apartments. I found a fantastic apartment at about £65 – £80 per night for the stay, but applying the three free nights, it worked out at around £55 per night.

The reality was as good as pictures, and I highly recommend this apartment. You could live here for a year. It has a comfortable double-bed and a pull-out couch, large screen TV, reliable WIFI, well stocked kitchen with dish washer and washing machine, large shower, separate toilet, dining area. Nice décor and spotlessly clean. It is located at the top of the Gran Via, which was not my first choice for location, but beggars can’t be choosers at this late date, and its not a problem, as Madrid is such a compact city, you are only ever about 20 minutes’ walk from anywhere. It is well worth the original price of £65-£80 per day, and far better value than a hotel at the same price point. Possible negatives, if I am being picky: It is on the second floor with no elevator, so anyone who has mobility problems might have a problem. It is an internal flat, so there is limited natural light at this time of year, but would be fine in the brighter months. Here is the link on their own website:

Thursday 15th November

Flight from Gatwick to Madrid took off and arrived on time, and I took a taxi (fixed price 30 Euros) from the airport to the apartment (about 30 minutes). Texted the company that I was on my way and they confirmed that I would be met at the front door.

The guy was a 15 minutes late due to some confusion at the office, but there was good communication from the office regarding the problem. On check-in, I was asked for 30 Euros for apartment cleaning (on-line), which had been clearly described at time of booking. I also was asked for 200 Euros as a breakage deposit, again clearly described at time of booking. No surprises. As I said I was delighted with the apartment. It was a home away from home.

I emptied my carry-on and headed out to the local El Corte Ingles Supermarket in Plaza Callao, just 5 minutes walk away, to pick up some basics, like fabulous wine (Albariño and Ribera del Duero), eggs, milk-fed lamb chops, water, whatever I needed for the next few days. Oddly, it took me 30 seconds to find the wine section, and 10 minutes to find the milk! I appear to have an intrinsic radar device to locate the wine section in supermarkets.

I then took the elevator to the top of the building to see the extraordinary roof-top terrace (as recommended by Maristella), which provides a plethora of wining and dining experiences. It was buzzing. I had thought of grabbing something to eat, but I was not hungry and was quite tired. Highly recommend a visit for a glass of wine and a wander through the many interesting food outlets.

As I said, I started out being somewhat nervous about renting an apartment on my own, with no support systems. By the evening, I was happily ensconced in my ‘home away from home’, munching on Jamón ibérico, drinking a glass of Ribera del Duero, half-watching an episode of Midsomer Murders on YouTube on the TV, while working on my laptop on my internal project. Exactly as I would be doing at home in London.

Once work was done that evening, I did some planning. I needed to deliver my regular working hours over seven days, and then fit in my fun hours. I decided that each day, I would wake early and put in a few hours and work every evening. Then on alternative days, I would either do the sights in the morning or afternoon, and alternatively work in the afternoon or morning. If I did the sights in the morning, I would have lunch out, and it I did the sights in the afternoon, I would have lunch at home.

As I was trying to contain the budget, I decide that I would exploit the “Menu del Dia” available in most Madrid restaurants, and found this site that provided me with delicious dining options at ridiculously low prices: Average of 15 Euros for lunch which generally includes a starter, mains, desert, water/wine/beer.

I booked one of their selections on-line for lunch on Friday.

Next: Friday: A great cheap lunch and just wandering around Marvellous Madid
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 27th, 2018, 03:48 PM
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Looking forward to more.
Marija is online now  
Nov 27th, 2018, 10:38 PM
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Me too. Very interesting and informative,especially the food tour link. bookmarking this for my 2019 Spanish escapade. Thanks
inquest is offline  
Nov 28th, 2018, 12:50 AM
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You write the best trip reports!
Belinda is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 04:15 AM
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Fantastic start to your report, Ger! I feel like I’m there, too. And great apartment- vey liveable.
progol is offline  
Nov 28th, 2018, 09:05 AM
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Lucky you ..!
Madrid is a fab. city...,alway interesting to read about it.
unfortunately , for us across the pond, the airfare is a killer ...
danon is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 10:18 AM
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I'm counting on you, Ger, to change my opinion of Madrid. I have never been a fan, though I love Spain.
StCirq is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 12:01 PM
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Thanks guys. Update coming soon.

Mellan: I honestly specifically thought of you during this trip, as (from previous travel boards) I know you don't like Madrid. We have similar tastes, and what I will say to you is that anyone that loves art, architecture, food and kind and friendly people MUST love Madrid.

Madrid is simply marvellous! It is elegant, beautiful and vibrant and has the most extraordinary museums and parks. The people are polite and engaging, and always willing to help. I felt immediately at home, even though my Spanish skills are limited to greetings and menus.

What it lacks, is an ancient heritage, as, similar to Washington DC, it was a 'created' capital to unite the country. Like you, I prefer towns that date back to a more ancient legacy - Celtic, Roman, Visigoth.

As a food-lover, just check out the Menu del Dia above. You and Steve will be on the next train South

Regards Ger
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 12:27 PM
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Friday 16th November

I worked from early morning, and booked a late lunch at La Tragantua, a very tiny local restaurant, recommended by the above article, that packs a big punch. Highly recommended and book ahead.

Menu del Dia: 15.50 Euro for starters, main course, desert, bread, glass of wine

Starter: Chick pea and Cod soup: Incredibly delicious. Its one of those dishes that you would never be bothered to cook for yourself, as it takes too long, and you would find it hard to get the ingredients

Main: Pork cheeks in Chocolate: I am not a chocolate lover at all, very unusual in my family, which makes me think I am a ‘foundling’. I have always wondered about this meat/chocolate Mexican combination and decided to try it. The smell of the chocolate was divine, and two of my sisters and a couple of friends would have gladly licked the chocolate off the pigs cheeks and stabbed me in the heart to take mine. It was delicious, but I just don’t appreciate the combination of chocolate and meat. First and last time for me. I scraped off the chocolate and enjoyed the pig’s cheek.

Desert: Pineapple – nicely refreshing.


After lunch, I wandered around the Royal Palace area, but did not go in. All too short, but I had to get home to do some work!

Here are some photos:

I decided to book a Devour tour for Saturday evening, and chose the Tapas, Taverns & History Tour. I had done a similar tour in Seville in April, so I know I would not be disappointed.

Madrid Devour Tour
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 01:29 PM
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Wonderful photos, Ger. I see weather cooperated.
Treesa is offline  
Nov 28th, 2018, 01:31 PM
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Saturday 17th November


Travel Logistics:

I picked up my travel card at the Callao station – easy peasy.

The machines communicate in many languages, and there are multi-lingual assistants around to help the digitally confused. Put your credit card in and it spits out a card: 2 Euros for the card and 12 Euros to populate 10 journeys on it and can be updated forever.

However, every major transportation artery in Madrid has been ripped up and is under construction. It’s a traffic nightmare! Generally, if you are mobile, you are better off walking than taking a bus or taxi from point A to B during rush hours.

The Metro is very clean, and staff are on hand to enthusiastically help you, even if they do not have a word of English, and you do not have a word of Spanish. I had an interesting encounter where the Metro guy pulled in assistance from the cleaner, who had very good English, to help me find my way!

Spanish good manners: the first of many similar encounters!

Museum Tickets

Let’s talk tickets for the major sites. Here is the link you need to review to decide on the tickets that work best for you: F

You also need to check out when museums are free, but be aware that they may be flooded on free days. Museum website provide information on free days. In general, Sunday appears to be free for most.

Personally, planning to be in Madrid for a week, and wanting to visit the two majors (Prado and Reina Sofia) at least twice, and most of the others, I bought the Annual State Museums, valid for one year - 36 Euros. From the website:

Annual State Museums Pass: with this card you can visit the following state museums as many times as you wish: Museum of Romanticism, National Museum of Anthropology, National Museum of Decorative Arts, Garment Museum, Cerralbo Museum, Museum of the Americas, National Archaeological Museum, Sorolla Museum, Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum.

The pass is valid for one year from the date of purchase. You can buy it at the ticket office and start using it straight away, but it can't be purchased in advance and can only be collected on the day of your visit. To get into the museums, you must show your pass together with photographic ID (essential to prove that you are the pass holder). Price for 2018: 36,06€

For this museum pass, you need to have your passport to purchase at the first museum you enter, get the pass, and present your passport when want to enter other museums.
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 02:04 PM
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“ The documented history of Madrid dates to the 9th century, even though the area has been inhabited since the Stone Age. The Philip II moved his court there from Toledo in the 1560s. Madrid has been the country's capital continuously since 1606.”

Madrid had a history even before the unification of Spain ..

Unfortunately many visitors stay only around Sol , they never venture to Retiro and
elegant Salamanca district north of the park (or other upscale, residential leafy barrios.)

I bet most tourists are not aware that a river runs through parts of the city with some interesting
bridges (including beautiful Puente deToledo.) parks and sports facilities on the banks.
danon is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 02:28 PM
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Saturday 17th November


Prado Museum

I was heady with anticipation at visiting the Prado again. It opens at 1000, and I was there at 0945 – almost first in line and bought my Annual State Museums Pass (remenber to bring your passport!). Just inside the entrance, to left and right, you can check your bags and coats.

The Prado is overwhelming, and I got palpitations at the joy of it. I specifically limited my time to 3 hours, as I know more than that would put me into ‘art overload’ and I would be beyond appreciating anything, and a fire hydrant would look like art.

You need to be selective in the Prado. There are magnificent works of art and, quite frankly, some very uninteresting shite for ME, all mixed together. The difference between Art and Shite is a personal taste.

I have appreciated art long enough to know what I like and don’t like. Each to his own, but I generally avoid the ‘still life’ of ‘dead partridge with vegetables’ genres and the royal portraits of very ugly in-breed retards that ruled Europe for centuries. Both are beautifully executed, but neither genres touch me in the least, so for ME it is not art. Its a personal taste, and different for everyone.

Study beforehand and identify the artists and works you love and seek them out. If time permits, try to do the Prado in 2-3 visits.
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 03:13 PM
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Saturday 17th November


After the Prado, I had lunch at La Mucca, chosen for its closeness to the Prado, rather than its menu.

I had a pizza and glass of wine. Both were acceptable. The restaurant is very popular.

After lunch, I walked, Here are the photos:

I went back to the apartment to change and relax before the Devour tour that evening,, which was a highlight of the trip.
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 05:19 PM
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OK, Ger, I always take to heart what you do and experience and write about. We'll give Madrid another go....maybe next spring, after Greece. One certainly can't just flip by the art there, though I think that's what my idiot young person self did. . I must have just been too young and too stupid then. I will do a big erase of previous Madrid memories and give it another chance. It's just down the road now, after all. We have loved every minute that we have spent in Spain since we moved here, but it has all been in the Pays Basque and the Costa Brava.

When are you going to get yourself to the Perigord and visit with us?
StCirq is online now  
Nov 28th, 2018, 06:45 PM
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Thank you very much for your very detail trip report, it is certainly very helpful.
cafegoddess is online now  
Nov 30th, 2018, 04:48 AM
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Your trip reports are always a great read. I like the way you "roll".
Weekender is offline  
Nov 30th, 2018, 11:13 AM
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Saturday 17th November

Evening: The Devour Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History Tour

I highly recommend it! I had taken a similar tour in Seville in April.

Its not just about exploring the food and wine, it also about meeting up with fellow travellers that are passionate about the same things that you are: travel, food, wine and great company. I had a great bunch of Americans in my group that were so entertaining.

Better than that, our host, J, was from Dublin, my home town. His Dad was from Dublin and his Mammy was Spanish. He was brought up in Dublin and family moved back to Spain in his teens. He is a History teacher for 10-12 year olds, so a perfect host to explore the history of Madrid.

Typical conversation when Dubliners meet in foreign parts:

Me: Where area are you from?

J: I am from X neighbourhood
Me: I am from X neighbourhood! I am from Clon Avenue
J: OMG, I am from Bay Avenue (5 minutes walk from the house where I was born)
Me: My Daddy was born in Bay Avenue, 10 doors down from you lived!

Dublin is a village!

J was a brilliant host, and the other travellers were the kind of people you would be very happy to hook up with, any where.

We had a fantastic night.
We went to four different establishments, where we had tapas and beverages, and in between, J entertained us with stories of the history of Madrid

I specifically recommend this tour for anyone who is on their own, as I was. This is a great introduction to Madrid and an opportunity to be in excellent company that has shared interests. Honestly, it is worth money!

Here are some very bad photos:
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 30th, 2018, 12:05 PM
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Sunday 18th November


I knew exactly where I wanted to be on Sunday Morning.

I love discovering new artists, and thanks to Maristella’s Madrid trip report, I discovered Sorolla:

Museo Sorolla

A beautiful house, full of light and delightful paintings. He lifted my heart.

It is free on Sunday, so get there at opening, or pay on other days.

Here are some photos:

Next: Lunch at Botin
OReilly64 is online now  
Nov 30th, 2018, 01:26 PM
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Lunch at Botin

It must be done!

The oldest restaurant in the world, and recommended by Matai Tom! How could I resist.
Book ahead for the weekend.

Yes, it is a bit of a tourist thing, and I was the only non-Japanese./Korean/Chinese person on that floor – I was an ethnic minority!

Its not the best food I had in Madrid, but what I had was very good. The pig was as good as I had had a few weeks previously in Segovia, and thankfully a smaller portion.

I took the 50 Euro menu, which I thought good value:·
  • Starter: Castilian Garlic soup with a fried egg. I cook this myself, and its delicious·
  • Main: Milk Fed Suckling pig. I love it! At the same time I experience such guilt, as its like eating a puppy·
  • Desert: Ice cream·
  • Beverages: Half bottle of wine and Half bottle of water

Afterwards, I very briefly visited the Mercado San Miguel, which is highly recommended for wine and tapas and fabulous deserts. Except on a Sunday afternoon, the entire population of Madrid is there. It was heaving with bodies, and I could barely breath, I panicked, as I can’t do crowds and noise, so I exited almost as soon as I entered.

However, it is a highlight.

I just wandered and enjoyed Madrid on a Sunday evening.
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