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Madrid Trip Report: March 2008 with Kids. Great!

Madrid Trip Report: March 2008 with Kids. Great!

Mar 25th, 2008, 08:31 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,167
Madrid Trip Report: March 2008 with Kids. Great!

Thanks to many expert and generous posters here my family enjoyed a wonderful Semana Santa trip to Madrid. I will share some of the aspects of the trip that made it work for our family that includes a 13-year-old (on a second trip to Europe) and a 9-year-old (first trip).

My primary objective was to have the trip be enjoyable for all. That meant some changes in the way my spouse and I would travel if alone or with only other adults. My main concern going into the trip was whether my children would be able to be comfortable with the very late hours of Madrid dining, and the effects of jet lag.

I had to make a last-minute change to our itinerary, which originally included a mid-week trip to Valencia for Las Fallas, but in retrospect having the additional time in Madrid probably helped everyone feel less rushed. (Although I hated missing Fallas, was hoping to meet lincasanova, who had provide much invaluable help, and I intend to go one day to see it.)

Jet lag: We got no sleep or very little sleep on the flight to Spain. On arrival on Saturday, once we got to our apartment, I departed from my usual "no naps the first day but push on through" rule, knowing that we would need to be up late and that much of Madrid takes a siesta in the afternoon. So we took naps for about 1 1/2 hours, then headed out into the city. Wanting an activity that wouldn't make the children sleepy, we rode the Teleferico cable cars over the large park and got good views of Madrid, and the children really enjoyed it. It was a good way to begin.
We strolled around the city afterward, noticing the absence of a line at the Reina Sofia museum close to closing time and headed inside to see a few paintings, making sure to see Guernica. We then headed to Plaza Mayor where the children enjoyed watching the performance artists sprinkled throughout the square. We had dinner at one of the overpriced restaurants there, sitting at an outside table and enjoying the view and people-watching. Sleep came easily that night.

Sunday we spent in Retiro Park. There is a lot there to entertain children, teens and adults.

Monday we sampled churros and chocolate and toured the Royal Palace in the morning, where there was a very short line. I had thought about seeing it on Wednesday when the Changing of the Guard would occur, but was afraid that would bring a lot of other people to the Palace for a tour and the lines would be long. That turned out to be right.
That evening we took a walking tour of Madrid, seeing some of the old churches near the heart of the city, like San Gines, and for dinner we enjoyed roast lamb and something I thought I'd never eat but which was delicious, blood sausage (murcillo?) at Restaurante Botin. My 9-year-old, who felt sorry for the lamb and didn't want to eat it, discovered the best scrambled eggs she has ever had.

Tuesday we took a day trip to Segovia. I must especially thank yk and Maribel for helping me create a perfect daytrip for my family. I may post this separately as well since it truly is a perfect daytrip. Thanks to all the knowlege they shared, we did as follows: Took the 10:35 a.m. train from Chamartin to the new Segovia train station. Knew to get a taxi there to take us into town (could have taken the bus, but had a specific itinerary for which a taxi was needed). Had the taxi driver take us to the picturesque spot for photos of the Alcazar (thank you, Maribel!) and then to tour the old church built by the Knights Templar in the 1200s. Very interesting and completely worth a visit. The taxi then took us up the hill, sparing us a long uphill walk, and dropped us off at the Alcazar for a very nice tour. After that we walked the rest of the way up, to the Cathedral, also for a pleasant tour. Following that, we had an enjoyable stroll down to the Aqueducts and our luncheon restaurant, Candido, where we had reservations for 3 p.m. We enjoyed roast suckling pig, a salad and red wine (not for the kids), a nice ceremony in which the owner cut a roasted pig with the edge of a plate, then happy and sated we strolled outside to catch a cab back to the train station for our 5 p.m. departure back to Madrid. The timing was perfect....the route was perfect....the sights were perfect...the train ride is only 35 minutes, I was able to buy and print out my train tickets online before we left so we had absolutely no waiting in line, and I think Segovia is now, as I said, the perfect day trip from Madrid especially if you have children.

I considered Toledo as a day trip but after much consideration, and my spouse asking "What would the children enjoy there?" and realizing well, not much, I took Maribel's advice to go to Segovia and am very glad of it. Also, as I said, thanks to yk for the timely post about the new train route to Segovia. I am sure the area around the new train station will become developed as people catch onto what a great trip it is.

Wednesday -- headed back to the Royal Palace for the Changing of the Guard, bypassing the enormous line of people waiting to get into the palace, and going to the location outside the palace where the guard changing would occur. It was interesting. I think it took about 15 minutes, start to finish. Afterward we enjoyed the beautiful and peaceful gardens next to the Palace, taking our time, strolling to the Plaza de Espana, sitting awhile on benches, enjoying the day. Took a cab to the Sorolla Museum, the former house of Spain's most famous Impressionist painter. The children liked those paintings after seeing a lot of Picassos (the Reina Sofia had a special Picasso exhibit) and unlike the apparently advanced children of some of the Fodor's posters, my children are not fans of Cubism or modern art.

Lunch at Madrilia was pleasant, followed by a late afternoon visit to the Prado (we found that visiting museums near closing time meant truly no lines), and we enjoyed dinner that night at Casa Lucio near the Plaza Mayor.

Thursday we told the children they could have free rein to plan the day. I told them of some things available in Madrid, and they chose (gulp) a giant mall on the outskirts of the city, called Xanadu. We played mini-golf (caution: total cost for the four of us was $110) and then the children went snow-skiing INDOORS. I have never seen anything like it! It's real skiing -- they rented ski clothes and helmets, bought gloves, (you buy theirs unless you bring your own, but we didn't have any on this spring trip) and they get ski boots, skis, ride the chair lift, ski down, etc. There is a restaurant that has windows overlooking the ski "mountain" so we enjoyed a cerveza or two and watched the children ski. It was a unique experience! Afterward when my children were asked what their favorite thing they did in Madrid was, they said "skiing!"

That night we watched one of the Holy Week religious processions that went through the Plaza Mayor. It was very interesting, but slow and there were big crowds and a lot of waiting.

Friday morning we spent at the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium. We arrived early and loved seeing the animals, watching them interact more than I am used to seeing animals interact in U.S. zoos, and everyone enjoyed it. By the time we left the zoo was becoming very crowded and incoming traffic bringing more visitors was backed up for a long way. We were so glad we had arrived early, for a very fun and memorable visit.

In the late afternoon we explored the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. We went by a couple of times during the day, turning away on seeing long lines. When we returned in the very late afternoon there was NO line so we went right in. No lines at a museum not only means no wasted time waiting to get in, but also a more pleasant time inside since there are not crowds of people around the paintings.

Since we had had to cancel our Valencia trip but everyone wanted to try paella, we went to a paella restaurant for our last night in Madrid. I think the name was La Barraca (?) Fortunately we had reservations, because when we got to the restaurant there was a crowd, and they first took people with reservations.

We ended with a late-night trip to the San Gines chocolateria for churros and chocolate. Delicious.

I highly recommend reservations for dinners. We wanted to go to one restaurant for lunch, La Bola, and did not get in as we did not have reservations. Fortunately, we had them everywhere else.

bakerstreet is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 09:30 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,176
Hi bakerstreet -

Thanks for posting your trip report. Sounds like a great trip. Funny that your kids thought "skiing" was the best part of the trip. When I was a kid (at age 8 & 9) my parents took me to Europe. Apparently I slept thru most of the tour and was a "complete waste of money" so at least your kid got something out of it.
yk is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 09:51 AM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 12,492
Hi! I am so glad to see you had a lot of good experiences in madrid and surroundings with your family.

We missed you in Valenica and do hope you can come back in the near future.

I was able to grab a coffee with a fodorite, teacherincanada. it was fun meeting him and his huge well behaved group.

some people are brave!

so at least i was able to have ONE fodorite encounter during fallas! hope to meet you soon.

nice report, BTW.
lincasanova is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 10:21 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,511
Hi bakerstreet,
I've really enjoyed your report and glad your day trip to Segovia turned out so well for you and that you were able to take that "perfect" picture of the Alcázar from the confluence of the two rivers and see the Church of the Vera Cruz, all in one fell swoop.

Our paths may have crossed in Old Madrid on Holy Thursday, as we were also in and around the Plaza Mayor to witness the Holy Week processions-it was bone chilling cold that night but worth it to see the extraordinary "paso" (float) of the Virgen de la Esperanza (almost as beautiful as Seville's Macarena). Sure was crowded though. Seemed like every madrileño who decided to remain in the city found his way to the Plaza Mayor that night!

Am so glad you and your family had a great time. Sounds like your kids are really great travelers!
Maribel is offline  
Mar 25th, 2008, 01:05 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 252
Hi Bakerstreet

Thank you for posting your trip report. I am leaving for Spain 11 days and I am very excited. What a good Mom (Dad?) you are for planning such a kid-friendly trip. It sounds like everyone had a good time.

My 21 year old “baby” is meeting me in Madrid for 3 days. (She is studying abroad in Sweden for a year). I want to take one day trip out of Madrid with my daughter but I was having a hard time deciding between Toledo and Segovia. After reading Maribel’s guide, I too decided that Segovia would be the choice my daughter would enjoy the most. Your day in Segovia looks perfect and I will print out your report to take with me. I am also planning a day trip to Toledo on my own.

Sorry to hear that both American and Iberia Airlines lost your luggage. I am flying with both of those carriers on my trip. I also read with interest your efforts to get seat assignments on Iberia. I perfectly understand the importance of sitting with your children on such a long flight.
roadlesstraveled is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 07:12 AM
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Posts: 1,167
Thanks for the nice comments. I was "with" you, Maribel, at the procession that Thursday and I agree with everything you said about it! If I go back to any cities you have covered I will be sure to take your advice on those cities.

I will also say for what it's worth for future Semana Santa travelers, that I made a major miscalculation through simply not thinking about the logistics of viewing the procession. We got what initially appeared to be a very good location for viewing it, but as the hours wore on and it moved quite slowly, stopping for large portions, my youngest became cold and tired and ready to head back to the apartment, which was so close it was almost within view, but was on the OTHER side of the procession. There was no way to cross over. Had I thought about it, I would have watched the procession from the other side. That said, we decided around 10 p.m. just to eat dinner at one of the restaurants at Plaza Mayor, and the procession was over when we finished dinner a little after 11.

By the way, for those skeptical that people really do eat so late in Madrid, by the time we left the restaurant it was hopping, crowded and lively, and there were children younger than mine at some of the tables. Even when leaving restaurants after midnight, they were always crowded.

Lincasanova, I am sorry to have missed meeting you, and the teacher with the large youth group. FYI, you know that we had an exchange student last summer from Madrid, and we got to spend two lovely days with her parents and other siblings in Madrid. They took us to an Asturias restaurant -- the kind we would not have found on our own, nor if we had found it, known how to order, and of course we were the only non-Spaniards there -- and the parents ordered for everyone, so for hours the waiters brought platter after platter of savory, unfamiliar, delicious food....squid, fish, meat, etc....including some sort of large, very tender squid I have no idea what it is called, and poured glasses of cider (sidra?) holding the pitcher high up in the air and the glass way down low, and it was amazing. Even my children enjoyed the delectable food, unfamiliar though it was.

yk, I bet you got a lot more out of that experience than your parents realized! Look at you now, taking amazing solo trips. Very few people have the confidence and resourcefulness to pull that off. Please keep posting your experiences and practical tips -- very helpful to the rest of us in planning.

Also, I forgot to thank kenderina for her many, many posts I appreciated in researching my trip. There are some excellent experts on Spain on these boards.

Roadlesstraveled, of course I think you are making a wise decision going to Segovia with your daughter! The only difference I would make in your trip from my trip is probably to stay longer, since your daughter is an adult and you may enjoy visiting some of the shops or other sights. The shops were all closed for siesta during our walk from the cathedral down to the aqueducts and Candido, and we left at 5 so there was no time to go back and browse. No one but me would have been interested in that, however, so I didn't even try. Another sight that looked worth a stop was the Witchcraft Museum we passed right by on our way from the Alcazar to the Cathedral, but it was closed -- probably due to Holy Week.

Finally, the best advice I could give to anyone planning a trip to Madrid with children is to get into the rhythm of the city, eat lunch at 2 or 3, take a siesta, eat dinner at 9:30 or 10, don't try to get places too early in the morning, be open to new food, and take time to savor all that magnificent city has to offer.

Oh, yes, and find out in advance which attactions are open, when, so you'll know what your options are. I read a quote from someone, I think Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Planning is everything, the plan is nothing" meaning (the way I take it) that going through the process of planning is invaluable, but you don't have to stick to the plan. Just know your options.

Many happy travels.
bakerstreet is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 06:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,176
bakerstreet- Thanks for your kind words. Actually, I wasn't kidding. Well, I don't think my parents really said the words "waste of money" but I'm sure that was what they thought. In fact, lots of places I "revisited" as an adult I actually had no idea I had been there before. That included Blois and Rhinefalls - only when my brother saw my photos he reminded me that I had been there 20 some years earlier.
yk is offline  
Mar 26th, 2008, 07:09 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 103
Great idea to take the taxi to get the good view of the alcazar from below. My then-15-year-old daughter and I hiked down from the alcazar - she under duress, me excited to get the "postcard" view and photo...anyway, then we had to come back up the hill. Also, we walked from the train station to the alcazar and then back to the train station. Sometimes, I am just too cheap...

MECindylou is offline  
May 29th, 2008, 07:24 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 43
Hi bakerstreet,

Loved your trip report. Your enthusiasm is infectious.

A quick ? re: Segovia. (and forgive me if this comes off as ignorant), did you keep the same taxi for the photo op and the Templar church? And if so, what sort of deal did you work out for the cabbie to wait for you (particularly while you toured the church)?

Thanks in advance.
rhk06 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2008, 12:28 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,167
rhk06, thanks for your kind words. I hope you have a wonderful trip.

I told the taxi driver I would like to go to the confluence of the rivers (knew to do that from advice from Maribel -- she actually posted the language to use) and to a church, then to the Alcazar, and said we wanted to take pictures at each place and would like him to wait at each place (I speak enough Spanish to make myself understood), and he caught on without trouble. He was very agreeable, and took some of the photos for me when I wanted one of my family with the Alcazar in the background. He even took us to one church I had not requested, and we enjoyed seeing it.

We didn't strike a bargain on price before we began; I just paid the amount on the meter plus a nice tip. I'm sure that was better for him than driving us into town and then having to wait around until the next train arrived. And it made for a perfect trip for us.

bakerstreet is offline  
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