Madrid is roughly a two hour drive from Salamanca – when we have guests who are a little nervous about getting the express coach from Madrid Barajas (the city’s airport) it calls for a road trip up to Spain’s capital. Instead of doing the drive in one day, it’s nice to take time to explore the city, and the city of Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world. The reason being that whether you’re there for a few hours or an entire day,  you feel comfortable almost instantly. There doesn’t seem to be any part of exploring where you feel a little out of depth in your surroundings.

It’s a huge melting pot, that in parts reminds me of my native Dublin, some of Paris and a lot New York. The picture above was taken overlooking the lake in Parque de Retiro, a park that spans 33 million square metres. Retiro reminds me a lot of Central Park, watching people drift by in little rowing boats, bordered by the park’s boathouse. Joggers pass by, one-footed pigeons perch a little close for (my) comfort by the little kiosks that serve tapas, beer and wine and the sound of saxophones float on the wind. Despite the wind, it was quite a warm and pleasant day – not bad for the beginning of February.


We stayed at the Hotel Gavinet, located on Calle Toledo. A stones throw away from Madrid’s  square (Plaza Mayor). If you’re travelling to Madrid by car, it’s the perfect choice. €19.00 per day for parking, but once you’re a guest, even if you’ve checked out, they have no problem with you leaving the car there to go and explore at no extra cost. The hotel was clean with really dependable free Wifi, a cheap bar, cheap breakfasts and a cheap rate – €55.00 per night. It was the only one I could find with guaranteed set price parking in close proximity to the square and the Plaza del Sol, a buzzy area with plenty of shopping, cafés, bars, the occasional protestor and a lot of costumes and fancy dress.


Simple and colourful paintings in the hotel lobby of the Hotel Gavinet.


Shots of a quiet Plaza del Sol, a few hours after we arrived last Wednesday.


PINTS of vodka and mixer advertised outside Ulysses bar just off the square. A good price in Madrid considering the bar’s location. Your wallet will thank you. Your liver won’t.


A very small traditional bar with interesting wine, strange dolls and Madrid’s answer to Julio Iglesias.


Penelope Cruz and a very futuristic-looking ATM outside Hotel Gavinet. I couldn’t resist taking a picture!

The next morning after work (hours of undisrupted online tasks on the impressive WiFi I mentioned previously) a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and pastries (for under €3.00) we spent the day exploring the city until our guest’s arrival at Madrid airport that evening. The airport is about 20-30 minutes from the centre, depending on traffic. Driving in the city is a bit hectic, with a lack of road markings on roundabouts, plenty of pushy drivers with no patience for traffic, so be careful if you choose to drive…and don’t even think of visiting without a GPS (you can thank me later).


Although I couldn’t get shots of the food, the above image is a market filled with cheese, ham and stalls with various kinds of flavoured peanuts, almonds and cashews. It’s also home to a gin bar, that serves every gin infused drink imaginable, with big fluffy seats to boot. If you don’t mind the potent smell of strong cheeses, you might enjoy staying longer than we did!


We visited a Starbucks for a quick coffee and to see how it compared to Dublin. We aren’t fans of Starbucks coffee at all, and there aren’t any franchises in Salamanca. I was surprised to see so many in the city – the Spanish have such fantastic and cheap coffee available everywhere, so why Starbucks? The coffee was in fact a lot better, however the prices were quite high and the WiFi wasn’t free. The highlight of the stop for me was the cute Starbucks cup cookie pictured above. Cute, but certainly not worth €3.00 when Häagen Dazs cross the road were selling baked marble cheesecake for a similar price.


The walkway we followed on our way to Madrid’s National Library


The National Library looked incredible – like so many other buildings in Madrid. Every building is so grand and impressive, it’s a pleasure walking around. No visual pollution here!


This entrance to Parque de Retiro is beautiful. Sorry for the crooked photograph – a lady was tugging at my arm offering reeds for luck.


A weird footed pigeon in Parque de Retiro (possibly) looking for some pickled onions, pickles and olives.


Del Prado Museum – featuring the best of European art and sculpture.


A church nearby the museum. We then started walking back toward the hotel for lunch, taking pictures and stopping for coffee along the way.




Plaza Mayor, Madrid

We went for lunch at Los Galayos, a restaurant in the corner of the square. The bottles of water we ordered was one of those deep blue thick glass ones. I find they really brighten up the table and I remember them at long lengthy dinners in the south of Spain as a child. I’m glad we decided not to order starters, as the waiter brought us warm bread rolls, olives in garlic and their own scrambled egg creation – eggs, fish, peas and spiced mayonaise, which was delicious.


N went for the grilled crayfish with lemon, butter and herbs. I went for the deconstructed beef tenderloin burger, which I’m glad had no bun, as after the bread roll it would have been uncomfortable. The burger came topped with crispy bacon and brie with  side of caramelised onions, their own mustard dressing, ketchup and fries.


The only other table occupied was on the left hand side – full of ladies who lunch. We went during siesta, so the restaurant was quiet. After taking our plates away and sweeping our crumbs with a little brush and silver pan, the waitress brought us coffee and shots of the Los Galayos digestif, along with the bottle if we wished for more. I didn’t, as I had driving to do and it was a little sweet but nice all the same – alcohol, fermented peaches, melon balls and cinnamon, served with what tasted like danish butter cookies.


The restaurant also had their own wine cellar downstairs. There was cleaning going on at the time, so I couldn’t photograph it, but below is an image from their website.

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Madrid city has so much on offer it would keep anyone busy for days. Shopping, eating, drinking, sight-seeing, theatre, street performers, strolls in the park. Highly worth a visit and prices range depending where you go, but it’s a very affordable city destination for a short break. There are also two theme parks nearby, ‘Parque Warner’, the Warner Brothers Park with themed rides and Warner characters, and Parque de Atracciones. Both are very affordable with hardly any queues for rollercoasters.

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