Landed in Madrid at around 13h we headed straight to the hotel in Sol, the very center of the city surrounded by tourist attractions located within walking distance. We were quite happy with the efficient and tourist-friendly metro network of which regular trains run not only from the airport to central but also extensively in the city of Madrid and, more importantly, fare of Madrid metro is almost half-priced compared to London Underground, for example. We did some sightseeing in this afternoon all on foot. Interesting attractions included Plaza Mayor, Arco de Cuchilleros, Plaza de la Villa, San Francisco el Grande Basilica, Temple of Debod, etc. We had a nice but overpriced lunch just by the Arco de Cuchilleros. In any restaurants in the center that serve mainly tourists, do NOT consume any bread brought automatically to your table as it costs at least 1 euro per a tiny piece, and do NOT order any drinks without looking at the menu as we paid 16 euro for a jar of Sangria that should cost 13 euro or less. Also, do NOT expect smooth communication with waiters and waitresses, even in tourist areas. Although they are not illiterate in English, their ability to handle basic conversation is in doubt. The last activity of the day was a spectacular one - a Flamenco show at Corral De La Moreria at dinner time. Great show, and of course, good food!
This was a day’s excursion to Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. We just needed to take the train operated by renfe running via Sol directly to El Escorial. Buying a train ticket, however, was such a pain. Surprisingly ticket machines are not designed for use by the English-speaking, i.e. international tourists. Everyone went on a queue seeking help from one staff member, who then helped buy tickets from the machine. Don’t bother speaking. Just show the staff the written name of your destination, and, use some body language if necessary. After a 50-minute train journey we arrived at El Escorial. Unlike the others who got on a bus right there, we took a 20-minute walk to reach this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visit into the Monastery was nothing extraordinary, compared to a scenic walk in its gardens which were free. We should have lunched back in city of Madrid, because international tourists are not that welcomed there in El Escorial. Spanish customers enjoy the privilege to be seated in a nicer table, and to order first, even if they arrive later than international customers like us. It was almost 17h when we got back in city of Madrid. We went sightseeing again but to the east of Sol this time. There were Plaza de Cibeles and Puerta de Alcalá. Palacio de Comunicaciones stood right in the former is particularly spectacular. We also entered for free the Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain’s premier art gallery, housing the finest works of art Spain has ever produced (Free entry Mon-Sat 18:00-20:00 and Sun & holidays 17:00-19:00). By the end of Day 2 we had this dinner full of tasty tapas in one of the restaurants around Calle Cava Alta and Calle Cava Baja.
This was a day’s excursion to Royal Palace of Aranjuez. Trains of the same line run via Sol to the opposite direction to Aranjuez in the south instead of El Escorial in the north. It was so convenient to travel from Sol both for day’s excursion and around the city. For ease of transportation, we recommend accommodation around Sol. Aranjuez is a nicer place than El Escorial, which is comparatively touristic. There were mainly Spanish tourists. Most shops were closed on a Sunday. We spent most of the day to visit the palace, the gardens, as well as The Iglesia Real de San Antonio. Back in city of Madrid it was almost 17h, time for a late teatime with some splendid Spanish cakes and cookies among which meringue desserts seem to be a speciality. We then walked further along Calle Gran Vía, the busy shopping main street, to see another face of the city. We were searching for paella as dinner this night at Plaza de Mayor. It was fine to pay 20 eur for the yummy paella with lobster, but we would never opt for the one next door that said “only 10 eur for a paella”. Think about that, 10 eur for a paella in Plaza de Mayor. You don’t want to give it a try.
It had been sunny the first three days, even though temperature had dropped from 28C to 12C, but Day 4 was pretty tough because of a full-day raining. Fortunately Day 4 was scheduled for indoor activity, and we had already taken nice pictures with blue sky of the Cathedral and Palace on Day 1 when we walked passed them. The first stop was Almudena Cathedral, which looks gorgeous outside but is not at all interesting inside, contrary to the San Francisco el Grande Basilica visited on Day 1. The next stop was Royal Palace of Madrid just opposite the Cathedral. This is much more a popular attraction. Unlike those in El Escorial and Aranjuez, written English descriptions and signs are generally available in each room and hall. It is definitely a must-see in Madrid. We grasped our last chance on this last day to enjoy one more time a delicious seafood paella nearby. Before heading to the airport, the last stop of the trip was Museo de Thyssen-Bornemisza, an Art museum with the best private collection of classic and modern art in Spain. It was again, free, at our time of visit, i.e. Monday 12:00-16:00.