Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A weekend in Madrid

This weekend I went to go visit Martin in Madrid.  He’s been there 3 years now and for some reason everyone has decided 2015 is the year to visit – he’s just played host to his sister and the boys, so is well versed in playing tour guide.

It was an exceptionally cheap weekend away – my flights cost 98p (98p! let me repeat that - 98p!!!!!!!!!!) as I bought them using my ten years worth of Nectar points, and I was crashing on his floor, so no accommodation costs. Brill!

Getting there was very stressful – I had booked an easybus as there was meant to be a train strike (which later was cancelled), the easybus was 20 mins late in arriving, then got stuck in traffic, leaving me with 25 minutes to get from the bus depot to my gate before it closed.  However on the journey I did see a fight with men throwing chairs at each other, so there’s that.

I spent the bus journey frantically googling ‘how long to get through Gatwick security’ and ‘what do I do if I miss my flight’ and whatsapping my mum and housemates in panic.   I grabbed my bag from the belly of the coach, sprinted through Gatwick, shouted at the security man because you’re only allowed to take one plastic bag of liquids (since when!!!!) and had 2 seconds to decide what to get rid of and what to keep (toothpaste & conditioner didn’t make the cut FYI).  They’ve redone Gatwick South and you now have to wind your way through a snazzy marble floor filled with shops which is most irritating when you’re in a mad dash to catch your plane.  I arrived at departures hot and sweaty, looked for my gate number, and saw the flight was delayed by an hour and a half. You couldn’t make it up!!!!   On the plus side, as long as there’s no massive queue at security, I think I probably would have made my plane, so I’ll know for next time not to panic so much.

I sat for an hour watching a woman knit and wondering why I had to bin my toiletries but she was allowed knitting needles - surely they're more dangerous that my toothpaste! Though toothpaste is a bitch when you get it into your eye.  But it wouldn't blind you or poke your eye out like needles. Anyway.

There’s a bus at Madrid airport that goes to Atocha train station which is fairly central, it only costs 5 euros and is quite quick (maybe 30 mins). Plus it has free wifi! Look out for the yellow bus, that’s the one you need.

Martin met me at the bus stop with instructions to feed and water me after my long journey, so we dumped my stuff off and headed on a whistlestop night-time tour of Madrid to get some food.  We ate in a lovely plaza where a guy tried to serenade us before Martin sent him packing, drank Sangria and had a nice catch up.  His friend Mike came to join us and we spent the remainder of the evening in another plaza, drinking 1 euro street beers and avoiding police. (Though everyone does it, you're not technically allowed to drink on the streets, so every now and then the police turn up to disperse everyone sitting on the floor in the plazas.  If you get caught you can get a 600 euro fine)

The following day we walked a million miles in 32 degree heat around Madrid.  It is a lovely city – the Atocha train station has a bloomin (ha, do you see what I did there) rainforest in it, complete with terrapin pond!  You don't get that in Charing Cross.

We stopped to row a boat in the Parque del Retiro and to see the Palacio de Cristal, wandered past the Prado Museum, up past the Palacio de Cibeles, through the shopping districts and up to the Templo de Debod, where we had an hours nap in the shade.

Ministry of Agriculture

I wish London had interesting man hole covers

Palacio de Cristal

art installation inside the Palacio de Cristal.  I'd love to get married in something like this!

Palacio de Cristal

Street performers in the park

at one of the old gates to the city

Deliberately accidentally rowed into this water stream and may have filled the boat with water...

Palacio de Cibeles

For lunch/early dinner, we stopped at El Tigre, which I highly recommend. It’s a well established tapas bar, where you buy a drink (soft or alcoholic, anything goes, including huge bottles of alcohol ironically called ‘minis’) and get a HUGE plate of tapas.  We had my new favourite, Tinto de Verano (red wine and lemonade!) and a coca cola, and were given a huge pile of croquettas, patatas bravas, jamon on bread and Spanish tortilla, for the grand price of 6 euros. An absolute bargain!  It’s filled with locals and not at all touristy, I loved it.

pretty non descript from the outside but don't let the exterior fool you!

terrible photo but so much yummy food

We also stopped to do two small geocaches- Martin’s first ever!  The first one was right by Atocha station near his house, and it was brilliant – a very good hide.  Martin was amazed!  The second was a standard film canister attached to a fence post.  We also tried to do a mystery cache at the Templo de Debod (an Ancient Egyptian temple gifted to Spain, boated over and rebuilt) but it was too hard to work out and we were getting hot and tired so we gave up and napped instead!

spot the cache

view out across Madrid

Martin loves flabbing dogs...literally his favourite thing ever

In the evening I was subjected to a football match but the bar was cool with a beer tap on your own table, so I practiced being a barmaid – I am pretty pants.  On the way to the bar, a delicate piece of paper fluttered down towards us from a balcony high above.  For some unexplained reason, Martin caught it, before yelling as he realised it was a sticky sheet of waxing paper, covered in someone's hair. How I laughed!

 don't think I would get a job in a pub....

They start them young in Spain

We then had some late night churros in Chocolater√≠a San Gines, famous in Madrid for being open 24 hours, had some more beer in another bar where we met up with some more of Martin’s friends, then went to a club called Space Monkey which was quite cool but by this point I was shattered from all the walking, the sun and generally being out late, so I was the grumpy one in the club wanting my bed whilst everyone around me partied and had fun.  We eventually made it home around 3.30 where I crashed until 11am the next day.

One euro olives

Late night churros

We went to a snack store and stocked up on crisps and water, then got a train from Atocha to Cercedilla, a little village in the mountains, that’s a 1h15 train ride away. Cercedilla is known for its hiking routes, and we had planned to do the Camino del Agua, a 4.1k walk that they recommend takes 1.5 hours.  There’s a variety of routes, ranging from 2.5k to 14k, all starting from the Information point about 2 km from the train station.

As usually happens when I go on walks, we couldn’t find the start point and we walked for 30 minutes in the wrong direction before realising something was amiss.  On our way back down, I spotted some blue dots (the marker for the walk) so we rejoiced, thinking we had found it.  What we’d actually found was the tail end of the walk, so we followed the dots to the start and worked out where we went wrong, before heading back in the right direction this time!!!! What was meant to be a 4.1k walk turned quickly into about 12k, whoops!!

However it was a pretty walk, and once up in the forest it was cooler and shaded.  We stopped by a little stream to have our picnic lunch of emmentale baguettes with crisps, and saw a variety of wildlife, including a red squirrel (the only one I have ever seen, amazing), a snake which made me jump out of my skin, some horses, lizards and some Spanish cows, that from a distance looked like bulls and we were scared to pass them, but as we approached they were more cow like than bull like.

follow the blue dot!

On the way back down we stopped in the village to have a well deserved Tinto de Verano with a plate of olives and pickles, before napping on the train back home.  We had a quick dinner before heading back to Martin's apartment, where we said our farewells before bed - I had to get up at 5am for my flight back home in the morning.

Madrid is perfect for a quick weekend break.  It's just over a 2 hour flight from London, and the airport is fairly close to the city centre.  It's large enough to feel like there's enough to do, but small enough that you can see most of it in a day - and best of all is the brilliant cafe culture.  No matter the time of day, people will be sitting outside in cafes and plazas, eating tapas and drinking - it's highly social and the drinking culture seems totally different to here - much more relaxed and enjoyable rather than a 'pre drink and let's get trashed' mentality.  Anyway, I recommend, and thank you Martin for hosting me :)


  1. lol, Gatwick is horrible at the moment!
    Madrid sounds great, have to plan a trip there one day.^_^

    1. It really is, I much preferred how it used to be!! Now it's all snazzy shops that make you feel like you have to look at them before you board your plane.
      It's a lovely city :-)

  2. What a beautiful city! I'm very jealous! ;-)


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