Hola, Bonjour! - Part I: Madrid

I started on a nine-day journey through Spain and France with my friend, who just left university in the States and was coming for her grad trip. So much of what I will be writing here might only apply to people 1. travelling in pairs, 2. on a relatively low budget, and 3. not fussed about only visiting a limited number of places in a day.

Day 1:

We met up in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, and headed for our hosts' place in suburban Madrid. (check out Airbnb.com for a listing of affordable accomodation - ours cost around 30 euros a night per person, which is roughly what you will get at a hostel anyway.).

For those who are travelling to Spain, take note that the

major cities like Madrid and Barcelona have their own metro systems and they can differ very much from each other. The Madrid metro system is very efficient and have frequent services. Each ride is also reasonably priced at one euro. However, do be aware that one ride costs one euro, regardless of length, so walk if you want to save money. The downside to walking is the extremely confusing organisation of roads in Madrid, which is made all the worse by the lack of clear signs showing road names.

In Spain, most of the places worth visiting are the parks and museums. The first one that we visited, Caixa Forum Madrid, has a hanging garden opposite the main entrance.

The hanging garden.

Entry is free and it currently hosts a well-curated exhibition on Soviet architecture and interior design, featuring numerous pictures, models and videos.

We also went to the Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanic Gardens) for a short afternoon walk (entry: five euros for students) before attending a flamenco dinner at Las Tablas (http://www.lastablasmadrid.com/; reservation required; 25 euros per person, which includes one drink). Flamenco is a folk dance, characterised by energetic, forceful stances, that originated from Andalucia in southern Spain, spread northwards and eventually became representative of the country. Some flamenco restaurants, including Las Tablas, do not provide full meals but rather salads and sausage platters that make for light bites as you enjoy the two-hour dance performance.

Day 2:

Going westwards along Calle Mayor, we passed by several attractions, such as the Plaza Mayor and Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel market). At Plaza Mayor, you can expect to find a collector's market with many stalls selling old coins, notes and stamps, as well as a tourist information centre. Mercado San Miguel is worth a visit for the wide range of fresh and cooked foods that you can buy or enjoy a lazy lunch. The dining concept is similar to Takashimaya with hungry travellers wolfing on pinchos (the northern equivalent of tapas, the term used in the south for food items that are served in a slice of bread).

Plaza Mayor (entrance, top; main square, bottom)

A scene from Mercado de San Miguel.

Major attractions include the Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral) and Palacio Real (Royal Palace). These two buildings have very nice architecture, especially Palacio Real, which houses several permanent exhibition rooms showcasing fine tapestries and china owned by the Royal Family. Entry to the Almudena Cathedral is free whereas students are charged five euros for entry into Palacio Real. Do note that you should always bring your photo ID AND student card - they were unconvinced of our ages, despite our showing student passes. In general, EU attractions have subsidised prices for students under the age of 25 and it doesn't make financial sense to pay more, simply because you didn't bring valid documents...

We also went to a minor attraction, known as Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod). It is an Egyptian temple that was taken apart and reconstructed in Madrid. It is found in a park at the top of a small hill, so it also overlooks a good part of Madrid and should be visited at night for a spectacular sight. Entry is free and the air is clean, so take some time to visit the park and break away from the hustle and bustle of Madrid.

Templo de Debod.

Day 3:

A must-see in Madrid is the Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), the equivalent of England's National Gallery (or, many times the size of the Singapore Art Museum). It houses a very extensive collection of paintings and sculptures across different eras from antiquity to modern times. It costs 5 euros to gain access to the general exhibition, which is really enough for a whole day of art appreciation. For a break, there is a massive cafe in the main lobby, as well as a souvenir shop, stocked with memorabilia plastered with iconic artworks in the Prado collection.

Entrance to Museo del Prado

Parc Retiro, just up a hill from Museo del Prado, is Madrid's largest park and was formerly part of the monarchy's property. It is a splendid place to spend the lazy afternoon, just walking through the sprawling grounds and watching people cycle/skate/row (yes, there is a lake in the park!)

People rowing on the lake in Parc Retiro.

Off the beaten track, there are few buildings within Parc Retiro that one can visit, such as the Crystal Palace, which is a glass building that looks somewhat like a greenhouse. These buildings house art installations and attract a considerable number of tourists. If art is not your thing, numerous benches line the sandy paths in the park, where you can rest your feet and just watch the world go by (or people playing with dogs, doing yoga etc.)...



the moose & snowman

the soft toy. the soft toy.

makan corner

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