EUROPE

FROM MADRID TO HEAVEN

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STORY AND PHOTOS
   //  BY RON STERN


De Madrid al cielo, or “from Madrid to heaven,” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but to the locals who live here, this Spanish expression accurately reflects how they feel about their city. This was my first visit, and I found that this cosmopolitan city, like the tapas they serve, offers a little of the best of everything.
Madrid buzzes at all hours of the day and night. During daylight hours, city streets are laden with camera-toting tourists visiting the many restaurants, retail shops and museums. As day gives way to evening, pubs, and discos come alive with local color and flavor.

Madrid at Night
This is also a city of contrasts with one of the most modern airports in Europe, an efficient underground transportation system (Metro) with color-coded lines that reminded me of those in the U.K., upscale neighborhoods, and chic malls and boutiques. The downtown area reflects Madrid’s past, with intricate architecture, historic buildings with ornate facades and palaces with expansive grounds perfect for strolling, relaxing and sightseeing.

Culturally, Madrid has retained its traditions and important remnants of its historical past. Plaza Mayor is one of the highlights, with a huge courtyard and colorful facades. The area is ringed by restaurants serving tapas (small dishes of fish, olives, cheese, and salads) and is actually a good place from which to start exploring the city. “Going for tapas,” as locals know it, is a popular nighttime tradition of sampling the best at many bars well into the evening.

Tourist in Madrid
The tourism office is located at Plaza Mayor and has literature and tour information. I signed up for the Vision Madrid hop-on and hop-off bus with routes that visit the historic and modern parts of the city. Headphones are provided with the audio in various languages, including English. I confess that I didn’t get very far as I got off after the first couple of stops to see the magnificent Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which houses works of Goya, Degas and Renoir. There are no fewer than 40 museums in Madrid, including the famous Prado and Reina Sofia Museums, the latter of which contains some of the most important collections of contemporary art in Spain. My suggestion is to purchase a Madrid Card that gives you access to most of the monuments and museums in the city (www.madridcard.com).

Even though there aren’t any beaches in Madrid, there are plenty of water-related activities. These include public swimming pools, fountains elegantly lit at night, two aquatic centers. I found that one of the best places for lounging near the water and people-watching was at Retiro Park—the largest and certainly the most beautiful areas in the city. Fountains, pedestrian walks, small cafés, and a grand stone monument to King Alfonso XII line the rectangular-shaped lake where people in rowboats enjoy the tranquility and sunshine.

Finding suitable accommodations in Madrid is easy as there are 50,000 beds with almost half of them in the four and five-star categories. I stayed at the Hotel Velasquez, located in the upscale Salamanca District. This hotel is a family-friendly hotel, within walking distance of La Caixa Foundation, ABC Serrano, and Golden Mile. Also nearby are Prado Museum and the Plaza Mayor.

Transportation in the city is easily attainable there are entrances to the Metro system every couple of blocks, making the entire city accessible by foot. A 3-day Metro pass allows you to take unlimited rides on either the Metro or the local buses.

Street Vendor
Grand Via is one of the main arteries running through the city all the way to the Centro (downtown district). Here, the streets are lined with sidewalk cafés, boutiques, cinemas that include live performances and, of course, gelaterias. Madrileños love their gelato, and this confection is sold everywhere. This seems to be one of life’s simple pleasures here, and with tantalizing flavors from deep, rich chocolate to tart lemon, who can blame them? I ate more than my share and figured I would walk off the extra calories while sightseeing.

Most of the streets in the downtown area are narrow and meandering with surprises around every corner. Madrid can only really be explored by taking your time and walking, whether it is to a quaint shop, cathedral, royal palace, or the public squares. Maps for self-guided tours are available at the tourism office in Plaza Mayor.

One of the reasons I love to travel is to experience the culture reflected in the hearts of a nation’s people, through its art, in its food, and in everyday life. Madrileños are not shy about showing their emotions, and public displays of affection are common. Couples can be seen hugging and kissing on the underground, the streets and just about anywhere else. This, it seems to me, is evidence of their love of life and of each other as well as their unwavering belief that Madrid is truly close to heaven.

INSIDER TIPS:
Learn the local trends for example you can eat a set lunch for around ten euros. You usually get three courses including wine. Service is pretty quickly so you can be in your way to your next adventure.

To Do's:

EL MUSEO DEL PRADO 
Is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art and the best single collection of Spanish art.
www.museodelprado.es

EL MUSEO LA REINA SOFIA
Is located in the center of Madrid, near the Atocha train and metro stations at the southern end of the the Golden Triangle of Art 
and along the Paseo del Prado. El Museo La Reina Sofia is Spain's national museum of 20th century art.
www.museoreinasofia.es

EL CIRCULO DE BELLAS ARTES

Is a cultural institution and major multidisciplinary art centre. It has exhibition rooms, a cinema, a theatre, concert halls, lecture halls, artists’ workshops, a library, a cafeteria, a shop and many other facilities.


www.circulobellasartes.com

The Eats:

LA BULLA

After a busy day of shopping enjoy a great meal at La Bulla this restaurant is ideally located next to the famous El Corte Ingles.  

P. +34 915 350 079

EL CLUB ALLARD


With an extensive international menu created by chef Diego Guerrero this highly regarded top culinary restaurant is perfectly located facing Plaza de España. 

www.elcluballard.com

LA TRAGANTUA

This restaurant is very popular with the locals, great service even if your Spanish is not that great. Authentic Spanish food at a reasonable prices. Make sure to make a reservations since this a pretty busy restaurant.
www.latragantua.es


The Stay:
HOTEL VELASQUEZ

One of the main attractions of the  Gran Hotel Velazquez  is its prime location in the  centre of Madrid, right in the heart of the Salamanca district, in the capital's financial, political and commercial hub.

www.hotelvelazquez.es

ARTRIP HOTEL

With 17 entirely renovated rooms this hotel features a large layout and balconies. The hotel spills forth art from the capital and offers temporary art exhibits of new artists in its exhibition hall.
www.artriphotel.com

HOTEL ATLANTICO
Located in the Madrid city center and just a few blocks from la calle del sol, this hotel is close to the museums, theaters and restaurants in the area.

www.hotelatlantico.es


Madrid Tourism Office
W. www.esmadrid.com

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