This Spanish capital is the hub of many things. Its large airport welcomes many flights from Thailand, which makes it a convenient starting point. On the way back home, if you want to do some shopping, the cost of living here is also lower than in other European cities. Needless to say, it’s a shopper’s paradise. The city itself is charming, with unique architecture, parks, museums, and restaurants. As with any trip in Europe, when visiting Madrid, it is like you are transported back to its history. Going to the Old Quarter is always exciting. Although Madrid is a big city, the Old Quarter is easy to explore on your own. More importantly, it is home to the Sol metro station, where many train lines connect. No matter where you stay, you can hop on the train and head to the Sol station when you want to check out the old town.
An army marches on its stomach, so let’s begin our Madrid trip at Plaza Mayor. In addition to its historical importance, it is also home to Mercado de San Miguel, a monumental market. I have been warned that there are many pickpocketers in Madrid (just like other cities inSouthern Europe). Sometimes they work as a team — they will distract you and snatch your wallet. The best solution is to keep your valuables and important documents in the safe box at the hotel. Bring with you just 20-30 euros in cash, which should be enough for your afternoon tapas. Keep them in your pocket, so you don’t have to carry a bag, which only attracts thieves. Sol station is the centre of the small universe that is old town Madrid. Once you’ve emerged from the station and look around, you will see that everything is here. The little roads that lead to Plaza Mayor start from here. With a map in your hands, you can get lost and still find your way to Plaza Mayor. There are many restaurants at Plaza Mayor, but they are not recommended for a big meal. You can get some coffee or drinks to soak in the scene, but the food is overpriced, because it’s a touristy area.
Head to the back of Calle Ciudad Rodrigo, which is like a dream come true. San Migeul market is like a big glass box packed with tapas bars.There are about 20 of them here, selling tapas, seafood, ham, fresh oysters (served with beer, wine, or champagne), bakery, tarts, Portuguese snacks, chocolates, cheeses, freshly baked bread, pizza, and hot drinks. You can buy them and eat them at the tables in the middle of the market, or at the counter where you buy it rom. Better go there early, or there will be no seat left for you. We were extremely hungry, so we tried nearly every shop. We started from the innermost tapas bar known for jamon ham served on bread with salad, and fried ham with egg on bread. It is even more delicious when enjoyed with beer straight from the bottle.
After that, we went to an oyster bar where there was a long queue. You can order oyster and champagne in one go. How convenient! But our top pick would be the seafood restaurant in the front with fresh beer. There’s a lot of seafood tapas, and the must-try dishes are grilled tuna served on orange slices, baked mussel, and boiled shrimp. Get some white wine and you have the perfect meal. We left the market with a very full stomach, so we had to walk it off, which was not hard work since there was a lot to see. We strolled on Calle Mayor and Calle del Arenal, snaking around the little alleys packed with souvenir shops and collectible stores. We arrived at Plaza de la Paja and dropped by at Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona, a small park with pomegranate trees and almond trees. It was not too crowded, so we felt like we’d stumbled upon a hidden secret not mentioned in guidebooks!
Not so far from the park, we headed to San Francisco el Grande Basilica to see the paintings by Francisco Goya. The dome at San Francisco el Grande Basilica is even bigger than St Paul’s in London. Of course, we must check out the painting named San Bernardino de Siena, one of his earliest works in Madrid. There are also other paintings by master artists like Zurbarán and Velázquez. While still in the mood for art, head across town to Museo del Prado, which houses masterpieces by Spanish artists during 11th-18th century like El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Bosch, Tiziano, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. No matter how much you appreciate art, chances are you won’t have enough time to explore all of them. Grab the map provided by the museum and pick just the highlights to save time. The queue in front of Museo del Prado is usually long. Madrid people told me that the best time to visit is during siesta time when Spanish people take a short nap. Usually, that’s around 3:30-5:30pm, or a few hours before the museum closes. You can also buy tickets online, which are cheaper and save you a lot of time. But that would mean you have to plan well ahead of time.
STORY : OHHAPPYBEAR PHOTOGRAPHY : TAE WONGPANIT