It was a perfect time to visit Madrid in Autumn - the weather was just nice. Not too hot and not too cold. Simply nice. I was there for business trip and I had a weekend to explore the city. My fiance reminded me before the trip not to get stranded again just like my other trip I put in a separate post (Stranded in London) as it was our wedding in two weeks time.
Since I only had a weekend in Madrid, I decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus. The bus took me to discover the Madrid's highlights: Puerta de Sol (Madrid's most central and best known square), Puerta de Alcala, Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid Cathedral, Royal Palace (said to be the largest royal palace in western europe), Goya the Spanish Painter (in front of Museo del Prado), Real Madrid Stadium, Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro) with a nice lake inside it, El Rastro weekend market (very huge and very crowded!), and the church outside Museo del Prado. Also the gorgeous Plaza Mayor.
My favourite place was Plaza Mayor, a very nice square with many restaurants - perfect for enjoying beautiful weather. This place reminded me a bit of the square in Venice, Italy. Mercado de San Miguel is a lovely market near Plaza Mayor where you could enjoy drinking, trying tapas, olive, bread, churros, and many others. I had a taste of nice churros here. I really enjoyed being in Mercado de San Miguel - the ambience was really nice.
Paella has always been one of my favourite dish, so obviously I tried that and it's nice (and confusing at the same time!) to see there're many different type of Paella in Spain, written in Spanish :-) Usually it's quite straight forward - chicken paella or seafood paella but in Spain I had to study the menu carefully before decided one.
Opposite of my office in Madrid, there's a tapas restaurant where most of office people go for lunch. My spanish colleague took me there. The concept of eating many small dishes (tapas) for lunch was new to me. They all looked very appetizing.
Most of the time, I didn't know exactly what I ordered (given the lack of English menu card). One dinner, I ordered Tortilla blindly and turned out to be not so bad. It was served with Jamon and cheese... but I didn't really like the Jamon. As an asparagus lover, I also ordered big fat white asparagus, which taste better than the small green one.
On the last night in Madrid, the host took us to a very lovely restaurant (which unfortunately I can't remember the name) near the Royal Palace where we had wine tasting followed by dinner. I really liked the interior of the restaurant. It was very cosy and the food was delicious! The glass bottom floor looked so cool with a small well under the floor :-)
Oh! I have to mention the very unique hotel I stayed in Madrid, Puerta America Hotel. It's a 5-star hotel located close to Madrid city centre. What's unique about this hotel is each of its 12 floors have different design in the common area as well as the room itself. One of the design even came with a round bed! Luckily I didn't get the one with the round bed!
I always love to make observation and take some note wherever I go and here they are from my time in Madrid:
1) When I was in taxi on the way from airport to hotel, I was not that impressed. Somehow, Madrid reminded me of Jakarta - nicer version of Jakarta. Quite a lot of graffiti on the walls. But in the city itself, I was more impressed.
2) Spaniards don't really speak English - in taxi, restaurants, etc. This could be quite frustating.
3) Many restaurants there only have the menu in Spanish - not in English. This has caused a bit of problems few times. One waitress gave up on us (me and my colleague) and decided to order something on behalf of us :-) because we tried to explain what we wanted and she didn't get it. She also tried to explain something to us which we didn't understand.
4) The better thing was that many filipinos there. So my filipino colleague, E, could communicate with them in tagalog... and ordered the correct food :-)
5) They started the dinner quite late, around 10 pm. The hotel restaurant opened only from 8 pm. I really wonder what time they go to bed if they only have dinner at 10 pm.
6) Jamon (ham) is very popular dish. For lunch, they just put jamon on top of bread. I didn't consider that as "lunch" - it's more of snacking.
7) The traffic was quite bad - another fact that reminded me of Jakarta.
8) I saw many people walked their dogs on the street. Somehow bulldog is quite popular - I saw few bulldogs on the street. Interestingly, most of them walked 2 dogs - not only 1.
9) They like to smoke - and could smoke almost anywhere (just like in Jakarta :-))
10) I also saw many groups of "golden girls" aka grandmas - they sat in the park or had dinner together or walked together.
11) I saw buskers on the train - again, reminded me of Jakarta.
12) They really only speak Spanish - on last day when I checked out, they gave me the bill in Spanish! :-) How was I supposed to check if all spending was correct... even in France the bills were in English! And even like in China or Vietnam, the bills were still in English!
It was an enjoyable visit to Madrid. Within Spain, Barcelona is next in my list.