Despite all this, I didn't actually have much of a clue what Madrid was like, and it turned out to be much prettier than I had expected. I suppose its beautiful, monumental buildings shouldn't have come as a surprise - it was, after all, the capital of a rich and powerful empire for hundreds of years - but I don't know, I guess you just don't see pictures of Madrid's star attractions the way you do of Paris or Rome, so it was a pleasant surprise. Even when people talk about Spain, it seems always to be Barcelona or Majorca or Malaga rather than Madrid. But I'm definitely converted to the capital's charms.
Much of what was particularly enjoyable about the city is hard to capture in a blog post - the sunshine, sipping sangria or tinto de verano on a terrace, starting the day with churros dipped in hot chocolate, picking up freshly shaved ham at the market (okay, so food, lots of food). It's a cliché to talk about a relaxed, laid-back way of life - we were on holiday, not struggling with 25% unemployment - but as city breaks go, it definitely was more relaxing than some.
After arriving on Thursday and not doing a lot beyond sipping cocktails, on Friday we did the Prado. It's huge, they don't let you take photos, and it's well worth a look, although you do get your fill of Spanish court paintings after a while.
On Saturday, the plan was a good old-fashioned tapas crawl in the area around Plaza Mayor. A Madrileno workmate of my sister's claimed we could bar hop our way to free tapas, and while this proved not quite to be the case, we still managed to sample a few dishes. First, though, we accidentally wandered into the crypt of the cathedral, initially mistaking it for the cathedral itself (this is not as dumb as it sounds, it's huge and the entrance is on ground level on the other side from the real cathedral entrance)
|In the cathedral crypt|
|The giant outdoor Mass (plus a ton of people standing that aren't in the photo)|
|A (sort of) scenic viewpoint|
|No bullfighting. I'm not sure if these signs were a serious political statement or not|
|Not sure why they wanted to pose in front of a non-descript chain tourist trap (Spain's version of La Curé Gourmande), but it's a cute photo. Was that patronising?|
PS If you like Mum's snazzy t-shirt, you can get one of your very own here
|Who could resist the siren song of the hoof?|
|Preparing for pork|
Got to say, it was pretty delish! We sampled a few more places...
|Mmm, patatas bravas|
|The world's dinkiest beers|
|Bocodillos calamares in Plaza Mayor|
Jules and I could have gone for more tapas, but we ended up leaving to stake out a spot in a sports bar to watch the "El Clasico" football game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. It was a pretty good game, and the atmosphere was lively (even though an Irish pub mightn't be the most authentic place to sample it). Something fun to tick off the bucket list (even if it wasn't on there to begin with).