Come along for our Spring Break trip to Madrid. We are slaves to the school calendar!
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April 1 – 10, 2011
This one came together…suddenly one day in early March when my phone started going crazy because of messages from Flyertalk friends due to the Delta Airlines mistake fares to Europe, mainly Madrid and Copenhagen. I managed to snag four round trip tickets to Madrid for Spring Break week for only $293 each! I was just a few minutes late for the $156 RT special to Copenhangen, darn! 🙂
This continues our family tradition to travel somewhere together and it was going to be much different that our trips to Los Cabos (2010) and Beijing (2009) etc.
Dad is Gold Elite flyer with Delta and has lounge access due to the latest Amex promo (more on this later on!)…so of course we start out at the main Sky Club in Detroit. Dad loves them olives:-)
This is in the smaller Sky Club by the 70ish gates area:
Dad got upgraded and flew First Class. He always volunteers to “turn right” but he was let to enjoy it…shocking:-)
Nice short flight to Philadelphia. This is in the Philadelphia airport which is very very nice.
We took the shuttle to the aloft Philadelphia hotel. aloft hotels are a new brand by Starwood and we had never stayed in them. They are supposed to be “fun and vibrant” and it was definitely different. We were well rested and the lobby was “happening”. Nice dance music. They treat Starwood Golds very well with a complimentary drink at the bar (named wxyz), complimentary coffee drinks, water bottles and of course extra Starwood points.
two bed room:
quality brother sister time:-)
lobby and wxyz bar at the back:
the gym. We worked out the next morning and sadly this was the last day we visited a gym as our feet got quite a workout walking in Madrid!
the swimming pool. Very busy the night before and not warm water!
Yard space between lobby and swimming pool:
lobby and bar’s sitting area:
Next Saturday morning April 2nd we took the hotel shuttle back to the Philadelphia airport. We tried to access the Sky Club but it was not open yet as it was still under construction. So, we went over to the US Airways Club which is fantastic. So much different than the US Air flying experience:-)
We flew on a small jet over to New York City’s JFK airport. This is a pic from the plane of a ship carrying stuff from China! How do I know it’s from China. Well, I don’t know but it is a pretty good guess;-)
As I said it was a small jet, no first class upgrades:-(
We all flew with one carry on bag each, no check in bags at all. We are getting really good at this now! Another reason we did so it’s to have a better shot at getting bumped which, sadly, it did not happen in this trip!
Outside Terminal 3 (I think) at JFK:
Short bus ride to a different terminal to board our Madrid bound plane.
Delta flight to Madrid was about 6 hours only. This is a Qatar Airlines plane in Madrid Barajas airport, one day I will fly them!
This was our plane.
Heading over to passport control in Madrid Barajas airport.
We took the excellent Express Bus from the airport to Atocha train station in Madrid. About 25 minutes ride and only 2 euros each. As we came out of the train station and looked to find our way to our hotel we managed to be right in the middle of a marathon taking place!
On our way to the hotel:
Front of the El Prado Museum, we will be back here:
We stayed at the Westin Palace hotel for 5 nights. It was an award stay, meaning we spent 48,000 Starwood points. We would like to thank American Express for making this stay possible at this historic elegant hotel:-) We were in room 524 with a premium view. No suite upgrade unfortunately. When that happens we miss Hilton Gold treatment a lot:-) We unpacked and we were off to the El Rastro area, an outdoor flea market that has been opening every weekend and holiday here for the past 500 years!
they were very good and really dressed to the part!
We walked around the city a bit trying to find a place to eat while jet lagged.
Kids finally gave up and walked into a restaurant and we got a meal that was the worst of our stay. Thankfully, it was all uphill from there! We got back to the hotel and we all just crashed and slept until Monday morning!
Monday morning, well more like very late morning, we started exploring Madrid. Our hotel is nicely located on Calle de San Jeronimo facing the Canovas del Castillo Plaza. We walked across Carrera de san Jeronimo going west.
This is Plaza de Canalejas, this city sure has lots of plazas!
Puerta del sol: This is Spain’s Kilometer Zero, the point from which all distances in Spain are measured. Thousands of madrilenos gather here to welcome the New Year and it is the true soul of the city.
South on Paseo del Prado street and we cross it at Plaza de la Prateria de Martinez. We visited briefly the Botanic Garden but we did not go in as we had a lot of walking ahead of us.
Iglesia de San Jeronimo El Real was built in 1505 but renovated over the centuries, including several controversial neo-Gothic additions:
Entering Parque del Retiro or Retiro Park. I must add that the weather was magnificent throughout our stay in Madrid! Early April is an excellent time to visit as tourist numbers are low! This is the park where madrilenos like to walk on Sunday afternoons. It is only 1.2 square Kilometers in the city centre and Retiro means “Retreat”. It was originally the hunting ground for Philip II. It is the brainchild of the Duke of Olivares who designed in the 1630s for Philip IV as part of the Buen Retiro Palace-a complex of royal buildings and immense formal gardens that inspired Louis XIV at Versailles (which is a must see by the way).
400 year old cypress trees
The magnificent statue of Alfonso XII at the back and the Palacio de Cristal
After exiting the Park we headed over to Puerta de Alcala, perhaps the city’s most powerful emblem. It is the city’s finest example of the neoclassical architecture that came as a reaction to previous baroque excesses. It was designed by Francisco Sabatini in 1778. We should have come back here to see it at night lit up but we didn’t. It is made up of 5 arches of granite and stone and has 10 columns similar to those by Michaelangelo for the Capitol in Rome. Bullet marks are clearly visible from the 1921 assassination attempt on Eduardo Dato, President of Madrid’s Council of Ministers. The lion heads on it are superb, hard to see from so far.
And we made it to Plaza de la Cibeles! I just realized that I did not take any pics of the magnificent statue of the fertility goddess, La Cibeles, in the middle of the square!!! You can see it here . The building below was designed by Antonio Palacios in 1904 as the Central Post Office and is now used by the Madrid City Council.
We then decided to keep walking east on Calle de Alcala to try a restaurant that was recommended to us. On the way we passed over the Plaza de La Cibeles again and took the pic of that statue I had a link above!
We found the restaurant on Calle Alcala 84. Its name is Arcade and specializes on Gallician food. We loved it!
And this is where I lose track of the days…I think this is another day’s pics now…
More walking. Below is the Caixaforum building, now an exhibition and concert hall. A unique building, former power station, looks like as if the mass above it is hovering above the ground. And notice the vertical garden on the right.
We headed next to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid’s leading modern art museum. It is the second largest European museum, only Pompidou is larger. It has transparent elevators with great views of the city. We did not have time to get into it that evening but we’ll be back for sure.
Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica”. It was inspired by the Nationalist bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937. It is the 20th Century art’s great anti-war symbol. Its bullet proof screen was finally taken down only in 1995!
Plaza Mayor!!It was built in the 15th century as a market square. It was renamed Plaza Mayor when Philip II, after making Madrid the capital of Spain, ordered it rebuilt as the administrative centre of the Court. It was rebuilt in 1790 after a fire. The buildings between the towers are Town Hall offices; the rest are private homes (I wonder how much they sell for….after the real estate crash that has hit this country!). This is a gathering place: where the most important members of the Court lived during the 17th century; it was the site of bullfights, carnivals and some terrible scenes from the Spanish Inquisition era, including one on June 30 of 1680 when 118 offenders were executed in a single day. Hangings were also carried here until the end of the 18th century. How chilling…If you meditated a bit you can see scenes from that movie “I see dead people”…ok, maybe not so funny!
Bronze statue of Juan Gomez de la Mora, who completed the building of the Plaza in 1619.
Entering Plaza de Oriente in front of the Royal Palace. This elegant plaza was planned in 1811 under Joseph Bonapartes. The existing square dates from the reign of Queen Isabella II (1833 -1904) and contains statues of the the kings and queens of Spain.
Next, we walked to take a tour inside the Royal Palace which was just magnificent beyond belief! You can sense that the King was right there. They lived well while the masses starved outside! Hard to describe the scale of the palace with its overwhelming pomp! It was begun in 1737 by Philip V. The current royal family does not live here anymore but it is still used for state visits occasionally. It has more than 3,000 rooms and most are never used. We saw some amazing things inside. If you are ever in Madrid you have to stop here!!
Students are given a real history lesson here!
We enter the Temple de Debod area in the Parque del Oeste (Park of the East?). Beautiful place for a peaceful stroll. This place was totally destroyed during the Civil War and has been rebuilt. It contains birch, fir, atlas cedar and cypress trees, as well as a 183,000 square feet rose garden La Rosaleda. The Temple below is not Spanish at all as it depicts a 4th century BC Egyptian temple honoring the god Amon. It was installed in 1970 as a gift from the Egyptian government to Spanish engineers and archaeologists who had saved many treasures before large areas of land were flooded after the completion of the Aswan Dam.
Okay, now it’s time for the fantastic Museo del Prado, the city’s pride. It has many masterpieces; Goyas, El Grecos and many others. One of the great art museums of the world without any doubt. It was built in 1785 and opened as a museum in 1819. There are over 7,000 pictures; 115 Goyas, 83 by Rubens, 50 by Velasquez, 40 Brueghels, 36 Titians, 32 El Grecos and 20 Zurbarans. Seeing some works of Goya up front were quite haunting as this guy was obviously insane and had “issues”! 🙂
We managed to find this small restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel and we came back here often. It was Champions League day on Wednesday and we got to watch Real Madrid beat Totenham 4-0 on TV while the real game was being played a few miles north of us! Kind of surreal really:-)
Next day Wednesday we decided to walk to the Atocha Train station to inquire about getting to Toledo on Thursday.
There was a huge line to wait but the Chinese folks on the left told mommy that we should take the bus to Toledo instead. We noticed many immigrants in Madrid, same as all over Greece!
Madrid metro is really good.
Back on Puerta del Sol:
We were going to track down a restaurant recommended to us in the Mezon area around Plaza Mayor. It was time to try out some more tapas! We found it, Taberna de Antonio Sanchez, owned by a bull fighting family since 1830.
yum yum, Kosta’s favorite:
As I said, it is owned by a bull fighting family. For the record, I do not condone bull fighting, I find it atrocious to kill animals for pleasure!
Seeing Madrid without a tour of Real FC’s stadium, the famous Santiago Bernabeu! 16 euros per person, so worth it:-)
Mourinho impersonation, Real’s arrogant coach
The tunnel, where the players line up before they come out!
Thursday, on to Toledo. At the Madrid bus station, again very impressed by the quality of the facilities and equipment!
We spent a whole day walking all over legendary Toledo. It was the Spanish capital from 567 to 711 and from 1085 to 1561. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Moors, Jews and Christians lived here side by side.
Some demonstration going on, welcome to Europe:-)
This is a 13th century Gothic Cathedral, an unbelievable site to look at from so close! It took 267 years to build! (1226 – 1493).
A cute doggie
Thursday night we tried another restaurant and I was the only who absolutely loved this octopus dish. I think it was the best thing I have ever eaten, next time I am in Madrid I am going to have it again, no doubt about it!
We checked into the Hilton Madrid Airport hotel for our last night before our Saturday morning flight back to the United States. Excellent hotel, very new and modern that gives excellent treatment to Hilton Golds!
Bigger rooms, upgraded to the Executive Floor
Executive floor comes with free access to the Executive Lounge with access to drinks and food. We always enjoyed our previous Hilton stays and the upgrades allowing us the lounge access and full breakfasts!
We had a relaxing time at the swimming pool with its hot water!
Saturday morning we all had our free full buffet breakfast, courtesy of dad being Gold Elite in the Hilton Honors program. How about 6 different stations of food!
The hotel ceiling looking up from the restaurant area:
The kids had so many Fantas that day:-)
Saturday morning the line for the shuttle bus to the airport was long
We stayed one more night at the same aloft hotel in Philadelphia on Saturday night. It was funny that on our shuttle to the hotel we rode with Kosta’s school secretary who was also going to spend the night in a hotel nearby, what a small world!
Dad and mom got upgraded on the flight back to Detroit and we let mommy and Sophia ride in First Class as me and Kostas took it like gentlemen and rode back in coach:-)
And we were home on Sunday afternoon around 3.30 pm! And another adventure was over and we will cherish the memories!