We woke up bright and early at 3:3o a.m. to catch our flight from Madrid to Florence. Needless to say, Madrid’s nightlife was still in full swing, complete with drunken tourists stumbling through the streets. Aw, I wish that was us.
Luckily, this time we were flying Alitalia, so there was no airport drama. Although it kind of sucked to have to fly through Rome to get to Florence, knowing we were just going to come back to Rome again in a couple days.
We arrived in Florence, and it was even hotter than Madrid – if that’s even possible! Let’s just say it was a very sweaty walk from the train station to our hotel.
The plus side is that our hotel was literally right next to the Duomo Cathedral. When you walked out the door, you were literally standing in front of the baptistry.
As sweaty and nasty as I felt, I was even more hungry, so we took our scrubby selves to the closest restaurant in the plaza. At least my first meal in Florence was really good – risotto with zucchini.
I was so excited that we stayed at Hotel Miau in Madrid! Last time I stayed there was in 2003 with my mom, so admittedly, I didn’t exactly remember what the hotel was like inside, but I just liked the idea of staying at Hotel Miau.
The best thing about the hotel is its location – the Plaza de Santa Ana. This is my favorite plaza in Madrid. It’s just so charming, the square filled with tables from restaurants and surrounded by hotels, eateries and bars. Plus it’s easily within walking distance of Puerta del Sol and an endless array of nightlife options.
Our actual room was fine. The shower was kind of tiny, but we had nice balcony windows onto a side street leading to the plaza. But of course, knowing our luck, they were doing construction on that street, digging it up right outside our window! At least we had air conditioning so we could keep the window closed and keep most of the noise out. Plus, it was a small project that went on only a couple of days.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend Hotel Miau for your stay in Madrid. The prices are extremely reasonable, the location is perfect, the rooms are nice enough, the staff is friendly – major points for letting us check in super early after a long, overnight journey to Madrid!
By the time we got back from Toledo, it was 6 p.m. That means we had two hours to go find some sneakers Daniela wanted and head back to the Prado for free hours (6-8 p.m.).
Well, by the time we got to the Prado it was a tiny bit after 7 p.m. so I gave Daniela a barely-one-hour crash course, which was basically me picking out my favorites from the “masterpieces” cheat sheet the Prado Museum has.
My favorite masterpieces – a.k.a. Agatha’s 30-minute Prado Tour:
Ok, so I realize I’m partial to the top Spanish artists, and I’m especially not that interested in Flemish paintings. So if you prefer a more well-rounded itinerary, check out one of the Prado’s suggested routes (although they don’t offer a 30-minute version like I do).
Personally, I just like Spanish art best – it’s just more aesthetically pleasing and thematically interesting to me. Maybe I just learned more about it so that’s why I like it best, because I actually kind of understand it.
My absolute favorites are El Greco and Goya. El Greco uses these one-of-a-kind colors, and gives people a certain elongated shape that’s very elegant. And Goya’s Pinturas Negras are so attention-grabbing and unique. But what I’ve noticed about both, and what seems to pull me towards both, is their unique styles of painting faces and eyes. Each employ very characteristic shapes and shading. Greco’s are elongated and elegant, and Goya’s seem rounder, softer, yet darker.
Regardless, we finished up my list of favorites just as they started kicking people out. Perfect timing!
Needless to say, we were exhausted after all that running around. So after one last shopping stop and a nap, we had our last dinner in Madrid out on Plaza de Santa Ana. It was disappointing to say the least. Let’s just say we didn’t quite get what we bargained for…
Our third day in Madrid, we decided to take a half-day trip to Toledo. Unfortunately, that turned into a most-of-the-day trip since there were only tickets left for the 5:30 p.m. train back to Madrid.
Of course it was another scalding hot day – literally not a single cloud in the sky, just the sun. We took the train there (30 minute ride) and walked through what felt like a desert to get to the main entrance of the town. Then we began the climb up (Toledo is basically one big hill).
We stopped through Toledo’s main square then headed to the cathedral. I was debating whether or not to go into the cathedral again, but decided to pay the fee, since it really is quite impressive.
Then we basically putzed around for a while. I was disappointed that the house of El Greco was still closed.And unfortunately we were too distracted shopping and looking for food to see his painting, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.
But in the end, I think a big part of Toledo’s charm is just walking its streets – which I did plenty of! I even started a little series of photo which I call, “The streets of Toledo.”
We stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant hidden away in a small, triangular plaza, where I actually ate swordfish (random).
At that point, we were pretty much done sightseeing and still had quite a bit of time to kill, so we just got a bottle of wine and got to drinking. Apparently the heat and the wine got to Daniela because she nearly knocked over the table and spilled wine all over me! So at that point, we walked back to the train station and each had another glass of wine (only 3,80 Euros total!). At that point it was finally time to leave.
I still love Toledo, but I have to admit, nothing beats staying there at night! If you have the chance, get a nice hotel near the cathedral (they’re not that expensive) and roam the quiet streets after dark.
Our second day in Madrid ended up being gloomy so that kind of put a damper on things – literally. We dragged ass getting up and out of the hotel room (as usual), but finally headed out towards Gran Via. We walked down Gran Via and window-shopped a little, then cut a left to check out the Chueca neighborhood.
Chueca sure is full of characters! First, a bum asked me for a cigarette while Daniela left me alone at the table during lunch. Then I got front-row seats to see another bum puke next to a tree in the plaza (also during lunch). I’ve come to the conclusion that Chueca is over-rated as a tourist destination. I guess there are some cool boutique shops around, but don’t expect much charm from the main plaza, unless you find puking bums charming.
After Chueca, we started heading towards Parque del Retiro. Our plan was to relax in the park and go on a romantic rowboat ride. But by the time got near to the park (after a couple detours to Starbucks and gift shops), it started to rain. Our original plan was to visit the Prado that night and take advantage of its free evening hours, but since we couldn’t kill time in the park until 6 p.m. due to inclement weather, we tried just hanging outside the Prado until then, taking cover under some columns. But it was barely 4:30 p.m.
After dicking around some more, we finally decided to save the Prado visit for the next day and see a flamenco performance of Carmen that night instead.
The Carmen show was at a theater at the plaza near the Tirso Molina metro stop – the scene of last fall’s infamous Rafa debacle. The show was good, not great. A little slow at times, but not bad. It makes me really want to see the opera. Perhaps I’ll see it when Carmen comes to Chicago.
After the show, we headed to Cava Alta/Cava Baja streets for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately, it was another failed night out! We ended up sitting in a literally-hot-as-hell restaurant for dinner. The food was actually really good and the spot itself was charming, just unbearably hot. So we just ate our hot food as fast as possible and walked to the hotel.
We were lucky enough to actually be in Madrid for the World Cup semi-finals, so we went to a nearby bar to watch Spain beat Germany. Of course, Madrid went crazy. We walked by Puerta del Sol, which was packed with people – even in the fountain and on top of the metro entrance.
And Daniela made another new friend:
Then we went barhopping – I really wanted to have a fun, crazy Madrid night! We got about five free drinks at various bars near the hotel, but every spot was still pretty much empty since it was barely midnight.
Lesson learned: Madrid is notorious for its all-night partying ways, so don’t be surprised that things don’t really get popping until after midnight.
We ended up calling it a night pretty early and being totally lame!
Madrid was even hotter than Barcelona! Our first day there, it hit at least 100 degrees F. But what can you do. I decided to take Daniela on Agatha’s Walking Tour of Madrid. It goes a little something like this:
Start at charming Plaza de Santa Ana
Down through Puerta del Sol, notice the bear & tree statue; the symbol of Madrid
Walk over to Plaza Mayor for a meal (this time, we ate at the Museo de Jamon)
Next, over to the classy Mercado de San Miguel
Then, a visit into the Almudena Cathedral, where we saw a little boy praying for Spain to win the World Cup match
A visit to the Royal Palace
Cut across Plaza del Oriente to catch the metro back to our hotel