“De Madrid al cielo y un agujerito para verlo”. Which translates to, “From Madrid to heaven, with a little hole to still see it. ”
This is a common proverb about Madrid with the people that live there. This means that once you have seen Madrid the only thing better would be heaven, but you’d want a little hole to be able to still see Madrid.
On my way to do my 8 day hike on the Camino de Santiago, I spent a day and a night in Madrid. I typically travel somewhere to do a specific hike, which often involves multiple flights and sometimes bus rides, train rides, etc. In my experience I’ve learned not to get off one flight and immediately get on another with the intention of getting to the starting point as soon as possible. There could be unexpected delays or changes to the schedule. And, it only took me once of being completely exhausted and dehydrated from many many hours of straight travel to learn not to do that again. I have fallen asleep in an airport and woke up with barely enough time left to board. I have been in a state where I literally could not keep my eyes open, and slept through the bus stop I was supposed to get off at. Especially when traveling on overnight flights and/or across time zones, It’s best to give yourself time to acclimate and see a little of the city you are passing through.
My flight arrived in the morning and my room was not ready yet, so I walked over to see the Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and get a cafe con leche. Most major cities in Spain have a Plaza Mayor. This plaza in Madrid dates back to 1577 and King Philip II. The Plaza Mayor has been the scene of many varied events over the years: markets, bullfights, football games, public executions, and, during the Spanish Inquisition, “autos de fe” against supposed heretics and the executions of those condemned to death. The Plaza Mayor also has a ring of old and traditional shops and cafes under its porticoes.
The Puerta del Sol (Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”) is one of the best known and busiest places in Madrid. Think of it as the Times square of Madrid. This is the centre (Km 0) of the radial network of Spanish roads. The square also contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.
Once I was able to check into my hotel room and take a shower, I walked over to El Tigre for lunch. I wasn’t hungry enough for a sit down lunch so tapas was perfect. I ordered a beer for 2.5 Euros, and an entire plate of food came with it.
Madrid has a great open air double decker city tour bus for hop on / hop off sightseeing. It was sunny and 70 degrees, so I spent the rest of the afternoon riding around on that. All of the architecture was so beautiful. There are many buildings of significance- for example The Royal Palace, the Prado Museum; but sometimes when a building was especially beautiful I would ask what it was- Oh, just a shopping mall, Oh, just the train station.
Since I was jet lagged and had to wake up very early for my next flight to Santiago de Compostela, I went to bed pretty early. When I got picked up at 3:30 AM to go to the airport, the city streets were just as busy as they had been during the day.
I was in Madrid back in 1998 for the start of my study abroad program, but didn’t remember much about it, so I was glad I got to get out and see the city again.