Gracias, Madrid!

Well Barcelona really blew us away and we didn’t know what to expect of Madrid. We knew it wasn’t as much of a tourist hot-spot, and wondered if we would enjoy ourselves as much— but alas we liked Madrid just as much as Barcelona, maybe even a little bit more!!!

One of the first things we noticed was how nice it was just to walk around Madrid. Every single building was beautiful, an architectural delight. No building was in disrepair or past its prime. And they were all so clean- they didn’t have the pollution/soot build-up of many stone buildings in most large cities. All the stonework was white and fresh. Mind you, we only stayed in the downtown core area, but this was quite a big circumferential area and all the buildings were like this. The streets were all spotlessly clean, very few beggars or homeless people, lovely art and musicians everywhere- Madrid was just so pleasant to walk around and enjoy the city (and considering how hard it can be for me to walk, I don’t say this lightly.)

Plaza Mayor (as well as the top banner photo of this post), where we had dinner right after arriving in Madrid. A beautiful location but very touristy and expensive!

Since none of us knew much about Madrid, we decided to do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  This tour took us all around the city and we could see all the monuments and sites that we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to see, but enjoyed a view of. Madrid has a lot of ‘city gates’, all big stone arches built in the middle of roundabouts (think, like the Arc de Triomphe) to commemorate something or someone. Things like that are cool to see but I’m not about to go out of my way to get off the bus, dodge traffic, and take a photo.

We did get off at the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral. These two impressive spots are right beside each other, on a big hill overlooking greater Madrid.

Almudena Cathedral

The cathedral is actually quite modern, only having been finished in the last 30 years or so. Like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, it had clear glass windows at the top and coloured stained glass lower down- this gives a wonderful impression of lightness and airiness to a heavy, stone building.

The whole roof was like this, so bright in person.

After the cathedral, we headed next door to the Royal Palace. This palace is still in use by Spain’s Royal Family, but they don’t live there every day (they live in a ‘more modest’ palace in a Madrid suburb). It is here where they still do royal ceremonies and the like. Unfortunately (for you) they don’t allow photos of the interior rooms. You’ll just have to trust me that it was pretty majestic.

The outside of the Royal Palace

After these stops, we found a place for lunch. Speaking of, we’d read and since agreed that the best way to eat in Spain was a large lunch – a Menu Del Dia offered usually only until 4pm is a cheap multi-course set-menu. Spaniards fill up mid-day, then go for siesta and grab something small and cheap in the evening. A Menu Del Dia usually consists of a couple options for a first course and then a couple for a meat course. It always includes your beer, wine, or sangria, and often a dessert. I never saw one for more than €14. Eric and I did this every day, Sophie not so much, because the menus were in Spanish and she was more intimidated.

We did a quick walk-through of Mercato San Miguel- a more trendy, eatery-type market than the fresh-foods one in Barcelona. The food and drink looked great but it was so busy, not my idea of a good time!

We got back on another bus and enjoyed seeing Madrid’s sights. I could stare at the buildings as we drove past for hours. So much detail!

We hopped off at the Plaza de Cibeles for the photo op. It’s a beautiful marble building dominating the traffic circle.

Unfortunately, the large fountain out front wasn’t running. These are the concessions we make in order to tour in the off-season.

Speaking of ‘off-season’, it was this day- our fourth full day in Spain- that Eric came across an article about Covid-19 quarantines severely hurting the European tourism industry. Once we read it and realised it, we thought, of course- there are much less tourists than usual, in both Barcelona and Madrid! More than 10% of the world’s population is stuck under quarantine. One friend mentioned, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and maybe why we’ve liked Spain so much? Less tourists!

Anyway, while we were off the bus, we walked around a bit, enjoying the Spanish sunshine. Coming across Christopher Columbus square and the world’s largest Spanish flag.

Christopher Columbus
Beautiful ornamental ‘winter’ greenery
Not much wind, but trust me, it was big. It’s a replacement of the original and cost over €400 000! (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We then wanted to catch another bus back to our hotel, but waited and waited and one never came. We ended up frustrated and just hopped in a cab. Cabs seem cheap in Spain, or maybe it’s just because we never really left the downtown cores, but our trips were usually only about €5 door-to-door, which is about what 3 metro ride tickets would cost anyway.

The rest of this day was filled with siesta, ambling around Madrid streets, and grabbing a light dinner.

Sophie at the famous bear statue at Puerto del Sol, the one of the plazas we most often frequented because it was so close to our hotel.

On our last day in Spain, we bought tickets to the Museo del Prado, the large national art museum (often compared to the Louvre). Sophie is our little artist and she brought her sketch book so she could look for inspiration.

We saw some beautiful works by the likes of Caravaggio, El Greco, Rembrandt, and many, many Rubens (Rubens was oft employed by Philip IV of Spain and a part of his court).

After the museum, we took a walk over to the large Park Retiro, a beautiful, large, inner-city green-space park not unlike Central Park or Hyde Park. Here, there are many busking musicians, a couple ponds, many fountains, a lake where you can rent row-boats, and a large ‘crystal palace’ feature which was currently housing an odd art installation that none of us understood.

The Crystal Palace
Eric and Sophie going for a little row.
A photo Eric took while in the boat with Sophie. Behind her is the Monument to Alfonso XII

I’m sure the park would have been absolutely breathtaking in only a few more weeks as spring arrives, because we could only enjoy shrubs, some daisies, and other hardy but not overly beautiful flowers. That’s ok, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this stunning location.

It was then definitely time for a siesta, as we’d been wearing ourselves out, frolicking in the warm sunshine and all. But we also had tickets for the early show at a flamenco show in the evening. This was a totally tourist thing to do, but we also just wanted to see them. The dancers were clearly very talented and we had a nice time watching them, while we drank sangria and ate some tapas.

You can find a couple videos of the dancing on my Instagram Spain story highlights (on my Instagram page, under my bio, there’s a little circle that says ‘Spain’… Just click on it then do nothing, let it play through).

That flamenco concert was just the perfect end to our wonderful Spanish holiday. We had to wake up somewhat early the next morning to get to the airport and head home to cool and windy Bristol, so we took another little walk through a few Madrid streets and said goodbye to this beautiful city.

Ola Barcelona!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life has been both boring and hectic at the same time. I took a trip back to Canada to see my folks while Eric and Sophie stayed in Bristol. Then Eric went to Scotland for a work trip… There’s just always something!

But we’re back at it with our family adventures. And sticking with our criteria of ‘go where it’s cheap and easy to fly to’ (and warm in February), we came up with Spain as our next holiday for half-term break.

We decided to fly in to Barcelona, stay a few days, take a train to Madrid, stay a couple more days, then fly home.

So, Barcelona. Wow! First off, the weather in February is fantastic. No, we can’t go swimming or anything, but it’s 18-21°C, sunny, and comfortable. Such a nice break from the cold rain storms hammering the UK lately.

Sophie on our balconette overlooking the pedestrian street in the Gothic Quarter

We got to our hotel and while I won’t normally give hotel reviews here, I will definitely name-drop this one. The Hostel Fernando far exceeded our expectations. Yes, it says it is a hostel, but you can book family rooms. We had a room with a queen bed and two bunk beds, and a private ensuite bathroom. The beds are so comfortable and the pillows were my favourite- memory foam! It is impeccably clean, amazingly located, and such an amazing price. Sure, we’re here in the off season, but paying only CAD 125/night (taxes in) and that includes a breakfast buffet!!

So enough about that. Once we checked into our room, we went out to explore. We walked along the pedestrian street of Las Ramblas, ambled through La Boqueria (the large public market), and made it down to the waterfront (not the beach but the harbour).

La Boqueria
Spices for sale
Ham is the biggest deal in Spain. Right off the leg!
Christopher Columbus at the harbour (the infamous statue pointing in the wrong direction to the new world!)
The Barcelona Harbourfront

Also, it was Eric’s birthday the day we travelled, so we let him choose the restaurants and food. All he wanted a good authentic paella for lunch. Happy birthday honey!

Guy at the next table refused to stop photobombing! Lol!

In the evening after a long siesta, we walked through the gothic quarter, explored the Barcelona cathedral, and then stopped at a tapa bar for dinner.

Barcelona cathedral was one of the more impressive gothic cathedrals I’ve been in in a while (since Paris). However, it does charge an entry fee. Beware that in Spain they are more strict about modest clothing in their religious churches. No tank tops or shorts.

There are tapa bars were you can order off the menu and then the more touristy ones where they have it all made up and you fill your plate with what looks good. This ended up being a great choice for us because when travelling with a kid, she could choose what she wanted to/knew she would eat and then we could also get what we wanted.

Tapas, tapas, tapas!

On our second day in Spain (first full day) we had booked tickets to the big tourist locations- Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family Church) and Park Guell. Both are major Antonio Gaudi architectural gems. First up, Sagrada Familia.

While waiting out front for our tour to start

We decided to splurge the 1€/person extra that it was to get a guided tour (more than an audio tour). I know, big spenders, but sometimes we just gotta go for broke and live a little!

Well the church just blew us away. Eric had visited back in 2012, so wasn’t as surprised and stunned as Sophie and me, but they’re working so hard and fast in order to reach their goal of finishing by 2026 that they’ve even done a lot since he’s last visited. The outside is one strange oddity but then the inside and the stained glass just takes your breath away.

Gaudi loved taking his inspiration from nature, and he built all the columns of the church to look like trees… When you look up, they branch off and it looks like a treetop canopy above you. The stained glass was great, but this was my favourite part.

So we spent most of our morning here at this amazing church. We learned a lot about Gaudi from our knowledgeable and lovely guide, and why he did some things the way he did.

After appreciating his biggest work, we headed to Park Guell, an area on the hill above the city that Gaudi was architect of that was supposed to originally be a housing development and residential area. In the end, only two houses were built, but there is a large park and many beautiful architectural features. The mosaics here are so beautiful. It’s like, it was already outside so he couldn’t make stained glass windows, so he just made beautiful, colourful mosaics that shone and sparkled in the Spanish sunshine.

After Park Guell and lunch we made one more stop before siesta to see another couple Gaudis from the outside. These buildings can cost quite a bit to get into to tour and frankly, we’d had enough. We just can’t do it all in only a couple days, but enjoyed seeing them from the outside.

In the evening, we went to the Museum of Barcelona History, where you take an elevator down below the city and view the excavated ruins of a Roman city! I expected just a few ruins here or there but it was really quite extensive and large!

Also I’ll take this moment to note- a lot of tourist sites in Barcelona offer discounts for disabled people. Some are quite obvious about it and offer the option online when booking, but some you need to ask. This museum had no notation of a disabled ticket on their pricing board but I thought I’d ask. I carry my handicap pass with me in my bag if they want proof further than my cane (I’ve never been asked). They ended up giving me a discount, because I asked. He never would have offered. So don’t be afraid to speak up and ask!

On our last morning in Barcelona, we went to the Pablo Picasso museum. This was another museum that didn’t advertise disabled pricing but I put myself out there to ask and voila, my ticket was free. (Between the history museum the night before and this Picasso museum, I saved us €20!).

When entering the museum, they were rather strict about bags, and you must leave all bags in a locker. Eric and I both had small backpacks and Sophie had her diabetic bumbag. I told them that mine and Sophie’s bags were medical bags and they were fine letting us keep them. My bag carries a lot of extra rescue sugars for her and a glucagon injection kit, too.

Picasso museum was awesome

However, about 15 minutes into the museum, we hear Sophie’s low alarm go off (so loud in the middle of a quite museum!). We had had a breakfast buffet at the hostel and obviously over-guessed the carbs… She had way too much insulin on board. We had her suspend all insulin in her pump and clandestinely eat a roll of candies. But 15 minutes later, she was still low! This lasted over half an hour, giving her candies and granola bars, getting her to fingerpoke to test. Sometimes a sugar treatment just won’t work because she has so much insulin in her from her last bolus that it’s just going through the glucose as we give it to her and we can’t get her up.

Sitting in the corner of the museum eating dextrose tabs.

Fortunately, she eventually got up to 6.2 mmol/L and started feeling better and we could all breathe a lot better too. Of course, we were almost done the museum by then!

So that was our time in Barcelona! After the museum, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed for the train station to catch our bullet train (300km/hr) to Madrid. In fact, that’s where I’m writing this right now, on the train, with views of the Spanish countryside whizzing past me.

Spanish countryside halfway between Barcelona and Madrid

The train was actually about £30/person MORE than a flight from Barcelona to Madrid, but this way we can travel right from downtown–>downtown, no need to make the treks to and from airports, and waste half our day sitting in the airport waiting for our flight.

Now, we’re excited to see Madrid for the next two and a half days and I’ll update you afterwards! If you don’t already, go follow me on Instagram (click the photos below for links) for up-to-date photos as we take them!!!