First, let’s take an open-top bus tour to get an overall feel of the city. Climb aboard, grab a headphone to listen to the commentary in our own language, and off we go! Look around: the winter sun is shining, warming us as we make our way along elegant wide boulevards lined with trees. Light is reflected in the sparkling cascades of fountains. We catch sight of grand buildings: could they be housing embassies? Or fine art collections?
The home of Real Madrid – one of Spain’s top football clubs – the Bernabeu stadium, is filling up with enthusiastic fans, chanting as they file in through the gates, images of Cristiano Ronaldo and other heroes beaming down at them from high up on the terraces.
Now let’s take a stroll along the streets of Madrid at Christmas time. Hop off the bus and hit the streets! The city teems with life: people are window-shopping, chattering in small groups, sipping refreshments in a bar or nibbling some tapas at a street café.
The Reina Sofia museum building dominates a small plaza where students sit on stone steps, or lie close alongside one another, dozing in the sun’s rays. Inside, we join a group of English-speaking tourists on a guided tour, and listen attentively to the heart-breaking story of Spain’s Civil War, its horror captured for future generations in Picasso’s Guernica painting.
We have a choice of activities for the rest of our day: we can visit the Prado pre-nineteenth century art museum, the highly acclaimed Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection, or the Sorolla House, where his sublime paintings are displayed among his furniture. My personal favourite is El Barco Blanco. What’s yours?
While we’re near the Puerta del Sol, we have to visit a Cuban restaurant to sample a mojito or three: it’s the law according to me!
Now it’s dinner time, much later in Spain than we’re used to. Come and try some of my favourite food, cocido madrileño, in the famous Café Gijón, where writers, artists, actors and politicians still pop in to appease their appetites. The Madrid ‘stew’ contains beans, spicy sausage, and a mixture of meats like chicken, ham and beef. Mm, delicious! We are lucky that we’ve booked, otherwise we’d never get a table: this place is so popular.
At the end of an exhausting day we are smiling: we’ve caught the alegría of the people of this city – the madrileños – or maybe it’s the wine? Now it’s time to go home to reflect on our day out.
Merry Christmas, Madrid! ¡Feliz Navidad!