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December 27th 2001

We arrived in Madrid early afternoon, and finally managed to hail a taxi - there seem to be some strange rules about the queuing system! The taxi driver was thrown into confusion over the fact that there were 4 of us and there was much messing around with the front seat, and also a mild panic as he didn't think he'd manage to get all our cases in the boot. He drove us to the Hotel Arosa on the Gran Via, very central for the major tourist attractions and shopping - bearing in mind we have two teenage daughters who love to shop! (We booked with Leisuredirection, a company whose brochure we got from the Sunday Times.) 

m2.jpg (9746 bytes)The hotel was tucked away in a side street and had a small entrance from where we took the lift to the main reception. There were 2 lifts - both very small - we could just squeeze the 4 of us into the smaller one - but the luggage went separately. It was slightly easier when we weren't wearing our winter coats! The reception was small but adjacent to a very grand lounge/bar area, leading into the dining room. Our rooms were OK although the twin was much roomier than the double - often the case, maybe something to bear in mind. 

We were all pretty tired but Jo was starving hungry and insisted we go out to find some food. We'd just missed the end of lunchtime so this wasn't as easy as we'd expected but we finally found a café where she could have a pizza. We had a short wander along the Gran Via and then returned to our rooms for a rest. That evening we dined in the hotel - extremely good food and surprisingly cheap - and had an early night.

December 28th

m1.jpg (10767 bytes)Had a terrible night - despite the double glazing, the traffic noise was horrendous and we're just not used to it. So felt pretty rough all day. Had a good breakfast at the hotel (we were on a B&B deal) and then set off for a day's exploration. We planned to visit the Royal Palace and  the Thyssen Museum, with some shopping en route. We found a very good department store with an impressive Lord of The Rings display outside (see photo). All the bookshops were plugging both that and the Harry Potter books. We visited a number of shops and in the end only had time for the museum, a fairly new one dedicated to 700 years of art history. It was extremely well laid-out and we enjoyed our visit. Then we had a light meal at an Italian restaurant, the Spanish ones all seeming to be closed by the time we were ready to eat. We did a little more shopping on the way back to our hotel, walking through what we soon realised was a red light district. Martyn said he felt decidedly uncomfortable.......

That evening we ate at another Italian restaurant  opposite the hotel. We were too tired to venture very far. The food was excellent and again, very reasonably priced. Fortunately we managed to sleep a little better than the first night.

December 29th m4.jpg (9291 bytes)

m3.jpg (6466 bytes)Today we decided to visit the Royal Palace and Retiro Park so set off in very cold weather to walk to the former. It didn't take long, we really were very well situated. The Palace is vast and quite forbidding in the grey light of a cold December day. It was very quiet when we arrived so we were able to have a really good look around. I think our favourite bit was the armoury, where we were able to see life-sized models of horses and joustem5.jpg (8179 bytes)rs and dozens of suits of armour. They were incredibly small - maybe the jousters were the equivalent of our jockeys. When we had finished exploring the palace, we had a coffee & bought a Tapas recipe book. We did have a rather embarrassing moment when Jo fired her smartie-canon the wrong way and it hit a woman at the table across the way from us. Honestly, you wouldn't think you'd need to tell off an 18 year old in public, would you??

m6.jpg (10585 bytes)After that we started walking to Retiro Park, stopping off m7.jpg (14531 bytes)at the Plaza Mayor, the main square. It consists of a large rectangle (220mts by 100mts) surrounded by broad arcades containing shops, bars etc. This was to be the site of the New Year's Eve and the Euro celebrations and was teeming with people setting up displays and stalls. There was an incredible amount of tat for sale so it wasn't too difficult to resist buying anything. We resumed our walk for a little while and then succumbed to the lure of a warm taxi for the rest of the journey. On arriving at the Park, we were disconcerted to see that part of it was boarded off and found that they appeared to be doing some major excavations but we were able to enjoy the biggest part of the park. It was bitterly cold and the lake was partially frozen but we did manage to get as far as the Crystal Palace which was stunning, although we weren't able to go inside.                     

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We were absolutely frozen by then, not to mention tired, so we headed back towards town, hoping to get a table at Planet Hollywood for a late lunch/early dinner. We'd tried the day before but the wait was too long. This time we were in luck, and only had to wait about 20 minutes, which was pleasant enough, accompanied by their delicious non-alcoholic cocktails. For some reason, we seem to be drawn to this particular restaurant chain and have now eaten in Planet Hollywoods in Amsterdam, Sydney, Lake Tahoe and Madrid. The food is always good, it's good value too and there's plenty to entertain you whilst eating. It's especially good when you wish to eat at a time when most restaurants are closed - such as about 4.30pm, the time we ate there in Madrid! Feeling very full, we walked back to the hotel, stopping off at a couple of shops along the way. We spent the rest of the evening reading.

December 30th

This was our last day, with an afternoon flight, so we didn't do much - reading and packing and a late breakfast. We decided to book the hotel's shuttle bus to the airport, thinking it would be easier than going by taxi. I suppose you could say it was, but it ended up costing a lot more than a taxi would have done. it was Sunday and the place was deserted. The journey that had taken about 30 mins by taxi took us little more than 10 minutes - not only was it deserted, the driver was a lunatic! Consequently we had quite a long wait at  the airport but it was quite pleasant and we spent our last few pesetas - not much point in keeping them with the introduction of the Euro 2 days later! Incidentally, we found it much easier to convert using euros than pesetas. We had a pleasant flight back and a couple of hours later were back home.


It had been a good trip but I confess to being disappointed that the rest of the family weren't interested in visiting Toledo and El Escorial. Madrid is a lovely city and everywhere we went, we felt it to be very spacious and grand. But our lack of Spanish was a distinct problem and I found it rather embarrassing that I was unable to converse with anyone. The weather was very cold but it remained dry and we missed the snow. It must be unbearable in the height of summer - I think I preferred the cold!


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