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Making the Most of a Weekend in Madrid

Monday was a new public holiday in Valencia for Saint Vicente Mártir so with school closed, we decided to spend the long weekend in Madrid.

I really can’t imagine an easier way to travel. The train between Valencia and Madrid runs frequently and is just shy of two hours. Quiet, comfortable, reasonably priced, no delays – if only air travel were this smooth. Competition between three carriers (Renfe, Ouigo, and Iryo) offers a lot of options for travelers, but it is important to book your tickets (and reserve seats) in advance. If possible it’s preferable to arrive into the most central Atocha station but most trains from Valencia will deposit you in Chamartin, which is about a 20-minute Metro ride north of the center of Madrid. For a weekend trip, I suggest buying a 10-trip Metro pass, which is costs less than seven euros and gives you access to subway and bus rides.

Though the weather was quite cold compared to Valencia, we lucked out with mostly sunny days as we explored iconic sites: Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and Parque El Retiro (Madrid’s Central Park), on foot and using the city’s excellent Metro system. Madrid is a huge city so even though the main tourist attractions are relatively centrally located, it still helps to be able to hop on and off the Metro or bus to save some time, especially with a young kid in tow who outgrew his stroller days.

As our beloved babysitter Pau now lives in Madrid, we also enjoyed kid-free hours at both the Reina Sofia and Prado art museums, which never fail to dazzle.

Having visited Madrid a few times over the years, it took pressure off of not needing to see everything this time. We picked a few highlights and otherwise strolled as the Madrileños do, at a leisurely pace (though a bit brisker and fancier than the Valencianos!). I still made it to the Sunday El Rastro Flea Market, which is insanely crowded and chaotic but fun to explore. Because our Airbnb was near Parque El Retiro, it was easy to spend some time wandering and exploring there each day of our visit.

Since we live in Spain, we didn’t go all out in our search for the best tapas and pintxos on Calle Cava Baja (a great area to sample Madrid’s classics) – instead, I savored foods I don’t find as often in Valencia, like healthy fast casual at Honest Greens (sorry not sorry, I do miss the occasional hearty salad bowl!). We did enjoy a very nice Spanish meal at Donde Mónica, a cute restaurant in the Salamanca neighborhood where we stayed.

The last highlight of our time in Madrid: I got to meet Cy Williams, a son of my dad’s dissertation advisor from Pittsburgh. Cy has lived in Madrid for decades, raised a family there, and is also a professional guitarist. Dad taught Cy a lot about playing blues guitar when they both lived in Spain and over years of family friendship. So Cy was the one we asked to play accompaniment for the memorial slide show we put together after Dad’s death. Finally meeting Cy and seeing him play guitar in Madrid at El Despertar Jazz Club was quite meaningful, to say the least.