Part 1 of 2
We have been waiting for our honeymoon ever since we decided to pick Portugal & Spain for our destination. Getting married at the end of 2019, we didn’t want to sacrifice our two-week get-a-way, so we opted to delay it a few months until March. We had NO idea what was in store.
The weeks leading up to our departure, we kept a close eye on our flights, the news, our health, and I was glued to Twitter. Twitter is my go-to source. You know how most people “google” something, well I “Twitter” it. Spain and Portugal did hit a level 3 country according to the CDC website, so we both felt like it was safe to go, as long as we just took precautionary measures to keep ourselves safe. I already was doing this on 1000 before we even left the country, and it was driving my husband crazy! Sorry Bae!
After our four-hour bus ride to NYC and then an eight-hour flight to Madrid out of JFK, I am already on high alert. So much is swirling in my head. Twitter, the news, and the zillion Corona text I am getting from family and friends; I wanted to shut it off, but my mind would not let me. Nevertheless, we were in it, and we were going to make the best out of our experience.
Before everything went up in smoke, we spent three days roaming around the city. Here are some of the highlights.
They have two rooftops with beautiful views of the city. But, they have two very different vibes.
Circulo de Bellas Artes – This is an arts & culture center that happens to have a rooftop with spectacular views. There was one very noticeable thing here, the crowd. We felt like were on spring break. There were study-abroad students everywhere. The legal drinking age in Madrid is 18, so imagine being at a bar with 19-year-olds. Technically, it was spring break, but it made for interesting people watching and ear hustling.
Note – it’s 5 Euro per person to access the rooftop. Their prices for drinks are overpriced for Madrid, but they are capitalizing on tourism most definitely. They also have tapas available to order as well. Just be prepared to spend 10-15 Euros per drink here. At other bars and restaurants, you can get a drink for 5-7 Euro.
Hotel RUI Plaza España – This rooftop was more our style and speed. We went to this one at night versus day time, and we could already see a clear distinction. The vibe was much more sophisticated, and the patrons looked more like locals and world travelers versus someone studying abroad. And the view was STUNNING! It couldn’t get much better than this. The rooftop is a 360 view of the city, so anywhere you sit, you will not be disappointed.
Again, drinks and food are overpriced for the city. But it was worth it. We were here on a Wednesday night, so it was “slow,” but we could tell that if it were a weekend, or not a pandemic outbreak, things would have been much busier. The floor directly below the rooftop mimics and indoor dance club. It’s a hot spot in the city, for sure. It’s also brand new to Madrid.
Cost – 10 Euros per person to enter the rooftop.
Wine & Jamón Tour
If you are going to Spain, you have to take a wine and jamón (ham) tour. Their jamón is some of the best-tasting ham, or prosciutto, we had ever tasted. And the wine is dangerously good.
We did our wine tour the day 45 announced the EU travel ban. Madrid is six hours ahead of EST, so when the news broke, were we fast asleep. After uncovering we didn’t HAVE to leave that Friday, we decided to continue with our pre-planned itinerary. And because of that, instead of it being a group wine tour, it was just my Husband & I and the tour guide.
I recommend taking at least one guided food and wine tour while you are visiting the city because you are going to learn much more about the food and wine than if you were to stroll up to a wine tasting counter. We learned what makes the jamón so unique in Madrid, it’s the black hoofed pigs, and we also learned that a GREAT bottle of wine cost merely 2-3 Euros. WHAT?!
If it wasn’t for some of the tips our guide gave us, we might have been missing out or overpaying for certain things. Not to mention, he was able to squeeze in some extra stuff for us since we were the only ones who showed up.
Royal Palace of Madrid
No visit to a foreign country is complete without a glimpse, or tour, of historic buildings where Kings & Queens of the past and current day spend their time. It’s very similar to people wanting to visit the White House if they have never been to DC.
The guided tour was a little under two hours, and we got to view 26 of the 3,400+ rooms the palace has. The architecture and history were amazing. My husband is a huge history buff, so this is right up his alley. And I love taking pictures, so being able to snap some historic images was priceless.
Not to mention we learned that the current King of Spain, Felipe VI of Spain, became King because his father and former King, Juan Carlos I, had to give up his throne for various reasons, one of them being he had a mistress in Africa.
Yes, we did the typical bus city tour. We didn’t do the hop-on-hop-off tour, but we did the Madrid Highlights city tour that took us around in an air-conditioned coach bus, and we saw the highlights of Madrid. If it weren’t for this activity, we would not have seen their advanced business district, the high-end shopping area, the gates of Madrid, their bullfighting arena, and a ghostly scary statue of just Christopher Columbus’s head.
Note: I had ZERO idea the significance of Christopher Columbus to Spaniards. I do not remember any correlation between Spain & Columbus while learning about “the discovery of America” when I was in grade school. I just remember this European White man claiming he was the first to discover America, which we know is false. But that tells you how much history is being erased. I also learned about the Moors, Black Africans, who ruled Spain for 800 years. The Moors brought advancements in astronomy, mathematics, geography, chemistry, and so much more to Spain. The Spanish have tried to eradicate this from the history books, go figure. No wonder we don’t learn about this. Feels very familiar.
No trip to Spain is complete without seeing a live Flamenco show. We visited Café de Chinitas for an authentic performance. Typically they would have a packed house, we could tell, but this Thursday night was different. The performers put on a show for an audience of four, and they did not let up on the energy, technique, or experience they gave. I felt the power and soul of the singers and dancers as they performed. It was incredible. This is a MUST when you visit.
The streets of Madrid come alive after midnight. Most discotecas do not open until after midnight. You will never be without entertainment in Madrid. We still were able to experience a slice of late-night dining and bar scene right before the entire city shut down.
Bodega de los Secretos – We dined here on our first night. It is a Mediterranean style restaurant sitting in an old cellar/cave. Each table has it’s own private cove, which was great for social distancing. I give the food and wine – 5 Stars. Entrees do not come with “American-like sides,” so order side dishes to accompany your main course. Order the octopus for an app! Yum!
Ojalá – This is a bar with a beach in their basement. Yes, you heard me correctly. Their entire basement is covered in beach sand, and you sit on very low, ground-like, tables and benches. Drinks are good and cheap, and they serve bar bites. A great stop if you are bar-hopping.
Vacaciones Cocktail Bar – This was our last stop on Thursday night. It was after midnight, and the city was preparing for their Friday shut down. We walked into this bar, and it smelled so beautiful. It smelled like bleach! We said, “Yes, this is our spot.” We saw the staff working hard cleaning menus, tables, chairs, and wearing gloves to make drinks. We felt like the COVID-19 was nowhere in sight; of course that’s a joke. But it was a good feeling to see the city was taking this thing seriously. I already knew America was going to be different.
Vacaciones was the final stop on our Madrid city adventure. We scheduled to fly to Porto, Portugal in the morning. The next day at the airport, as we stood in line to check our bags, I happen to look down at my American Airlines app. I did not expect what was about to happen next…
Quick shoutout to my travel agent, Tasha @ RTR Travel. She designed a beautiful stay for us in Madrid and throughout Portugal. We were able to take full advantage of everything in Madrid, but will re-book our Portugal portion at a later date. Check her out on Instagram and book your next trip with her!
Check back later this week to read about my experience being in Madrid during the coronavirus pandemic. Our final 48 hours in Madrid was nothing like the first 72. It went from romantic walks down aesthetically pleasing neighborhood streets to what-the-f*ck-is-happening right now..