The team we dealt with at the AC Palacio Retiro were brilliant, nothing was too much trouble, and in particular, a very pleasant young man named Sergio was extremely helpful. We mentioned we might like to take a private tour, and within minutes he was back, with one which we felt would suit us – four hours with a private driver, in a Mercedes – how could we refuse? … The cost was 75 Euro per person and it was very worthwhile.
At 9am, our driver and guide, the very dapper Cecil arrived in a beautiful black Mercedes, and proceeded to introduce us to Madrid. We were able to get out and take photos at many places, beginning (for the boys) at the home of Real Madrid – a pretty impressive arena which holds 80,000.
Cecil was then keen to show the Gate of Europe (La Puerta de Europa) in the Plaza de Castilla. It comprises twin inclined office towers (Torres Kio) – they are very impressive.Our next stop was the Plaza de Torres de Las Ventas bullring – an arena with an obvious moorish influence, and I loved the statues outside with the wonderful detail of the Matador’s costumes.
Our next port of call was something of a surprise. We were off to see the Egyptian Temple of Debod, set in a pretty park which offers a fabulous view across the city to the mountains beyond. The temple was gifted to Madrid by the Egyptians in 1968 to save it from being lost forever because of the construction of the Aswan Dam.
We moved on to see the Teatro Real (Opera House) after taking in the view in the park housing the Temple. The area around the Opera House is pleasant- very colourful and pretty.
The Catholic Cathedral in Madrid, La Almudena is a must see and Cecil gave us time to do this. It is a more modern Cathedral and is simple and colourful. I loved it and I enjoyed the fact that you could view the Virgin Mary by ascending the stairs at the far end of the Cathedral. It felt rather special.
Next we were off to see the covered market near the Plaza Mayor, Mercado San Miguel. It was jam packed with not only fresh produce, fish, hams, and delicious sweet treats, but also with vibrant Madrilenos squeezed into every available space, standing and enjoying tapas and drinks – probably a Saturday lunchtime ritual.
Having driven through Puerta del Sol, past the famous Kilometre Zero among other places, our final destination was the Royal Palace of El Pardo – the place where Franco lived after the civil war. Again, we felt a little ambivalent about it, but Cecil offered to take us there (it is a little way out of the main city) and and we accepted.
Taking a tour like this is an excellent way to work out where you might like to spend your time, and while Cecil was not such a mine of information as other tour guides we have had, he certainly was easy to understand, he took us to the right places, and was very pleasant and obliging.
Post tour, we lunched at Ramses under large shade umbrellas and then it was time for shopping…
I still had not had a really good go at Zara so off I went, but it was a complete shambles – both at 2.30pm when it was absolutely jam packed and again at 7.30pm when I went back thinking it would be quieter. It was a disappointing experience – it was messy and busy with very long queues for both the changing rooms and the till sovI gave up. For me, Zara in Paris is the best place to shop.
Phil and I dined around corner at the excellent Tierre del Queiles and we completed the evening with another walk in the irresistible Buen Retiro Park.
Next post – The Galleries