Why do I love Madrid so much? I guess it is the energy. After Northern Europe, the Spanish are effusive, loud and full of joie de vivre. In fact, if you’re visiting Madrid over the weekend and like your nights early, take my advice and pack ear-plugs. The early birds in the city and the night-lifers usually greet one another in the streets around 5 am, and it’s not quiet!
I stayed in the small Liabeny Hotel within walking distance from Puerto do Sol, and I suggest that unless you want a quiet holiday (in which case, why come to Madrid?) stay within shouting distance of the iconic Puerto do Sol. It is not unlike Notre Dame in Paris: tourists and locals alike have to traverse it several times a day. If energy flags and your purse is feeling particularly light, all you need do is to find a bench and then just stay put, armed with a bottle or two of water, can of Coke and a newspaper or book. That way, you can spend hours looking at Madrilenas (which is what the people of this beautiful city are called), pretending to read and basking in the warm sunshine (or cool breeze – whatever Nature supplies you with) for around three or four hours.
One hot tip: don’t sit on a chair. All restaurants, bars and cafes have chairs in the open air, which are priced higher than those indoors. So sought after are these chairs, that you could go one minute and be the only person in the restaurant. Five minutes later, you may not find an empty seat. When service is over, the chairs are carefully folded one on top of the other. Seekers of free seating have to make do with benches that exist on some roads and in most plazas as well as stone walls around fountains.
Puerto do Sol gets my vote for the most interesting, colourful area of the entire city, but I’d encourage you to find yours. On the plaza itself is the most popular and traditional pastry shop in the city, La Mallorquina, which also serves hot chocolate and churros – a light as air cigar of pastry that is the Madrilena’s accompaniment of choice with hot chocolate. Like all places in this exuberant country, the hottest area to be seen in has no seating. You just stand with your elbows tucked close to you and enjoy the press of beautiful – and not so young or beautiful – people all ordering Coronas de la Almudena with coffee.
That’s what the deal is about tapas. You don’t sit in a bar and order. You stand up at the counter, elbows pressed to your side: you cannot intrude on your neighbour’s piece of real estate, can you? And eat and drink. The name of the game is moderation: you never have more than one drink and one round of tapas at one place, but over 6 hours, it is easy to throw moderation to the winds.