We're usually hanging out on the continent for our spring break at some point in May - whilst carefully avoiding ESC finals week on my account - but 2016 was different. Due to the capital city's inland location, we thought the temperatures might be a bit higher so we decided to bring our spring holiday forward a couple of weeks.
So we were Madrid-bound in the last week of April, and by the time we touched down at the massive Madrid Airport, the temperature was warm and sunny. Very different from what it was at home - let's just call it a very long winter! And having pre-booked transfers always makes you feel like a celebrity as you emerge from baggage reclaim to find a taxi driver holding up a card with your name on it! That's one of the best things about the internet - the opportunity to book your own DIY city breaks without the need for those travel agents and their patronising ways (!)
Following a reasonably scenic journey into the city, it quickly became clear that like many of my other much-loved European cities, Madrid loves the great outdoors. It was reassuring to see many of the city's inhabitants sitting outdoors at pavement cafes. This might not seem much to some but it's a very distinctive aspect of foreign travel for us, especially when you come from a country where summer is very short - measure it in days rather than weeks!
We were based in the old town, just south of the massive Plaza Mayor, the city's main square. I would definitely recommend this area as a base for exploring the city centre on foot; and of course there are many, many restaurant options around. My pre-holiday worries and misconceptions about the city - many of which related to the availability of mainly-vegetarian food in a city famed for all things pork and seafoody - were quickly laid to rest. And it wasn't long before we found tapas - including some delicious queso manchego...
Faithful travelling companion, meanwhile, headed straight for the calamares!
After these and some other tapas for dinner, we did some exploring around Plaza Mayor and the surrounding back streets, before ending our evening at the Mercado de San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor, at the top of the old town. This is, on the surface, a food market but it's so much more than that. For it is also a top spot for socialising of an evening in Madrid so it would be very rude not to sample the beer and sangria on offer from the numerous food stalls. They're also teasing us with a Madrid speciality - churros. We didn't try them on our first night but rectified this on day 2!
Before coming on holiday to Madrid we had this notion that it was an all-night party city, where "closing time" was an unusual concept. The reality was very different however, on a Tuesday night in April. Closing time did exist, even in the Mercado de San Miguel, so just after midnight we were heading back to our hotel, but with no complaints from us - it had been a long day, and we needed a good night's sleep to conserve our energies for our first full day in the Spanish capital tomorrow.