Bright lights in the Big City

VARIETY: The streets of Madrid have something for everyone.

BRIGHT lights, Big City! There is nothing like the buzz of a capital city to give you a new lease of life. The hustle bustle of people going about their busy lives, the challenge of an unfamiliar transport system and the clanking of cups early in the morning as the masses grab a quick cortado en route to their offices.

After months ensconced in rural Spain I felt quite the country bumpkin and not entirely prepared for my day in Madrid. 

Accessing the centre from the airport is relatively easy, it is 25 minutes by taxi or a crisis-busting €4.50 one-way and under 40 minutes by the clean and seemingly efficient metro.

My mission, which I had chosen to accept, was to renew my passport in the embassy-district of Salamanca. It is an area adorned by tree-lined boulevards, quaint cafes and ultrachic hotels. 

Not forgetting the shopping Mecca of Calle Serrano, where – despite the name – there is plenty more for sale than Spanish ham. Stores, boutiques and eclectic eateries line the length of this street and, for our Russian Oligarch readers, I can add that it is the home of the likes of Gucci, Chanel and Prada. 

Not willing to part with family heirlooms or remortgage the house, I headed instead for a coffee at Starbucks, one big city treat that I miss. Briefly last year, one popped up in Palma airport but since then it has been boarded up and abandoned every time I pass.

On the smaller streets of Calle Ayala and Calle Hermosilla, perpendicular to Serrano, there were more individual and reasonably priced shops. I would have been well-advised to have bought a pair of flat shoes at this point, but I didn’t think about that until much later when my feet were ready to complain to Amnesty International about their inhumane treatment. Madrid is a lovely city to walk around, but best not in high heels. 

Fortunately there are some great watering holes around to rest weary feet and to refuel. I road tested one – ‘Tomate’, in Calle Fernando el Santo – which offered delicious salads, seafood dishes and wood fire oven pizzas all served with finesse and attentiveness. My local lunch companion suggested that I must try the other hot spots Ten con Ten and Punto MX on a future visit. Reservations should definitely be made in advance. 

After lunch and with five hours until my return flight, I continued to pound the calles de Madrid in my heels, heading to the Thyssen Museum to see the impressive exhibition on Hyper Realism. The alternative was the Salvador Dali exhibition at the Museo Reina Sofia, but I had been warned that the queues may make me miss my plane. And the location of the Thyssen was conveniently opposite the Ritz Carlton, which has the prettiest garden for a post-cultural drink. I figured that what I had saved in transport by walking could be spent on a cool glass of Rosado as it was only marginally more pricey than anything at the airport and of far better quality. 

A block away from the Ritz is the lush and ample Parque del Retiro; being a warm and sunny day, all the rental rowing boats were out on the lake and ice creams were selling like hot cakes, so to speak.

Across the park, the metro stop Ibiza provided the connecting portal back to the airport for my return flight. A long day, but definitely do-able should circumstances prevent an overnight stay. But if you heed just one piece of my advice, then make it the shoe one, because in the big city, flats rule. 

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