Here we go, the 50 in 50 challenge, do 50 things I’ve never done before in my 50th year. They just can’t all be glamorous and amazing, limited time and budget and all that, however as No.1 will actually be achieved on the big day itself, a suitable treat from the hubster is of course in order.
26 years married ( child bride you all cry!) and we’ve had an excellent tradition of always taking each other away for our suitably off season birthdays, just a night, maybe two, usually UK based, the standard of hotel going up and down as our jobs and life stages varied. Big birthdays however, deserve bigger destinations….Paris for my 40th, Barcelona for his 50th and I know he was armed with the list of Europe’s major cities still on my wish list. Where would we go?
I was thrilled to hear Madrid was the destination and I love the excitement of studying the guide book to make my hit list of ‘must see’ attractions. I had the luxury start of the airport Club Lounge and unlimited champagne ( nice touch ) to re-read and cross check my visit plan.
So many reviews made much of the ‘steel blue’ skies, surely a summer thing I’m thinking? but no, we spent four days in November looking at stunning, cloudless, steel blue skies. Unusually warm by November standards, luck was really with us. We stayed at the perfectly located and very funky boutique ‘Dear Hotel’ oh the irony for those that know me well ! Its highlight was an amazing roof terrace and splash pool with utterly beautiful views across to the Royal Palace, a trendy bar and venue in the summer and a stunning place to take your morning coffee or champagne on my birthday and savour the atmosphere in November.
We ate tapas of course, drank rioja (which somehow tastes so much better in Spain) , we even tried really hard to do the Spanish thing and eat late, booking 9pm tables. Culturally that’s really hard when you usually have your ‘tea’ at 6.30pm , but I wanted the real atmosphere which was lively and vibrant. I found it easy to fill up in the day on Madrid’s signature dish which was a Bocadillo de calamares…..a squid ring sandwich to you and I. Odd, given that Madrid isn’t on the coast.
And on my birthday itself ? Well it was a public holiday in Madrid, celebrated with an amazing parade…..really, they shouldn’t have! It made the central streets even more vibrant and exciting to see traditional Spanish costume worn on something other than a hideous plastic doll.
I could wax lyrical for pages on the sites, Temple Debod, an Egyptian monument moved block by block that looked stunning as dusk fell as it stood in its own reflective pool overlooking the Royal Palace hill, Plaza Mayor a square as majestic as any across Europe and Puerta del Sol, bustling and featuring the iconic bear that was the same age as me. Yet another reason Madrid was just ‘meant to be’ for my birthday.
The beautiful Royal Palace was almost glowing white and simply stunning in the sunlight from the outside with jaw droppingly opulent staterooms on the inside. Strolling across the palace courtyard to hear the midday chimes from the Almudena Catherdral will be a memory I will treasure for as long as I can.
I loved the shops and restaurants and my work with an international team has benefits when you can ask a Madrid born colleague for a recommendation as to where you should eat on your big day. Amelia suggested a stunning restaurant called Atico with awesome views of the nighttime skyline, a short stroll from the hotel. Reassuringly expensive, decadent cocktails, fine wine and delicious food…exactly what being 50 needs.
My biggest regret ( I know, how could there be a regret?) about my truly blissful few days was my decision not to take my running kit which normally travels everywhere with me. I thought with being on the go all day and walking miles, a run would be crazy and impossible to fit in. But I never realised how green and flat Madrid would be. There was park after beautiful park and it seemed everyone was running or cycling. To have run through the stunning Retiro park would have been just amazing and a perfect way to take it all in and with such gorgeous weather too. I would love to go back for Madrid half marathon or 10km. The only way left to enjoy the parks was sitting outside with a beer, so maybe it wasn’t all bad. But I still had ‘run envy’ to see all those lucky runners go past me.
So, visiting Madrid…challenge No.1 complete. I actually managed 2 further challenges while in Madrid so watch out for the next two ‘spanish flavour’ blogs and to end my week on a bonus, I get my wish….I have just heard I have to be in Madrid with work at the end of January, in a hotel close to Retiro park….I’m not convinced the weather will be so kind but ‘hello running kit’ we’re off on our travels again!