Mad About Madrid - My Family Travels

Join our editor and her family as they pack a week's worth of fun into a long weekend in Spain's beautiful, family-friendly capital.

$333 for a weekend in Madrid? I began dreaming my husband and I would do Spain’s “City of the Night” as the madrileños do: work and siesta during the day, drink and dine under the stars…Then I remembered our 5-year old son. Fortunately, before Continental’s fare sale expired, I learned that young Spaniards stay up late so they can enjoy the delights of La Buena Vida with their parents. In Madrid, we could have both romance and family, so off we went.


8:30pm — Newark Airport — A weather delay is announced. By the time we take off, we’ve lost four vacation hours and our son has fallen asleep. He sleeps through the flight.


1:30pm — Madrid — We’re at the stunning Palace Hotel. The total but discrete renovation underway at this Starwood property is excused by lower, very affordable rates. Even our son comments on the gilded lobby (ca. 1912) and regal guest room. By 3pm, we’re out strolling in the Parque del Buen Retiro, the green heart of this stucco and wrought iron city. At the boat pond, several performers have set up individual “stages” for a string puppet presentation. We sit on the ground with dozens of other children to admire the 20-minute show, giggling without understanding the dialogue. Then we stroll, with everyone else, around the pond’s perimeter to another performance.

7:30pm — It’s getting late for our pre-ordained siesta. Creeping jet lag and the Palace’s luxurious linens make it very easy to nap. The Concierge has arranged a table at one of the premier night clubs for a midnight show of colorful, costumed flamenco. At 9pm, we take a taxi to Casa Mingo, a highly-recommended cafe grill hidden in a 19th century monastery. Our son is impressed by the dungeon-like quarters lined with bottles of home-made cider, and the rotating spits of golden chickens. We get an outdoor table near lots of other families and watch as kids try to catch the champagne-sized cider corks as they’re popped. Within minutes our son has joined them, first filling his own pockets, then mine, and finally my husband’s (we take 42 corks back to school for woodworking.) He’s ready to sit by the time our fabulous tapas (appetizers) and crispy, salted chicken and potatoes arrive.

11pm — To maintain our adrenalin we walk to the flamenco cafe, by way of Madrid’s famed Gran Via. A bit like the old Times Square, but lively, so we stop for ice cream. At Cafe des Chinitas, the noted Juan Andrés Maya is starring. Our table is so close to the elevated stage that we rest our drinks next to the footlights. Glasses tinkle to the beat of tapping feet, and it’s a mesmerizing performance. Afterwards, our son takes his program and asks me to help him get autographs.


2:30am — It’s 8:30pm in New York, our son’s usual bedtime, and we’re down for the night.

11am — Like a Siren, the hotel’s comforts have seduced us longer than we’d planned. Our tall, glass-enclosed marble shower stall has gilded nozzles at different heights as well as a coiled hose. For 20 minutes, the Child Who Hates Showers is playing Fire Chief, dousing flames and reviving. By 1:30pm we enter the Museo Nacional del Prado (+34 902 10 70 77), one of the world’s great collections of Spanish masters. A long circuitous route past countless El Grecos leads to the gift shop, always our first museum stop. Most of the children’s items are based on “Las Maninas,” the famous Velásquez portrait of Princess Marguerite, and we finally buy a pencil, colored eraser, and a book. This gives our son a vested interest in seeing the painting and in comparing it to all the other portraits of the Princess and her brother Don Carlos.

3:30pm — The outdoor Bar El Museo serves tapas while Regan plays in their fountain. Nearby is the 18th century Atocha Train Station, with high-speed European trains and a glass-domed lobby renovated into a botanical garden with fish-stocked pond. It is stunning. We snack, shake off our jet lag and take the Metro to El Cortes Inglés, one of Europe’s finest department stores. Dia de la Madre banners remind us it’s only a week until Mother’s Day so we shop in utter elegance for our own mothers. Back at our luxurious Palace retreat, the Concierge recommends dinner at Los Galayos in Plaza Mayor, one of the city’s venerable tapas bars.

10pm — The great cobblestoned square of Plaza Mayor, now worn and a bit unseemly, is bordered by ornate 17th century townhouses and cafes. The charming blue- and white-tiled restaurant is dated 1894, with copperware and smoked hams dangling above the bar. The menu is varied and the food delicious, particulary the garlic soup and cochinillo (crispy baby pig). There’s kid-friendly spaghetti as well, but few kids dining amongst the many tourists. As we leave, the madrileño families begin to arrive.


9:30am — Today is Dia de la Madre in Spain! My husband and son proudly present me with beautiful gold earrings (copies of those worn by Don Carlos) bought at the Prado. I’m delighted. And next Sunday I’ll be able to celebrate Mother’s Day all over again! Within 90 minutes we hit El Rastro, Madrid’s celebrated flea market. At Ronda, a tiny blue collar cafe nearby, we consume churros (a long twisted donut), morsels of tortilla (a hearty egg and potato omelette) and irresistiblecafé con leche. For the next few hours we comb the stalls, the usual global jumble of car parts, cotton underwear, bad T-shirts and army surplus. The real action has moved into the two-story shops of antiguëdades that line the length of Ribera de CurtidoresEl Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía occupies a palace near the Prado which was renovated to house Picasso’s “Guernica”. La Reina Sofía is a fantastic sight not only a grand showcase for this classic mural about war but also a terrific collection of modern art, housed in an imaginative structure, well-lit and labeled, absolutely kid-friendly. We spend much more money in their gift shop on Dalí school notebooks than we did at El Rastro.

3pm — The pretty Plaza Sta. Ana is one of Madrid’s hipper neighborhoods and we settle at the small La Chuleta and eat and eat. Back at the Palace, the Concierge informs us that there will be a special Mother’s Day performance of las corridas. Regan and Ron are eager to go to a bullfight; I am skeptical. We grab a quick siesta in the big bed together.

7pm — Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. At the 24,000-seat brick stadium I see men in black, arm in arm with their mothers. A scalper offers us upper level seats; from here the bleeding bulls are very abstract and the thrill of the bullfight becomes the dance of the matador, the lively orchestra playing nearby, and the roar of the appreciative crowd. My son is intrigued by the pageantry but after a few contests my squeamish husband wants to leave. We find many wonderful varieties of ham, cheese, olives, tortillas, sausage and vino rioja at Los Timbales, one of the city’s classic tapas bars just a few blocks from the arena. We’ve beat the bullfight crowds but not the young mothers and children. After dinner we head to Madrid’s Parque de Atracciones, a sophisticated amusement park near the heart of the city. A yellow brick road leads kids onto an aerial steam train, past small roller coasters, rides, a haunted castle with knights, water-squirting contests, and other fun for the one-price admission. Mom is admitted free and given a rose! The park is filled with children under 12 having a very good time.

11:30pm — We take the Metro back to the Gran Via on the way home. Regan’s favorite ice cream, a dixie cup with a “Star One” spaceship hidden in the base, was purchased here and he longs for another one. Alas, the kiosk is closed, so we taxi over to the fabulous Ritz Hotel for a lobby tour and midnight dessert.


7:30am — Up early. We’re eager to try the sumptuous buffet served in the Palace’s stained-glass- domed dining room. As anticipated, the service and the food are truly luxe. We three make a pact to return when renovations are complete so we can be pampered again.

12:30pm — Our flight home departs promptly. We arrive in Newark to a sunny spring day. No hassles, no traffic, home within the hour. We hang out, unpack, have a light dinner and call our envious relatives.

8:30pm- It’s bedtime in New York and, at 2:30am in Madrid, bedtime in Spain as well. Because we partied late with the madrileños, we suffer minimal jet lag and savor maximum memories. Viva Madrid!


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