Three days with just one kid in Madrid

Continuing A’s super lucky run as a 9 year old whose parents take him to see awesome sporting events because they want to go themselves, we decided to get tickets to see the men’s and women’s professional tennis tournament in Madrid.  This tournament typically gets many of the top players, and being in Spain, we figured there would be a great chance of seeing Rafael Nadal play (did we get to see him? well, you have to read on to find out…).

We took a really comfortable train up to Madrid on Saturday morning (it was slightly expensive, but I think that was because I booked late and we ended up in first class), and spent Saturday and Sunday seeing the sights in Madrid before heading to the tournament on Monday.

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big comfy seats on the train – way better than an airplane!

Here were our favorite things in Madrid:

THE ROYAL PALACE

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The Palacio Real is official residence of the Spanish Royal family in Madrid, though it is actually only used for state events (and when it is, the palace is closed). Luckily, it was open the day we went, so we were able to tour around.  We couldn’t be bothered to wait in the long line to rent an audio guide, but luckily, things were fairly well signposted. I am sure we could have gotten more out of it with the audio guide, but we enjoyed it even without it.

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When we first walked into the central courtyard, we had a great view of the palace in front of us.
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Meanwhile, behind us was the beautiful Catedral de la Almuedena

Walking into the palace, we went up a magnificent marble staircase.

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which opened into a grand foyer, with a ceiling to rival parts of the Vatican museum.

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After the entry way, we walked through room after decadent room.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures, which I verified by trying to take one and getting yelled at (A hates when I do stuff like that! In my defense, I didn’t know we weren’t allowed to take pictures in this particular room). I will post the picture, but if my blog ever gets famous I will take it down so I don’t get banned from Spain.

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This picture is really not worth getting in trouble for. I didn’t realize I couldn’t take a picture here. If I was going to take an illegal picture, I would’ve taken one of something better. Here I was just trying to take a picture of the amazing marble walls.

We walked through many immaculately decorated rooms, including my favorite, a huge dining room where you could just picture large state dinners taking place.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed touring through the palace.

STROLLING THROUGH THE CITY

Due to a traumatic local train ride to Pompeii, A wanted to avoid riding the metro as much as possible (but it was not crowded at all when we did ride), so we ended up typically taking the metro wherever we planned to go for the day, then making our way back to our Airbnb by foot.  This ended up being an awesome way to visit the city! Cities like Rome, Paris and London may have tons of big name sites to see, but much of Madrid’s charm is just in the parks and neighborhoods.

We walked through the famous, central El Retiro park,

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through Plaza Mayor,

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and along the beautiful Gran Via.

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MERCADO SAN MIGUEL

Wow, this place was a tapas-filled paradise!  We chanced upon this indoor market near Plaza Mayor and it was an amazing experience.  The place is full of food and drink stalls, offering all types of tapas, drunks and treats.  It was quite crowded, but we circled the entire market once to take note of what looked the best, then went back to pick up a few things from different stalls.  The food didn’t disappoint (though I would guess it could vary largely by vendor), and the small portions meant it was inexpensive enough that we could try a few different things.  It was a very neat place to have a meal (or two) in Madrid.

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MUSEO DEL PRADO & CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA

We are not huge art lovers but enjoy a good art museum, particularly the ones we have been to in London and Washington D.C.  Taking advantage of having only one kid with me (and the one most willing to visit an art museum), I decided to try to tackle both the Prado & Reina Sofia.

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Our first stop was Reina Sofia, which focuses on 20th century Spanish art.  We walked around a bit, but didn’t spend all that much time there. We decided this wasn’t our favorite kind of art. However, we did see its most famous paining, Guernica by Pablo Picasso, and learn about its fascinating history, so that is a worldschooling win 😉   A painting was commissioned by the Spanish government for the World’s Fair in January of 1937, but Picasso didn’t know what to paint right away.  Then, in April of 1937, German bombers, at the request of Franco, bombed the Basque town of Guernica, killing mostly women and children gathered in town for market day.  Picasso’s painting represented the innocent dead and dying on that day.  After the painting was presented at the World’s Fair, it took a tour in Europe and eventually the US.  While the painting was in the US, Franco took power in Spain, and Picasso requested that “that the painting should not be delivered to Spain until liberty and democracy had been established in the country”.  The painting remained outside of Spain until after the death of Franco, and finally in 1981, was returned to Spain.  It is a fascinating story, and we stared at the painting as long as A was willing to sit still.

When we arrived at the Prado, we found out they had a children’s activity book, so we happily took that and used it as a guide, figuring the activities would be based on the highlights of the museum.  The guide was definitely not the best we have ever done, it was a little bit serious and boring, and it was in Spanish, which made it harder for me to help.  But, it was still good to have – better than nothing, I’d say.

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The museum focuses on Spanish artists, as would be expected, with lots of Italian and Dutch works as well. The museum was okay, but as I mentioned earlier, not one of my favorites at all.  Just the opinion of a non-artistic art critic : )

AND…last but not least –

MUTUA MADRID OPEN TENNIS TOURNAMENT

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The tennis tournament was held at a stadium on the south side of town, and it was really easy to reach by taking the metro to a stop on a southern line, then taking a direct bus to the stadium.  Now, I will tell you right now – the schedule of play for our day at the tournament did NOT have Rafael Nadal on it.  We were sad, but still excited that we would see Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova playing (both former #1 and multi-grand slam winners).  We had seats for the main stadium, but all the other match and practice courts were available to see as well.  On our day, the first match on center court was not one we were dying to see, so first thing we did was head to the practice courts.

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It was so much fun to be able to see women and men players, practicing with coaches or hitting partners or other players, wearing their casual practice clothes and just looking so much more real than they do in the big matches we might see them in on TV.  We also got to watch a few matches between lower ranked players in singles and doubles, who were relegated to the smaller (spectator-seating wise) courts.  As we walked through, we saw a practice court with a HUGE crowd. Who could be there practicing!?!

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Yep, you guessed it! NADAL!  At first, we were on the top outer edge and couldn’t really see anything, especially poor short A.  But eventually, we managed to find seats just a few rows up from the court.

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It was so much closer than we would be in the big stadium where he normally plays, and rather than just watching a point play out, we got to watch him hit forehand after forehand, serve after serve, and service return after service return.  It was fun to see him go about his practice, and even see him laugh and joke with his team.

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In fact, his coach is a former Spanish pro, Carlo Moya, and I can remember when he played (he is about my age!), so it was fun to watch the two Spanish tennis stars playing together.  Not to spoil the rest of the day, but this was the highlight of the tournament for me!  (A didn’t appreciate it as much, he said he preferred watching a “real match”, but I let him know that his opinion was wrong! 😉 )

Anyway, we did eventually make it to our seats at center court, and enjoyed watching both Sharapova and Djokovic win their matches.

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All in all, it was a great weekend in Madrid with this kid!

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