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Madrid in 52 Hours: It Can Be Done

By Bill Frischling and Jennifer Canty
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 21, 1998; Page E02

Europe can be savored for endless months, if you have the time. You can spend a full week appreciating just the architecture at the Hermitage, or to absorb the splendor of the Louvre. But with bargain fares placing Europe in the same price range as California, it is equally possible to make a dent in your European appetite on a two-day getaway.

We tried this recently on a spontaneous weekend to Madrid, and, to everyone's surprise but our own, it went magnificently. Just a little bit of discipline, and a few rules, made this possible.

1. Take an overnight flight and sleep on the plane. The snooze on our Friday afternoon flight made the trip possible. We skipped a good movie and passed on what was sure to be a delicious dinner of chicken or chicken. To help, we asked the stewardess before normal beverage service for a glass of Chardonnay. We were asleep before Newfoundland.

2. Pretend it's morning when you arrive, no matter what. Waking up six time zones away was disorienting. Being trapped in customs with a plane-load of high school kids from South Carolina didn't help. But the first thing we did was go straight to the hotel and indulge in morning rituals: a long, hot shower and breakfast of bacon, cheese and more bacon. (Proteins, we had read, give you a longer energy kick.) Three hours on the ground and we were awake (almost), adjusted and ready to go.

3. Keep a tight list of things to do. We're both walkers, and had planned our wanderings in advance, though we made some additional trims after we arrived. We wanted to see Picasso's "Guernica" at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, row a boat in the Parque del Retiro and eat some excellent paella. Oh, and do a little wandering. Everything else would be gravy.

The first day we walked down Paseo de Recoletos to the Calle de Alcala, through the Plaza Mayor and over to the Palacio Real. Along the way, we shopped, hunted for a sandwich shop that didn't advertise with a dead pig in the window and just enjoyed the city. We spent an hour at the Picasso exhibit in the afternoon (Mission 1: complete). As most restaurants don't open until 9 p.m., we took a three-hour evening nap at the hotel. The nap was a necessity, and refreshing. That led to an excellent, leisurely Valentine's Day dinner of prawns in a cream sauce at La Nicolasa on the Calle de Velazquez (no paella on the menu. We had forgotten to check in advance).

On Sunday, tired feet led us to take a few cabs. We spent the morning enjoying a quick tour of the Museo del Prado. A short walk away was the Parque del Retiro, where we rented a rowboat for $4. Two down, one to go.

4. Don't be afraid to break Rule 3. On a whim, we caught a cab back to the Palacio Real and walked up through the Parque del Oeste to the Teleferico, a cable car that takes you over the Casa del Campo. It was the best detour we could have taken, providing incredible views of Madrid. We drank beer and had a sandwich (no dead pig) at the terminus and wrote postcards, most of which began "Hey, guess where we are?"

That night at Al-Andalus, a touristy restaurant in another hotel, we had some spectacular paella. Mission accomplished.

5. Save yourself some time to veg when you return. We got back home after an eight-hour flight Monday at about 4 p.m. Surprisingly, we were awake the whole flight, being fully adjusted to Madrid time. Back at home, we hung out, marveled that we had done a European vacation on two days' notice, got our pictures developed, watched "Ally McBeal" to force ourselves to stay awake and went to bed at a normal time. We were awake at a sane hour the next morning and ready for work. Not a lick of jet lag.

The damage, for two: Air tickets, including tax, $692. Hotel, $203. Paella dinner, $100. Souvenirs, snacks and incidentals, about $225 (sandwiches, saffron, postcards, cab fare and a really cool Nehru jacket from El Corte Ingles). Total: $1,220, or $23.46 for each of the 52 hours we actually spent in Madrid ($17.94 per hour if you count travel time of eight hours each way). And since it was Presidents' Day weekend, we didn't even have to spend a vacation day.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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