After a long and pretty exhausting day the day before, I had a bit of a lie in on Saturday morning. But there was one place in Madrid I definitely wanted to check out for breakfast, so wary of not being able to laze in bed too long, I was up at about 9.30 and soon back on the Metro, heading for Sol station.
Climbing out into Puerta del Sol, a wide, open plaza, the sun was already beating down, and the temperature fast approaching 30 degrees. The square was filling out with tourists and people strolling around with umbrellas – providing them with some shade. Not why we at home would be using umbrellas at the end of September!
A sweet treat for breakfast
A short stroll away, I turned down a narrow passage – Pasadizo de San Gines – and came across the building I’d actually stumbled upon on my first evening in Madrid. Chocolateria San Gines.
Realistically I could have come here at 4, or even 5am, and still tasted what I’d come to sample. Chocolateria San Gines is open 24 hours, and apparently often supplies hungry clubbers with a late night or early morning snack.
The Chocolateria has been around since 1894. After originally being built as an inn and guesthouse, four years later it started turning out what has made it famous today – and what I’d come to taste.
There was a queue when I arrived at both of the two doors. One seemed to lead to a room that was standing or take-out only, so I took my place in the longer queue for the entrance that led into a bigger space with tables and chairs.
The place runs on an efficient system – you place your order at the till, get handed a ticket – and a short while after you take your seat, your order will arrive. The queue seemed to move pretty quickly so don’t feel too disheartened if it looks long when you arrive!
To be honest I can’t really remember looking at the menu at all. I knew what I wanted! I placed my order, and managed to get one of the last free tables.
I wrote some postcards, and waited. And waited. Meanwhile people seated after me seemed to receive their order. To be fair, no-one could accuse the waiters of being slow or lazy – they literally operated in a blur, deftly delivering orders and clearing tables. I managed to catch one’s attention and showed him my ticket. With a nod, he went off to chase up my order.
Less than five minutes later, it arrived on my table. Chocolateria San Gines is famous for churros.
There was a portion of six, still hot to the touch, pieces of deep-fried dough. And then along with my americano, a pot of rich, dark, runny chocolate for dipping purposes. Look at that!
I’ve had churros before which were covered in sugar, and these didn’t compare. They were light, crispy, and warming too. Not your every day breakfast! I was filled up by the time I’d finished my fourth, so decided to leave the others behind rather than try and polish off the lot.
The churros plus my americano came to €5,90, which I thought was pretty fair. It’s a spot that seems to be firmly on most tourists’ list of places to visit in Madrid, but in this case I don’t think that’s a bad thing – it’s a fun experience. Though I would have loved to see how they are made!
A little San Gines shop across the corner sells some chocolate and merchandise from the chocolateria, but I didn’t pick anything up.
Exploring Chueca and Malasaña
After a hectic day on Friday, I’d deliberately left my plans for Saturday loose. In fact I had no specific things I wanted to see that day. My plan, if there was one, was just to wander around the shops and explore two of Madrid’s apparently ‘more hip’ areas – Chueca and Malasaña. One of my maps labelled them the ‘avant-garde’ sections of Madrid.
To get into Malasaña, I had to head back through the main shopping district. Strolling through the streets, I couldn’t help but continuously gaze up at the ornate apartment buildings – I’d love to call one of these apartments home.
Further down the street, I spotted a long meandering queue consisting of seemingly random people.
Assuming they were there for some new store opening or the release of a limited edition something or other, I followed the snaking line to its conclusion, only to find they were in fact queueing to buy lottery tickets – perhaps each hoping to win el Gordo that night.
Soon I was back on Gran Via – Madrid’s main shopping street. It’s got to be said that when I visited, there was a lot of construction going on around the city centre. I was constantly coming across streets that were torn up or cordoned off, getting stuck behind slow moving people on narrowed pavements, and Gran Via’s metro station was closed while I visited too. It made it hard to get a real sense of the wide boulevards which are no doubt usually impressive.
After walking past an ornate looking McDonald’s, I nipped into the Adidas store and had a quick look around.
With my wallet staying resolutely in its pocket, I crossed the road and headed up another shopping street – Calle de Fuencarral – stopping to take a look in Cos.
The street seemed busier if anything than Gran Via. Lined with a mix of chain stores and individual boutiques, it seemed to be where a lot of Madrid’s citizens came to shop.
I managed to avoid stepping into most stores, but I did try a couple of things on in a shop I hadn’t heard of before – Edmmond Studios. Unfortunately they didn’t have the right colour I wanted of anything in my size! 😩
As I made my way up the street, the crowds and shops eventually thinned out. I’d reached the ornate looking Museo de Historia de Madrid or Museum of the History of Madrid.
Turning left by a pharmacy with a giant stuffed bee outside…
…I was soon stepping down much narrower streets. Artwork started appearing on shutters and walls, while butchers and fishmongers plied their trade from small stores.
I headed towards a shop that I’d spotted when my bike tour had passed through Chueca the day before. I’d literally caught a glimpse inside Casa González & González, but thought it may have been worth a repeat visit.
You can see how small a shop it is from outside….
The store was established by two people who after living abroad returned to Spain and found it difficult to find classic, enduring products they’d discovered.
It sells a mix of goods – mostly homewares, but also some toiletries. If the items have one thing in common, though, it’s their muted, natural colour palette. The owners also apparently try to only source products that have a story behind them, and to visit producers whenever possible.
I only managed to get one photo inside – but I think it shows a good idea of the shop’s stock. It was all very to my taste. Slightly Scandinavian looking too!
This was one place where my wallet did come out of my pocket – but it wasn’t for anything too exciting! I bought two door stops and a soap dish 🤪
Nearby, I spotted a square called Plaza Del 2 De Mayo. Bordered by bars and restaurants, there was a small market taking place with a smattering of stalls selling home made clothes and jewellery.
There was also a little kid begging for change from the square’s diners, but get this!
He was on electric roller skates! Hmmmm….
I stood gazing for a while at the plaza’s monument – depicting two characters who played an important role when Madrid’s residents rebelled against Napoleon’s invading troops in an uprising on the day in 1808 that’s given the square its name.
A relaxing lunch
By now it was approaching 2 o’clock – the perfect time for a spot of lunch. I opened up Foursquare and flicked through my guide book to see where nearby could be a good spot, and settled on a branch of a small Spanish chain which I think I’d also visited in Barcelona.
Set in yet another picturesque square, Federal offered al fresco dining too, but the wait for outside tables was about twenty to thirty minutes, which I didn’t feel was worth it.
After being directed to a communal table, I asked instead if I could sit in one of the window seats, and once there, quickly scanned the menu. It’s got an Australian / brunchy type feel – just what I was in the mood for.
I sat in the sun, just watching life in the square.
Again I took a look through my guide book to see what was around, and before I knew it, my food had arrived. When I’m on holiday and see Eggs Benedict on the menu – I just can’t resist.
But in a vague attempt to be healthy at the same time I ordered a “Tommy’s liquid green” juice – containing apple, cucumber, celery, chia seeds and spinach. That made me feel a bit better about my egg based dish.
The bacon was thick and delicious, as was the hollandaise, but the eggs were just ever so slightly undercooked which was a bit disappointing 😩
Pretty quickly after finishing my food and juice, I went and paid my bill which came to €14,80 – £13.30 at the time.
After a quick trip to the loo, I headed back out on to the streets. Wandering along their twists and turns, every now and then you’d spot what seemed to be a picture perfect glimpse of traditional Spain.
A fail and a scooter ride
Next, I made my way to an attraction which I’d read about – and which not only sounded interesting, but slightly mysterious too. It was about a twenty minute walk away, so after putting the address in my phone I dandered through more residential streets. Eventually my phone told me I’d arrived at the attraction – which actually lay beneath street level.
That was what I was greeted with. I stood staring at the building for a good five minutes. I looked at the ground – was I missing a hidden entrance there? I looked at the man sitting on a low wall behind me – was he something to do with it? Was there a doorbell beside that shuttered, derelict shop?
I was just about to stick my head in the open doorway of number 38 when I decided to look up the attraction again. It turned out it had closed 45 minutes earlier – at 3pm 😩. I really wish I’d checked that out beforehand – I’d just assumed it was open until 5 or 6pm.
Deflated, but still a bit puzzled, I decided to head back into Chueca for a look around – but rather than walking all the way, I decided to take the metro. I was a wee bit away from the nearest stop, so decided to test out my scooter skills using a Lime scooter.
Opening up the app, I found there was a free scooter nearby. When using rival app Bird in San Jose, I’d had a bit of hassle – you had to upload a scan of your driver’s licence and have that approved before you could rent a scooter. With Lime, hiring a scooter for the first time was much easier. After entering your phone number in the app, you just scanned the barcode on the bike’s handlebar, waited for the scooter to unlock, and then you were free to ride.
One thing that’s a bit unclear when using the scooters is just where you’re meant to ride them. The apps tend to say not to ride on the pavement, but that’s where most people seem to speed around. As there was a cycle lane where I was, I decided to use that. It took me a while to remember how to get the electric scooter going, but soon I was speeding down the street.
They are brilliant little beasts – travelling at speeds of up to 15mph, they’re the perfect way to get someplace that’s a nightmare to drive to in built up cities and slightly too far to walk. I love them!
A couple of minutes later I was at the Alonso Martinez metro station, and ready to end my ride. To do that, you just park the scooter (neatly!) then press an ‘end ride’ button in the app, and snap a picture of the scooter with the camera on your phone. It’s all very, very convenient. My quick ride cost just 54p!
A market and a great view of the city
After a quick ride on the metro, I was wandering the streets of Chueca, and came across another market – Mercado San Anton.
Thinking this was my chance to explore a real Madrid market as opposed to the touristy one I’d seen the day before, I stepped inside.
This one seemed pretty slick too though. It may not be completely aimed at tourists, but at a guess I’d say it’s definitely targeted at well-heeled locals. The stalls were fancy, and upstairs was an upscale food court.
On the top floor was a restaurant with an outdoors terrace.
After a quick look around, I decided to head back towards the centre of town – to visit a view which I’d been looking forward to seeing since I’d arrived.
After walking back on to Gran Via, I took a left, and after navigating yet more massive roadworks, arrived outside the Círculo de Bellas Artes. It’s a private, cultural centre which puts on lots of different events, but it was the building’s rooftop I was keen to visit.
After queuing for a short while in the line just for the terrace, I paid the small entrance fee of €4, stepped inside the building’s grand foyer…
…and then joined the queue for the lift.
A minute or so later, I was walking on to the terrace.
Círculo de Bellas Artes’ rooftop offers one of the best views of Madrid – a city where there aren’t really that many tall buildings. There’s a cafe and bar – but given the size of the queue for the tiny bar, the ‘reserved’ loungers and the loud clientele that seemed to be occupying them, I don’t think it’s really where I’d fancy going for a drink. Unless I was drunk maybe 🤔 The place was pretty packed.
The views however – were fantástico.
Madrid’s just a gorgeous city with beautiful buildings. I caught an elderly couple taking it in and wondered what their story was. We’re they visitors to Madrid, or just getting a glimpse of the view for the first time?
I wandered around the edge of the building, taking in the views from every angle, and snapping loads of pictures, before joining the short queue for the lift back down to ground level. I’ve no idea what the food or drinks are like – or how they’re priced, but for the views alone, I’d recommend the terrace if you’re in town.
Chilling ’round Puerta del Sol
By now my legs felt like they could do with a bit of a rest, and I just wanted to chill out, so I found a nearby Starbucks, got a frappuccino with my er name on it…
… and sat and caught up with emails and worked out my finances. It was nice just to sit down for half an hour and switch off a bit!
After that bit of R and R I headed back towards the plaza where my day had started. I stopped every now and then to look in shop windows at mesmerising displays like this….
and navigated roadworks once again – this spot was particularly painful!
I arrived at Puerta de la Sol just as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky. It’s a beautiful spot – and I was happy just wandering around for a while, people watching. The area was still packed with a mix of local and tourists.
I eventually managed to squeeze through the crowds to get a picture of the 20 ton statue that’s one of the most famous symbols of Madrid – the bear and the strawberry tree. Both appear on Madrid’s coat of arms.
Then watched in envy as some break-dancers performed a routine.
I reckon me and my mate Jill could have given them a run for their money though!
I had a look around the Apple Store which borders one edge of the square, and then headed to another nearby plaza which both a receptionist at my hotel and Sebastien from the bike tour had recommended as a pleasant place to grab some dinner.
It was a scenic spot, and there were plenty of restaurants lining the square, but to be honest I didn’t fancy more tapas and I wasn’t really in the mood for anything more formal.
So… I decided I’d hire another scooter and whiz along to the nearest McDonald’s. I hadn’t visited Mc’Ds once on this trip, so it was about time!
There was a scooter just a two minute walk away according to the Lime app, but when I turned up, there was a man and woman with a young girl trying to work out how to use the app and unlock it. After waiting for a very long feeling five minutes, they were no further forward, and still trying. I headed off to another nearby scooter only to see two guys jump on it smiling and laughing and speed off. Hope you enjoyed that grrr!
I walked back across the square only to find the couple with the kid STILL trying to unlock the scooter, and someone else waiting in case they couldn’t work it out (in the end they did). With no more available nearby, I had to set off for McD’s on foot 🙄
Now of course in my research, I’d checked out what local specialities might be waiting for me at McDonald’s Spanish outlets. But there wasn’t really anything exciting or unusual which grabbed my fancy. Instead I decided to go for a Big Mac. Spanish restaurants were celebrating the burger’s 50th anniversary with an instant win promotion which seemed to offer the chance to instantly win items like Big Mac notebooks and socks. I fancied the socks in particular!
After checking out the website, I could vaguely make out that you may need to download an app to take part in the competition, but I figured out I’d wait and see what happened when I got my order, thinking there would be a sticker or something on the box.
I ordered using a touch screen kiosk, completing my meal with a big Diet Coke, some wedges and a couple of dips.
There was no sticker – or anything else on the box 😩 I was a bit gutted to be honest! Particularly after seeing someone get presented with a limited edition Big Mac notebook at the counter. I was too exhausted after a day walking and scooting around though to try and sit and work it all out. I just retreated upstairs and tucked in, slightly wishing I’d gone for something different instead.
A rooftop sunset
After dinner, I stepped outside to see the sky slowly filling with rich golden and pink streaks. Once again it seemed like the streets and squares of Madrid were just beginning to spring into life. I decided to head back to the El Cortes Inglés department store, and up to the rooftop terrace I’d visited on my first day to try and get some shots of the sunset.
This time the place was much busier – and it was hard to get a good spot to get a photo from, with pretty drunk people lounging about smoking. I did manage to get this one though.
By now, it was only twenty to nine, but I’d walked 20km over the course of the day, and was more than ready to collapse into bed. I took the metro back to my hotel, and after getting to my room, was soon fast asleep. The next day was to be my last full day in the city, and I was determined to make it back to the underground attraction I’d missed out on earlier in the day!