Today is Wednesday, September 19th and we just landed in Madrid, Spain from the United States. Our journey was quite a bit more difficult than we anticipated mainly because our United Global Upgrades that we had submitted for 4 months earlier did not clear in advance of our flights as expected. Despite that huge disappointment, we were happy to finally arrive on our vacation at 10:00am in the morning.
Walking through the Madrid airport (Madrid-Barajas), it seemed much older than I remember from our visit back in 2009 and not at all modern when considering several several other updated European Airports like Heathrow and Frankfurt. Customs was a non-event with a couple of flips through the US passport and on to baggage claim. Our baggage came off the carousel within 5 minutes of showing up at the claim, a far better experience than the 90 minutes we waited in 2011 while in Rome, Italy. We walked out and quickly located our driver with the Madrid airport transfer service "Ares Móbile" to take us to our hotel, the Westin Palace Madrid.
This was our second stay at this hotel in Spain and each time we have been impressed. On each occasion the Westin Place Madrid has had a superbly friendly welcoming staff and had been able to accommodate an early arrival and check-in for us. This time was no different with Celia checking us early to an upgraded suite and and also answering the questions we had. We will continue to stay at the Westin Palace each time we return to Madrid.
Now that we were checked in, we realized that while it was only 11:00am, we were absolutely starving -- not having adjusted to the 9-hour time difference from the West Coast. Given we were only in Madrid for a single day before heading to San Sebastian, we knew we had to make a good choice. Thankfully, Yelp! continues to expand its usefulness in Europe over the past couple of years and we were able to locate a few restaurants with good ratings nearby.
The real challenge was finding one that was open at such and early time. There were just a handful and after checking out the reviews -- we decided that Miranda would be a good choice to have a mix of Spanish and non-Spanish food items -- and the key was that they were open. To the server's surprise when we asked for the lunch menu vs. the desayuno (breakfast) -- we were able to get a good meal where I had the Iberian Ham & Beans and Ashley had an Italian Salad (Arugula, Tomato, and Mozzarella).
After our lunch, we decided to take some afternoon rest before heading out for our big evening, the Tapas and Wine Tour by Insiders Madrid (Trip Advisor Ranking here). However, before our tour we decided to stroll around Madrid in the late afternoon sun since the Puerto Del Sol and the Plaza Mayor are within short walking distance from the hotel. After enjoying an afternoon snack and sangria in the Plaza Mayor (which remember, will be very expensive based on location -- kind of like having beach-front property -- you're paying for the view) and doing some people watching, we headed to Plaza Santa Ana to meet up with Johanna from Insider's Madrid.
Right off the bat, it was easy to connect with Johanna and learn a little bit about her as we were waiting for the other group of 6 to join us. Then, as the other group arrived -- we knew we were in for a special treat since one of the couples had taken the same tour just a year earlier. They enjoyed the tour so much that they came back a year later and brought 4 of their friends! After the initial introductions, we headed out.
The Tapas and Wine Tour in Madrid, Spain from Insiders Madrid consists of 4 varying stops -- including the last one for dessert. In our case, they were all very different and offered very distinct tastes ranging from Sherry to Rioja wine and cured tuna to flash-fried asparagus. We had an excellent time and even better company as we ate our way through the first three stops. To top it off at the end, we completed the night with "Churros and Chocolate" a fitting dessert for a perfect tour.