POSTED ON September 27, 2007 | IN Spain's Wine Country | BY Joe Becerra

At last, we have met up with our friends. Miraculously, we have managed to drive our car in Madrid and find the apartment we have rented in the center of the city. We have rented a three-room apartment on Calle de Estudios from an agency called Friendly Rentals. One of their reps meets us at the apartment to show us the place and give us the keys. The location is fantastic. The Plaza Mayor is about 5-minutes walking distance. There are tons of stores for shopping, restaurants, tapas, and wine bars within easy walking distance. The only glitch is the car. We have to park the car in the underground parking lot conveniently located nearby, but the cost is 25 Euros per day. Ouch!

Our two full days in Madrid are full of activity. Nearby is a market where we shop and stock up on the necessities. Café, leche, aqua, paper products, breakfast items, Manchego cheese, olives, and the like. We plan to eat breakfast in and have lunch and dinner out.. You can buy good wine at the wine bars or as we did at the El Corte Ingles, a wonderful department store somewhat like Bloomindale’s back home.

The Plaza Mayor is a must stop for anyone visiting Madrid. It is truly the ultimate people watching place and a gathering spot for tourists and locals. Our weather is perfect for sitting out on the Plaza Mayor and enjoying a glass of sherry or Verdejo.

The Prado is one of the greatest museums in the world. We take a casual walk to the Museum. We see the works of of Rembrandt, El Greco, Ruebens, Velasquez, Goya, Rafael, and Caravaggio to name a few. It is quite a remarkable museum. Just down the street is another fantastic museum, the Reina Sofia, devoted to 20th century artists. Here we see the works of Picasso, Salvardor Dali, and Joan Miro.

Another attraction to behold is the Royal Palace (photo). To tour this spectacular Palace takes about an hour and is within walking distance of the Plaza Mayor. The Palacio Royale reflects the glory of Spain as it grew into a world power by the 16th Century. The original Palace had been destroyed by fire in 1734 and was rebuilt by Philip V and his successors. An added feature is the medieval armoury on the left of the palace that houses various suits of armor and weapons. It is truly a wonder and something not to be missed if you are in Madrid.

Eating in Madrid

Half the fun of being in Madrid is the food and wine. The most difficult task of dining out is selecting a restaurant. There are so many and they all look so good and inviting. Most restaurants in Madrid have a “Menu del dia.” This is the best deal and is usually posted outside the restaurant along with their regular menu. You may have to ask your waiter for it. This menu has a list of items for primo, segundo, and postre (dessert). Tapas bars are a little different than restaurants. The courses are small. You can make a meal out of it but it is a more casual dining experience. Desayuno is breakfast. Café con leche is the norm for Americans unless you want espresso.

After dinner on one of our nights in Madrid, I happened upon a group of Americans behaving badly. I decided to take their photo. This group is definitely having too much fun.