MADRID, Spain -- In a country where three hours each day are taken
for lunch and siesta, where dinner isn't served before 10 p.m. and
the nightlife doesn't pick up until well past midnight, visitors to
Spain need not worry about rushing around.
Spain is a place where people are relaxed and friendly and go
about their day without constantly looking at their watch. People
don't drink their coffee on their way to work but enjoy their
cafe con lecheand chocolate at a cozy cafe at the start of
A trip to Spain is like stepping back into an old world: a
country with some of the most beautiful architecture and people who
are not caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern cosmopolitan
As the "long weekend" becomes a more popular travel option among
tourists, so do three- and four-day package deals to Europe. Spain
is a destination that delivers a lot in a short amount of time.
Two days in Madrid and a day in Toledo allow visitors to see
world-renowned art, sample the delicioustapas and catch a
performance of the famous flamenco dancers.
A good way to spend the first day in Madrid is just walking
around with a city map. There's really so much to explore, from the
Botanical Gardens to the Royal Palace to Gran V'a, the main street,
densely populated with shops, hotels, and restaurants --a great
place to spendpesetas.
Visitors may be surprised at how clean Madrid is for such a
large city. Although it's a city of smokers, cigarette butts rarely
are found on the sidewalk or streets. (Street sweepers and city
sanitation workers take painful strides to ensure a litter-free
Against such a clean backdrop are Madrid's beautiful fountains,
scattered throughout the city parks and squares. At night these
fountains are lit up, illuminating statues against the dark
It is thought that the reason some Americans bypass Spain is
because the nation as a whole doesn't speak English. The locals,
however, are more than happy to help a lost traveler and will
practice their limited English in exchange for an American's
limited Spanish. Most hotel clerks and some shop owners speak
English. Armed with a map and an English-Spanish dictionary,
clients should be fine navigating the city.
For art lovers, Madrid is a heaven, and a full day can be spent
exploring this domain. The neighborhood surrounding the Prado has
some of the world's finest first-rate art. The Dalis and Miros and
Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica" at the Reina Sofia; the
Caravaggios, Rembrandts, and Kandinskys at the Thyssen-Bornemisza;
El Grecos and Velazquezes at the Prado -- clients could spend hours
in museums alone. If there's only time to visit one, the Prado,
home to more than 7,000 paintings, is one of the most acclaimed
museums in the world and shouldn't be missed.
Visitors should not, however, leave the shopping and museum
tours for Sunday. While
some things may be open in the morning, such as the Prado and the
Palacio Real (Royal Palace), almost everything is closed in the
afternoon (providing a good excuse to walk around the different
neighborhoods enjoying tapas and drinks at the cafes along the
way). Many tourists spend Sunday morning at El Rastro's flea
market, where rows of mingled junk and antiques extend for
The Plaza Major and Puerto del Sol is the heart of the Old
Madrid and is a great area to explore at night. There, visitors can
enjoy socializing with the locals and getting a taste of Madrid's
infamous nightlife. Clients who are planning a trip in the spring
should try to hit the last night of Carnival, the Saturday before
Ash Wednesday. People of all ages, dressed up in costumes, crowd in
the center of the Plaza and in the surrounding bars, dancing and
partying until well into the night.
While there are several options for a day trip out of Madrid,
Toledo is probably the most worthwhile. This is the type of city
one conjures when envisioning Spain: cobblestone streets, ornate
buildings and passageways that are barely wide enough for a man and
his donkey. (Tour buses are not allowed in the streets, so visitors
should be prepared for a lot of walking.)
What makes this city unique is the combination of Jewish, Mudejar
(Arabic) and Christian influences in all the architecture. A full
day is needed to explore this beautiful city.
A great way to discover Spain, especially for a long weekend, is
through a new program by Travelplan, Air Europa's in-house tour
Clients purchase $60 coupons that can be redeemed for a variety
of services, including car rental, accommodations, airport
transfers, one-way domestic flights and full- and half-day
For instance, one $60 coupon can be used to stay at any of the
250 hotels listed in the Easy Spain brochure. The cost is per room
single or double. Some of the hotels listed have rack rates of over
$100 per night. Clients need not book the hotel beforehand. The
coupons allow clients the flexibility of prepaying for a hotel but
selecting the hotel at the last minute.
Clients must fly Air Europa in order to partake in the
For more information, call Air Europa at (888) 238-7672.