According to Ana María Botella Serrano, former mayor of Madrid, “there is nothing quite like a relaxing cup of cafe con leche in Plaza Mayor.” She was trying to entice the Olympic committee to choose Madrid as a site for the games. Instead, she created a hilarious meme that many, many Spaniards have imitated.

She’s right, though. There is nothing quite like it, to be in Madrid and enjoying a coffee with friends, surrounded by the unique balance of city hustle-and-bustle and the Spanish tradition of pausing in a crystalized moment of human interaction over coffee.

This past weekend, we journeyed to Madrid with some friends. The excuse was to see the Spanish version of the musical, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate).” That was an excellent reason to visit Madrid. We decided

to take the train, which made the overall experience much less stressful. There are a few new high-speed train lines that have opened up in Valencia, and for us, that means price wars for tickets to frequent destinations. We ended up paying around $30/person for our round-trip tickets to and from Madrid.

Another bonus of Madrid is the metro, which is one of the best (and cheapest) I have ever ridden. We used the metro several times to get to our destinations, which is a good feeling in a new city. Apparently using the metro in Valencia is good training for other cities!

There are a few highlights of our trip, but one of the major bonuses was the fact that our Spanish has improved to the point that we felt quite comfortable in many Spanish-only environments. Whether it was in a restaurant, a bar, or even at the theatre, we were much more at ease navigating Madrid in a more “local” fashion.

While we were there, the Christmas shopping season was kicking off, with pop-up markets, or mercadillos navideños, appearing in several large plazas (including the one near our hotel and Plaza Mayor). The city center was full of shoppers, families enjoying the holiday decorations, and special events sponsored by major shopping centers. Hustle, meet bustle.

Definitely a great way to enjoy a weekend!

Want more hilarity? Ana Botella’s words to dance beats and much more!

Interesting cupola on a building in Madrid

Opening graphic of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Street decorations for the holidays

Street decorations for the holidays

Christmas lighting on Gran Via

Street decorations for the holidays

Christmas lighting in Plaza Callao

Interesting doorway

Cheese and cured meat vendor in the Mercado San Antón

Building mural in the Chueca neighborhood

Christmas art market

Christmas market in Plaza Mayor (yes, that plaza)

Window dressing