Posts in the “Madrid” category...
by Continental Club on October 27, 2014 | One comment • Tagged as: #helloweekend, BA Daytrips, BA Hello Weekend, British Airways, British Airways Daytrips, British Airways Hello Weekend, Hello Weekend
Early in 2014, and with great fanfare, British Airways launched its new weekend ‘day trip’ fares, offering passengers the opportunity to make (literally) flying visits to selected European destinations at comparatively bargain fares.
All went quiet from the airline’s marketing machine over the Summer, but the fares haven’t completely gone away; in fact, they’re showing signs of a stealthy comeback.
So, a couple of weeks ago, with fares of £44 each way to Madrid showing on ba.com, and with flight times offering almost twelve hours in the Spanish capital, Continental Club took the opportunity to see how popping to the Iberian peninsula for lunch might work in practice.
Better still, the application of 3,000 Avios to the booking lopped another £20 off the round-trip.
Firstly though, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re going to have to start early. Very early. And secondly, there’s no luggage allowance beyond (BA’s generous) hand luggage limit. So, if you’re going to enjoy an unencumbered day, then your iPhone is going to be your camera, and your pictures aren’t going to trouble Mario Testino.
Luckily, we were holed-up in the Holiday Inn Ariel at London’s Heathrow Airport, a mere treble-glazing’s thickness away from Runway 27R. Heathrow’s first purpose-built hotel, opening in 1960, the Ariel has gained something of a cult following amongst idolisers of its quirky circular-structure and almost limitless coats of emulsion paint; indeed it’s open to question whether it’s now only the Dulux that’s holding the place together. Friendly, professional service and an almost Disney-esque eagerness to please marks the place out, as do often exceptionally-good weekend rates.
Given the rates, and the almost hysterically-early hour, it seemed prudent to fire up the Uber app and see whether one of the companies many cars might be circling nearby. Four minutes later, a Mercedes E-Class appeared, and off we set into the still (and still quiet) night for Terminal 5 and our Madrid-bound bird.
The fare came to £11, which would handily be only a £1 more than the free credit Uber offers when signing up to their service and using Continental Club’s promo code of w98js. Our Uber-virgin travelling companion generously picked up the tab for the ride.
At T5, the day had barely begun, and few fingerprints sullied the shiny screens of the self service check in machines.
Even Security was a haven of calm, a sight which would surely render a weekday passenger slack-jawed in disbelief.
While it’s true that part of the fun of the day was keeping the cost down to a level that makes suddenly deciding to pop over the Channel a realistic prospect, and doing it in a way that’s open to all, we couldn’t help but swiftly avail ourselves of the already-open Galleries South Lounge which, after all, is available to frequent flyers with shiny-enough cards, even on these cheapie-cheap-cheap tickets.
And so it was that we sailed into a lounge even quieter than Security, panicked at the limitless choice of where to sit…….
….and proceeded to do the only thing sensible so many hours before the first rays of sun would dare to peep over the horizon: inhale the entire contents of a coffee machine.
It’s the first flight of the day from T5, so it’s very soon time to head to the gate and board the Boeing 767 that’ll take us South. It’s all spick and span on board; a light cabin refresh a while ago (intended to spruce things up owing to the then delayed deliveries of the new 787 Dreamliners) is improved further by the seats all being even more freshly re-hided in the customary dark BA blue.
It wasn’t long until we were onboard and taxiing; no dilly-dallying at dawn – past the control tower that we’ve been up before – and out to the end of the runway.
On our way, there’s barely time to wolf down the potentially culinarily-calamitous but actually rather tasty complimentary Cumberland Sausage Croissant, a portion-controlled thimble of coffee and a quick cram of the Lonely Planet.
Once back on terra firma, Madrid Barajas Airport’s Terminal 4s welcomed us, and with the previous day’s siesta barely over, all was still quiet despite the clock having long-since struck nine.
A short walk and a lift from arrivals, and we reached the Metro platforms. Barajas has both subway and heavy rail lines, the latter being quicker but not quite matching our planned (and Lonely Planet inspired) itinerary. So, to the Metro it was, at 8 Euros for a tourist day ticket, with one handily awaiting our descent to track level.
We sat for a few minutes to gather more travellers, before the doors slid shut and we headed off towards the city in our air-conditioned subterranean ferrous worm.
Two changes later, and we break cover once more at Banco de Espana, about 40 minutes from leaving the airport.
Emerging from the station it’s a full-on, 360-degree immersion into some of Madrid’s most in-your-face architecture, from the bank itself to the Palace of Communications across the whirling plaza.
Turning right along the Paseo del Prado, it’s not long before we find ourselves bang in the middle of the stand-off between the city’s two most famous hotels – the Palace and the Ritz facing each other across the street in dignified defiance.
I see your Palace, and I raise your Ritz.
This early in proceedings, there’s only one sensible course of action, and that involves additional caffeine. A suitable streetside position was therefore assumed to consider the steely glares of the grand dames across the Paseo.
Loins girded, it’s all-too-soon time to press on, and no visit to Madrid could ignore the world-famous Museo del Prado. However, as its halls and galleries can provide hours (if not days) of interest, there’s simply not long enough to venture in. Instead, it’s a quick whizz-by the maze-topped main entrance.
Not that there’s nothing to see by passing-by; just behind the museum at the church of who-knows-what, there’s a mid morning marital going on, with a jolly nice jalopy in attendance.
Conveniently located just beyond the Prado’s portals, the Botanic Gardens make an enticing prospect as an alternative to walking with the traffic along the main thoroughfare towards Atocha. At 3 Euros for an adult entry, blooming flowerbeds at the gate and an imposing archway above, the gardens present an appealing prospect.
Be fooled not however, dear readers, for despite the vivacious beds at the gate, and the odd pleasant reflecting pool, a Spanish high-plain Summer does little for the horticultural exotica planted within. Most, it transpires, has been dessicated beyond identification by September.
Thank goodness for the dahlia display, which injected at least a little colour into the proceedings, before the dawning realisation that the linear gardens in fact have only one entrance and exit, and the pleasantly-pedestrian perambulation has to be retraced back to square one, to walk the road once more to to the South.
At the end of the Paseo del Prado stands the old station of Atocha, resplendent in its restored glory and fronting its modern successor. It was arguably ahead of its time, leading the way for the restoration of glorious and ancient termini such as Grand Central in New York and St Pancras in London.
It’s a stunning piece of glazed ironwork too, but unlike its American and British counterparts, its main space no longer directly serves its railway. In fact, in this regard, it’s much more akin to Manchester’s former Central Railway Station, latterly G-Mex and now once again known as Manchester Central – though these days that’s the name for its conference & events venue purpose.
Indeed, its ‘first of a kind’ status is perhaps betrayed by its slightly-odd contrivance as a hybrid tropical garden, turtle pool and general ‘tat’ market. Architecturally-stunning, but otherwise fairly useless.
Having been slightly disappointed by what had hitherto been something of a hoped-for highpoint of the day, the time came for the application of some soothing beer. And, thankfully, it being Spain there’s always the opportunity to take the taste away with some moreish morsels. In this case, a short walk along the Paseo Atocha brought us to Cerveceria San Andres, at the corner of Calle del Almendro and Cuesta San Pedro, and its outdoor terrace perfectly-placed for people-watching and a selection of croquetas the like of which neither Captain Birdseye nor Mister Findus could conceive.
Fortified, we marched onward to the Plaza Mayor, the 16th Century square noted for its nine entrances and 237 balconies.
For such an historic construction, first-time visitors may be more than a little surprised to discover that much of the square, at its upper levels, is residential.
In a city like Madrid, there’s only so far that you can go without food though (about 20 minutes, if you’re asking), and the Mercado de San Miguel is hot on the tourist trail for all manner of nourishments (and not a little hydration).
And, let’s face it; as pig products go, this is a reasonably good show.
From pork to palaces, and just beyond the Plaza Mayor and the Mercado is the Palacio Real de Madrid – the Royal Palace and official residence of Spain’s royal family. The gardens cascade down to the river and look across to the Casa de Campo to the West. Tours are available (and judging by the rather obvious amount of ‘deferred maintenance’ to the fabric of the building, they could do with your cash), but we have no time for such dalliances, and it’s a whistle-stop pass through the Plaza de Oriente in front for us.
Some thoughtful shading is welcome as we head towards the Puerta del Sol; madrileño late Summer sun can still be harsh.
But no amount of shading can provide the refreshment that only a purveyor of fine licensed victuals can; one like the highly-polished operation that is Taberna Ángel Sierra on the Calle de Gravina.
And just when you thought that no more could possibly be packed into the day, there’s still time for one last taste of the best that Madrid has to offer, even if it’s to be found in a building which lacks something of the classical elegance of the Mercado de San Miguel.
Yes, I’m afraid that it isn’t too harsh to compare the exterior (if not the interior) aesthetics of the Mercado San Anton to any common-or-garden gulag.
It is to the very great credit of the tenants and stallholders of the market that they have attempted to cloak the concrete in as much colour as they can, but when all’s said and done, there’s only so much that Astroturf can do to hide the hideousness of their surroundings.
So it’s just as well that in spite of the forbidding prospect of the place (or perhaps, in fact, because of it) that some of Madrid’s very finest food and drink is to be found cascading from its grey balconies.
And with the British Airways iPhone App lighting up our screens to push our boarding pass notifications through, we proved that there’s never not enough time for another platter of pork products and a medicinal bottle of Crianza.
Just 20 Euros lighter for the fun of this final flourish of late, late lunch, we rolled gently down the warm evening street to the Metro, and the opportunity for a short subterranean reflection on our thoroughly agreeable day out.
Once back at Barajas, there’s time for a quick heel-cooling in the Iberia Lounge at T4, a place that does not overburden itself with the provision of fine provender, beyond some darkly-suspicious looking baked goods and pasta which could (respectively) have easily been mistaken for ice hockey pucks and tripe-coloured shrapnel. Much better to stick to the safety of some crisps if a final exposure to pre-flight food is essential.
At least the views of the runway are pleasant – better than many an airport departure lounge bunker. And, lest we forget, it’s all still included in the day trip fare for holders of the requisite shiny airline card.
A dash down the jetty and we’re on board our white, red and blue bird ready for departure back to Blighty.
It’s a narrow-body Airbus A320 this time, unlike the twin-aisled Boeing 767 that operated our outbound, and it’s still flying the soon-to-be history ‘convertor’ seats which are being replaced at the rate of three ‘planes a week. It gives us a last chance to bag the first row of port side of the Economy cabin which, for reasons of aisle-kinking, trolley-pushing, knee-bashing avoidance, is also configured with Club Europe-style seating two-abreast.
Once airborne, there’s plenty of opportunity for (what some may consider the unnecessary) further application of solid and liquid swallowables, but since this whole venture was designed to scientifically test the full range of inclusions in an £88 escapade, we felt it our duty to indulge.
Truth be told, that flatbread was far better than it had any right to be for free, too.
There’s not a lot arriving at 22:20 on a Saturday, so we trickled quickly through T5 and, in the spirit of continued travel frugality, across to Bus Stand 6 for the imminent departure of the 423 to Hounslow via Harlington Corner.
Which, happily, is just where the Holiday Inn London Heathrow Ariel happened to find itself built and, even more handily, Transport for London included in its Heathrow Freeflow zone – making the bus ride completely complimentary.
And that, then, was that – home. One day, two flights, terrific food and still time for a nightcap back at the Ariel.
Continental Club paid £44 per person each way for a hand baggage only, day trip fare with British Airways, bookable online at ba.com.
We paid with a debit card to avoid the £5 per person credit card fee, and used 3,000 Avios to reduce the fare by an additional £20 roundtrip, making the net cost £68 each.
In Madrid, we each bought a one day Zone A Tourist Travel Pass for EUR8.40, which included Metro travel from and to the airport, and around the centre of the city on the Metro, buses and suburban trains if we’d wanted to.
We used London Bus service 423 within the Heathrow Freeflow zone to return to the hotel at no cost.
To search for day trip fares with British Airways when they’re not being actively marketed, check the Low Fare Finder at ba.com – remembering that you must select the same day for your outward and return flights for the special fares to show.
Flights offering day trip fares must be ‘combinable’ too, ie your outbound and inbound flights must arrive and depart with an interval greater than the minimum connection time at the destination airport. Which, of course, you’d be expecting anyway if you’re going for the day. Sometimes though, the tab at the top of the schedule and fares matrix on the results pages of ba.com may show a lower ‘lowest’ fare than any of those listed against specific flights below the tab. This occurs when there’s technically outbound fare availability, but no inbound flight which departs later enough the same day to be able to return on.