Last of the Summer Gin, Madrid, Spain

There's lots of excitement in our family recently, my sister, Esme and her partner, Lomas are engaged and due to marry in the summer of next year. Victoria and I are incredibly happy for them, we cannot wait for what we are certain will be a very beautiful wedding and happy occasion. Living not too far from each other we are lucky in that we are all able to spend time as a group frequently, but we haven't had the chance to travel or relax in the sunshine much; in fact, I haven't been abroad with my sister for almost a decade (perhaps longer!). With that in mind, we felt now was a good time to celebrate the fantastic news and to take some time to enjoy what is left of the European summertime.

As a group, we struggled to settle on a destination but agreed Madrid would work well. Of course, I was quite pleased with that decision, I am pretty sure Madrid is my favourite city in Europe; its vibrancy, openness and relaxed attitude is something that in my book is completely unrivalled. That said, I had only ever visited Madrid before for work, so was very pleased that we were going to visit and see it in a different light.

Esme and Lomas en route to the apartment, Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

Holding hands with my aisle buddy

With the destination sorted the next challenge was scheduling - this was the difficult part... All four of us have varied work commitments, working different days and different hours, which meant finding suitable consecutive days was quite the challenge! Lomas was due to start a new job prior to us leaving and Esme was back on term-time schedule for her work. In the end, three days was all we could find, but that's all we needed for a city break!

Our flights to Spain were exceptionally early in the morning, we were on the road to the airport at 4 am! In Madrid, we were staying right next to Puerta Del Sol, a large square in the centre of the city, which meant that we were within walking distance of most places we wanted to visit. Our Airbnb apartment was superb, a twin bedroom, quiet place, just off the square, with a kitchen, huge lounge area and everything you could need for a quick break away. Our host, Marta met us exactly on time and even gave us some tips on where to go for dinner - which was very helpful indeed.

We spent much of our first day taking in the sights and sounds of the city, all pretty exhausted from the early morning travel. Of course, one of the first things we needed to do was stop at a bar for some drinks and tapas, which we did as soon as we got off the Metro! The beer was as delicious as the weather, which was a scorching 31°C, a good 10° higher than back at home. We made our way around the city, shopping and exploring as we went, eventually making our way through the old city to Cheuca. This area of the city is fantastic, full of boutique shops, small bars and cafes. We stopped here in the height of the afternoon for a few more drinks and to get some shade.

Gin & Tonic in Cheuca, Madrid, Spain

Our Second day in Madrid had an agenda, The Zoo. Set to be a cooler day and our only full day in the city we planned to wake up early and make the most of our Tuesday. Madrid Zoo was only a short Metro ride away, we were a little concerned when we arrived that it might not even be open, it was certainly the quietest zoo I have ever been to, no queuing at all, for anything! That aside, they had all kinds of different species including a full aquarium with fish, turtles, sharks. The highlight was undoubtedly the brown bear (oso café in Spanish), the bear was sitting in the sun making noises and paying attention to his (her?) visitors and almost posing for pictures!

The Bear, Madrid Zoo

We spent the afternoon in Buen Retiro Park, on the other side of the city. Somewhere we had learned that it was possible to hire a rowing boat and bob around on the lake. This, of course, was a wonderfully appealing idea and we wasted no time getting ourselves on the water. We had a great deal of fun racing, crashing and going around in circles, thankfully all the iPhones made it back to dry land!

Me and Victoria, Buen Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain

Dinner that evening was in Plaza Mayor, not far from where we had lunch the previous evening, the plaza has a great atmosphere at night, very similar to that of The Grand Place in Brussels. Our server was an interesting chap, but was certainly able to serve a very tasty gin and tonic! No complaints!

Our final morning was spent exploring the western part of Madrid, taking in the impressive Opera House, Royal Palace and Cathedral. We walked quite a lot but gradually made our way back towards Puerta Del Sol. The best part of the day for me was certainly breakfast; we found a relatively authentic cafe with a waiter who spoke no English. Despite my very inept, but gradually improving, Spanish skills we all ended up with a drink and some food - this of course was, therefore, a complete success!

Our 52-something hours in Madrid were fantastic and we all had a great time. It was excellent to be able to spend time with Esme and Lomas away from home and in a different environment. Madrid will certainly stay as my number one city in Europe, I can't wait to come back again!