Who said playing video games was a waste of time? Last May when I participated in a national-level PlayStation tournament and finished second, I was awarded a free three-day trip to Madrid.
It was my third trip to the second-most-visited country in Europe after France, and it was easily the best. The moment you land in the Spanish capital, you would find scores of people eager to offer help and push the envelope to speak understandable English.
What makes a country great is its people. They were extremely kind to me, perhaps because I was one of the 82 million tourists who contributed to more than 11 per cent of their GDP.
My first night in Madrid was a waste. I embarked on a journey to hunt for board games in the city centre. Of course I found all I needed, but the games were written only in Spanish. On my first morning, I met a sweet Swedish lady at the Nuevo Boston Hotel reception desk, whom I joined on a city tour.
Susie – that was her name – took me to Retiro Park, a massive land of greenery amid the concrete-filled city centre. The park was full of life: kids running around, young couples and tourists enjoying cheap rowboat tours, and performance artists and street magic enlivening the charm.
A perfect place to spend Sunday with family. Since the main national museum, Museo del Prado, was closed on Sunday, Susie suggested checking out another, less popular museum, which she visited 20 years ago. So we ended up walking for half an hour to reach Museo Sorolla.
The building was originally the house of artist Joaquín Sorolla and was converted into a museum after the death of his widow. The place was breathtaking. A 30-minute free tour was enough to make better understand how people lived in the late 19 and early 20 centuries.
Presenting social and historic themes, the landscape and portrait artwork was stunning, especially that his favourite model was his own wife. How romantic! My last stop in the city was, of course, the historic Santiago Bernabeu football stadium. The place was scary.
A lady who sitting next to me started panicking and crying because she suffered from acrophobia (fear of heights). After an old Spanish man successfully calmed her down, we enjoyed an amazing victory for the royal club, whose star player Cristiano Ronaldo scored four goals!
My favourite place: The stadiums in the city, which accommodates football fans from around the world.
Highlights: The people of this land are blessed with many charming traits: good manners, genuineness, beauty and elegance. A walk in the city centre after midnight doesn’t sound like a good idea in most capitals in the world — but Madrid was an exception; it’s very safe.
Lowlights: The country is very expensive, from food to transportation, nothing costs less than 5 euros.
Souvenirs: I didn’t check the market but the shops near the stadium sell amazing minifigures of football players.
Getting there: Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines have daily trips to Madrid, and getting a visa takes a couple of days for Omanis.
Where to stay: Several locals offer their homes on Airbnb for nominal rates. Opt for ‘Superhosts’ for the