OK I never got back to posting about the final day in Spain, so here's a litany of photos and scattered comments to fill the 'missing day'. I spent my last day in Madrid wandering the streets, visiting El Museo del Prado, picnicing in the park, and enjoying the Spanish sun.
Fantastically colorful posters outside of El Prado
And some pretty paintings
I had to buy some local art from the artist
Ah, a picnic in the the Parque del Retiro
And a walk by the royal lake, Estanque del Retiro
EuroBasket07; European Basketball. Wait, Where's Slovenia??
Sushi & Pasta… are you f'ing kidding me???
Free hugs for all!
Salad with tuna, roasted red peppers and olives
I'll, erm, let you translate that one. A Mexican bar in the middle of Madrid. Love it!
Cafe con leche. Zumo de naranja. Cereal.
I extracted the badly mangled, waterlogged, photocopied map from my back pocket and looked for something in the area to walk or metro to. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was not too far away, and seemed a good place to spend my morning. The metro was an exchange away, or I could walk to the another station La Latina for a direct line, which really was completely unnecessary as it was only one stop from there, but since I'd paid for the 5-day tourist metro pass, I felt I should give it a go at least once or twice!
The Opera station lets out in front of the Royal concert hall, which oddly enough completely obscures the palace. It isn't until you walk around the other side of this building that the magnificent structure emerges.
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As I wandered past the empty cafes facing the grand structure, I approached the fountain that sits front and center to the palace. At least three tourist groups surrounded it, but what caught my eye (or rather, ear) was the guitarist playing Spanish flamenco music sitting in the small courtyard surrounding the fountain. I found a shady spot, within ear of the guitarist, and sat to write.
Once the grumbles in my belly overpowered the strums of Spanish guitar, I made my way from the Palace to find something to eat. As I wandered away from this regal venue, playing Frogger with Spanish traffic, I spotted a little tapas bar with promise, called La Mi Venta. As I ducked my head in, my heart lept… this was finally the type of place I'd been looking for! Large drying legs of Jamón Ibérico hanging from the ceiling, a small asador in the corner, and a few grumpy old Spanish men running the place. Perfect!
The food here did not disappoint. The food counter illuminated a trip down memory lane, with tortilla, boquerones, caracoles, and even… yes there they were… pimientos de padrón! [link - because they are so good yet so few people outside of Spain know them]
This place was so good, I vowed to return.
La Mi Venta
Plaza de la Marina Española, 7
+34 91 559-50-91
rating: 5 feet
verdict: superbly authentic and delicious. Maybe a little pricey, but what the hell… you're on vacation!
After this belly filling lunch, I wandered many of the smaller streets rising above the palace until I stumbled back into Puerta del Sol. The streets of Madrid are a veritable maze, but I was finding that I knew my way around quite quickly. Perhaps the Spanish street names were proving easier to remember as they tickled a part of my brain barely used for nearly 25 years, or maybe I was simply so enthralled with Madrid that committing it to memory was to be expected, but I found that I could very quickly find anywhere I'd been on the map, or find my way back to the hostel from any random street I found myself on. Simply put, the meanderings of the day always comfortably led me back to Calle de la Cabeza.
It´s been an amazing last two days and there is so much to write, I haven´t found (or more accurately, haven´t been willing to sacrifice) the time to write. I board my long fight(s) home in a few hours, and will endeavour to write there.
Recalling last nights misadventure of finding no real Spanish food aside from occasional tapas, I asked the couple at the front desk where one could go for chuletas. They seemed genuinely surprised at such a specific request, and had a very hard time coming up with anything of the sort in the area! Finally one of them recalled passing a traditional looking Spanish eatery on his way home every night, and struggled to draw on a map where he thought it was. I diligently followed and fortunately his memory served correct; I found a very traditional-looking restaurant called Restaurante Madrid I Catedral. The non-smoking side of the restaurant was packed; the smoking side nearly empty. A sure sign that even at 9:30 at night, only the tourists were out eating. As there were no seats left in the tourist-zone, I sat in a near empty dining room that, within 20 minutes, was completely packed. Apparently I timed it just right.
The menu was another three-course fare, with a varied selection of starters and mains to choose from, then desert or coffee to round it off. And here, as I laid eyes upon the menu, did I smile from ear to ear upon seeing gambas y angulas in garlic. Gambas are shrimp, and angulas are baby eels. Yes, that's right, baby eels. And they are simply gorgeous to eat. These were cooked very well, although a few of the shrimp were a bit dry.
Second course was what I'd been waiting so long for, chuletas. These were a bit less meaty than the really good ones, and while the flavor was superb there was a little bit of disappointment in eating them as they weren't quite as special as memory served. Also the vegetables were tasty but overcooked. Anthony Bourdain, my culinary hero, said in one of his books a line about vegetarians that I think applies quite well to the Spanish as well… "they can't cook a fucking vegetable to save their lives" (probably badly misquoted, but there you have it). The Spanish do amazing things with meat; vegetables are often for decoration.
Anyway these chuletas were good enough to satisfy my hunger, and naturally washing it all down with a half-bottle of a young Rioja always helps the experience. A café con leche and half bottle of water added to the tally came to an impressive €21… really quite a bargain for what I had. I left happy.
Restaurante Madrid-I-Catedral Carrera de San Jerónimo, 16 28014 Madrid - Madrid
View Larger Map rating: 3 feetverdict: worth going until I find something better in the area
Yesterday was essentially a perfect day. I spent time wandering the streets aimlessly, looking for cafés to stop at, people to watch, and street music to listen to.
The morning found me wandering the area around my Hostel, eventually stumbling into a Latin district, where I found somewhere to park it for a while. I spent most of the morning enjoying café con leche and torta de manzana in a cute, edgy-modern cafe, writing and sorting photos. From there, as I finally hungered for something a bit more substantial, I moved on and ended at Plaza Tirozo de Molina which was packed with the afternoon lunch crowd. After waiting endlessly for a table to free up, I asked a beautiful Spanish girl with a similarly shaved head if I could join her and her puppy Lúlu. To my pleasure she said yes, and while I waited for my food and she finished her drink, we chatted about where the best bars and cafés were in the area. It's funny, I think my Spanish is good enough where people think I'm from here, but just bad enough where they think I'm a bit dim. When we get to the part of the conversation where I tell them I'm from California, they are always surprised and I think a bit relieved… as if now they know they're not talking to someone who barely graduated the 4th grade. This lunch spot was typical Spanish, which was just what I'd been looking for. A three-course lunch had me slurping gazpacho for a starter (good), eating a roasted veal with rice and veggies for the main (mediocre), and taking a rocket ship back to my childhood for the cuajada desert (superb). It's a simple custard-like cream, almost like a plain yogurt I suppose, topped with honey. Fabulous. All washed down with a beer, and I was ready for a Spanish siesta! (Unfortunately I failed to note the name of this place, but it wasn't all that thrilling so you're not missing much… and this dessert can be found all over the place).
From there I made my way back to the hostel where I could get online and post yesterdays blog entries. I seriously contemplated taking a nap, but somehow the hours wore on and before I knew it it was time for another wander. Apparently my timing was just right, as I walked back outside to slippery streets, the smell of fresh rain and a clearing sky. I walked back up to the plaza and climbed aboard the Tirso Molina metro to go one stop to Sol.
This is a major shopping area, sure to be full of people, and it did not disappoint. Dozens, if not hundreds of shops line the surrounding streets, and I walked up and down most of them window shopping and admiring the ebb and flow of beautiful Spanish women. I eventually stumbled upon Plaza Jacinto Benavente and a glorious Maestro Currero (Master churro maker), founded in 1902. Just what the doctor ordered (I have a kind and understanding doctor, you have to understand!). An order of churros and a cup of hot chocolate was placed before me, and if you've never enjoyed this little treat, you're truly missing one of the great culinary wonders of the world. The chocolate is less a cup of hot cocoa and more a cup of melted chocolate bar. It's so thick and so high-fat that by the time it reaches your table a thick skin has developed over the top. The first churro you dip breaks the skin, and as you twirl the crusty pastry, the skin wraps around it like a warm chocolate blanket, the heady scent of deep dark cocoa hits your nose, and you realize, right then, that heaven awaits. One can only eat a couple of these before a mind-numbing satiation sets in, your eyes glaze over, and you start to wonder if you ask nicely, if someone will just carry you home.
Once I found the courage to stand again, I kept making my way back to the hostel to prepare for the next adventure of the day. I dropped back into the hostel's lounge and picked up a book for a while, chatting occasionally with other travelers as they passed through. Finally sensing a growing rumble in the belly, I decided to make my way back out for dinner.
Maestro Churrero Plaza Jacinto Benavente, 2 28012 Madrid +34 91 369-24-06 http://www.maestrochurrero.com
View Larger Map rating: 5 feet verdict: bring a stretcher
One of the challenges in traveling internationally with an iPhone is of course avoiding the horrendous roaming charges being reported all over the internets. Which means you really have to behave yourself and only email photos when in a wifi hotspot. And I just found my first metro-free wifi in Madrid, so dammit I'm posting. Really there's nothing here to look at, but you're getting it anyway ;)
This hostel is pretty good, thanks to W for the recommendation. I'm in four-up room, with a young couple from Michigan and a German dude. The bathrooms are shared and the showers go in 20 second intervals, unless you position yourself just-so and lean against the button while showering up. Hey, for €20 per night, with free internet in the lounge, it's tip-top. Yesterday when I checked in, I immediately headed to the lounge and as quickly as I sat down, struck up a conversation with an adorable German girl from Berlin. She and her friend are looking for a flat in Madrid, in the meantime staying at the hostel. I spent the evening wandering the streets exploring and looking for food. I managed to find little India, little Africa, and even little Middle-fucking-East, but for love nor money could I find any friggin' Spanish food! I finally discovered a tapas bar called Taberna La Chilo S…(?), which was going to have to be enough for the moment. I was really craving chuletas, but was fading fast.
A fun place, packed to the brim. The bartender was friendly, the clientele attractive, and the food authentic. A bunch of queso semi-curado and lomo iberico later, washed down with a couple of cervezas and a glass of Rioja joven, I made my way out for the next place.
I had eyeballed a tapas bar earlier on that looked cool but was entirely empty, so headed back that way to see if it was doing any better at this late hour. It was definitely packed, so I saddled up to the bar for another Rioja. As fortune would have it, they had a bottle of Lan on the table, a wine I know well and is difficult to find in the U.S. So a few glasses of that, some olives and a brief chat with cute Spanish girl who found this Californian who spoke Spanish mildly entertaining until I couldn't produce a list of San Francisco local bands on demand, and finally it was time to call it a night. A tame first night in Madrid, but there you have it. And now it's Thursday.
Taberna La Chilo S…(?) address… I think it's here on the map, at the intersection of Calle de la Cabeza and Calle de Jesús y María View Larger Map rating: 4 feet verdict: friendly, fun, and packed
T–4 days before I leave for Amsterdam, and another week after that before Madrid. I can't bloody wait. This trip to Madrid will be an new experience for me, where I pretend to be 19 again and imagine myself backpacking through Europe. With a Tumi and a MacBook Pro… right, whatever. OK so perhaps not real backpacking but I will be staying in a hostel. And it's only partially because I'm a cheap bastard; the real reason (or justifiable one) is that I want to meet interesting people, hang out with new friends, visit some unexpected places, and in general just do something out of the ordinary. Sounds like a riot. An utterly delicious friend of mine who will go by W on here (because it's her first initial and much easier for me to remember while blogging drunk than applying some pseudonym like Jane or Maria or Aphrodite) told me about a hostel in Madrid called the Mad Hostel. She had a blast, and frankly creo que es una beuna idea quedar en un lugar coma esto. Pues… voy.
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Who the hell knows what I'll find. Maybe I'll make friends. Maybe I'll fall in love. Maybe I'll get my luggage stolen. Party on, Wayne.