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.
View Larger Map
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