We flew Iberia. The flight over was pretty awful. We flew San Diego to Chicago and then boarded the Chicago-Madrid flight. We had a three-hour stop in Chicago, and ate a salad at the Wolfgang Puck Café in the airport – our server carded both of us! I am almost 40 and my mom just turned 60. So that was pretty hilarious. The Iberia flight to Madrid left at about 5:00 P.M. They did not serve any drinks for a long while, and dinner (which wasn’t too bad) was served about three hours into the flight. One bizarre thing was, no movies were shown until a couple of hours after the meal. Mom managed to sleep but I had the aisle seat and it was impossible. It seemed everyone was up all night. To get water, you had to go to the back of the plane and get it – the attendants never brought it up and down the aisles like they do on other airlines. As a result, people getting water were constantly traversing the aisles. It was very busy and I didn’t sleep at all.
We arrived at 8:00 A.M. and took a cab into Madrid, arriving at 9:30 A.M. We had a sweet cab driver that pointed out the sights along the way. The ride was inexpensive, less than 20 Euro. Madrid was very quiet; it was a cold Saturday morning. We dropped our luggage at the office of the apartment we were renting and were told our apartment would be ready at 1:00 P.M. Then we went out into freezing Madrid. I was not properly dressed for freezing rain, but it kept me awake! Looking back, I realize we were totally exhausted and out of it, but the body manages to keep going.
We walked into Plaza Mayor, totally deserted except for a couple of tour groups. We had a coffee and decided to go to the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid. It is a big, fantastic, opulent structure, of which you get to see just a little. My favorite room had all these crazy oriental figures carved into the walls. There were a few tour groups and I got a great picture of a Chinese tour group all staring up at the ceiling (got it from the steps, looking down.) After I took it a guard yelled, NO FLASH! Ooops! Blame it on the jet lag.
After, we had our very first tapa, at a tapas bar across the street at Bailen 19. This is awful but I can’t remember what it was. I know we had some olives and the server was Asian. I was starting to feel very tired at this point. We went and bought coffee, wine, milk, water, 1/3 kilo of manchego, and crackers for the apartment, (ALL for under 10 Euro – dang I love Spain) and then went back to the apartment but it was not ready and would not be ready till 2:00. So we walked more, around Puerta del Sol, where the Saturday shoppers were out.
We stopped and had a really bad glass of wine, it came with a little plate of paella, and a crazy old lady tried to talk to us. I was too tired to try to communicate… bummer. Finally the apartment was ready and we could check in.
The Madrid apartment was lacking in charm but it made up for that in space – we each had our own bedroom! We unpacked and slept for a couple of hours. After waking and showering, we were both still a bit tired, but headed out for some tapas.
Off Plaza Mayor, there is a street called Cava San Miguel, where there are a number of tapas bars in caves stretching underneath the Plaza. We went into one called Meson Rincon de la Cava (at #17) and immediately made a tapa mistake – we ordered fried seafood and it was a huge portion! You have to order a tapa size, or a media ration (half ration, medium) or a ration (big.) The portion we got, with eight shrimps and lots of calamari and fish, filled us up. We had some wine too and listened to the entertainment (a keyboardist a la 2nd rate Vegas Casino.) The bill was a little more than we expected, 31 Euro, which included 2 little glasses of wine each and bread. A week later we would eat the same thing again and the check was a bit less. We think they transposed 21 and 12. Whatever, we would have paid anything for that fried fish plate.
After we ate, we walked up to Cava Baja. WOW. I am totally in love with Madrid all of a sudden. The whole street is lined with cool places to eat and drink. We went to a wine bar called Taverna Tempranillo (#38), and had a couple of glasses standing at the bar. The whole place was filled with interesting, laid-back people. It was a scene, but a scene that anyone could be comfortable in.
Next, we went to an Italian style café. Mom wanted coffee and I wanted wine. Mom said, I don’t think they have wine here. I said, Mom, this is Europe there is wine everywhere. Sure enough, they had wine but I should have had a grappa. There was also a Tom Cruise look-alike that worked there or owned the place and stood there by the bar with his arms crossed looking out the window. Every time we passed that café we looked for him but we never saw him again. Outside, the wet street was colored by the reflection of neon lights. It was very bohemian and I was falling in love with Madrid.
We had a short, freezing walk back to the apartment, where we watched a TV show. A married couple was talking/arguing, the wife was wearing a short black vinyl dress and was holding a whip, and the husband had a soccer ball under his shirt. She started whipping the whip, and he took the ball out and started kicking it around. There was a sexy guy wearing a loincloth hiding in an armoire, and the husband was going to kick the ball in that direction, there-by discovering his wife’s stud. There were a few close calls and then the sexy guy was finally discovered. Much shouting ensued, and then in came the Mama of the wife, and it was total mayhem. After a bit the married couple left and Mama was chasing the sexy guy and screaming, “Por Favor! Por Favor!” I slept very well that night.
The next day, we did not rise until 10:00. Thus began our habit of never getting out of the house until noon. Thankfully my mother shares this habit with me. I am not an early riser on vacation and I hate to be rushed. The very first morning and for many mornings after, we would rise whenever, make some coffee, sit around, read some guidebook stuff, maybe watch a little weird Spanish TV, have another coffee. The coolest thing being, once we actually got out we could immediately stop for a glass of wine and a tapa. Now this is Slow Travel.
Anyhow, on this 2nd day in Madrid we headed out around noon for the Prado. It was snowing before we left, but on the walk to the Prado it was merely cold and gray. We had a great walk, our first daytime walk through Madrid, on a Sunday with not many people around because of the weather. I loved the streets and the buildings and the feeling of the city. We stopped in a taverna to have a glass of wine and a tapa but they were not serving food yet. So we just had the wine and checked things out. It is possible that they were not even open as the servers were all having their pre-shift cigarettes and beer (you gotta love Europe.) If they were not open, then they were awfully gracious about us hanging out. Right at 1:00 we asked for a tapa menu. We ordered two pieces of country bread, both toasted in an open fireplace in front of us, one spread with garlic and oil and one spread with tomato. I think it was the best breakfast I have ever had. I feel guilty for not notating the name of this place, but I think it may be on San Augustin between Calle de Cervantes and Calle Lope de Vega. After that toast and the wine, we were primed for the Prado.
On to the famous Prado Museum. I didn’t find it too crowded, but Mom thought it was really crowded. We saw most of it, I loved the Riberas, the colors seemed to be screaming at me, but maybe that is because I saw them first. After a couple of hours, basta.
Emerging, it was raining very hard, so we went into a bar across the street (as if we would not have if it wasn’t raining.) We had a glass of wine and an OK tapa of shrimp in puff pastry and watched the rain fall. Eventually we realized the rain was not going to stop and made a plan to walk to Plaza Santa Ana to the next wine and tapa stop.
We walked down Calle Huertas, a really cool pedestrian street lined with bars, quiet during the day but I imagine at night it must be one long party. At the Plaza Santa Ana, we were really wishing it was warm or at least dry, so we could sit outside. But there would be no sitting outside while we were in Madrid. Went into a wine bar, Vinoteca Barbechera, very cool and hip with lots of different wines by the glass. The tapa menu was very creative and we had a tapa of goat cheese on toast with sweet and sour caramelized onions.
After, we went back to the apartment for a little relaxation before dinner. We watched a TV show called “Hecho Pareja” or something like that – a show that we got to see again the next day, and searched fruitlessly for, the rest of the trip. This show was a Dating Game, but the contestants were people that would have a hard time finding a date in real life, unlike our Dating Game, which has frat boys and Barbie as contestants. This first evening, the contestants were in their sixties, maybe even seventies. There were three grandpas vying for one grandma. There were questions about sex (Mom translated what she could, but even without translation, one just knows) and also, blindfolded face slapping. Sadly the show ended, but then it was time for dinner.
We had made a reservation at the famous Restaurant Botin the day before, but when we arrived, the time had changed and it was now 9:00 P.M. instead of 8:00 P.M. (Please don’t kill us for eating so early. The cold and rain made us do it.) Anyhow, they would not seat us but were very nice about the screw up and told us to come back the next night. The host told us to come at 8:00. Feeling Spanish, and embarrassed, I said, can we come at 9:00? 8:30, He said. So we wandered down to the Cava Baja, also known as Shannon’s dream street, for dinner.
We had a crappy meal at Taberna de los Lucio (#30). It was very busy so we thought it must be good and we went in. Later we found out it is known for egg dishes, but we did not know at the time (even though there was an egg on the sign, doy) so we ordered a salad to split and then some pork medallions with some apple stuff on top. The salad was drenched in a sweet dressing – it was gross. The pork came out raw. Thankfully the waiter, seeing we were still trying to eat our salad, took it back to warm it up, and it cooked more. The meal was barely palatable but we did have one of the tastiest wines of our trip – a 1999 Vina Alberti Rioja. The waiter was new and a bit scattered and we were seated at a table right by the kitchen window (the only alternative, in the middle of the dining room, would have been even worse.) For all this, it was a very reasonable 38 Euro.
After, we went back to Taverna Tempranillo, stood at the bar, watched the people and then hustled home in the cold. There, to our delight, we discovered the Miss Espana contest was on TV. We watched everything after the six final finalists were chosen. There was a bizarre way of scoring, which is covered in my blog so I won’t go over it too much here. This kept our attention for hours longer than we would have liked as bed was calling. Miss Jaen finally won and was fitted with a crown about a foot tall and made of silver tubes. It was too heavy and too big and she had to hold it on her head.
The next morning, it was pouring again. We went out early (well, early for us, like noon) and bought some supplies for the apartment. By the time we finished and got back it was 1:30 and we were starving. We went into a tavern on Cava San Miguel and had a great tortilla (the Spanish potato and egg frittata.) While we were there a large group of Italians came in and filled the tiny dining room up – we moved into the bar for them. It was nice to speak a bit of bad Italian and one man came to me after and told me I was not only pretty, but also accommodating and nice. Or something like that. Listening to them made me homesick for Italy. How come English never makes me homesick?
After, because of the rain, we decided to ride the Open Bus around. It’s the tour bus that makes lots of stops and you can hop on and off. Once on the bus we spotted a Renfe train office and decided to go there and pick up our tickets to Sevilla. We got off the bus at the Prado and walked back to where we (I) thought the Renfe office was, but we could not find it. I went into a travel agency and asked, IN ITALIAN “do you speak English?” What a dork. She finally figured me out and told me where the Renfe office was. We found it, had to wait for awhile, and eventually got our tickets for Madrid to Sevilla (which we had pre-booked over the internet) and also our tickets from Sevilla to Cordoba, from a humorless ticket guy. Then we walked down to the Prado to catch the bus again.
We sat there on the idling bus for some time while the driver girl and the ticket girl smoked and talked. Finally we drove off and saw some great fountains and started up the Gran Via. Again, we wished the weather was better so we could walk or ride on top of the bus – down below was not cutting it. When we got to the Plaza de Espana, we stopped for what seemed like an eternity – a couple more employees got on, there was more smoking and talking. It was freezing on the bus, there was no heat, and it was really uncomfortable. Plus, we weren’t going anywhere. So, once the bus got moving, we got off the thing at Puerta del Sol and went back to our apartment to rest before dinner.
Before we went to dinner, we were lucky enough to take in another showing of “Hecho Pareja.” Today the prize was a Greek woman named Petra and the contestants were a very straight, decent looking guy in a suit, a sort of blue-collar looking Erik Estrada type, and a balding, chubby guy called Jesus. Petra was a bit frightening looking. The men had to do a sort of strip-dance, taking off their shirts only (thank golly,) and do some push ups, and had to have Petra touch their heads, blindfolded. Jesus was the best at the sexy dance, but the straight guy kicked everyone’s ass at the push-ups. Poor Jesus, when Petra was going to touch his bald area, kept hunching over farther and farther so she wouldn’t feel it. Then all the guys got to slap her face (still blindfolded, of course.) In the end, even though the looks on her face would not have indicated it, Petra picked Jesus! A more bizarre couple, I have never seen. On this show they even have a mock marriage ceremony with a cake. We were cracking up.
Then we moved on to the Restaurant Botin. This is a famous restaurant, Hemingway ate here, etc. etc. We were seated on the first floor (one above ground) in a pretty tiled room with lots of other tourists. We had a tasty salad, some roasted pig, and the house cake. The salad and the cake were good, but the pig was a little, well, piggy. I like my pig almost melted like in Carnitas – this was pig with thick skin.
The service was good and a woman came around and took pictures. We didn’t want to buy ours, but the table next to us, a very fun foursome of Mexicans and Maltans, wanted me to pitch in for theirs because my head was in their picture. I did it on purpose, too, I told Mom check this out, I’m going to stick my head into their picture. So there I am in their memories of Botin, forever. They were having a great time and didn’t care that I crashed their party. Botin was good but just good, and it was pretty touristy. It didn’t rock my world.
I think by this point me and Mom were tapas lovers and everything was being compared to tapas and was never as good as tapas. That sounds awfully unadventurous but when you go to Spain and eat some garlic shrimps or a piece of crusty bread grilled and topped with tomato with you will see what I am talking about.
The next morning, we slept till 11:00 and it was another cloudy, rainy day. We went off to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, planning to stop and eat tapas on the way. First we stopped at the Bar Alhambra, at 9 Victoria. What a cool place! Groovy Moorish interior, cute, young bartender, a small plate of Chorizo with our vino. Then we walked across the street to El Abuelo, Victoria 12, for their famous shrimps. The interior or feel of the place was not nearly as cool as Alhambra, but the garlic shrimps were fantastic. I could have eaten a pound of them. Then we walked to the museum.
Wow – what an incredible museum. I was totally impressed. Since the collection was once private, there are paintings from the Pre-Renaissance on up to modern times. The layout is easy to navigate and we were blessed with no crowds. It was one of the best museum visits I have ever had.
This would be our last night in Madrid, so we decided to… go and eat some tapas! Good choice! First we went to a wine bar called Cien Vinos, at Nuncio 17, near the Cava Baja. This bar has been written up in many magazines and is very popular with locals and tourists, but we went so early there was only one other table. My, my, was it good. I had a glass of Cava and mom a glass of red, and we ate a “torta txangurro” which was some sort of Basque crab cake and another tapa of smoked salmon on a boiled potato with prawn béchamel sauce. It was one of the best dishes of our trip. The total bill for all this was 12 Euro.
Our next stop was Taverna Tempranillo again, because we really wanted to eat something there for once. We got there and managed to snag the cool, elevated table in the front window. Sadly, we had forgotten our “Eating and Drinking in Spain” book., so the menu was a total mystery to us. We ordered “tosta de trigueros” not knowing what it was, but figuring that it must contain toast. We were delighted when it was egg and asparagus on toast. It was great and we had a couple of glasses of wine and our toast and then we were full. The problem with me and my mom is, after a couple of stops for tapas we were full. But then of course we would go back to the apartment and eat Manchego cheese and cookies and stuff.
Back at the apartment, we watched a truly bizarre reality-sort-of TV show. It was called El Castillo de las Mentes, and seemed to pit TV fortune tellers against each other with a panel of holy looking guys officiating or judging. There was also a woman with a fuchsia pink feathered hat up there with the priest guys. The show went on for a long time and there was a lot of arguing and shouting and crying by some truly bizarre people. I even found a website! (Click on "El Castillo" in Web Resources.) All the fortune tellers have thumbnail photos and bios. How I wish this site was in English. A great send off, we were leaving for Toledo in the morning.
A bit about our Madrid apartment, first. It was a nice, big apartment, very basic and more function over form. I’ve done a bit of reading and it appears that most Madrid accommodations are basic, but nice. For the price and the location our apartment was a great deal, the staff were friendly, and the location was in the uber-heart of Madrid. We stayed in apartment #51.
I am a bit bummed that there were many things I wanted to do in Madrid, but the weather made it impossible. The El Rastro Flea Market, the Parque del Buen Retiro, sitting outside at cafes, a day-trip to Segovia … I will just have to go back!