Day 19 & 20 Mad for Madrid
I slept horribly. Again. (Ac struggles and bad dreams) and woke up way later than I anticipated. Also, my hostal is creepily always empty, like “The Shinning,” or something!
I wasn’t stressing about the time since the only thing I really wanted to do that day was go to the Musea del Prado- a famous art museum that’s collection is basically due to the royalty’s here desire for collecting art. I saw Goya and Velazquez and Carravagio and got ideas for art lessons! The special exhibit (included with my prepurchased Art Pass, that would also get me into the Sofia Reina museum the next day) also happened to be 10 Picasso pieces on loan from a museum in Basel! It felt somewhat fortuitous to think I had just seen his earlier works days before in Barcelona and now could immediately compare his timeline. There are no photos allowed in the whole Prado, but I couldn’t resist when I saw art students (I’m guessing?) painting replicas of the great works. Who has that much talent??
After spending more than two hours strolling the museum without even realizing how much time had gone by, I was in need of a meal. I knew about a street about two blocks away from the museum that was suppose to have plenty of options. I still have not really figured out the time of when it’s too early for dinner or too late for lunch. I feel like I try to go as late as I can for eating lunch,, but then sometimes it’s too late! Or I sleep when it’s lunch time and then am hungry when everyone else siestas…? It was already around 3pm, which gets close to when places start to close for siestas, but really, tapa bars are suppose to be always available.
I walked to the Calle de Jesus, a strip know for good tapas bars, recognized a name from my book and heard clattering plates and silverware, which I took as a good sign. I went in to what turned out to be my first real tapas experience in Spain.
I stood at the counter and watched for a while, but knew (again, from the lovely guide book) that it was on me to get the bartenders attention.
I ordered una caña (€1.20), which like the cutest baby beer you’ve ever seen (This isn’t really a cava kind of joint, and plus, small beers don’t get warm by the time you finish them!) and tried to figure out the food game plan. This was not Barcelona and I was not handed a menu with small english print.
I had also forgot that any “good” tapa bar gives you a free bite with your drink order (So, you’re always suppose to order a drink first and just wait, even if you’re planning on ordering food. So basically, through my timidness, I accidentally planned it perfectly.) I got my small beer and a piece of baguette with jamon. A middle aged couple had walked up to the bar next to me and when two stools opened up, I gestured for them to go ahead and take them. They said no no, for me to, so the wife took one and I took one and I like to think this was the catalyst for our relationship to come.
I ordered another beer and a salmon canapé (€2.50), which was like the best lox and cheese on bread I’ve had in a long while.
The couple next to me got a plate of some small fishes and potato chips. Excuse me, where were potato chips on the menu?
I got one more white fish canapé (€2.50) of sorts. It might sound like not a lot of food, I know, but it was like eating two open face sandwiches (and like one regular sized beer). So for €8 it was the perfect lunch. And, for some reason it also felt weird to take food photos in here so most of mine are rushed and blurry.
Just then another plateful of potato chips arrived for the couple next to me. I liked their style. But they pushed them towards me and said something in Spanish! Ok, clearly my wandering eyes hadn’t been very subtle….
Oh no, I said. They pushed them towards me again. Well, ohhhkaay!
We started talking and I made my first travel friends! Middle aged Elsie (Elsé?) y Mario were from the Canary Islands and on vacation in Madrid for a week because they were both teachers on summer break! We bonded in an undictatable conversation of half English (theirs- very good!) & half Spanish (mine- very bad) about the important of summer getaways for teachers, how good potato chips taste with beer and the various preparations of anchovies. They also insisted I try the small fish that they had originally ordered call “boquarones” – fresh anchovies with vinegar, garlic and parsley. Elsè confided, “I don’t like anchovies but I like these.” I tried one and, holy shit, me too. (Oh, by the way Elsè was an *English* teacher. Thank god.) When it was time to part, I pushed some coins towards them for the chips and fish and Mario said something harshly, that was so against his jovial nature of the past 30 minutes that I looked to Else to translate: “You are insane!” We hugged goodbye. It was one of the most genuine interactions I’ve had in a long while.
I went back to the hostal for siesta. (“Only a half hour!” Elsie said. Oops.) and woke up to go wander the city center of Madrid during magic hour.
I loved how familiar I was with this city after only one day. Barcelona was sprawling and I felt like I was always stopping to subtly pull out my map in the shadows of buildings, but in Madeid I felt I always had a keen sense of where I was. Or at least what direction I would need to head for my hostal.
It’s unfair, maybe, as Barcelona was the first stop and so I was less prepared and less sure of myself as a traveler, and I know it might be an unpopular opinion, but while I would come back to Barcelona with friends to go to the beach and then go out at night and sleep all day, I would easily come back to Madrid alone: to eat and drink and wander.
I walked to the main square, Plaza Del Sol, and saw the famous statue of the bear eating berries (The folklore is mixed, but everyone can agree It’s a symbol of Madrid and the bear is on its cost of arms. )
I then went into a famous deli and looked at saffron and cheeses and hams that I couldn’t figure out how to order or being back and I found the Madrid version of Barcelona’s “la boqueria” food market but it was more upscale (and expensive, my hostal owner had warned me) but it was good to note. I was really doing all this wandering heading for another smaller plaza, Plaza Mayor, so named for the mayor’s house. In fact, the color of Plaza Mayor was actually painted by a vote, as apparently after Franco’s fall people were excited to excersize democracy about anything.
I was there because I was on the hunt for a local place called Cafe Ria, known for their calamari sandwiches for less than €3. I know to you it sounded like I just ate but instead this was all at 4 hours ago by now!
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for but when the most perfectly lightly fried, huge calamari arrived between two pieces of bread I was sold. Most of you know I love any variation of a fast food fish sandwich and this was beyond. It was still considered “early” dinner, so I thought might end up a snack, but at €4.30 for both the drink and sandwich, it was plenty filling.
It was a weird time between late snack time and when “dinner” and night activity starts so I went back to my hostal to kill time until my “evening walk.” When I went ou again, I wanted to head more up into the gay friendly neighborhood, and look for fhe different food market I was told about by the hostal owner.
It was around 10pm and I just strolled up the main paseo, noticing how each shuttered store front, no matter how upscale (Mac, Lacoste, etc), had intricate graffiti on them.
I almost walked right by the San Indelfonso Market since the entrance was back off the street, but when I walked in the buzzing and smoky loft-like building, man oh man, had I found “the scene.”
I tried to order cava but it came in a split (mini bottle) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I was suppose to open it. I returned to the bartender and asked him to “ayudame”. A stream of Spanish came at me and I have no idea what was being said, but his eyes glinted with that of a person giving me shit, in any language. I just stared in return, helpless to retaliate. And in the pause, with our eyes locked, he twisted the screw top open.
I returned to my seat determined to enjoy the hell out of my cava, and in a few minutes, heard rhythmic clapping starting from down a level. I peered over the edge to see flamenco dancers, a guitar player and a singer. It was a great scene to take in and I enjoyed nursing my drink.
I finished my cava and returned back while the night was still young according to Madrid standards.
Day 20: The next morning, I had intended to do the Royal Palace in the morning and the Sofia Reina, another famous art museum, in the afternoon. I wasn’t feeling good after another restless sleep. Was I getting sick or just the AC making my throat dry? I lounged in bed and got up late. Maybe I would just walk byyyyy the Royal Palace instead.
But first breakfast. Tomorrow I had an early start so today was my chance to go get what I’d been hearing all about: chocolate con churros at a famous chocoloteria, since 1894! The churros are fresh, but plain, and the hot chocolate is more like pudding. Together it’s delicious.
I did walk by the palace, and was surprised to see guards and horses out front until I remembered, Spain still has a King, ya’ll! I debated touring the grounds or even going in but it was so hot. I haven’t been talking enough about how hot it is. It’s so hot. Like literally 105 degrees hot. It’s a dry heat, and luckily everywhere is airconditioned, but I’ve never had to wipe sweat away from my upper lip as often as I do in Madrid.
So- instead of walking, I took the subway across town towards the Sofia Reina. 😉 It was only a few stops but it makes all the difference. I also thought I would first check out the huge Retiro Park. I heard my mom’s voice saying “Get to water!” when I had shown her the weather forecast, and I knew there was a lake in the park that people rented boats on. Maybe I could just stick my feet in?
At the museum, I loved the open hallways, courtyard in the middle and three large windows… But it added kind of a weird feeling to know this was once actually the first public hospital in Madrid.
For the collection, there was some Miró, Dali, Kadinsky, and a few more Picasso’s but the collection is really renowned for his huge (both in size and impact) La Guernica work. I explored the two floors and then needed a coffee!
I sat in the museum cafe for a while, thinking about my mom (it was her birthday!) and my friends back home. But coffee made me realize that I’d never really actually had a real lunch. By now it was close to 6pm. So I headed back to the hostel to regroup and recharge and go out again for dinner closer to 8:30.
I knew I wanted that boquarones (fresh anchovy in vinegar) dish that my friends had introduced me to and found a tapas bar that specialized in it, to a degree. I got there around 8:45 and the place was deserted. (Honestly, I kind of like that cuz then I feel less intimidated about trying to order…) I ordered a cava and munched on the free tapa of chorizo and these mini breadstick things and wrote some of the post cards I’d bought at the museums that day, and previously. Okay, even some from the Picasso museum in Barcelona.
I had seen boquarones on the menu on the board, but under “raciones” (full sized) for €11. For one person, a media-racion (half sized plate) would be what I needed but I didn’t see them offered anywhere. I told her “I want boquarones but, are there-” “media-racion?” She finished. She nodded in an “I got you, girl” manner. I’m still not sure if it was something on their regular menu.
I ordered another cava to go with the boquarones and then forgot that I got another tapa (this time olives) to go along with the plate. Salty and tangy, a perfect meal for me.
More people were coming and going now and I was enjoying her interactions with them all. I had been there for a while since I’d done all my postcards without even ordering yet. I ordered “una mas cava” I told her. And out came another plate of a different type of sausage (I only know it was different because it was cut differently. My red meat game is weak.) I knew I had to get up early but I mean, who could leave this place? Spainards have healthy appetites and I for one am enjoying taking advantage.
Plus, by now we had a rapport. She called me “guapa” to get my attention to pass me my plates, and then when I tried to ask for my bill, she instead capped off my glass of cava, *plus* gave me another free tapa of shrimp! She even plucked one from the bar to eat with me so she could show me her peeling technique.
(Honestly, at first thought my Spanish was just *that* bad that she had thought I ordered one more glass, and I just wasn’t gonna try and clarify to make things worse. But no, I soon realized, she was just giving me “the hook up,” which apparently bar tenders internationally are want to do.) But I don’t know whoever said tapa bars didn’t have good customer service?? The total bill (for my almost 2 hour stay, half raciones of boquarones and 3 glasses of cava) was €14.40. I tipped her, which is not common in Spain, and even less so at tapas bars, just like the change from the bill plus another Euro. “Thank you from my heart,” she told me. “Gracìas a ti!” I replied. 😢
I realized walking back to the hostal that I was kind of sad to leave Madrid tomorrow! It had been a very kind city to me.