And so it began, another insanely early wake-up call and drive to the airport feeling hungover. Note to self, do not drink copious amounts of wine prior to flying, especially when you have to be at the airport for 4.30a.m!
I met my travel buddy for the trip to Madrid – Nicola – and after some damage control green tea and paninis we were off. The flight was pretty awful since I felt like crap but luckily I managed to sleep off most of the hangover and arrive in Madrid to sunshine and excitement for the long weekend ahead.
We are staying in Hostal Condestable, which is located about 5 minutes north of Gran Via. We got the metro straight from the airport to Gran Via Station and then wandered around the residential neighbourhood searching for our hostel. It took us a little while to track it down since it is located in a grand residential building which we walked straight past at first expecting something more in the £15 a night for a twin room budget category. We eventually found it and after walking into a lovely marble entry-way made our way up to the second floor to the hostel. We have a twin room which is lovely! After quickly sorting out our stuff we were off to explore Madrid!
First stop was the Mercado de San Miguel, one of the oldest food markets in Madrid! We wandered through the streets of beautiful buildings in the sun taking everything in before arriving at the market. Wow! This place is quite overwhelming. We did a quick once round to check out our options before I decided on oysters and champagne to start the trip, with Nicola opting for fresh Empanadas. After we had finished, round two was red and black caviar on toast for me with seafood paste and crab mayo while Nicola sampled some delectable looking cheeses at the cheese counter. We finished our lunch with some handmade croquettes filled with; blue cheese, ham, shrimp, cod, chorizo and chicken to name but a few. The whole meal was fantastic and really gave us a sense of the communal market eating atmosphere in Spain. We finished our extravaganza with 2 desert sherries to share from The Sherry Corner. They were both sickly sweet and the perfect end to our first meal in the city. After all that eating though it was time to hit the streets.
From the market we headed down along to the Palacio Real de Madrid. As we rounded the corner we were immediately struck by the phenomenal architecture of the adjacent Cathedral de la Almudena. It was breath-taking. We crossed over the street and noticed that the palace appeared to be cordoned off. This was news to us, we had been planning on going inside although as we sat on the steps and consulted the guide book the final sentence mentioned that the palace is often closed off to visitors due to royal engagements – bingo. With that in mind we sat in the sun and watched as the guards on horses pranced around in the sun in full armour, they must have been sweltering, while taking in the beauty of the building and the sheer scale.
Since the palace was off the cards we decided to check out the Cathedral we had passed and was located directly opposite the palace. The Cathedral was quite interesting as the final construction was completed in 1993, relatively recently. You can see from the design that the building was obviously designed a very long time ago, yet the interior furnishings have clearly been updated as and when they were installed and so the building is very interesting. The construction dates back to 1879 but the windows are very modern in style and the painting and décor clearly comes from a much more modern era. It was a beautiful building and we were glad we got the chance to explore it. The organ is huge and just as they were leaving they started a rehearsal which was fantastic to hear.
We wandered down from the cathedral with an aim to wandering through the large park directly adjacent to the Palace – however, we soon realised rather than one huge park as it looks on the map it is made up of lots of smaller spaces of green. The first area we explored had a green pond and we chilled on a bench there before trying to access the palace gardens before realising after quite some time that since the palace was closed off, so in turn were the adjacent gardens. However, we finally found a place to cross on the busy road and found yet another park area. It was really hot walking around in the heat of the day and so we took the opportunity to chill out at a café with an ice drink. Total bliss.
After a good while lazing in the sun we gave ourselves a shake and headed back into the centre of town to start our Tapas Tavernas tour. As anyone who has read my previous blogs will know, food is the name of my travelling game and so a tapas tour seemed like a no brainer, until we saw the 90Euro price tag! Fortunately for us however, some nice fellow traveller had obviously been on the tour previously and kindly written down all of the stops and what they ate at each of them. So using my ingenious I printed the blog and started at stop one – Taberna Real.
This was a very traditional looking taverna and was located right across from the main opera house. When we arrived we were pretty exhausted from walking around in the heat and so the kind waiter brought us over some ice water while we checked out the tapas menu. Another great aspect of doing the Tapas tour solo was that we could follow their recommendations or choose to go it alone and so we ended up with olives, crisps (both recommendations) and our first Spanish tortilla, all washed down with a glass of vermouth. I was more than a little disappointed with the olives, they were pickled and rather mild in flavour and the crisps were, well crisps? However, the tortilla was really nice and the staff were extremely friendly. The vermouth was interesting but very strong. Atmosphere and staff; top marks, food; just mediocre.
Our second stop was quite a walk and so we picked up some supplies en-route. When we finally arrived at Teberna La Concha the place was completely empty. Yet again the staff were more than friendly and showed us to a table downstairs. We ordered a glass of the Parxet Cava, which was delicious and a multitude of tapa including; salmorejo (gazpacho-like soup), Morcilla (black pudding), tostas de gambas, toastas de cabrales and anchoas, pork tostas and beef and cheese tostas. We ordered way too much food but it was all delicious and probably one of my favourite places to eat in Madrid (I am writing this blog end of day 2). We finished the amazing meal with another glass of Caupage de Alicia Cava which I preferred. This place was much more modern and cool again with really friendly staff and fantastic food. It is also located on the famous cava street, and so we feel like we sampled a good proportion of the local specialty.
By this point we were feeling very full but decided to try and fit in the third stop on the tour which was La Venencia. As we approached the bar we had high expectations. The other stops had been good, the first more for location and atmosphere and the second for food. This place was very rustic and reminded me of something out of the Wild West. We approached the bar to order and when we didn’t immediately know what we wanted the barman seemed to get a bit annoyed. I ignored it and ordered the suggested tapa; cured tuna, cured beef, chorizo and olives. I then asked for some recommendations on the sherry at which point I realised the man was extremely rude. He refused to offer any advice and was angry and abrasive. A bystander eventually picked one for me which was dry and not really to my taste, but at least he was willing to help out. We ate the tapa at a table towards the back of the bar (I have no pictures as these were not allowed, a shame since the only positive was the rustic, cool look of the place). The food was ok, nothing special and we ate up pretty quickly and left due to the horrible atmosphere.
It was a shame to end on a negative but the walk back to the hostel was bustling and beautiful. Madrid is truly a gorgeous city and I am looking forward to exploring more over the next few days.