Monday, November 24, 2014

I <3 Madrid

When my Dad suggested Amsterdam for this year's holiday, my reaction was basically "I hated it the first time, why would I want to go back?" And that was in the middle of summer, let alone gloomy October. Luckily, my sister felt much the same and suggested Madrid. Now here was an idea I could get behind. A friend of mine lived there for years, but I never managed to get it together to visit, so it's been in the back of my mind for a while. And of course, there was the lure of famous museums such as the Prado, and the promise of one last dose of sunshine before winter set in. And tapas, lots of tapas.

Despite all this, I didn't actually have much of a clue what Madrid was like, and it turned out to be much prettier than I had expected. I suppose its beautiful, monumental buildings shouldn't have come as a surprise - it was, after all, the capital of a rich and powerful empire for hundreds of years - but I don't know, I guess you just don't see pictures of Madrid's star attractions the way you do of Paris or Rome, so it was a pleasant surprise. Even when people talk about Spain, it seems always to be Barcelona or Majorca or Malaga rather than Madrid. But I'm definitely converted to the capital's charms.

Much of what was particularly enjoyable about the city is hard to capture in a blog post - the sunshine, sipping sangria or tinto de verano on a terrace, starting the day with churros dipped in hot chocolate, picking up freshly shaved ham at the market (okay, so food, lots of food). It's a cliché to talk about a relaxed, laid-back way of life - we were on holiday, not struggling with 25% unemployment - but as city breaks go, it definitely was more relaxing than some.

After arriving on Thursday and not doing a lot beyond sipping cocktails, on Friday we did the Prado. It's huge, they don't let you take photos, and it's well worth a look, although you do get your fill of Spanish court paintings after a while.

On Saturday, the plan was a good old-fashioned tapas crawl in the area around Plaza Mayor. A Madrileno workmate of my sister's claimed we could bar hop our way to free tapas, and while this proved not quite to be the case, we still managed to sample a few dishes. First, though, we accidentally wandered into the crypt of the cathedral, initially mistaking it for the cathedral itself (this is not as dumb as it sounds, it's huge and the entrance is on ground level on the other side from the real cathedral entrance)

In the cathedral crypt
Once we realised, we tried to visit the cathedral itself, but it turned out they were screening a mass outside on big screens, to a crowd of hundreds who were enduring the hot midday sun to watch it. Can anyone enlighten me whether this is a regular event, or if there was some sort of superstar priest in the house that day??

The giant outdoor Mass (plus a ton of people standing that aren't in the photo)

A (sort of) scenic viewpoint

No bullfighting. I'm not sure if these signs were a serious political statement or not

Not sure why they wanted to pose in front of a non-descript chain tourist trap (Spain's version of La Curé Gourmande), but it's a cute photo. Was that patronising?
PS If you like Mum's snazzy t-shirt, you can get one of your very own here
Back to the tapas crawl, we were lured into a hole in the wall place allegedly offering the best pork in Madrid by the tempting hoof of a sacrificial victim (methinks that chain tells a tale of shenanigans in days of yore)

Who could resist the siren song of the hoof?

Preparing for pork

Got to say, it was pretty delish! We sampled a few more places...

Mmm, patatas bravas

The world's dinkiest beers

Sangria o'clock
Before heading back to Plaza Mayor for some calamari sandwiches (good, but a bit dry).

Bocodillos calamares in Plaza Mayor
We got our money's worth in entertainment, however, as at one moment a couple of cop cars burst into the square and scattered the the various traders selling tatty gewgaws spread out on blankets which could be bundled up in a trice to flee the police. It looked like a well-worn routine, with the traders darting into the many alleys leading off the square in a blink of an eye, leaving the cop cars to execute handbrake turns in a pedestrian plaza crowded with bewildered tourists, before inevitably the traders came back 5 minutes after the cops left. I'm not sure whether they were trying to snap them for immigration irregularities, selling fake goods, or hawking without a licence (or all three), but it seemed a pretty ineffective game. It's just a miracle they don't kill a tourist doing it!

Jules and I could have gone for more tapas, but we ended up leaving to stake out a spot in a sports bar to watch the "El Clasico" football game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. It was a pretty good game, and the atmosphere was lively (even though an Irish pub mightn't be the most authentic place to sample it). Something fun to tick off the bucket list (even if it wasn't on there to begin with).

9 comments:

  1. I visited Madrid in 2009. Such a beautiful city! And for February, it was sunny and warm (compared to Northern France anyway!). I remember drinking a lot of sangria.

    Sounds like you had a great trip!

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    1. Yep, lots of sangria here too :) Which i would never think of drinking at home! Mum suggested I could ask for tinto de veranho when I got back to brussels and I was horrified

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  2. Ha ha, have never heard the term "superstar priest."

    Nice dress!

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    1. I suppose you never got the show Father Ted in the US, but I think there was one on there?!?

      Thanks! Nice to have another chance to wear it before it got too cold

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  3. Lovely dose of sunshine and relaxing times. You didn't mention being lucky enough to catch the lovely choir rehearsal when we were in ths crypt! MX

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    1. Oh, there's only one choir worth taking about x

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  4. Madrid is great! And if often is overshadowed by Barcelona for no good reason! (Though I love Barcelona too.) The modern art museum there is excellent too. Hope you enjoyed your dinky beers!

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    1. I liked Barcelona too, but yeah, I don't see any reason it's better than Madrid, and you could say worse because of all the tourists (and I visited in February, so not exactly peak season). I don't like beers however dinky, but I managed okay ;)

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  5. Thanks for the tshirt shout out! :-)

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