Madrilenos know how to live:
- The days are longer here in a leisurely way. The city does not come alive until at least 9 am during the week. This is due, in part, to the fact that Madrilenos go out to eat around about 10 pm. 10 pm, the city is just getting going. Chris and I have been in restaurants at 8 pm and are the only ones in the restaurant.
- Vino and food are something to savored. Two hour lunches and two hour dinners (starting at 10 pm) are standard. Cozy cafes and tapas bars line the streets of Madrid and are heavily used.
- A relaxed approach to life is taken, and quality of life is important here. Work is secondary. This is noticeable in the overall pace of the city, pace of service at businesses, the hours of operation, etc. Time is not as critical or something to stressed.
- Squares and streets, in general, were packed with people out and about enjoying life no matter the day of the week.
After a couple months in Southeast Asia, we were definitely looking forward to some vino and tapas. (While vino is available in Southeast Asia, the wine selection is not great in Southeast Asia, and it is just too hot to drink wine.) However, the temperature in Madrid was much cooler than Southeast Asia (about 50 degrees versus 90+ degrees). (More on this later, but the packing strategy was definitely tested in Madrid and happy to report, it is working. More on the packing strategy in another post.)
We also changed gears a bit in Madrid. Having been to Madrid a few times previously and traveling for a couple of months, we tried to enjoy Madrid as locals versus tourists so we rented an apartment thru Airbnb. Our first Airbnb experience was quite positive. We found a great spot in the Centro on Calle de Las Huertas which is a walking street so the apartment was super quiet and well-appointed- https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6996771. The owner could not have been more helpful, and the apartment was stocked with all sorts of items including a Rosco de Reyes which is a traditional Spanish king’s cake pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany amongst other things. (Chris definitely enjoyed the cake.) Overall, great first experience with Airbnb.
With the exception of a visit to a couple tourist spots, enjoying Madrid as locals involved:
- Taking the Metro, a fantastic way to get around Madrid. It is clean, safe and heavily used by Madrilenos.
- Strolling through different neighborhoods. Madrid has many different neighborhoods with distinct personalities not unlike Seattle. On this trip, we did a walking tour through Chueca, La Latina and Salamanca. Chueca is known at the gay neighborhood and has gone through a renaissance in the last 10 years. La Latina, a more edgy neighborhood, known for bars and restaurants with locals. La Latina also hosts El Rastro, a flea market held on Sundays. We visited El Rastro, and it was packed with people and almost anything one would want to buy. Salamanca, which is probably my favorite neighborhood, borders Retiro Park and has great shops and restaurants. Stores like Mallorca are in Salamanca and have wonderful meats, cheeses, pasteries, etc.
- A stroll or run through Retiro Park in a must. This is a gorgeous park in the center of the city heavily used by locals and tourists.
- We had been eating out for the last two months so we took advantage of the apartment and cooked a couple nights. One night, we cooked one of local favorites, Tortilla Espanola. Put this tortilla in between two slices of fresh bread and it is delicioso!
- A tapas dinner. With so many restaurants to chose from, it can be a challenge to sift through the good, the bad and the ugly. We found a great tapas spot (right next to our apartment by a well respected chef, Sergi Arola), Vi Cool. The tapas were creative and tasty. We especially enjoyed the meatballs in chimichurri sauce served with a goat cheese fondue and the goat cheese salad.
- A trip to the US Embassy for additional visa pages in a passport was needed. Some countries require “X” numbers of pages in the passport prior to issuing a visa. An appointment is required prior. After about a few hours at the US Embassy and $82 (USD) later, an additional 24 pages were added to a passport. Note: I heard that the service of providing additional Visa pages may end at the end of the year but have not been able to validate this.
- A trip to a local clinic for the last Verorab shot. Because my Spanish is so poor, it took about 15 phone calls and trips to two clinics, but we were successful. That said, the folks at Centro de Salud Montesa could not have been nicer, and we were astonished when we were told we did not have to pay anything for the shot. European healthcare at its best, I guess.
- A visit to the local mercados in Madrid is always fun. Mercados are uber farmers market with tapas and wine bars to enhance the shopping experience. We visited Mercado de San Anton in Chueca one night looking for pine nuts. Another beautiful Mercado is the Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest and most beautiful markets, which is near the Plaza Major.
From a tourist perspective, we finally made it to Toledo ( a short day trip from Madrid). Toledo is about 70 kms south of Madrid, and Renfe trains leave about every hour. Known as the “City of Three Cultures” (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), Toledo is now a UNESCO site with an interesting mix of architectures.
A visit to the Toledo Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Cathedral, is a must. A stunning piece of architecture that was started in 1226 and took about 266 years to build. We did the audio guided tour which we would recommend as it carefully walks one through the history, the chapels, the art work, etc. of the Cathedral. The stain glass and art work by El Greco are amazing along with intricately carved choir chairs. The tour takes about 2- 2.5 hours to be able to take it all in. We took the 10:20 am train and the 3:30 pm return train. One could easily spend a whole day or a couple days in Toledo.
Not as good as some of the art museums we went to in Southeast Asia, but a visit to Reina Sofia Museum might be of interest for those interested in 20th century art. For El Greco’s, Picasso’s and Miro’s art work alone, the museum is worth a visit. Hasta el siguiente tiempo Madrid!