Before I get into this next post of my travels during the February holidays, I would like to point out that, even though I was born and raised in a nation in which Spanish was a predominant second language for many people to learn, I do not know Spanish. As you know, I chose to learn French instead back in my school days, and so the words/expressions that I know in Spanish are limited to “Hola,” “Cómo estás?,” “Gracias,” and “No habla espanol.”
…but surprisingly, I managed to get by pretty well in the cities that I visited while in Spain! Considering that both Barcelona and Madrid are such international, touristy places, many of the locals there know enough English to communicate with tourists. I did use a bit of Spanish when speaking with people, just because I was, well, in Spain- why not make the effort to do so, when the locals are making an effort to speak English? Sounds fair enough, right?
Any case, moving on to my travels in Madrid! 🙂
Left Barcelona after my third night, catching the 8h00 bus to Madrid. Was a six-plus hour long journey, from the Spanish coast to the heart of the country. Arrived in Madrid close to 16h00, and took the metro from the bus station to the city center, where my hostel was located.
Got to my hostel, checked in, and dropped off my bags before heading out again to explore the city before sundown. Weather wasn’t very ideal, as it was windy and rainy- not my cup of tea. Anyhow, I braved the dismal weather, and managed to see plenty of the main attractions in the city center, starting from Puerta del Sol before making my way to the San Ginés church (where the Chocolatería San Ginés was closely situated), Plaza Mayor, the Mercado de San Miguel (a grand market that sells a ton of pastries, seafood, and whatnot. Also includes plenty of tapas bars for people to stop by and have a bite and drink), the Almudena Cathedral, and the Palacio Real. Basically explored west of the city that day, which was an accomplishment, especially with the rain and wind!
Also had dinner that night at one of the tavern restaurants near the Mercado de San Miguel, where I ordered a cocido madrileño, a traditional Spanish dish that actually consists of multiple dishes, beginning with soup, garbanzo beans and vegetables, and then finishing off with a huge platter of different kinds of meats, from chicken to beef to bacon to chorizo and so much more. The waitress had warned me that it was big enough to serve two people, and she was right: it was a LOT. I didn’t have anyone to share it with (mind you, it was Valentine’s Day that day- very ironic. #Foreveralone) 😛 and so I had to eat all of it on my own. Somehow managed to eat it all, and was super stuffed at the end. No regrets, though, as the food was absolutely incredible. Meats were all tender, and the soup warm and comforting. ❤
The weather was pretty bad in the evening; after I visited the Palacio Real, I decided to head back to the hostel to get dry. Walked back, showered, and turned in for the rest of the night.
Woke up the next morning to begin my full day in Madrid. Had the included breakfast from the hostel before heading out to explore the east side of the city. Made stops at Estación de Madrid Atocha (large train station with a tropical garden inside) and the Museo Reina Sofía (didn’t go inside, though) before heading to Museo del Prado, a huge art museum that has an extensive collection of paintings, especially from the Spanish greats like Goya and Velázquez. Spent almost two hours wandering around the museum, looking through as many paintings as I could. Couldn’t take photos, unfortunately, but still a pleasant (even if exhausting) experience!
Afterwards, I went to Retiro Park, an expansive park located right next to the museum. Took a short stroll through the greenery (the sun was out that day, so all looked very lovely!), and saw the Palacio de Cristal (“Crystal Palace”) in the center. Quite the view!
Exited the park, heading towards three large plazas: Plaza de la Independencia (where the Puerta de Alcalá is centered), Plaza de Cibeles (with the majestic Cybele Palace), and Plaza de Colón (where a statue of Christopher Columbus is placed at the round-about).
After Plaza de Colón, I decided to head back to the city center; I hadn’t eaten since the early morning, and so I was pretty hungry. Also wanted to check out the famous hot chocolate and churros at the Chocolatería San Ginés, so that doubled as my “lunch/afternoon snack.”
Line wasn’t crazy long, as I had arrived just before it got longer. Got my chocolate con churros for 4€ (incredible deal!), and was whisked away into blissful, chocolate-y happiness. Seriously, Spanish hot chocolate is on a whole other level than the usual, watery stuff that I get back home- it’s so thick that it feels like I am drinking chocolate fondue! And the churros are delicious as well- they’re thinner and crispier than the ones I eat in the States, which tend to be thick and bready. The Spanish version is also good for dunking into the hot chocolate, as they don’t have the typical cinnamon-sugar coating on them. Really, the chocolate con churros were one of the best things I have ever eaten during my travels! 😀
After my heavenly food indulgence, I headed back to the Almudena Cathedral to check it out during the daytime. Went inside as well, and it was quite nice; admittedly, I have been inside too many churches and cathedrals throughout my travels in Europe to be impressed anymore, but this one actually stood out for me, with its golden altar to which one can take the stairs and see up-close. Pretty fantastic.
Decided to head back to the hostel afterwards, as I was pretty spent after being on my feet the entire day. Returned to rest for a little bit before heading out later that evening to get a quick bite to eat at a jamón (ham) tapas restaurant and then to a flamenco show, as I was recommended by Grace while in Barcelona (it was either between that or watching a bullfight, and I am not the one for animal cruelty, so flamenco it was!). 😛
Flamenco show started close to 21h00, and with a drink in hand, I watched the dancers tap-dance to the rhythm of the singer and guitarists’ music. Takes lots of skill to twist and twirl in those long, flowing dresses, as well as in those heels- kudos to them! Overall, it was an enjoyable performance.
Show ended at 22h00, and I went back to the hostel to shower, freshen up, and turn in for the night. Had to leave bright and early the next morning from Madrid to my next destination, so needed some good rest.
Overall, my stay in Madrid was shorter than that in Barcelona, and I have to say that my experiences in Madrid were just…okay. I didn’t feel like there was as much to do there, compared to Barcelona. Perhaps the not-so-wonderful weather dampened my perspective on the city (pun intended), but the things that really stood out for me was the food, with the cocido madrileño and the chocolate con churros being absolutely amazing- I’ll never forget them. 😛
Any case, we’ll be continuing with the next city tomorrow: Lisbon, Portugal!
— The Finicky Cynic
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