We turned up in Madrid and checked into our hotel at midday. First impression: it is GODDAMN HOT. Well over thirty degrees.
Our hotel is near Puerta del Sol, one of the city’s most popular locations. It is the symbolic centre of Spain where all of the country’s roads started to be numbered from. It’s also where the national New Years celebrations are broadcast every year apparently.
Puerta del Sol hosts the old Post Office, where the president of Madrid’s office is located today. Less happily, it used to be the security and interior ministry during Franco’s reign.
Once we had unpacked and freshened up we set off to look around. We passed a tribute to Ignacio Echeverria, a man from Madrid who was killed in the terrorist attack in London a week ago. He had been trying to defend people against the attackers using his skateboard. It was very touching and sad to see the memorial to him.
We walked to the Plaza Mayor which was built in 1619. That area is called El Madrid de los Austrias because it was built during the Habsburg dynasty. Not ‘Asturias’ as I originally misread it. There was a street performer dressed up as a goat wearing glittery ribbons (unless I was hallucinating from the heat or tiredness), much to the amusement of virtually every passing child.
We had some tortilla and calamares in a bustling little cafe called Bar La Campana. A great introduction to Madrid. Calamari sandwiches, or bocadillo de calamares, are clearly a bit of a fixture in this area as I think I counted at least six shops selling them.
Then we took a look around El Mercado de San Miguel, an old market that’s been turned into sort of Madrid version of Borough in London, only smaller and less hellish.
We treated ourselves to a glass of rose Cava and a croqueta as we walked around. Brag alert: Dan commented that he actually preferred the croquetas I have cooked previously in London (certified decent by our Spanish friend Breogan, honest!)
It was hard to resist the many stands selling empanadas, gazpacho, jamon, sweets, seafood and wine. I suspect we might end up going back at some point. That said, my understanding from friends from Madrid is you can get food as good if not better at far lower prices elsewhere.
We had to admit defeat at this point amid the heat and tiredness and head back to the hotel for a couple of hours’ rest. I think we both have a renewed understanding of the siesta after today.
Newly refreshed, we headed back into the madness at about 7pm. We strolled around the national residence – think Spain’s Buckingham Palace, only bigger and not actually lived in by the royal family.
Then we had a walk around the Jardines de Sabatini, adjacent to the Palace. I hope we will revisit all of these sites properly when we are less tired. We have three full days after all.
We left in search of a drink and a bite to eat. We tried out a place called Juana la Loca recommended by someone I know via work. More cava, plus an incredible slice of tortilla, some delicious gazpacho and pork. We were stuffed.
Early night for us now, it’s been a tiring day (and that’s before you even factor in trying to keep up to date with the news).