I just enjoyed the most delightfully chill weekend in Madrid with a dear friend from my church in Lausanne. Yes, I read the entire chapter on Madrid in my Rick Steves’ “Spain” book before leaving, and yes, I read the weekend itinerary about Madrid in my New York Times “36 Hours” book, but no, I did not make a play-by-play agenda for this weekend. I knew a thing or two that I wanted to see, but otherwise, I promised my friend that I was content to have a relaxing weekend.
We flew out Friday evening – slightly delayed, but not late enough to put a damper on our moods. Plus, the Spanish eat dinner so late that arriving in time to go out for a 10:30pm dinner seemed completely normal. I read about a restaurant that was a 2-minute walk from our hotel. I called quite a few times on Thursday attempting to make a reservation, but kept getting a voicemail. My Mexican boss left a message for me in Spanish requesting a dinner reservation for Friday night. I didn’t know if they received the message, but we opted to try anyway. Here is what we found:
Sooo…I’m not sure if they’re on holiday, or if they’re closed all together?! Either way, we needed to find something else. We walked up the Gran Via – one of the major streets in the city center. There were quite a few multi-national chains and a few bizarre things like an American 50’s-style diner (complete with milkshakes and onion rings). We ventured off the main road and down some of the pedestrian streets until we found an available outdoor table at a place serving paella. I mean, when in Spain! After a really long week and tummies full of paella, we were ready to sleep!
The beautiful thing about traveling in Spain is that things open later, so there isn’t an urgency to wake up early to get to the big sites. We slept in, took our time getting ready, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. And STILL at 11:00am, I felt like we were among the first to arrive at the Royal Palace. I thought the palace was amazing. I LOVED the huge courtyard / plaza and the majestic feel of the exterior. I also loved the ornate interior. There was so much gorgeous artwork and so many incredible pieces of furniture, tapestries, and statues – some busts dating back to the 1st century! The throne room was SO opulent – you could totally imagine the king & queen receiving guests there. My favorite room was the dining room, which had an enormously long table that could seat 130 guests! The hostess in me loves the idea of having a feast for 130 of my closest friends & family! We weren’t allowed to take photos throughout most of the palace, but the exterior and entry were fair game.
One of the things that was really surprising in Madrid was the street performers. There were SO MANY people posing as unusual “statues.” I didn’t photograph any of them, because I didn’t want to pay them all. But, they had some of the most complex things happening as part of their costumes to allow them to hold some really unusual poses. There were flamenco dancers, musicians, and even one man playing the water glasses! No joke – this guy was playing legitimate classical music! The only person I’ve ever seen play the water glasses is Sandra Bullock as Gracie Lou Freebush in “Miss Congeniality,” so I was impressed!
We peaked our heads into the cathedral before walking down to Plaza Mayor to rest, rehydrate, and enjoy some quality people watching.
A little after 1:00pm, it was time to check out Mercado de San Miguel, which multiple people told me about before our visit. It was supposed to be a great spot for lunch. I expected a market where we would have to buy the ingredients to make sandwiches or whatever for a picnic, so imagine my surprise when we walked into an old market FULL of people and various stations serving all kinds of delicious tapas, drinks, fruits, desserts, meats, etc. It was AMAZING (and definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me)! We had a funnel of calamari, some toasts with delicious toppings, a variety of stuffed olives, and some strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. It was a chaotic environment, but I was feeling so laid back about the weekend, that it wasn’t overwhelming.
After lunch, we strolled through the center for some window shopping before heading back to the rooftop pool at our hotel for a bit of a siesta.
At 8:30pm, we ventured out again to La Latina – an area full of restaurants, bars, and people in the evenings. When you live in little Vevey, it is so exciting (and sometimes overwhelming) to be in places overflowing with people. As we walked through this area, every single outdoor table was full. We made our way to a restaurant called Juana La Loca,which was recommended by one of my friends. We were seated immediately at a table in the back room. For a minute, we were afraid that we would be eating dinner alone, even though it was after 9:00pm, but within minutes, all of the tables were full. The wait staff was SO friendly, and we ordered a variety of pinxtos (tapas) to share. Everything we tried was delicious! We ordered their signature desert at the start of the meal, because of its preparation time. Think, lava cake with dolce de leche! And instead of the chocolate cake, the cake tasted like banana nut bread. And instead of vanilla ice cream, it was banana flavoured ice cream. By the time we made it to dessert, we decided we needed to try two, so the dolce de leche goodness came out with a lemon pie. You’ll have to imagine the rest of the tapas, because I only made it a point to photograph the dessert.
We walked back to our hotel with full bellies and happy hearts after a wonderful day.
After our late night dining, we were thankful not to wake up early on Sunday either. After a slow morning, we walked across town to one of the renowned museums – Museo del Prado. It is home to a lot of masterpieces. Unfortunately, neither one of us is an art aficionado, so we made our way through the museum with our free brochures attempting to find the notable “masterpieces.” Sadly, I have to say that I wouldn’t have recognized any of them on my own. I think the coolest were probably the works from Rafael – mostly because they were SO OLD. For the Spanish art lovers out there, there were also several by Goya. It was two floors of beautiful art. We walked through most of it before opting to move on to some of the lovely green spaces in the city.
We thought it would be nice to walk through the Botanical Gardens before going to the large Retiro Park, but I was disappointed. I don’t know if it was the end of the season or if it’s always this way, but there were very few flowers. After one lap around, we walked out and went across the street to Retiro Park. It DID NOT disappoint! There were great paths through the trees, which opened up to a beautifully landscaped area (with more flower than the whole of the Botanical Gardens)!
We strolled through the park until we reached a large pond in the center. People were out in rowboats, and lots of people were walking around, having picnics, and enjoying the afternoon.
One of my co-workers told me to sit near the pond, have a drink, and enjoy. We did exactly that, and it was lovely! Of course, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to drink, so I ordered three things. Proof that my life motto should really be, “In all things, excess.”
Around 4:00pm, we decided we should probably have some lunch. Another friend recommended the Museum of Ham (Museo del Jambon). Who can resist a plate of meat & cheese (and a salad for good measure)?! It was delicious! And so fun to eat outside under the water misters.
A little bit of frozen yogurt on the walk back to the hotel was the perfect end to a relaxed weekend full of beautiful buildings, great people watching, and really good Spanish food. Everyone was right; Madrid has a completely different feel than Barcelona. I think I still prefer Barcelona, but it was great to enjoy a chill, agenda-less weekend in the capital.