Day 5: Madrid
We woke up early (I thought vacations were for sleeping in?) and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel .The breakfast at our hotel was not something you find at the Holiday Inn…they provided the normal cereal and eggs, but also lots of pastries and desserts, large selection of jamon and cheese and of course complimentary cava. I think a lot more Americans would have better days if they started with their days with a mimosa.
After breakfast we took a cab to he Campos Tarragona train station, about 30 days from Cambrils. I was so impressed by the train station. It was very large and clean and run just like an airport. We took the AVE (high speed train) and paid an extra 20 Euro to have seats in the nicer coach area. Again, so impressed by how nice and clean the train was. The ride from Taragonna to Madrid was 3 hours but it felt more like 30 minutes. Matt and I were both out like a light as soon as the train pulled out of the station.
We arrived at the Atocha station in Madrid; it was huge! Our hotel (NH Nacional) was within walking distance from the train station. MRH quickly changed into his work clothes and headed to a meeting at the Siemens office. Which meant I was completely on.my.own. in a country and city I had never been before, that spoke a language I did not know. Since my phone wouldn’t work that meant no google maps app. So I took it back to 1995 and asked the front desk for a map. I knew I wanted to check out La Mercada de San Miguel; a market that one of my friends recommended. It appeared to be relatively close on the map…I asked the man at the hotel in broken Spanish if the market was within walking distance. I have no idea what his response was. Judging by the look on his face, it didn’t seem out of the question to walk. So I set out.
Madrid is VERY busy. I relate it to New York City. It is very loud, with tons lots of traffic, sirens, horns honking, and people everywhere. It was definitely more hustling and bustling that Barcelona, but then again, it is the capital of Spain. First thought…Spaniards don’t really like having clearly marked streets. Second thought…I have clearly relied on Google Maps for too long, because reading an actual map was hard! You know those paper maps, yeah…they don’t come with a little lady who tells you when to turn. The entire walk to the market I felt very nervous. I was super cautious of my surroundings. I had heard so much about the pickpockets that I was suspicious about everyone. I tried to stay near groups of people who looked “safe”. I also had a death grip on my purse, aint nobody was getting in there! After walking for about 45 minutes, I realized I was probably lost. Something told me to turn around, and I’m glad I did. I was heading the wrong way. What’s that quote about “I hope you get a lost in a foreign country”? Check that one off the list! I tried asking someone for directions in Spanish, but I had no idea what they responded with. By the grace of God, I stumbled upon La Plaza Mayor. It’s a big open square with statues and restaurants. There were street performers and people selling random items, someone dressed in a cat costume who meowed at me and an adult in a baby carriage. I definitely didn’t feel safe there by myself, and knew it was time to go. I wasn’t too impressed with that area, but it was something touristy I’m glad I checked off my list. I happened to exit La Plaza Mayor at the exact exit I needed to (there are four different exit points) get to Mercado de San Miguel. Again, the travel Gods were on my side!
The market is all indoor and all glass. Inside vendors have set up their items to sell. It is very upscale. They had wine/beer, tapas, pallaea, chocloates, fruites, fish, oysters, desserts, etc. The tapas was only 1E, so it’s a great place to try a bunch of different things. I got a baguette with salmon and pesto for E1.50, a glass of sangria for E2,00 and paella con mariscas for E4,0. There are places to stand and eat and also a few tables to sit. I luck out again and find a table to sit and enjoy my meal. It is definitely a more modern, upscale version of the market in Barcelona. I decided I had explored enough and headed back to the hotel. I was proud of myself for venturing out and making it back in once piece.
I got back to the hotel and was able to catch my parents on FaceTime. Isn’t technology grand? It’s somewhat mind-blowing that you can talk and see someone on a different continent. My phone hadn’t been on once because of roaming charges and it was a very freeing feeling. I was really thankful I had my iPad because the hotels had free WiFi and so I was able to keep in touch with MRH via email. I got in the shower just in time for MRH to get back from work. We both freshened up and headed out on the town around 8:30. We first went to La Plaza Mayor again. I felt good being the “tour guide” since I had been there earlier in the day. Then we sat out to find a restaurant that had been recommended to us, La Casa de Granada, It is not marked anywhere, you just get in an elevator to the 6th floor and head up. When we finally foun d it, there was a sign that said they were closed for renovations. Bummer! But we did have another recommendation from the same person. This place was right near the Royal Palace. I think we were all a little hesitant when we first found it. It was described as a “hole in the wall” and that it was! It was narrow building with only two tables and a few bar stools. There is only one man who works there and he did his best to translate the menu to us. It was all tapas that he prepares ahead of time and then heats in a toaster oven. apparently his mom is the brain behind the operations and she makes all of the food. We ordered a variety of salmon with blue cheese and brie, jamon and brie and sobrestato and brie. All delicioso! Matt ordered a Riojo (red wine) and I had a few glasses of la vino blano de casa (house white). We would have never found this place on our own, but am so glad we stopped. I’m sure the owner wondered how these 3 Americans found this place. From La Tabernita we walked back to El Mecado de San Miguel (the market I went to earlier in the day) so I could show MRH. He got another glass of Riojo and I got a rose cava. All so good and cheap! We walked to Puerta de Sol which is the center city. It is a wise open area that is very busy. We saw the famous bear pawing a tree statue which is Madrid’s symbol. Bears used to live in the royal hunting grounds. And the madrono trees produce a berry that makes traditional madrono liquor. No wonder the bears want up in that tree! We all commented multiple times on how crazy busy it was at midnight on a Wednesday. And not just young people, all ages families, etc. On the walk back to our hotel we saw Museo del Jamon (ham museum) which is a museum right up my alley. Only later to see two more, so apparently it was a chain. Anyways, I can respect a country who loves wine and ham as much as I do!
We got back to the hotel around 12:30am and crashed. I don’t really think it mattered what our accommodations were like because were so exhausted by the end of every day that we were out before our heads touched the pillow!