Hemingway, Helgeson & Hewitt…old pals

Day 7: Madrid

Matt was finally done with work and our his vacation was about to start. We treated ourselves by sleeping in past noon. We packed up and checked out of the NH Nacional where we had been staying. We were able to leave our bags there for the day while we explored Madrid. It was nice to have a buddy with me after checking out Madrid by myself the previous days.

Our first stop was El Parque Retiro. I loved it so much the day before that I knew MRH would too. I showed him all the cool things I had found and we also discovered an amazing crystal palace that I had not seen the day before. It was an amazing structure made solely of class. The structure was designed in a way that would allow it to be re-erected on another site. However, the building has remained on the original site, next to a lake. It is no longer used as a greenhouse, and is currently used for art exhibits. I sure do  pity the park window-washer!! We also stopped by the lake and contemplated a paddle boat ride. The “lake” is really more of a pond and we decided it wouldn’t be too thrilling to paddle from one side to other.

We left the park and walked to El Prado Museo. It’s on the list of things people say you have to see while in Madrid. While waiting to enter the museum we noticed a camera-crew and news reporter. Everyone was asking to take their picture with the reporter so we assume she was famous?  The museum is huge and you could spend multiple days in it and probably still not see it all. We opted out of the audio guide tour and walked around trying to make sense of it all. We were there for around two hours and don’t feel like we even scratched the surface. We aren’t “art” people, but it was very interesting to see art from that 1400’s that has been preserved all these years. It really is incredible.

At this point, it was almost 4pm and we were starving. We had walked a lot and hadn’t eaten anything. There was another Mercado on our list to try; Mercado San Anton. After making the haul across town, we found the market. It was awesome! It was a four story structure. The bottom floor was an actual grocery store, like Harris Teeter. The second floor was more of a traditional Mercado where you could purchase fish, meat, veggies, etc. to go. The third floor was tapas and wine to enjoy there, and the top floor was a rooftop bar and restaurant. We were able to get a seat at the restaurant and ordered “un poco de todo” of jamon. It was a giant plate of meat. My dream come true, and my mother’s nightmare. Sadly, we ate every last piece. Afterwards we sat on an adjacent roof to enjoy a drink. It was Friday at 5pm and very busy. We had an embarrassing mix-up with something on the drink menu. We thought it was one drink with many different liquors in it. It was really just different liquor options to choose from for one drink. The bartender laughed at us over the confusion. MRH ordered a gin and tonic, because there isn’t really a way you can mess that one up.

We quickly picked up our bags at our old hotel, caught a cab, and headed to our new hotel.  Since the work part of the trip was over, the hotel accommodations were now on us to pay for.  We were able to use some hotel points we acquired after I complained to management about a disappointing stay in Chicago earlier this summer.  With the points, the hotel only cost us 125 Euros for both nights. I guess it pays to complain every now and then! Our new hotel was about 20 minutes outside of center city and in a less congested area of Madrid. We had a nice mountain view and it was quiet. It was definitely a nice change of pace. We were even more excited to find our new room was a giant suite! 3 rooms, kitchen, enormous three-room bathroom, living rum and huge king bed. It was so different from what we had experienced in the traditional European hotels we had stayed at earlier in the week.

We guised up and headed out for our big night out on the town. We had heard a lot about a restaurant called  El Botin and I was able to make reservations a few weeks earlier. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first and oldest restaurant in the world! It is rumored that it was a common hangout of Hemingway’s! The restaurant itself is very discreet and hard to find. We requested to be seated in “la cueva” or the cave. The restaurant is in an old four story building, but we heard la cueva was where we would get the best experience. We headed down a very narrow staircase and were shown to our table. La cuvea is very small, dark cavern with rock walls. There aren’t many tables so it’s a very intimate experience. We ordered an amazing appetizer or melon and thinly-shaved jamon. For our main dishes, MRH ordered suckling pig and I ordered the filet mignon. We enjoyed a delicious bottle of Riojo Crizana vino. We also splurged by both ordering dessert. As we were finishing up our meal a 6-person band came down the stairs and started playing instruments and singing classic Spanish tunes.  A lively old grandmother at the table behind us got up and started to dance. We truly felt like we got the real deal El Botin experience.  It was such a treat to have dinner there and are thankful we were able to get in!

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After dinner we headed to El Cava Baja – a street full of bars and restaurants. Our first stop was Cava Baja Number 5. We ordered a mojito and headed to the basement. To our surprise, the floor was covered in sand. They were playing American music and it was a really cool, young, atmosphere. From there we bar hopped to a couple of other places on the strip. We met a nice man from Sweden. I remember being so glad to hear the English language and it was great to meet an interesting person. At this point it was pretty late we caught a cab back to our hotel. We ended up staying awake until 4:30am laughing and enjoying the fact that we were actually on a vacation in Spain.

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