One of our travel goals for 2018 is to explore major cities in Europe that have been on our to-do list for years, but we haven't had a chance to see yet. Continuing with our Spain theme from our most recent trip to Barcelona, we decided winter would be a great time to check out Madrid, where there are fewer crowds than in the summer but the weather is still sunny. On a Friday afternoon, we hopped on a direct flight from Lux and landed in Madrid by dinnertime.
We checked in to our hotel, which featured a roof deck looking out over the Royal Palace, and then we hit the streets. Since we hadn't visited Madrid before, we were expecting a big, crowded city with less character than the smaller cities we'd visited in Spain. Heading out from our place, our initial suspicions were confirmed when we walked towards dinner along a busy street lined with tour buses, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that within ten minutes, we were walking down narrow stone streets lined with palatial residential buildings, quirky shops and gritty-cool graffiti.
For dinner, we enjoyed a Mediterranean feast at La Hummuseria. We cozied up at a tiny table next to the open kitchen, ordered some Spanish beer and wine and enjoyed various tapas, including roasted beets, homemade classic and roasted tomato hummus, fresh pitas, and a tangy veggie mango salad. We were so happy to have a change of pace from the rather bland food in Luxembourg, and spent the rest of the night wandering the lively streets to burn off our meal.
We started the following morning at Museo Cerralbo, home to the former 17th Marquis of Cerralbo, collector of art and historical objects. The Marquis lived in the 19th century baroque home until his death in the 1920s, and it turned into a museum in the 1940s. We walked from room to room, enchanted by the various collections of objects from around the world. Dave was particularly drawn by the Samurai armour, and Erin took to the ornate Italian chandeliers.
Mercado San Miguel
After getting our fill of old world glamour, we stolled to the famed Mercado San Miguel, for a breakfast of oysters and tapas, washed down with beer and wine. Originally built in 1916, the market fell into disrepair throughout the war and subsequent years. A group of investors purchased it in the 2000s and restored it to its former glory. Now, it serves as a gourmet tapas market, with vendors selling freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods, seafood and local beer and wine. We made it to the market just before the tour groups arrived, so we surveyed each vendor and then made our breakfast choices - oysters, octopus flatbreads, tortilla espanola, fresh sushi and a tuna toast all washed down with beer and sangria.
On our way back to our hotel for our afternoon siesta, we stopped in the Plaza Mayor (dating from the 1500s) and wandered through the gardens surrounding the royal palace. After an afternoon rest, we headed out to Platea - a gourmet food hall housed in an old movie theater - for tapas from around the world in a three story modern setting, which featured a live DJ.
Templo de Debod
We looked up the best sunset spot and climbed to the highest point in the neartest park to the Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid. The temple sits in a shallow pool that reflects the waning sunlight off of the slanted structures. Photographers lined the rim of the complex, so we snuck in some shots before watching the sunset over Madrid. Despite the chilly weather, there were tons of people out enjoying fresh air and live music.
El Rastro outdoor market
On Sunday, we started our morning with a long, meandering walk to the El Rastro outdoor market. We walked through the crowded market and perused antiques, modern clothing, jewelry, art and various other goods, but we really weren't in the market for anything, so we continued on and stopped at a panederia for a fresh baguette and some juice.
After the market, we headed to the famed Prado Museum, the national art museum of Spain, including art from around the world from the 12th through 20th centuries, based upon the former Spanish royal collection. We roamed from room to room, marvelling at the Goyas and El Grecos - Dave favored the scenes of sea battles, while Erin loved the large-scale paintings of royal parties and social gatherings as well as a few still life works.
Once we got our sophisticated cultural fix, we ramped up our step-count in nearby Retiro Park to appreciate the sunny day. The giant urban park was teeming with people, but didn't feel congested. We grabbed some drinks and chilled by the lake, watching the paddle boats and listening to live music. We walked through manicured gardens and along wooded trails, and also checked out the Crystal Palace, built in 1887 to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines, then a Spanish colonial possession
Azotea Roof Bar
From the park, we walked on to Azotea, a bar and restaurant located atop a museum and office building. We made our ways seperately to the rooftop bar (Dave took the stairs) and lounged on beds in the sun, sipping on rose wine and local beer. We took in the panoramic views across the city extending all the way to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. After a few drinks, we stepped inside the glass cube restaurant and enjoyed pasta, salad, patatas bravas and sangria.
Hammam al Andalus
Sleepy from the sun and drinks, we took an afternoon rest before venturing to the Grand Via for some shopping (and crowds). As an antidote to the frenetic shopping street, we booked a session at the famous Hammam al Andalus, an Arabic-style bathing complex in a cavernous, candle-lit space. We spent our 90 minute session alternating between steam rooms, warm and hot pools and cold plunges, taking quick breaks to sipon syrupy Moroccan mint tea.
After taking the waters Arabian style, we ordered in Asian street food from Tuk Tuk. Ordering in is a great luxury for us now, because the take out and delivery scene in Luxembourg is lacking in both variety and quality. After a spicy curry soup, fried rice and noodle feast, we fell asleep to the soothing sounds of Spanish television.
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