Me gusta mucho España y tambien viajar. For those of you with some knowledge of the Spanish language I daresay you probably agree. For those of you wondering what on earth the first sentence even means, it translates as “I like Spain very much, and also travelling.” I have just landed back after a short trip to Madrid in Spain, a city that has long been on my list of places to visit, and was suitably impressed, enthralled, charmed and generally won over by the city, it’s vibrancy and the amazing people that both live and visit there.
The guidebooks all talk about Madrid being one of those cities that kind of creeps up on you, especially given the fact that it doesn’t perhaps have many of the “world wonder” type sights as say other major cities (eg Paris, London, New York). This, however, means that instead of having a few ‘must sees,’ Madrid has vista bonita after vista bonita round every corner and above every Metro stop. I traveled with my dad, who despite not speaking any of the language, has become as enthused about the Spanish culture and country as I have, and we were happy to spend a lot of our time simply meandering around the city, including it’s beautiful park, taking in the atmosphere and breaking up such jaunts with regular stops for tapas and a couple of cheeky little drinks, whether it were a refreshing Spanish cerveza, a rich, full-bodied wine or sherry, or just a sedate coffee. In fact, eating and drinking your way around Madrid is not only insanely easy to do, it feels like it would be wrong not to, given the incredible number of phenominal options available to do so.
The main highlights of our trip, I would say, were the following. It would interesting to hear what your experiences of the city have been as well, especially as I know for a fact that it has heaps more to offer than the little we managed in just a few days, and it would be great to be able to start compiling the ultimate Madrid ‘to-do’ list in preparation!
- Flamenco & Tapas – we were fortunate enough to get our fix of both on the very first evening, with one of the best places in the city to see amazing flamenco being Casa Patas, near the Tirso de Molina metro station. The initial meal was outstanding, served in the stunning main restaurant, complete with hanging jamóns (hams) and photograph after photograph of flamenco stars both past and present. The actual performance itself was held in an intimate room adjacent to the bar, creating a dark and intense atmosphere for what was an equally intense performance. I have seen flamenco before but never with such a level of passion being evident from the musicians, singers and dancers alike. The result is that you find yourself instinctively joining in with the cries of “Olé!” that often accompany parts of the performance, and wanting to buy yourself a pair of flamenco shoes, move to Madrid, change your name to José and devote yourself to the art. Having said that, I think that may just be a reflection of the reaction I feel to most great gigs. Definately one to check out though.
- Suckling pig at the “world’s oldest restaurant” – one thing that it seems is most definately on the list of ‘things you should do in Madrid’ is to eat suckling pig, with el restaurante Sobrino de Botín, close to La Plaza Mayor, recognised as one of the best places in which to do so, likely due to the fact that they have been doing it well for the longest. Since 1725 in fact! After a gentlemanly haircut – it’s what one does when on holiday in such a fine city – it seemed the natural thing to do was to pop next door to sample one of the culinary delights of Madrid – and there are many! We had been expecting the cochinillo to arrive at the table in it’s entire, full form, as per the pictures shown in various guidebooks but the fact that it didn’t (we each had a leg, roasted to perfection) was a blessing, as the amount of food it would have represented would have required us to fly the rest of the family out to help finish it. We were told that another thing to try at the same restaurant is the roast suckling lamb, so it seems a return trip has already been factored in.
- Parque del Buen Retiro – one of the things I personally love about capital cities, London included, is the access to incredible areas of parkland that is possible. The main park in Madrid is clearly a strong draw for both locals and visitors alike, from people simply enjoying a leisurely stroll, often with their dog, or kicking back and taking in the cool, calm air with a book, all the way through to the more active recreationists, with running, cycling and even a spot of rollerblade-ultimate-frizbee being played. It made me wish I had taken my training gear with me, but then there is always the next time!
- El mercado de San Miguel – this charming covered market, which sits just beyond Plaza Mayor, was one of those places that you end up happening upon by chance, as opposed to actively seeking out, and ended up being somewhere we returned to several times during our stay. Both modern, in terms of it’s light, open design, with glass doors and windows all the way around, yet traditional, with a plethora of incredible stalls selling everything from beautifully crafted and presented chocolates and cakes, to fresh seafood and meats that were about as fresh as it possibly could be without them jumping out at you, to an amazing array of fine Spanish wines, beers and, one of our favourites, sherries. A popular draw for both tourists and madrileños alike to meet up with friends and chat over some tapas and a drink, the market was certainly a favourite of the trip.
- La facultad de Veterinario – yes, we did. Although officially on holiday, I had said to myself that it would be really interesting to head over to the university and, if possible, check out the vet school and adjoining hospital. In spite of not managing to pre-arrange a visit and thus simply ‘turning up’, we received an incredibly warm and hospitable welcome, and were given a fantastic tour of the facilities at the vet school. A rare treat and one that will be the subject of a blog post to follow soon.
As alluded to earlier, Madrid is such a rich city in terms of culture, heritage and charm, that to list and describe every highlight would fill many books. Suffice to say that if you’re looking for an exciting destination for a city stay, whether it be for a quieter, more relaxed experience, or one offering a vibrant party scene, then Madrid definately is one to put near the top of the list.