Madrid, there’s always mañana

March 2, 2018 – March 4, 2018

It’s been a cold, rainy winter in Amsterdam as evidenced by the canals freezing, an event that hasn’t happened in over 6 years. I’m sure it was a sight to see when people were skating down the Princengracht and Keizersgracht, but luckily we avoided the chilly freeze and made our way down to sunny Madrid for the weekend.

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After arriving late on Friday night we were eager to kick off the weekend with a Saturday morning free walking tour, per usual. With the help of a funny little Irishman, we explored the sprawling city on foot.

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We covered some of the basic sites, like the world’s oldest restaurant, Plaza Mayor, Cathedral  de Almudena, Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, and the Royal Palace. To be honest, it didn’t seem like there were that many big sites to see in Madrid, it was more about learning the history through stories.

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A recurring theme throughout the tour was that the Spanish take a long time to do things and build things. It was always eh, we’ll do it mañana, a philosophy which would drive me nuts. We also learned the city’s motto, “fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son,” meaning On water I was built, my walls are made of fire. Badass.

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One of my favorite stories was about the origin of tapas. Apparently, there was a bar that back in the day workers would go to for their lunch break. They could only afford to buy food or alcohol, so alcohol always won that battle. They would end up coming back to work drunk and being hungover the next day. So someone in charge decided that with every alcoholic drink sold, food also had to be provided. This tradition has stuck around today with many places offering snacks with drinks.

Our tour guide also told us about gave us the run down of the most notable kings of Spain using walking tour participants as examples. Tyler got to be King Philip II who brought Spain to its height of power in the 16th century and who the Philippines is still named after today. Glad he wasn’t Charles II who was known as the Bewitched because he was a product of many generations of incest.

The main attractions that we saw were the palace and cathedral.

Here it is from the back

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and the side

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and the front

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While we were walking through the city, I noticed that several balconies had the Spanish flag hanging proudly from the railings. Like literally everywhere you looked. I thought it was so cool that they had so much pride, and then I realized it must be a soccer team thing. But still cool.

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After the walking tour, we took a quick stroll inside of the cathedral, which was beautiful. I really liked the different colored mosaics on the ceiling and the picture of this nun who looks like a badass.

 

Madrid is known for being a bit of a foodie place so the rest of our trip was basically spent eating and drinking. We stopped by the Mercado de San Miguel for some tapas. As the name suggests, its a indoor market (mercado) where there are several different stalls where you can get anything from croquetas to wine to a whole pig leg. We sampled a few different croquetas which I liked better than the Dutch croquettes.

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Our next stop on the food and drinking self tour was a Vermouth bar called Taberna Angel Sierra where the Vermouth flowed from a tap. I don’t think I’ve had straight Vermouth before, and it kind of reminded me of Coca Cola. The bar had a fun atmosphere, but was very crowded.

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Keeping with the spirit of trying new things, we headed to La Venencia where I had my first ever glass of Sherry. I think it will also be my last glass of Sherry.

One of the items on my Madrid bucket list was of course churros and chocolate. Madrid is known for this combination and there were several places boasting the best churros and chocolate in town. We went to the one that was highly recommended and conveniently located next to our hotel: Chocolateria San Gines. It did not disappoint. I ate so many.

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Note: pictured is actually Chueeria Chocolateria which was equally as fab.

Because Madrid has such a great food scene, we decided to do a fancy dinner on Saturday night and went to Terraza del Casino, a 2 Michelin star restaurant. It completely exceeded my high expectations.

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One of the first things we had the pleasure of trying was olive oil that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen resulting in a kind of buttery, clumpy consistency. I took the whole bite into my mouth and then smoke started coming out of my nose because it was so cold. It was definitely something I will remember.

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The rest of the courses were equally as entertaining and unique. One of the appetizers even came out in a hot air balloon! We had such a wonderful evening, which finished off with them bringing us a huge cart with so many dessert options.

 

Overwhelmed with the options I tried as many as they would let me.

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As a typical Spanish dinner usually goes, this one was done well after midnight and we were too full to check out the Madrid night life. Maybe next time.

We had a late flight on Sunday which was perfect because the weather was beautiful and the sun was out. We wandered through part of the town we hadn’t seen yet and stopped at a tortilla place to try one of locals favorite foods. Tortillas in Madrid are more like quiche, usually made with eggs, onions and potatoes, and they are quite delish.

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My favorite part of the day was the time we spent in Buen Retiro Park, which is on the east side of town. There’s a big pond in the middle of the park and we grabbed a table in the sun to people watch. Everything was perfect until I got pooped on my a bird. again. why me!?

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After the incident I didn’t want to sit under the trees anymore, so we explored the park. In the middle of the park, the Palacio de Cristal was having an art exhibit inside of the glass structure, so we popped in. It was a really weird thing going on where there was water on the ground in the shape of letters spelling out words. The water would appear and disappear magically to reveal another name. I’m not really sure what the point of it was.

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One other cool thing we saw while wandering the park was two guys playing frisbee on roller blades. It looked really fun but also tough and they were doing tricks while they caught the frisbee. I think I have the rollerblading part down, but would need to work on my frisbee skills to join in on their game.

Although I think there was more to do in Barcelona and it is still my favorite Spanish city, I did enjoy soaking up the sun in Madrid. That was the whole point of our getaway in the first place, to finally feel the warmth after a long cold winter in Amsterdam.

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Coming up in a few weeks we’re heading to Morocco and Portugal where hopefully the sun will be abundant as well!

Barcelona is Gaudi

The first thing I noticed upon our arrival in Barcelona was the graffiti. It was on every single door. This might have had something to do with the fact that we didn’t get to our hotel until about 1:30am (thx Vueling – our on time arrival percentage with you is now a whopping 25%).

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But, I also think it has something to do with the fact that Barcelona is a really artistic city which probably gained some of its inspiration from the famous Gaudi. His works are scattered throughout the sprawling city. We went to see many of them including: La Pedrera, Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, La Sagrada Familia, and de Parc de la Cuitadella (pics below).

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Casa Batllo

The other places

We did a few tours:

Casa Batllo – One of the houses that Gaudi built. The tour was pretty cool, they gave you an iPhone looking thing that was a virtual reality player and it showed you what the house would have looked like back in Gaudi’s day. It also made this mushroom room below look like it was on fire.

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Park Guell – a park on the top of a hill in the city that Gaudi designed. It was pretty crowded, but you could see the whole city and the ocean from the top of the mountain, and the designs of the buildings were typical Gaudi.

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White boy can’t jump

La Sagrada Familia – Probably the coolest place that we went to was La Sagrada Familia. It’s a church that Gaudi helped design, and construction began in the late 1800s. Construction is planned to be finished in 2026, the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death (by street car). I understand why it has taken so long to build with all of the intricate designs and grandiose facades.

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We purchased the guided audio tour and the tour of the Nativity Facade, which I must say was definitely worth it. It was interesting to hear the history of the church and to see the breathtaking views from the top of the tower. If you are planning a trip to Barcelona, this is something you can’t miss (I mean, its #1 on TripAdvisor, so it’s probably already on your list).

The other thing I really loved in Barcelona was the weather. It was gorgeous outside the whole time we were there. Sunny and 70. I joked with Tyler that I’m such a northerner now that 70 was almost too hot, but that was a lie. I loved it. And there’s a beach.

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Since we arrived on Thursday night (technically Friday morning), we had ample time to explore the city. It was such a big city that we really did need all of that time. One weird thing is that Uber was not available and we had to take cabs everywhere, which is something we are not really used to.

The other highlights of the trip included a 15-18 (I lost count) course meal at Spoonik. This restaurant was insane. The food was so different and the presentation was theatrical. When our meat dish arrived, the table looked like it was on fire (through a projector screen), and when the fish arrived, it looked like the ocean.

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We tried all kinds of food..

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Including sea creatures in a set of dentures.

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The only downside was we were sat in between a French and Spanish couple, neither of whom spoke English, so we were kind of on our own. I don’t know if I’m honored or annoyed that they didn’t put us at the American table. Also, dinner lasted for 4 hours, which I guess is typical in Spain, but I don’t know how I felt about eating until 1:30am.

On Saturday evening, we opted for a shorter dinner and went to a Flamenco show afterwards. The outfits that the dancers wore were something else, and the band wasn’t bad either. The venue is one of the top attractions on TripAdvisor and it didn’t disappoint.


We spent the day Sunday exploring the other side of the city and went to the Placa de Catalunya, which also happened to be the site of the finish line to the Barelona marathon, unbeknownst to us.

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It was pretty cool to see all of the people running, but it was very difficult to maneuver our way back to the hotel and we ended up walking the whole way. And since all of the roads were closed I thought we were going to miss our flight home (again). But, we ended up making it!

I was very glad that we took a Friday off work to see this crazy beautiful city and experience three full days of sunshine. Our next trip won’t be as warm, as we’re heading to the Alps to try our hands at skiing for the first time. Crossing my fingers for no broken bones.