Thursday, April 21, 2011

m a d r i d

This past weekend was one that was spent in a country known for its tapas and fun, relaxed culture. If you guessed, Spain, you would be correct. For the most part, people know Spain for its football, love of food, and the infamous siesta. Since my good friend Sue was in Madrid for a few days on vacation, I thought it would be a great excuse to travel and see the city while catching up over some beers and some tasty tapas.

I arrived in Madrid on Saturday and immediately noticed one vital difference from London. It was warm and the sun was out! Funny how a factor like that can change your whole outlook on a day isn't it? Alike many other European cities, the metro system was easy enough to navigate and it only took about 45 minutes to get to the Plaza del Sol where we were staying. By the time I got out of the station, you could already see the immense activity in the plaza. The atmosphere was lively and upbeat and people were just roaming around and having fun. Once I met up with my friend, our first task was, you guessed it, food! The fact that I was starving from not having eaten breakfast did not help but it certainly increased by appetite for some of Spain's authentic tapas - but I will get to the food in a second.

In terms of sights, the striking thing about Madrid was the color of the buildings. Soft shades of yellow, orange, and red were prominent as well as intricately shaped iron fences. Similar to Paris in that the architecture is unique to its region, you could tell right away that you were in a different world - even if you didn't hear the Spanish being spoken. I couldn't help but be aw-struck over the buildings and how photogenic this city was. Everywhere I looked, I snapped away while looking up. Couldn't help but feel sorry for Sue who had to turn her head back every minute (much like a mother would when looking out for their infant) to see if she had accidentally lost me.

We visited the Plaza Mayor which is a huge square bordered by a stream of residential properties on the top floors, coupled with restaurants and shops on the bottom floors. Cobble stone, huge open area, an abundance of street performers and widget sellers and loads of seating space for those that wanted to eat outside and watch the mass of tourists pass by - that is what the square essentially was to me. A bigger and more lively version of the Dam in Amsterdam (well, to be frank, the two can't be compared). All in all, I think I must have passed by this Plaza 8-10 times during this short weekend.

Plaza de Cibelis

After this, we continued to roam around, seeing sights such as the Royal Palace and its court yard as well as the crypts within the Cathedral. Spain's Royal Palace and court yard were so vast in size.

It is amazing how the people of the past were able to construct such works of art on such a grand scale. What is also amazing is the amount of creativity and detail that went into each piece. Sometimes you have to wonder how you look like, standing in wonder, staring at an ancient, inanimate structure.

Royal Courtyard
An aspect of Madrid that I loved, which is also a product of the amount of sun that this country gets, is the vast amount of greenery around such an urban region. Probably the biggest reason why I love my home in Vancouver is that we are surrounded by trees, mountains, water, etc. In Madrid, it was very noticeable, the amount of natural color which were in abundance even along busy streets. Just over the Royal Court Yard, you could see a huge garden of green in the distance that makes you think, "this can't be the same Madrid we are currently staying in, it has to be a small town of some sort."

On the street towards the Museo de Prado from the Fountain of Cibelis, you could see that it was just bordered by luscious green trees and bushes that provided cover from the sun and the traffic. Along the centre of the street, there was a walkway that had fountains and benches for people to sit on and take a bit of a break from the pace of the city. This made the city even more eye catching for me as too often you go to a big city and get lost within its vast array of concrete. Alright, maybe that is just me.

In terms of food, we had this on a grand scale. A huge variety of tapas is what Spain is known for offering. Generally served on small plates (you have to look for the racions signage), you can get a huge amount of variety in a single sit down session. Of course, you don't have to get full in one sitting and why would you? There are so many places to visit and try! As a result of realizing this notion and through sheer greed, I ended up eating the entire two days I was there... not giving my stomach more than 2 hours rest at a time haha. As my good friend would say it, I felt roly poly the entire time.

To me, tapas mean variety and in manageable portions. I think I tasted over 10 plates of different items over the course of the two days which isn't really enough but it gave me a taster for what Spain offered. I find it hard to find pick a favourite but some of the plates that really peaked my taste buds were the fried baby squid, chorizo and serreno, egg, potato, and chorizo omelette, gumbas, fresh steamed mussels, stuffed mushrooms, and chicken legs. Some of these dishes sound so simple and they are, but the flavour is fantastic. They use a lot of salt but luckily, I am one of those salt lovers so I thoroughly enjoyed the extra seasoning.

We went to a number of restaurants during our trip but the ones that stood out was the Museo de Jamon and the Las Cuevas de Luis Calendas. The Museo de Jamon is a popular chain restaurant but the food it offers is delicious. Along the bar are dozens of cured meat, hanging from the low ceiling. You can order a bite to eat (you guessed it sorreno and chorizo, amongst others are offered here) along with your preferred beverage. It was just jammed pack when we went here but they do offer a sit down area upstairs that just does not have the ambiance that eating at the bar provides. Do the bar if you get a chance.

The Las Cuevas de Luis Calendas was a recommendation made by a flickr contact who is a local to Madrid. And what a great find! We got there around 10:30pm for a late night dinner after having just eaten about an hour beforehand, but we arrived with the anticipation that we would have a some drinks and eat some good paella mixta! The paella was so good and had a healthy mixture of seafood along with some chicken and pork. The taste was authentic and it was very well presented. We also caved and got some nice baby suckling pig (one of the two specials for the night). It was so tender... never had pork that soft and juicy before. Bottom line, the food was great. As proof, we also drank a couple of bottles of wine while we were at it to celebrate J

All in all, you can find little bars and restaurants with great food all over the place in Madrid. We ventured into about 3-5 different bars for tapas and drinks during our two days there and each had great dishes that made us forget the fact that we were bursting at the seams (or maybe that was just me?). The drinking and eating culture has got to be the single biggest selling point to Spain and for good reason. Having said that, the architecture mixed with natural greenery and the high energy that Madrid gives off is a big competitor for that prime selling point as well. Anyone who is travelling through Europe should make sure that they put Madrid on the itinerary. For me, I think the next spot has to include Barcelona but no love lost with this city, I would gladly come back for a visit (and ensure that I come with a big appetite)!


  1. such a great variety of images from architecture to the food to the beautiful decor and interiors...great post!

  2. Mmmmmmm~ all this talk about food is making me soooo hungry! great travel photo series, as always!

  3. wow, what an adventure! love this series; i feel like i'm right there. and those food shots -- yum!

  4. I just love following you on your travels and learning about the places you visit! Your photos and write up's are gorgeous and inspiring!!
    PS: I work for your competitor Ernst & Young in Montreal :)

  5. I WAS HERE LESS THAN A MONTH AGO! It's so exciting to see these places because I know where they are! I still need to go through all my photos. Love your blog and definitely following!