Thursday, December 11, 2014

Madrid

After spending a few days in Valencia, my husband and I hopped a two hour train ride to Madrid for a two-day tour.  After the very traditional atmosphere of Valencia, Madrid was a stark change of pace.  The atmosphere is decidedly less "old-world," with a lot of newer construction and Western transplants (Starbucks, McDonalds, etc).  There was also quite a bit of political unrest while we were there (a protest was occurring just a few streets down from the palace) since the economy at the time was stuttering and the unemployment rate was rising.  Just like the US, European countries have definitely been financially affected by the economic challenges of recent years.  Despite this unrest, we felt very welcomed pretty much everywhere we stopped as tourists, and found that Madrid had plenty to offer all visitors, from the great architecture to the not-to-be-missed art museums.  Here's the best of our trip:

Plaza Mayor:  This is a central tourist attraction, and be prepared for a lot of street performers awaiting you inside.  The site has a sordid history, being the setting for many trials during the Spanish Inquisition.


Some pretty creative street performers all over Madrid.  The only issue we had was with a group of people selling flowers outside of the train station.  Sometimes these people will not take no for an answer and you have to get more aggressive with walking away.  Definitely stay on your guard in Madrid for pickpockets because this is a huge tourist area.   Honestly we never had an issue while we were there -- more just warnings from friendly locals when we would stop in to restaurants to eat.
Royal Palace:  We made the decision to just view the palace from the outside since the lines were long and we were saving our site-seeing money for the Museo del Prado (hey, you have to budget these things!!).  The view at the gates is free and quite lovely.




Walking Around:  There is plenty to see just walking the main thoroughfares, from popular architecture (like the Metropolis building below) to beautifully preserved homes and cathedrals.


Parque De Retiro:  Definitely stop by the free central park (it's on your way to the Museo Del Prado anyway) for some great views and relaxed strolling.



We had an unfortunately overcast day in Madrid for the Crystal Palace (located within the park) so it was a bit underwhelming.  In sunlight it is supposed to look like a giant crystal (below):
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Museo del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina (these 2 are must-do's and I'll spend an entire post on them next time so stay tuned!).

Places to Eat:
I have to say Madrid was another city we didn't do too well on food.  Most of the more recommended places to eat from my internet research were well outside of the central (more touristy) part of the city where we stayed, and since we didn't have a car, walking wasn't really an option.  The best food we ate was at a tourist-trapy open market called Mercado De San Miguel.  It's decidedly overpriced and geared towards Westerners that are used to the farmer's market boutique atmosphere, but you can get a great sampling of fresh food and plenty of sangria (at a reasonable price!) here.  If you don't like the smell of fish, you may not like any of the Spanish markets though, because fresh fish are what these places are made for.


Other than this market, we just ate a lot of local bocadillos.  Basically people seem to subsist on these.  You stop in any small/local looking joint and it is all bocadillos all the time.  The bread is hard on the outside, and it is just meat and cheese in between the slices.  My mouth was constantly dry.  I was not a huge fan, but we ate these almost the entire trip because they are very inexpensive.

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Unless you are really adventurous, I also discourage you from trying callos a la madrileno -- a typical dish that you will see on most menus.  This is a beef tripe soup, which for some reason I didn't really know what tripe was but I should have asked because it is stomach lining.  The texture is just what you imagine stomach lining would be like, down to the cilia.  I managed to finish the liquid portion of the stew, but I left all my tripe in the bowl.  For people like myself who like adventure that's easier to swallow, just order patatas bravas.  It's like french fries but in chunks and served like a main course in quantity..  I don't know why we don't have them in America actually!

Mmm patatas bravas are right up there with street churros for best totally unhealthy Spanish food endulgences via

Stay tuned next week for the best of the Madrid art museums -- places you could literally spend the rest of your life inside and still maybe not see everything...

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