Our first visitor from the States – of course we had to spend a few days in Madrid!
We cheated and took a cab from Atocha to our hotel. When the cab turned from Puerta del Sol onto a sketchy-looking side street, we were a little concerned. But the hotel, Casa de la Lirica, was lovely, and the location was perfect – just a block from the Montera “pedestrian walkway,” midway between Puerta del Sol and Gran Via. A large room, comfortable beds, a bathroom with space for a rollaway bed, and a heavenly shower. Framed posters throughout the hotel gave information about zarzuelas, including pages from the scores; it would have been much meaningful, I’m sure, if I knew anything about the Spanish operatic form.
The crowd was crazy on Montera – that evening was a match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Bands of fans roamed the area, wearing their team jerseys proudly, bursting into song as they met fellow fans.
We grabbed a quick bite at Tapa Tapa while we watched the roving pep rally. Obligatory sangria, tempura shrimp (with maybe almonds in the tempura – yum!), and a new favorite croquet: gorgonzola and nueces. A bonus half pitcher of sangria because the waiter knocked the first pitcher over while dropping off the plates. Vale!
We opted to do the 2-day red City Tour bus, and it ended up being a good deal. Over the 2 days, we ended up riding both routes, and we were able to access all of the tourist spots at the top of our list.
Our hotel was in the middle of stops 6, 7, and 17 on Route 1 (the blue route) and stop 14 on Route 2 (the green route).
Our first evening in Madrid, we rode Route 2, which took us past Stadium Santiago Bernabeu. At 6:00 in the evening, crowds were already thronging for the 8:45 match. It was delightful to be able to see it all from the top of the bus, without having to fight our way through it!
We stopped at a chocolateria a little off the beaten track so Rox could have her priority churros. We split an order, then I had a chocolate crepe while she had another order of churros. We ordered coffee with brandy (just because) and it was served with a lemon slice. No bueno. Once we removed the lemon and were able to add leche, things were much better. We ended up having a lovely chat with the waitress, who was newly arrived from Cuba to be closer to her daughter and family.
On Wednesday, our full day in Madrid, we began with Stop 12 on the blue route at the Almudena Cathedral. A modern cathedral, the artwork was beautiful, but not authentic cathedral to me. Rox, however, basked in all of its colorful glory.
The views from the top of the cupola were amazing – every side took our breath away.
Stop 14 on the blue route took us to the Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. While I huddled in a doorway out of the rain, Rox circled the basilica looking for an entrance. Turns out, the basilica has office hours, so we moved on.
Back on the bus, the sun came out and we exited at Stop 16 for Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel. The plaza was just returning to life after the rain, and we shopped our way around it, then headed to the Mercado, which was so packed we did little more than circle it in open-mouthed, drooling awe.
Around a few corners, and we were able to find Restaurante Botin. We were even able to get a table, so we ate, even though we weren’t hungry. Sangria – always welcome – prawns (already shelled – bonus!), and the ever-popular croquetas. Not only a hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Botin has been a restaurant since 1725 – officially, the oldest restaurant in the world!
All too soon, time for Rox to return home. Thanks to a 6:30 a.m. train from Alicante, Todd was able to make it to the airport before Rox had to go through security. Big hugs and she was off to Texas while we returned to the hotel and regrouped.
The staff at Hotel Casa de la Lirica had been quite gracious and helpful about extending our stay.
Our first stop: the Escher retrospective at Palacio de Gaviria. The palacio itself was worth the visit, but the exhibit was fabulous. It traced Escher’s career and influence, and we saw many works we had never seen before. His works are impressive enough when you think of them as sketches, but when you remember that they were carvings, they become even more amazing.
Some general roaming, and a return visit to La Cabana Argentina for a fabulous steak dinner – the best beef we’ve had since we left Texas.