Marrakech and Madrid (part 2: return to Spain)

Wednesday 

We had a completely uneventful flight to Madrid (thankfully cooler than the flight out) and an easy entry into the EU. We took the train to our hotel (hooray for urban transportation!) and got checked in with the usual courtesies. We unpacked and enjoyed the lounge for a little while before walking out to our food tour.

(Incidentally, we highly recommend food tours as a way to introduce a city. You can get your bearings from walking around, find some options off the beaten path, ask your guide for further local recommendations, and of course get some great food! We’ve done food tours in Barcelona, Prague, Marrakech, and Madrid (twice) and haven’t ever been disappointed.)

Speaking of: this food tour was excellent! Joy was a great guide. We made three stops in central Madrid, mostly in the Chueca neighborhood:

  1. Vermouth, fried eggplant, and patatas bravas at Bodega de la Ardosa
  2. White wines, cheese, and bread at Vides
  3. Amontillado, red wines, Pedro Ximenez (PX), meat, and vegetables on toast at Angelita

We stayed at Angelita for a last glass of wine before taking the train back to our hotel for the night.

Thursday

We slept in because why not? We needed to get onto Spanish time anyway. We had breakfast at the hotel (because it was included in our rate) and then headed out. We decided to focus on the Paseo de la Catellana where we were staying, which was a gateway to modern Madrid architecture.

We ambled north, just enjoying the sunshine and warm temperature. We stopped for quick sandwiches at Rodilla (roast chicken, ham and cheese, salad) before making it all the way up to Puerta de Europa. Some of the buildings along the Paseo are quite interesting, while others are, well, meh. We took the bus back to the hotel to exercise and then rest.

After freshening up, we took the train to Chueca (where we ended up spending a lot of time — it’s a super-fun neighborhood and reminded us a little of home) to wander around. We ended our walk at DSTAgE, a two-star restaurant focused on pushing the envelope in Spanish cuisine. We were excited to go and even then it exceeded our expectations! We started with Roman-style squid in their seated bar area, followed by king prawn cebiche on a huge salt block at their kitchen bar. From there, we were seated at our table and treated to over a dozen dishes, each paired with an unusual Spanish wine or sherry.

Very much sated, we took the train back to the hotel and collapsed for the night.

Friday

Still recovering from the previous night, we had a sleepy breakfast in the hotel club. We pulled ourselves together and got out into the city.

Our first stop was following up on a tip from Joy for buying Spanish saffron. So we took the train to Opera and walked from there to La Melguiza, a shop known for and specializing in saffron. The owner was extremely nice and showed us how to buy saffron before selling us a couple of gram-sized bottles (one for ourselves, one for our close friend Doug). We also bought saffron-infused sea salt before thanking him and heading back out.

We walked from there to Plaza Mayor to look around. We knew not to try to get lunch there, so instead we followed the crowds to Mercado de San Miguel, a former market and current food hall. After a quick tour, we went to the bar for a vermouth and chorizo empanada, which was exactly what we wanted to start our lunchtime.

After leaving, we went to lunch at Juana La Loca for honestly too much food: tortilla, smoked eel with bacon, sardine with bursts and tomato-cardamom chutney, pork loin secreto with mild chiles. It was all excellent and we waddled out needing a long walk. So we wandered around the palace grounds to Principe Pio, where we picked up the train back to the hotel.

Virginia suggested we take an evening walk, so we went south along the Paseo de la Castellana to the Salamanca neighborhood. It’s known for its shopping, though we were there as everything was closing down for the night (probably just as well). We enjoyed some high-end window shopping before walking back to the hotel and dinner at Santceloni. Like DSTAgE, Santceloni has two stars; however, their approach is entirely different (more traditional but very well executed food plus exquisite service).

Saturday

We woke up way too late, missing the Armed Forces Day parade entirely. We instead made plans for the remainder of our trip over breakfast before walking out.

We started by walking back through Salamanca in the wake of the parade. People were out in full force, wearing Spanish colors and waving flags around. We threaded our way south among the parade-goers and eventually got to El Retiro to sit and people-watch.

We had lunch at El Perro y La Galleta, a restaurant across from El Retiro: chicken/shrimp dumplings with light soy sauce, braised oxtail with seafood risotto, grilled steak tataki with truffle mashed potatoes, chimichurri, and spring onions. Everything was delicious and the restaurant itself was adorable.

After lunch, we visited the Muséo del Prado, a must-see for art lovers. It was a free day due to the holiday, but we bought advance passes to skip the line (which went the full length of the museum — no to that). We spent about 90 minutes viewing works by Goya, Velasquez, and other Spanish masters before going to the cafe for coffee and cake.

We took the bus back to the hotel to rest and change for dinner. Virginia had secured reservations at the Corral de la Morería, a famous flamenco venue and Michelin-star restaurant. We took advantage of their wine menu to get a wine I’d been wanting to try (Comando G’s Las Umbrias), which was amazing. Equally amazing was the flamenco, which included both several dances and multiple songs. For me, the highlight was a guitar solo performance that was as beautiful and compelling as the dances.

Sunday 

We decided to check out the Rastro market, which turned out to be way, WAY bigger than we had thought. As we weren’t planning to buy anything, we quickly got off the main path. After getting a flat white at Ruda Cafe de Altura, we decided to continue through the market, which ended up being a smart move. We found a number of antique shops in which Virginia could continue her search for a mantel clock. Unfortunately, the only clock Virginia really liked was a Tiffany clock well out of our price range. We sadly bade it farewell and left the market to find lunch.

When you have no plans, it’s best to find a mercado with a food hall. For us that day, it was Mercado de San Fernando. We ended up at a small bar where we each had a chorizo tortilla and a glass of red wine for a total of 10€. “Plan” well executed!

After lunch, we continued walking, going to and up the Paseo de Prado. We stopped for coffee at Zero Point Coffee Shop, enough off the beaten path that we were the only folks there. The owner was very nice and explained that his not offering WiFi meant it was never overrun with laptop users. We enjoyed our coffee and thanked him for an ideal respite from the city.

Back out, we walked to the botanical garden and decided to spend a little while inside. The garden wasn’t in full bloom anymore but it was worth the diversion. We took the bus back to the hotel to rest and get some work done before dinner.

We had decided to make one more trip to Chueca for our last night. We started with a glass of Vermouth at Mercado de San Anton. We also went upstairs to check out their rooftop bar but found it not so much to our liking (mostly because of cigarette smoke). So we went back down and walked around somewhat aimlessly before dinner.

We arrived at Celso y Manolo around 9pm to find it in full swing. We had a reservation, which meant we had an eventual shot at a table. What we thought would be our table was occupied by two older gentlemen, with whom we discussed the menu and helped them make their way to the door. We actually ended up with the table next to them, where we ordered cod croquetas, cheese plate, ham plate, and rice with chorizo, pork, etc. with glasses of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. As always, food was excellent and explained why they were so jam-packed.

We passed on dessert, instead returning to Vides (from the food tour) for a glass of dessert wine. We had a lovely conversation with Paul who works there, learning he’s from Madrid and returned after backpacking around the world to help with Vides. A perfect capper on the trip.

Monday 

Travel day! We had breakfast, checked out, and were on our way to the airport. We relaxed on our flight home and were ready to be back home in Chicago.

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