It´s not WHAT you know . .

Madrid Travel Blog

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Trying to fit everything back into the pack

I have been so blessed to have spent time with my gorgeous Juan. Not only has he been an inspiration to me in life but he has added a dimension to my Spain that I would otherwise have missed out on.

His appartment in Madrid was a welcome cool oasis after the hot dusty drive back from the mountains. As usual, after a cool shower, the world looked fresh again and we were off to see ´Juans´Madrid. I had the special guest treatment and we sped into the heart of Madrid via the very clean, cheap and efficient metro (Melbourne, you could learn a few things from Madrid!).

First stop was near the Plaza Major for a taste of typical student life. The Plaza itself is magnificant at night with plenty of tourist friendly terraces (outdoor restaurants) lining the outskirts and plying for trade.

Plaza Major in Madrid.
The lighting is wonderful and highlights the centrepiece which is a statue of a giant horse and rider (sorry, not sure who!). I used it to orientate myself every time I returned to the Plaza.

After navigating the plaza, I was directed down a side laneway to one of the famous student hangouts. It is a bustling bar where the lights and noise can ´blind´you if you are not pre-warned. This standing-room-only place sells just bocadillos but they have such a high turnover and they are so scrumptious that the prices are low. The favourite is filled to overflowing with toasty fried calamari so of course that is what I had. The beer is thankfully freezing and usually drunk straight or half-and-half with límon(ade). Standing at the counter with the locals, I realised that any tourist who stumbled upon this hideout would be petrified if they did not understand the ordering system or the language.

Bocatas con Calamares
It was all very fast, furious and fun.

As if that wasn´t enough, our next stop was also nearby and clearly inhabited by locals. This place sold all sorts of ´bravas´. The most common is of course a staple in Spain - Patatas Bravas. This is chunky fried potatoes (like mum used to make) but smothered in aoli or mayo and then usually some type of spicy sauce as well drizzled over the top. This place sold ´everything bravas´ including chorizo, tortilla and albondigas (meat balls)! Some of the combinations were too out there to even think about devouring. I tried my best to share the local speciality;and of course digestion is always assisted with a lovely glass of local red.

Now, it was very necessary to walk off this very calorie laden food so we strolled to the Palace to see it lit up at night.

Strange night scene at the Cathdral in Madrid.
It was darling and so different to the austere grey building you experience during the day. Next door is the cathedral and we were treated to an interesting photo session (bear in mind that this is now 11.30pm!) taking place. A young Chinese (?) couple completely dressed in bridal attire were sitting for photos with the Cathedral as a backdrop. I am unsure whether it was a fashion shoot or the real thing but the energy between them suggested a fashion shoot! Still - it made a hilarious photo for me!

The night ended up with a marvellous coffee in one of Madrids very old coffee bars. The walls were covered in old posters and yellowed, and for once the lighting was also yellow; rather than the popular blue energy-saving lights found all over Spain now. Not very easy on the eye.

Aaahhhh . . .this is the life

A new day and I was out on my own with a list of suggestions from Juan. The first of which was a great place to have my breakfast. I would not have found it on my own and felt very comfortable and safe among the Madrid workers having tostada and café before work (at a respectable 9.00am!) This cafe was in the Tirso de Molina, a small Plaza in central Madrid.

From here I made my way to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia´s museum). I honed in on the Surrealist work again, this time mainly paintings. Dali, Picasso, Joan Miro, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Yvey Tanguy and Luis Fernandéz among my usual favourites.

I also took time to see a temporary exhibition of the photographer, Edward Steichen (1879-1973) who has been described as one of the most prolific, influential and controversial figures in the history of photography.

Greta Garbo by Edward Steichen
He is classed as the pioneer of modern advertising photography and worked for both Vogue and Vanity Fair in the 30´s and 40´s. He was also commisioned by a fabric company to design patterns for silk and he used everyday objects. Until this time, all fabrics were normally pain, striped or floral. My favourite design of his incorporated a clever geometric pairing of matches and cigarettes, indistinguishable from a distance. He is definitely worth a google!

The day was not over until another spectacular dinner. This time I was treated to a visit to several of the lesser known districts of Madrid. The first was called ´Chueca´which is very similar to Prahran in Melbourne (the lively Gay district). It was loads of fun and the main plaza was a sea of tables, all full and loud chatter abounding.

Chueca, the Gay district
A short walk from here brought us to the Plaza del Dos Mayo where I was in for a dinner treat. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant called ´Isla de Tesoro´(Treasure Island) which was a peaceful cool oasis from the hustle and bustle outside the door.

The meal was equal to anything vegetarian that Melbourne can dish up. As a free starter we were offered a warmed chickpea and caramelised onion dish with plenty of wholemeal crusty artesan bread to accompany - so simple but absolutely wonderful. The next dishes we shared. My favourite was a green salad with  caramelised peppers and giant organic tomato. The tomato was served as two halves, each topped with slice of delicious queso de oveja (sheeps cheese similar to chevre) and then heated. The combination was delicious and went so well with the other assortment of Asian inspired but Spanish flavoured morsels (Nori rolls with tabouli instead of rice, spring rolls with caramelised vegetables and lovely little nutty dumplings).

How do you finish a night like this? You have the perfect coffee at the famous El Café Ruiz which looked like it was straight out of a Hemingway novel!

 We did not see the opening ceremony of the Olympics like most of the rest of the world but I feel as though I have experienced the Olympics of hospitality from Juan. I was very sad to leave Madrid and know that our journey is not over yet. Sometimes you meet people for a reason and the reason takes time to become evident. This is one of those times. Hasta Luego, Juan (see you soon)

Besos, Grace

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Trying to fit everything back into…
Trying to fit everything back int…
Plaza Major in Madrid.
Plaza Major in Madrid.
Bocatas con Calamares
Bocatas con Calamares
Strange night scene at the Cathdra…
Strange night scene at the Cathdr…
Aaahhhh . . .this is the life
Aaahhhh . . .this is the life
Greta Garbo by Edward Steichen
Greta Garbo by Edward Steichen
Chueca, the Gay district
Chueca, the Gay district
Madrid
photo by: vulindlela