Happy Monday. How was your weekend? We jumped on a flight to Madrid after work on Friday (and almost missed it - Friday afternoon traffic was so bad in central London!) and had the most amazing weekend there - even though the weather wasn't so amazing, which is unusual for the city.
We stayed at the beautiful AC Palacio Del Retiro hotel, which is situated directly across from the stunning Retiro Park. When we arrived, it was about 10:45 p.m. but we were starving! So we asked the hotel restaurant if the kitchen was still open, and I ordered a glass of Rioja, plus some jamon Iberico to get us started.
My parents couldn't get enough of the delicious Iberico ham when they visited Spain a couple of years ago. And because we hadn't technically had dinner yet (we were saving our appetites!), I also ordered the best Spanish tortilla (similar to an egg and potato omelette, if you haven't had one before) ever, plus some very flavorful hake served with grilled Mediterranean vegetables. We stumbled to our beautiful room a little drunk from the wine and cerveza and with our bellies full.
The next morning, I was so excited, I woke up early and sat with the guidebook in the hotel restaurant, eating churros for breakfast. We'd been told to visit the Mercado de San Miguel by several Madrid enthusiasts: it's a gourmet food market located in the city center with lots of fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, regional beers and wine, plus lots and lots of jamon, of course!
Although it's only about a quarter of the size of London's Borough Market (another foodie's paradise), it still had rows and rows of delicious food to offer, and we already started choosing what we'd like to have for lunch! Since we were too full to buy anything there and then, we went off to visit the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid) before returning to the mercado in the afternoon to take away a mini jamon baguette, vegetable paella, and some olive skewers (shown above) to enjoy back at the hotel.
By then, it had started to rain pretty hard, which was a shame because I can imagine how beautiful Madrid would be in the sun! We thought that it'd be a good idea to spend some time indoors, so we headed to the Palacio Real de Madrid, which is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family (though it's now only used for official state functions).
After returning to the hotel for a brief nap (okay, actually, it was a luxurious, 2-hour nap!), we wanted to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain's most famous art museum. I read on the website that entry is free between 6-8 pm, so we ran outside with our umbrellas and got some food in Plaza Santa Ana before heading to the Prado. In our haste, however, we headed to the wrong museum! We accidentally went into El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza instead (they're very close to each other). After some confused chat with the information desk, we realized where we were, laughed, and headed back into the rain ... and then we saw the line for the Prado. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I was too busy dodging puddles while John ran ahead and tried to secure us a place in line. It was SO LONG. So long! I'd never seen a line that long, except for maybe the Crown Jewels exhibition at The Tower of London, where I waited for 30 minutes.
Luckily, the line moved quickly and we got in around 6:30 (yes, for free!), so we had a good hour and a half to enjoy at the museum, which I loved, by the way. The permanent collection is huge, of course, and they have some of the most famous paintings in the world by Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens, Titian, and more.
Afterward, we headed back to Plaza Santa Ana for more tapas at Lateral, a funky and modern restaurant that served up the most delicious fruit mojitos, sherry at the famous old-fashioned sherry bar, La Venencia, and some more tapas and dessert at another restaurant that I've unfortunately forgotten the name of now. Needless to say, I felt sick from overeating that night. But it was worth it!
The next morning, we woke up and the weather was still terrible. We couldn't decide whether to go to the Sunday flea market or Madrid's most famous bullring, The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. In the end, we settled on the latter, which I was really excited to see.
We took the self-guided audio tour (which was surprisingly good!) and learned all about the history of the building itself, as well as the bullfighting traditions and ceremonies. There would be a bullfight that evening, so locals were already lining up to buy their tickets.
I've never been in a bullring before, but even though the stands were completely empty, that moment we walked into the stadium was exhilarating. I have mixed feelings about the sport itself (since the bulls are killed) but I certainly found the artistic elements of the bullfighter's responsibilities and the ceremony surrounding the activity to be fascinating.
I'd been holding out hope for being able to do a spot of shopping in Madrid (naturally), but most of the shops were closed on a Sunday. Since I had a early flight that day, I really wanted to explore Retiro Park as well, so we did!
Just after this photo was taken (above), the sun peeked through the sky and we had 15-minutes or so of warmth! It was incredible. It showed a hint of what the park would look like in the sun, which was glorious.
It's definitely one of the most beautiful parks I've ever been to, and one that I'll remember forever. "It's the perfect place for a proposal!" I said to John, as we strolled down the tree-lined paths of the Paseo de las Estatuas (Statue Walk) and through the picturesque gardens. "It's a little too late for that," he replied drily. But anyway. It's the perfect place for a proposal.
Near the center of the park is the Palacio de Velazquez, which is now an art gallery with some beautiful exhibitions of Spanish artists. I took a particular shine to this swing and window installation below.
The high ceilings, white walls and floors, and generous amounts of natural light make the space really majestic to walk through. There was a quiet hush in that magnificent main room as well, which felt special. Ooh! That reminds me: one thing I loved about the Prado was that when it got a little too "noisy" with chatter in a room, the museum guards would shush people! Amazing!
Our last stop before I had to run and get my taxi to the airport back at the hotel was the Crystal Palace, allegedly inspired by the Crystal Palace in London.
Thank you, Madrid, for showing me a wonderful time! Spanish hospitality is always awesome. Muchas gracias.