On Sunday night we left Toronto, and arrived in Madrid on Monday morning. Unfortunately, we managed to sleep just two hours on the flight, so we were exhausted. We checked into our AirBnB and then proceeded to nap for the next few hours.
Zoya and her partner, Shrip, worked late while we were visiting, so dinner was often late in the evening. This worked out perfectly because it gave us extra time to explore the city, which is precisely what we did upon waking up from our nap.
When we arrive somewhere new, we like to hit the pavement ASAP, and get a sense of the city’s layout and walkability. We stayed in a really cool neighbourhood (according to Zoya) called Ibiza, just east of Buen Retiro Park. Also called El Retiro, this incredible park can be described as Madrid’s version of Central Park in New York City.
According to Wikipedia…
The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The Buen Retiro Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá and not far from the Prado Museum. A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid’s premier attractions. The park is entirely surrounded by the present-day city … For children there are multiple playground areas as well as ponds throughout the park with ducks you can feed. The inside of the Palacio de Cristal has been modified to include the edition of a stone slide in the interior. The major paths and walkways are used by families, runners, bikers and rollerbladers.
We kicked off our city exploration with a walk through the park. Eventually we stepped out into a neighbourhood west of the park, near the Museo Del Prado. We walked the streets, saw many shops and interesting sites, and then met up with Zoya.
Zoya took us back to the street we were staying on. Two of their favourite tapas restaurants were located just steps away from our AirBnB apartment. A quick note on tapas, since I’ll be writing about it a lot, coutersy of Wikipedia…
A tapa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtapa]), in Spanish cuisine, is an appetizer, or snack. It may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, sophisticated cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In Mexico, similar dishes are called botanas. According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.
Needless to say, tapas is a big thing in Spain, and we ate quite a lot of it while we were there.
On Monday, after a delightful reunion with Zoya, we started our night at a placed called La Castela. They serve vermouth on tap, which was both interesting and excellent. We drank a lot of vermouth in both Madrid and Cordoba because it’s a common, and often homemade, beverage.
For tapas, we had a variety of “pincho” or “pintxo” dishes … aka small things that you eat with a giant toothpick. We had a beef cheeks, and some really intense/amazing cheeses. Once Shrip met up with us, we had one more round and headed out to another tapas place.
Down the street was Taberna Laredo, one of Shrip’s favourite tapas restaurants. Again we had some really delicious dishes, including a beef tartare. We were a bit too tired to be taking many photos of dinner, but I do remember it all being top notch.
See below for the many photos Kevin took on day one!