Day 5 in Madrid – National Archaeological Museum of Spain!

Thursday night got a bit crazy, so Friday was a late start. We woke up late to a rainy day and also realized we’d left one of our host’s umbrellas at the bar the previous night. Oops!

Anyways, sharing the one remaining umbrella we headed out to grab some breakfast before, obviously, going to a museum. It was our last day in Madrid, and we had plans that evening with Zoya and some friends, but we wanted to see the National Archaeological Museum of Spain. For the last 6 months or so Kevin has been on a deep dive into learning about Roman and Iberian history, so this seemed like the perfect place to spend our last day in Madrid, which also happened to be his birthday.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the museum:

The museum was founded in 1867 by a Royal Decree of Isabella II as a depository for numismatic, archaeological, ethnographical and decorative art collections of the Spanish monarchs.

The museum was originally located in the Embajadores district of Madrid. In 1895, it moved to a building designed specifically to house it, a neoclassical design by architect Francisco Jareño, built from 1866 to 1892. In 1968, renovation and extension works considerably increased its area. The museum closed for renovation in 2008 and reopened in April 2014.[1] The remodelled museum concentrates on its core archaeological role, rather than decorative arts.

The collection includes, among others, PrehistoricEgyptianCelticIberianGreek and Roman antiquities and medieval(VisigothicIslamic Spanish and Christian) objects.

This was one of the best no-art museums I’ve ever been to. The detail and expenses put into curating the collections are excellent. The impact of the most recent renovation is unmissable and it would be a great place for anyone with any level of pre-existing knowledge on Archaeology, including kids. The collections are extensive, and take you through the evolution of ancient western culture and civilizations.

The use of visual guides, including audio visual content, was quite impressive. Each new time period and/or topic was introduced with a video that illustrated what the community would’ve looked like at the time. It was a great way to understand the context of the artifacts presented, particularly with respect to the geographic movement and interactions of people. You can learn more about their collection here and here.

Check out the photos below, and add this one of your Madrid itinerary!



Day 4 in Madrid – Dinner & Drinks!

Included in Zoya’s guide to Madrid was this line:

Sala Despiece – this place is a MUST. get there early (like 20 mins before it opens) cause the place gets packed. Easily the most interesting take on Spanish tapas. The carpaccio will take you to heaven and back

After hours and hours in museums, we were ready for a long and indulgent dinner. As per Zoya’s instructions, we arrived a full 30 minutes early, and were fortunately the first in line. Waiting in line before a place opens is really not our style, and we were feeling pretty uncool, but it was worth getting there early. Within 10 minutes, there were 20 people in line behind us. When the doors finally opened, we scored a prime seat at the bar, and were able to watch the chefs in action all evening.

The thing about tapas is that you’re supposed to eat many dishes of small amounts of food. Apparently ‘tapas crawls’ are the hip thing, where you go from restaurant to restaurant eating small amounts. Again, not our style. Instead, we settled in at Sala de Despiece and ordered almost every item on the menu.

As promised, the food was excellent. The view we had was also great, though it gave perhaps a bit too much insight into the restaurant operations. At open, the entire staff and flow of the team were on fire, but by hour one, things started to slow down and taper off, and you could tell operations would become sloppier throughout the evening. So perhaps there’s some logic to tapas crawls.

Everything we ordered is showcased in the photos below. The food definitely lived up to the hype, especially the beef carpaccio. We were surprised when again we were served a dish that required us to squeeze out the head of a shrimp. This time we caught it on video:

After dinner, we attempted to explore the neighbourhood for a ‘tapas crawl’, but were truly too stuffed. We hopped into a cab and went to Macera Workshop Bar, a gin bar that Zoya had recommended. These guys infuse their own homemade gins, and when they first opened you could only order gin & tonics

As regular gin drinkers, we’re fairly attached to our classic options. It was interesting to try to these artisanal gin options, but we quickly switched to cocktails. After several ‘pink panthers’, we were having a raging good time. We had a great spot at the bar, and watched place fill up with a typically European mix of people from all ages. If we’d realized how low the bill would be, we may have stayed even longer.

As it was, we left the bar and headed to another Zoya recommendation, Bar Cock. This place looks like a stereotypical old timey bankers hangout. All wood decor, and basically in a back alley. We ordered a bottle of sparkling and ended our night right.

And when we got home, I found out I’d been accepted to the MBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business. It was the perfect way to end a long day and a great night.


Day 4 in Madrid: A Full Day of Museums

When we woke up on Thursday, I knew we had to allocate much of the day to visiting museums, and we were particularly interested in visiting the Reina Sofia museum, aka the home of Picasso’s Guernica. I’d learned my lesson about waiting in line earlier in the week, and bought our tickets online ahead of time.

The other lesson I’d learned was the importance of food before going into a museum. We grabbed a quick breakfast snack around the corner, and walked through Retiro Park on our way to the museum.

We had a few museums on our list that day, but the Reina Sofia was our primary goal, so that’s where we started.

Officially called the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the Reina Sofia is Spain’s primary destination for 20th century art. The Prado, which we’d already visited, housed many historic Spanish pieces, but anything from the 1900s is in the Reina Sofia (there’s a separate museum for contemporary art, which unfortunately we didn’t have time for).

The bulk of the collection is by Spanish artists, and the most famous pieces are by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. We were keen to Picasso’s Guernica, and luckily for us the museum had on a special Guernica-themed exhibit that showcased much of Picasso’s works all in one space.

The Reina Sofia is a very large museum, housed primarily in an old hospital, which means the layout lacks the typical ‘flow’ you encounter in museums. This, combined with incredible size of the museum, meant that by the time we had worked our way through the Guernica exhibit, we gave up on trying to see the regular collection.

So, the Guernica exhibit. It was both educational and well curated. The exhibit starts out by discussing the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, for which the painting was created, and then it dives into the history of the Spanish Civil War. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Guernica is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso completed in June 1937,[1] at his home on Rue des Grands Augustins, in Paris. The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history.[2] Standing at 3.49 meters (11 ft 5 in) tall and 7.76 meters (25 ft 6 in) wide, the large mural shows the suffering of people wrenched by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, and flames.

The painting was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. Upon completion, Guernica was exhibited at the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Paris International Exposition) in the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and then at other venues around the world. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief.[3] The painting became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

As we learned, the Spanish government commissioned Picasso to create a work of art for the World’s Fair, and it was only after the fact that he decided to create this moving painting, in what could well be described as an act of protest:

In January 1937, the Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. At the time, Picasso was living in Paris, where he had been named Honorary Director-in-Exile of the Prado Museum. He had last visited Spain in 1934 and never returned.[4] His initial sketches for the project, on which he worked somewhat dispassionately from January until late April, depicted his perennial theme of the artist’s studio.[1] Immediately upon hearing reports of the 26 April bombing of Guernica, the poet Juan Larrea visited Picasso and urged him to make the bombing his subject.[1] However, it was only on 1 May, having read George Steer‘s eyewitness account of the bombing (originally published in both The Times and The New York Times on 28 April), that he abandoned his initial project and started sketching a series of preliminary drawings for Guernica.[5]

After the bombing, the work of the Basque and Republican sympathizer and The Times journalist George Steer propelled this event onto the international scene and brought it to Pablo Picasso’s attention. Steer’s eyewitness account was published on 28 April in both The Times and The New York Times, and on the 29th appeared in L’Humanité, a French Communist daily. Steer wrote:

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three types of German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000 lbs. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machinegun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.”[12]

We weren’t able to take photos in the exhibit, but here’s what Guernica looks like:


Per Picasso’s wishes, the painting itself did not return to Spain until the country enjoyed a republic.

I was quite excited to see this painting, and it definitely lived up to the hype. As the building used to be a hospital, the overall footprint was not laid out well, but this exhibit was so well curated and included so many incredible pieces from Picasso’s career that it was well worth the visit.

After 3-4 hours of taking this in, we headed out to get something to eat before hitting up another museum.

Before we came to Madrid, Zoya sent us a list of restaurants to check out. After ‘starring’ them on our map, we were always able to find a great spot to eat. And once we got there, we referenced her notes on what to order, where to sit, etc. For lunch on this day, we sat at the bar in Mercado de la Reina and ordered amazing tapas dishes that included shrimp and friend artichoke. It was a quick lunch, and one of my favourite spots of the week.

From there we headed over to the Naval Museum of Madrid:

The Museo Naval de Madrid —in English, Naval Museum of Madrid— is a national museum in Madrid, Spain. It shows the history of the Spanish Navy since the Catholic Monarchs, in the 15th century, up to the present. The displays set naval history in a wide context with information about Spanish rulers and the country’s former colonies. The collections include navigation instruments, weapons, maps and paintings.

For a 3 euro entrance fee, this museum is a pretty good deal, but I won’t be rushing back. If you’re really interested in naval history, and models of boats and military seafaring are your thing, then this is the museum for you.

However, as general students of history and politics, we found the museum a bit lacking.

To give some context, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Spanish Navy:

The Spanish Navy (Spanish: Armada Española), is the maritime branch of the Spanish Armed Forces and one of the oldest active naval forces in the world. The Spanish navy was responsible for a number of major historic achievements in navigation, the most famous being the discovery of America and the first global circumnavigation by Magellan and Elcano. For several centuries, it played a crucial logistical role in the Spanish Empire and defended a vast trade network across the Atlantic Ocean between the Americas and Europe and across the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the Americas.

The Spanish Navy was one of the most powerful maritime forces in the world in the 16th and 17th centuries and possibly the world`s largest navy at the end of the 16th century and in the early 17th century. Reform under the Bourbon dynasty improved its logistical and military capacity in the 18th century, for most of which Spain possessed the world’s third largest navy. In the 19th century, the Spanish Navy built and operated the first military submarine, made important contributions in the development of destroyer warships, and achieved the first global circumnavigation by an ironclad vessel.

The 1820s saw the loss of most of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. With the empire greatly reduced in size and Spain divided and unstable after its own war of independence, the navy lost its importance and shrank greatly.

During the Spanish–American War in 1898, a badly supported and equipped Spanish fleet of four armored cruisers and two destroyers was overwhelmed by numerically and technically superior forces (three new battleships, one new second class battleship, and one large armored cruiser) as it tried to break out of an American blockade in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Admiral Cervera‘s squadron was overrun in an attempt to break a powerful American blockade off Cuba.

In the Philippines, a squadron, made up of ageing ships, including some obsolete cruisers, had already been sacrificed in a token gesture in Manila Bay. The Battle of Manila Bay took place on 1 May 1898, during the Spanish–American War. The American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey engaged and destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón. The engagement took place in Manila Bay in the Philippines, and was the first major engagement of the Spanish–American War. This war marked the end for the Spanish Navy as a global maritime force.

Currently, the Spanish ‘Armada’ is the third largest navy in Europe, after the British Royal Navy and the French Navy, and the sixth in the world ranking.

For centuries, Spain was a major naval power, and the museum does a great job of showcasing their strengths. However, the museum does a perplexingly bad job of discussing the decline of the Spanish navy in the 1800s. Case in point? They effectively skip over the destruction of the Spanish Armada, and while they do discuss their colonial expansion, there’s no mention of struggles around decolonization, or of the decisive Spanish American war. If you didn’t know better, the museum would give you the impression that Spain is still a hard-hitting naval power.

That said, there are approximately a gazillion boat models in this museum, and it’s 10x larger than it seems at  the outset, with over 30 rooms of boats, maps, and artifacts. If you’re even remotely interested in maritime history, this is worth checking out.

That night, we had plans to eat dinner in northern neighbourhood in Madrid. On our way there, we stopped in at one last museum, the Sorolla Museum. Madrid has a series of museums about Spanish artists, primarily based in the historic home of said artist. In this case, we visited a museum in the home of Joaquin Sorolla:

The building was originally the artist’s house and was converted into a museum after the death of his widow. Designed by Enrique María Repullés, it was declared Bien de Interés Cultural in 1962.[citation needed] The principal rooms continue to be furnished as they were during the artist’s life, including Sorolla’s large, well-lit studio, where the walls are filled with his canvasses. Other rooms are used as galleries to display Sorolla’s paintings, while the upstairs rooms are a gallery for special exhibitions.

Our walk to the Sorolla Museum followed a variety of busy streets, which made the walled garden of the home feel like a true oasis. I always really enjoy exploring homes, and this museum didn’t disappoint. Sorolla painted in the impressionist style, and painted beautiful landscapes and portraits. The artwork in the museum showcased his love of painting his family, and of his skill painting light and water. For a small entry fee, the Sorolla Museum was well worth it.

Dinner itself was a whole other experience, which I’ll save for the next post…

Day 3 in Madrid – The History of Madrid Museum


When we were first walking around Madrid, we came across a museum about the city’s history. We were pretty excited because Kevin had looked online and not been able to find one. Naturally, 20 minutes into exploring the city and we found it! We marked down the location and aimed to check it out later in the week.

After our lunch at DSTAgE, we needed a low key destination where we could walk off our lunch, and fortunately the Museum of the History of Madrid was around the corner.

Weirdly enough, there’s no english Wikipedia entry for this museum, but according to a different tourist site:

“Housed in one of Madrid’s impressive Baroque buildings, formerly the San Fernando Hospice, the History Museum offers an overview of the arts, industries, lifestyles and customs of Madrileños from 1561, the year when Madrid was established as the Spanish capital, to the present.

Following thorough renovation, the museum reopened in 2014 with a collection comprising 60,000 objects linked to the city’s history: paintings, prints, maps, scale models, drawings, photographs, postcards, sculptures, porcelains, silverwork, fans, furniture, weapons, coins and medals.”

The building that housed the museum was beautiful, but the collection itself was a bit dry. Madrid has a long and complicated history, and it’s covered in great detail in the museum. Coming from the sprawling GTA, we were keen to learn about how Madrid came to be a landmark of density and great city planning. I’m not sure we got all that, but we did learn quite a bit.

Fortunately, Madrid itself has a very lengthy Wikipedia page to summarize what we learned:

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times,[30][31][32] and there are archaeological remains of Carpetani settlement,[30] Roman villas,[33] a Visigoth basilica near the church of Santa María de la Almudena[26][34] and three Visigoth necropoleis near Casa de Campo, Tetúan and Vicálvaro,[35] the first historical document about the existence of an established settlement in Madrid dates from the Muslim age. At the second half of the 9th century,[36] Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba built a fortress on a headland near the river Manzanares,[37] as one of the many fortresses he ordered to be built on the border between Al-Andalus and the kingdoms of León and Castile, with the objective of protecting Toledo from the Christian invasions and also as a starting point for Muslim offensives. After the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Madrid was integrated in the Taifa of Toledo.

With the surrender of Toledo to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, the city was conquered by Christians in 1085, and it was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown.[38] Christians replaced Muslims in the occupation of the centre of the city, while Muslims and Jews settled in the suburbs. The city was thriving and was given the title of Villa, whose administrative district extended from the Jarama in the east to the river Guadarrama in the west.

Since the unification of the kingdoms of Spain under a common Crown, the Courts were convened in Madrid more often.

In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Valladolid to Madrid, installing it in the old castle.[43] Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political centre of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 and 1606 (Philip III of Spain‘s government), in which the Court returned to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate.

During the reign of Philip III and Philip IV of Spain, Madrid saw a period of exceptional cultural brilliance, with the presence of geniuses such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Quevedo and Lope de Vega.[44]

The death of Charles II of Spain resulted in the War of the Spanish succession. The city supported the claim of Philip of Anjou as Philip V.

Philip V built the Royal Palace, the Royal Tapestry Factory and the main Royal Academies.[45] But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as “the best mayor of Madrid”. Charles III took upon himself the feat of transforming Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, street lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.). 

The Peninsular War against Napoleon, despite the last absolutist claims during the reign of Ferdinand VII, gave birth to a new country with a liberal and bourgeois character, open to influences coming from the rest of Europe. Madrid, the capital of Spain, experienced like no other city the changes caused by this opening and filled with theatres, cafés and newspapers. Madrid was frequently altered by revolutionary outbreaks and pronouncements.

However, in the early 20th century Madrid looked more like a small town than a modern city. During the first third of the 20th century the population nearly doubled, reaching more than 950,000 inhabitants. New suburbs such as Las Ventas, Tetuán and El Carmen became the homes of the influx of workers, while Ensanche became a middle-class neighbourhood of Madrid.[48]

To be clear, this was not the most well curated museum, but it was free admission, so worth checking out. The history of Madrid involved a lot of royalty-related drama, revolutions, etc and documenting that took centre stage over a history of urban planning. The museum also had a weird amount of rules and staff. We got in trouble for making too much noise, for drinking water in the wrong room, and carrying a backpack.

When we finished at the museum, we then walked to the oldest plazas in Madrid to see all the stuff we’d just learned about. After that, we headed up to the rooftop bar at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, on Zoya’s recommendation. It’s one of the best views of the city, and a great place to grab a drink. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great, but we snapped some great photos. Standing up on the rooftop, you can see out of the city into the countryside all around the city, which really highlights how dense Madrid is.

That night, we met up with Zoya and Shrip for a top notch sushi dinner in their neighbourhood. It was the perfect way to wrap up a long day of indulgence punctuated by walking. Also one of the only nights that we went to bed early!

Day 3 in Madrid – Lunch at DSTAgE

Before we came to Madrid, Zoya recommended we splurge on lunch at DSTAgE, a two Michelin star restaurant. She advised we’d need reservations, but when I tried to book us in, they were full.

So what did Zoya do? She called them. She got us on the wait list for lunch everyday that we were in Madrid. On Tuesday, they called her back while we were in the museum, so we couldn’t go. But on Wednesday, they called her back just as we were waking up from a late slumber. Perfect timing. We got up, we got dressed, and we went to lunch at DSTAgE.

Before we get into the amazing experience we had, a quick note on Michelin star restaurants.

The Michelin Guide assigns star ratings (1, 2, or 3 stars) to top quality restaurants in select cities around the world. Receiving a Michelin star rating is considered rather prestigious, as the Michelin Guide is famed for its extremely high standards. Here’s where it all comes from, according to Wikipedia:

In 1900, fewer than 3,000 cars graced the roads of France. To boost the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tires, brothers and car tire manufacturers Édouard and André Michelin published the first edition of a guide for French motorists, the Michelin Guide.[2] The brothers printed nearly 35,000 copies of this first, free edition of the Michelin Guide, which provided useful information to motorists, such as maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France. 

Recognizing the growing popularity of the restaurant section of the guide, the brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants, who were always careful in maintaining anonymity.[6]

In 1926, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments. Initially, there was only a single star awarded. Then, in 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced. Finally, In 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published:[3]

  • 1 Michelin star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
  • 2 Michelin stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
  • 3 Michelin stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).[6]

Michelin reviewers (commonly called “inspectors”) are completely anonymous; they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by the company founded by the Michelin brothers, never by a restaurant being reviewed.

The French chef Paul Bocuse, one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine in the 1960s, said, “Michelin is the only guide that counts.”[11] In France, each year, at the time the guide is published, it sparks a media frenzy which has been compared to that for annual Academy Awards for films.

So, that’s what the hype is all about. Accordingly, Michelin star restaurants are also quite expensive to eat at. Zoya and Shrip have found that, relative to other markets, Michelin star eating is a deal in Madrid, yet another reason why they encouraged us to try DSTAgE.

So, what about DSTAgE itself? The restaurant is typically described as a ‘concept’ restaurant, and its known for experimentation and creativity. The owner and chef, Diego Guerrero, was previously the head chef at a different two Michelin star restaurant, and left to create his own restaurant in contrast to the uptight tradition and style of other high end restaurants in the city.

According to the Michelin Guide:

This restaurant has an urban and industrial look and a relaxed feel that reflects the personality of the chef. The name is an acronym of his core philosophy: ‘Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow & Enjoy’. Discover cuisine that brings disparate cultures, ingredients and flavours together from Spain, Mexico and Japan.

Now that you’re familiar with the concept of Michelin stars and with DSTAgE in particular, let’s talk about our experience.

On Wednesday, we woke up to a call from Zoya about our reservation. From there, we got dressed and strolled across the city for lunch.

One of the most interesting elements of our DSTAgE experience was how specifically everything was timed. When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re escorted to 1 of 2 stations at the bar of the open kitchen.

There, you meet one of the cooks, who makes and serves you a palette opening dish, following by a palette cleansing drink. In our case, we had shrimps cooked over a Himalayan salt rock, served on a homemade cracker. It was bizarre and delicious, and hit every tastebud. Over the course of our meal, we watched every other group of patrons go through this experience as well.

From there, you take a seat at your table, and decide how to tackle your meal. You can choose 12, 14, or 17 courses. You can also choose wine pairings for each course. We opted for 14 courses, without the pairings (it was lunch, after all!).

Our first course was the seafood of the day: “razor clam with celeri dashi, almonds mild and coffee nectar”. The presentation was so cool that we took a video:


When each course was brought to the table, our server explained how it was made, what is was, and how best to eat it.

After the razor clams, we had something described to us as “Thailand in one bite”. It was pandan radish with pandan tea, and reminded us so much of the rice we had in Cambodia, which was often served with pandan leaves. Unfortunately we didn’t snap a picture of this one.

However, we took photos of every other course, which you can check out below! I’ve added our notes on every dish below as well. As you can see, the amount and variety of food made for an intense experience, but it was absolutely worth it.

See for yourself below… and then consider adding DSTAgE to the agenda when you’re next in Madrid!


Day 2 in Madrid: Museo del Prado and beyond!

Day 2 was our first full day in the city, and we tackled it with all the enthusiasm we could muster, which perhaps was a bit too much.

We started the day off with an early morning run through Retiro Park. As we were planning our trip, multiple people had told us to pack our running gear because Madrid is a great city for running. They certainly weren’t wrong. Retiro Park and the surrounding areas were full of runners of all sorts. Running in the Park had the exact ‘live-like-a-local’ feel that we’d been promised.

After our run, we headed home to shower and start our day. We had two rough goals in mind: visit the Museo del Prado, and explore the city. We spent 4 hours in the museum, and walked over 30km that day, so I think it’s safe to say that we accomplished both goals.

It took some time to get into the museum because we hadn’t bought our tickets in advance, but the line moved quickly and the weather was great, so the wait was no issue. Armed with our tickets, maps, and enthusiasm, we entered the Museo del Prado.

The Museo del Prado is the main event as far as Madrid museums go. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The Prado Museum (Spanish pronunciation: [muˈseo ðel ˈpɾaðo]) is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world. The numerous works by Francisco de Goya, the single most extensively represented artist, as well as by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez, are some of the highlights of the collection.

The building that is now the home of the Museo Nacional del Prado was designed in 1785 by architect of the Enlightenment in SpainJuan de Villanueva on the orders of Charles III to house the Natural History Cabinet. Nonetheless, the building’s final function was not decided until the monarch’s grandson, Ferdinand VII, encouraged by his wife, Queen María Isabel de Braganza, decided to use it as a new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The Royal Museum, which would soon become known as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture, and subsequently the Museo Nacional del Prado, opened to the public for the first time in November 1819. It was created with the double aim of showing the works of art belonging to the Spanish Crown and to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that Spanish art was of equal merit to any other national school.

Because much of the art in the Museo del Prado was commission by the Spanish Royal family, it has two primary themes: paintings of the royal family, and religious art.

I know we were feeling optimistic about our museum adventure because we started in the religious art section and really took our time. The collection was impressive, with art from masters like Titian, El Greco, and Caravaggio. However, at the end of the day, we both found the religious art to be repetitive. The museum is roughly in order based on time period, and most of the paintings from the 1400s to 1600s were religious in theme. 200 years of religious paintings is a LOT of religious paintings, and eventually we had to skip through a few of these rooms

The other thing to note is that this museum is physically HUGE. We spent nearly 2 hours looking at religious art before we realized that we’d only covered a small amount of the museum. The Museo del Prado is currently 16000 square meters. According to this weird little website, 16000 square metres is 3x the size of a football field, and half the size of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot to take in.

Once we’d covered the bulk of the main floor, we had to break for lunch. We’d had only a small breakfast, and were beginning to wilt. We re-fuelled with a paella from the museum cafeteria, and then headed upstairs.

Beyond the Spanish royal family’s extensive collection of religious art, the collection has quite a few rather famous highlights. Spanish artists Velazquez and Goya are both showcased beautifully.

Goya is considered one of the last “Old Masters” of painting, and was a renowned portraitist in the 1800s, hence his relationship with the Royal family. Later on his work took on darker tones, particularly in response to war and conflict in the region. We were able to see a full range of his artistic span, including the famous “The Second of May 1808” and “The Third of May 1808“. We were also able to see his “Black Paintings”, which “originally were painted as murals on the walls of the house, later being “hacked off the walls and attached to canvas.” (Wikipedia).

Velazquez’s paintings formed the other main event. According to Wikipedia:

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter, the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

The Museo del Prado is intentionally a home for classic paintings and art, with more modern collections held in other museums. From religious art to the works of portraitists favoured by the royal family, the theme was really ‘the art of old Spanish power’. It was a lot to see, but definitely worth it.

After all that walking in the museum, we left to continue exploring the city. We walked through many beautiful old plazas, headed for the Royal Palace of Madrid, the original source of all the art we’d just seen.

The Royal Palace of Madrid has a long and complex history, much like Spain itself. Here’s a brief (seriously!) soundbite from Wikipedia:

The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar (“Muslim-era fortress”), near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba[2]:7 and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.

The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Philip V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755[3] and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. Charles III first occupied the new palace in 1764.

The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as “Palacio Nacional”. There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name “Office of Azaña”.

The palace has 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms.[4][5] It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area. The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms.

You can pay 11 euros to go inside the palace, but we were honestly tired of looking at paintings of rich Spaniards and Jesus Christ, so we decided to skip this one. Instead, we walked around the outside of the palace and explored the nearby gardens. The weather was beautiful, as were the architecture/gardens/fountains.

We then headed to a nearby park that Zoya had told us about. Oeste Park is apparently the go-to spot for watching sunsets in Madrid. We were a bit early for sunset, but we did enjoy the view, which overlooks the palace and the expansive green space behind it.

We then wandered through the park in search of the Temple of Debod. This was one of the more random things we saw in Madrid. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this attraction:

The Temple of Debod[1] (Spanish: Templo de Debod) is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid, Spain.

The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Aswan[2] in Upper Egypt, very close to the first cataract of the Nile and to the great religious center in Philae dedicated to the goddess Isis. In the early 2nd century BC, Adikhalamani (Tabriqo), the Kushite king of Meroë, started its construction by building a small single-room chapel dedicated to the god Amun.[2] 

In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy.[4][5] As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.

The temple was rebuilt in one of Madrid’s parks, the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid, and opened to the public in 1972.[6] It constitutes one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain.

So, yeah. We saw 2000ish year old Egyptian temple in Madrid. Not much to say other than it looked really cool, and was a unique thing to see.

From the park, we continued our walk. We stopped for lunch at Takos Al Pastor, recommended by Zoya as a great spot for cheap tacos. She was right. We tried all the tacos on the menu, and it was a delicious.

Eventually we made it back to our AirBnB. I have to assume that we napped, though I don’t remember.

That evening, we ate dinner at the Mercado de San Anton. We’re weren’t a huge fan of the set up, but they had a cool rooftop bar, where Zoya eventually joined us. When the party ended there, we headed to 1862 Dry Bar. After enjoying their spectacular cocktails and hospitality, we wrapped up the night and headed home (walking, of course).

All in all it was a great day, but we definitely slept in the next morning.

Day 1 in Madrid: Naps & Vermouth & Tapas, Oh My!

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.[8] The inside of the Palacio de Cristal has been modified to include the edition of a stone slide in the interior.[10] 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.[1] 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!