España 2004: Madrid

Thursday, 20 May 2004

Ah, Madrid! We are particularly fond of Madrid, perhaps because it was our first experience in Spain, and it was a very positive one. We are staying in the same place as last October (Goya75), an aparthotel complex at the corner of Goya and General Pardiñas. This time we actually have a corner apartment – one of the windows is on an angle looking directly down Calle de Goya (to the east) on the fifth floor, so our view is quite good.

After a pleasant two-hour drive from Peñafiel, we were able to navigate Madrid traffic and road system (it was very straightforward, as we suspected), and pulled into a non-parking place in front of Goya75. This, of course, started three different arguments (discussions): with the car behind us trying to park in the underground that we were partially (but not completely) blocking; with the Goya75 employee who wanted us to move so that the car behind us could get through; and with the next car behind us (after Steve directed the first car into the underground safely) who was also not very happy with the parking arrangement. However, there was no other choice and we remain on good terms with the Goya75 employee (see discussion #2) who we remember from last October. We are not sure what our status is regarding the drivers of the two aforementioned cars.

Another adventure ensued as we vacated the disputed “parking” place (after getting checked in and unloading our stuff). We then had to return the car, which we had enjoyed for the last two weeks (the Audi A4 – a very swish car). Navigation to the approximate location of the rental car agency (EuropCar – we have used them twice in recent years and highly recommend them) was fairly easy, but pinning down the exact spot where we were to drop the car was less straightforward. Nonetheless, we finally sorted that out and proceeded to check the car in. We were pleased that there were no extra charges, despite the fact that the car had been viciously attacked by a large flower pot as we left Barcelona two weeks earlier.

The EuropCar drop-off/check-in is actually at Atocha station, which was the scene of the terrible attack just over two months ago on 11 March. The (small) informal memorial that has been created is incredibly moving and we (along with many others) spent some quiet moments there.

We decided to walk back to our apartment through beautiful Parque de El Retiro, which looks quite a bit different than it did in October! Since it was about time for some lunch, we stopped at a restaurant with sidewalk seating (the Molaquatro) and had bocadillos de calamares. We had been told about this delicacy while in Barcelona, so we took this first opportunity and indulged – good choice! It was the perfect day for eating outside (yet another 3.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale). Later, some shopping in our favourite haunts (recognizing many faces and being recognized once or twice), and then some tapas at a couple of the local establishments, followed by a late snack in our apartment.

Friday, 21 May 2004

One of our main reasons for coming back to Madrid (or so we keep telling ourselves) was to use the third portion of some art museum tickets that we bought last fall when we were here. At that time, we used the portions for the Prado and for the Reina Sofia museums. This time we visited the Museo Thyssien-Bornemiza which is located very close to the Prado. We walked down as it was a lovely morning and on the way saw many of the preparations for the Royal Wedding which is tomorrow. (Prince Felipe is marrying “former TV anchorwoman” Letizia Ortiz in a ceremony the likes of which haven’t been seen in Spain for almost 100 years.) After the wedding, which is in the church at the Palacio Real, there will be a procession through the streets of the city. We think we might check it out just for fun.

Anyway, we spent close to three hours in the museum, which was great. This is truly a wonderful city for art lovers. On the way back to our apartment we stopped for lunch, setas con jamon to start, followed by sepia a la plancha then flan for Steve and croquetas caseros and coffee for Susan.

After a short siesta we went on another small shopping trip, looking for a few wine-related supplies to take home. Eventually we hit a few of our favourite haunts for tapas. At Casa Poli (or the “red bow-tie place” as we refer to it) we had a particularly yummy version of patatas a la brava along with the usual bread with blue cheese and anchovy that they always seem to give us there. At Taberna Ultreya they fed us hazelnuts and tortilla with chorizo and peppers and in addition we ordered a tapa-sized version of their calamares a la romana which are really good. All washed down with wine, of course! Our late night snack at home was pear and cheese with wine which was delectable as usual.

Weather-wise, it was a pleasant 2.0 on the Knowmark Weather Scale as we did encounter a bit of rain. But there wasn’t too much of it and the temperature was just right. Not too bad at all!

Saturday, 22 May 2004

¡El día de la boda real! It had obviously been raining pretty much all night (despite the rain, the weather registered a nice solid 2.0 on the KWS) and today’s weather forecast was for light rain which actually held off for quite a while. We got a leisurely start and went for coffee at Taberna Ultreya where they always give us a small breakfast treat. Back for our regular yogurt/fruit/bread breakfast and by then it was time for the wedding. If you can believe it, we actually spent parts of two hours watching that on TV! Parts of it were fascinating, but by the end it was getting pretty boring. It went over time so the car procession started sooner than expected (perhaps also because of the rain?). By the time we hustled down to Plaza de Cibeles to check it out, they had already gone past but one of the cops we talked to said they might be coming back the same way. So we waited, and sure enough about half an hour later the procession did indeed return. So, what did Susan and Steve do on their last day in Madrid? They became semi-serious royal-watchers :-).

Once the wedding excitement was all over, we strolled back to our own neighbourhood and had lunch at Cassandra, which we knew from last October. After a complementary tapa of paella, Steve had revueltos Cassandra – scrambled eggs with green beans, carrots, mushrooms and shrimp. Susan had pimientos piquillos con gambas al ajillo. Both dishes were particularly yummy.

And, we found out that our flight tomorrow is three hours earlier than planned, so we are scrambling a bit. Nonetheless, we got everything sorted out and stayed up late (starting with an extra round of tapas and wine at Taberna Ultreya) enjoying our last day in Madrid and Spain. Until next year, perhaps!