More tapas and palaces

May 9, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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Saturday 8 May  (Madrid – continued)

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A long day of exploration.

We walked a huge circle for 6 hours, with little stops. Starting after a leisurely breakfast at La Rotunda, Westin Palace,  we walked up the area rich in tapas bars (Barrio de las Letras). Along C. del Prado, watching the area get more tired and more closed and graffiti decorated, till we came to a wide open square Plaza Mayor surrounded gracefully by low buildings with spires and arches. The old city area Madrid de los Austrias is a confusion of small streets in every direction. We found a tiny square with trees and stopped  out of the cold wind at sunny tables for a drink.

Finally, the stated destination of our walk emerged: a very big wedding cake eruption of pale stone called Palatio Real.  The view from here was recommended by the concierge  – we glimpsed green hills and smoky mountains through the iron gates, but did not feel like joining the queue to get in. Free opera was in process in front of the real palace, with the most extraordinary voice radiating out into the ether. Among others she sang Carmen, which was so haunting in its Spanish setting one felt the tears well.

Into the cathedral Almudena. Austere awe-inspiring Gothic heights, intended to amaze and inspire the spirit to feel small and strive heavenwards.

"Modern" Almudena cathedral windows

Light filtered in through extraordinarily colourful, bright and somehow abstract windows. “They look so modern” I said wondering where the haloes and beatific faces were. Did some artist long ago react against all the sombre black and brown?

The Maria in a gigantic oil painting was a nun wearing a black habit. This lady is a patron saint, and yet another virgin.

Below the Palace and cathedral are formal gardens laid out invitingly with paths between sculpted  trees, ponds and monuments. We popped into a modern coffee bar for nice café latte peeping towards the view (small cup only 1.5 euro) and use of loo (no toilet paper). Only our luxury hotels offered toilet paper – it’s important to carry some with you when out on the town in Madrid.

Past a tiny square Encarnacion (with yet another sculpture)  along some narrow streets and we were in Gran Via. This broad and busy  road skirts the entertainment area – the Soho or Broadway of Madrid. Gran Via represents the modern city, with shop after shop from the big chains like Zara, H&M to smaller clothing boutiques. I must see the prices I cajoled:  really lovely apricot and brown floral with Jane Austen waist (bare arms though): only 15 euro, and lots more lovely inspiring affordable clothes. That boutique thumping with music seemed to be a local brand.

Heading east we turned left into Calle de Fuencarral which the Hospes concierge had told us edged the heavy metal area. This walking street is young Spain, with streams of young adults, small trendy boutiques and plenty of jeans shops. A flashing light Sex Sells highlights Diesel jeans. Turning right into Augusto Figueroa we had now found shoetown – shoe shop after shoe shop. Must check prices, I again cajoled my partner. Plain leather boots and sandals from 20 eur, but most up around 80 or 90 euro, Meanwhile hunger showed this area had less to offer in way of eating possibilities.

Then we crossed the Paseo Recoletos, the mighty avenue with all its sense of pomp and victory, monuments and fountains, over to another important thoroughfare, Calle de Sortero. Now we were in an area of elegant apartments, well kept, with some little trees nurtured – enough to bring again the sound of birds rather than only traffic. This is the area of designer shops – we came across an  Armani store with a sale on. A textured jacket in grey with piping was going for 260 euro. The boring thing was most of the shops had siesta till 4pm. I managed to find a tapas bar that for all the lack of English could sell me a tortilla francais – which turned out to be a French roll with an omelet inside. Delicious when starving.

Still heading east near Plaza de la Indpendencia (where Hospes is situated) we turned down to Calle de Alcala, the broad avenue that sweeps past the northern end of the Retiro park. Here we found  some restaurants and cafes spreading onto the broad pavement, with menus outside – at least they were open.

La Taberna del Toro - serene out animated within

The avenue was rather serene compared with Thursday and Friday. It seemed a nice place to eat and the menu reasonable (3 courses for 15 eur/ see photo ). But we decided instead to have a café latte (1.5 eur). Inside was more traditional bar with bullfighting pictures, TV, and animated Spaniards. The dining room at the back down a corridor of bullfighting pictures was small and totally packed with lively diners at tables bearing checkered blue and white oil cloths. So while the shops close the people dine (or sleep).

We crossed over into Retiro park. The air was fragrant with green  growth – amazing air after the streets that undeniably bear the odour of petrol and rubber. Tucked away inside the park is the lake. It was dotted with small boats. Along one side was a “lakeside” promenade where people strolled as if by the seaside.  The odd stand sold jewellery and restaurants spread their tables. It seemed far away from Madrid city life and smelt of water. We took a break on a bench just being and watching locals play ball with their tiny tots.

Back at the Westin Palace we collapsed after our 6 hour stroll. Then I was reincarnated as myself, and within five swift minutes had walked to The Prado. It stirs in the belly, realizing that such treasures are rising out of the history book with real brush strokes from the 15th and 16th centuries. I lingered in front of names from old memory, like Tintoretto (painting of a subtly alluring courtesan, pink in the desired places), Goya (the radiantly  living man in richest red robe and hat – a cardinal?) and others like Andrea del Sarto, Velazquez…

Back at the Westin Palace I now sat in the lobby to meet my partner, enjoying seeing the debutantes (or wedding guests)  go by, or be photographed on the stairs. Unashamed posing this way and that, as if these young girls needed to get better angles than their all round beauty.

We had already discovered on Friday night that turning left from the Westin Palace you came to an area of trendy tapas bars and small restaurants/bars. Then they were totally packed – not a chance of squeezing in for a meal.

So Saturday night we aimed to get there early. 7.30 pm they were already nearly full. But we finally slipped into Los Gatos eyeing some tables set for dinner.

They were reserved, so I was given a barrel to sit on. Had a really nice evening, starting with beer and tapas sitting on the barrel (2.5 eur each for tapas – a slice of fresh bread piled with cold meats of various kinds, or cheeses, fish….whatever).

Roof mural Los Gatos floating above beer and tapas

Los Gatos is a place of fun and fantasy. The Last Judgement has God or Moses holding a beer on the ceiling. Bikes are affixed to the wall, which is also decorated with frescoes of skeletons quaffing alcohol.

 

When the group arrived to claim the tables, mountains of mixed delicacies were put out in plates, and later bowls of mixed tapas (on bread).  Finally they left and we got to sit on a throne and a barrel in what felt much like a back room though exuberantly decorated with carnival figures, and a naked woman languidly reclining across the tiled wall.

A group of Spanish people joined us in that space: three women (Montse, Noelia and Alicia) and two men (Carlos and Pin).  The latter was an animated football enthusiast, hanging onto his phone to find out the score of two matches. He had a lot to say on that and life in general, I guess, though I didn’t understand a word. Alicia, next to me, explained that his girlfriend Noelia was NOT passionate about football – she was tired of Pin’s passion for it.

From left Alicia, Noelia, Pin, Montse, Carlos

They were all from other areas of Spain, were good friends, often tried to meet, and some of them worked in Madrid. This area of tapas bars was very fashionable and popular with the locals, she explained, as tourists tended to go elsewhere. We ordered langoustines (12 euro for 12) and a salad with sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and lettuce that tasted of nature and a nice sauce.  Beers put the bill up – though they were modestly priced at around 2.5 eur each. It wasn’t me who drank all those beers.

Sunday 9 May

Today Madrid was empty. The boulevards and circles that held a living coil of cars when we arrived  were now revealed, quiet and stand-offishly elegant.

The hotel too had a demure air. A few people at breakfast, and only me at the Reception to check out. We wandered out of the grand doors onto the wet pavement under a wet sky, waved a hand for a taxi, and were immediately speeding along the empty avenues  as if we had screamed Follow that Car, or “Catch my plane – I am late”. In a mere 20 minutes we were dropped at the airport for 33 euros fare, plenty of time to spare. The journey from airport to hotel on Thursday had taken 40 minutes and cost 31 euros.

This afternoon we are back in Stockholm to an erupting spring, young golden green and white ranunculus (vitsippor). The maple leaves came out in the 4 days we explored Madrid.

The most expensive latte I had was at The Palace – 6.9 eur, though it was a more traditional version in a big round cup with percolated coffee and hot milk poured from silver jugs and was called Caffe con leche (the Spanish name for coffee with milk). We drank coiffee all over the place, mostly costing 2.5 euro.