Madrid was a bit of a blur to be honest as I was jetlagged as hell, not sleeping that well as I was far out of sync, still dealing with the installing-server-over-iPhone hassles, and making my first attempts at proper conversations in Spanish with people who don't speak any English – who were in overwhelming majority, surprisingly for a big city like this. (They could understand me most of the time, but they spoke far, far too fast for me to understand them!)
Still, after a bit of staggering around to find some food, I managed to have a good wander around the central area and enjoyed visiting the Parque del Buen Retiro (~the park of the good retreat), art museums (actually I didn't rate their style of art that much, but was interesting anyway), and above all the sweet shop down below the hotel, the excellent Casa Mira which turns out to date from somewhere around 1855 and be quite well known.
Come for the awesome pastry, stay for their specialty – turron… Not just the usual boring almond stuff, they make a number of types fresh on the premises, including Turron de Cadiz which was orangey and awesome (and we couldn't find anywhere else in Spain – we didn't make it to Cadiz to see if they actually had it – so I wish I'd tasted it before I left Madrid and bought more!)
I liked Madrid, but I wasn't crazy about it. Partly this was not being there long enough to get into it in detail, but I think that you need to have your friends along with you there to get a great experience really, as it's mainly about the lifestyle – getting up late, staying up late (suits me!), going out for tapas and a few drinks…
The food is good. The bocadillos (~sandwiches) you get around the place are good – my first one was chorizo, which turned out to be just that – deep red, thick chorizo (deep fried!) in a bun, tasty but dry. But the bocadillo de calemares (crumbed squid rings, deep fried – there's a pattern forming here) and bocadillo de tortilla (tortilla being what we'd call a fritatta – fried onions and fried potatoes in egg, fried) from the place in the corner of Plaza Mayor were juicy and delicious.
Plaza Mayor's on the tourist trail, but it's not particularly clear why – the frescoes on the side of the building are all modern, and the random people standing around pretending to be statues and parrots are the same as anywhere. But it's worth it for the sandwiches, and there's fruit and vege shops around the street leading east just off it which is good to know in a heavily meat-orientated country! It's ham, ham, ham everywhere… Albiet ham quite different (and far tastier) to the NZ stuff.
Nearby is Puerta del Sol which has the official 0-coordinate point for all of Spain. Madrid was chosen to be the capital pretty much just because it is in the centre of the country – and had at that time little else particularly going for it, not having a particularly favorable climate (it's hot in summer, cold in winter), nor unusually good access to water resources etc. But it was politically a good choice to put it in the middle, so that's what they did. Oddly though, given that it's as far away as you can get from any coast, they are crazy about seafood…
I definitely recommend going for a random wander to find yourself a nice square to sit and have a nice glass of Rioja (a mild red, served slightly chilled, refreshingly) in, and a tapa or two.
My sister Melissa flew in from her side trip to Lebanon to meet up with me, and the next day we headed to Córdoba on the fast train, peacefully racing through the parched autumn land to the south. Dirt and massive groves of olive trees in lines, with a few towns and odd farmhouses and the occasional patch of stubble being burnt off, arrays of solar panels and, in the distance, wind turbines.
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