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Spain 2016

We decided to try a 1 week airbnb city stay vacation rather than running around from place to place.  Being Vito’s first trip to Madrid, and Annabella’s first in more than 20 years, this seemed like an ideal city (with great economic values).  Our airbnb works out to be roughly $95 (USD) per night for a wonderful apartment within walking distance from everything.

Parque El Retiro.

5 April 2016

Our first time flying from London City airport.  No lounges, few shops and restaurants, and a bit uncomfortable, but also less hectic than Heathrow.

Taxi from Madrid Barajas to our Airbnb.  Taxis are a flat 30 Euros to our Airbnb (to anywhere in central Madrid).  We are in the heart of things and walk for a small lunch at a branch of Museo del Jamon.  About 4 euros for 1 sandwich consisting of 2 slices of jamon and 2 small glasses of wine.  Very good and just enough.

Museo del Jamon.

Next stop is Royal Botanical Garden, where much is in bloom.

Cactus in the greenhouses of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Evenings from from 6-8 are free at the Prado, so after a siesta we get into the line.  It moves quickly and we stay until closing.

Even in Spain we find a thrift shop, and purchase an adorable rubber ducky to decorate our own airbnb apartment.

Dinner near the hotel is mediocre.  We start with 2 pieces of unwanted bread @ 2 euros each, then a large leg of grilled octopus, with some kind of squash,  grilled squid, covered in olive oil with salad drenched in olive oil, wine.  Dessert was amazing rice pudding with creme brulee on top, touch of cinnamon and nutmeg inside made it great.


We walk to the Palacio Real.  Initially we are excited because there is an event with horses and a marching band.  We find out later this is a scheduled closing for some state affair, so we never get to see the palace.

Parade in front of El Palacio Real.

We tried to go the Convent of the Discalced, but they won’t let people in unless they register on the Internet.  We are one of several groups that are turned away because we don’t have tickets.

Churros y chocolate – any time of day is fine.

Hankering for churros and chocolate, we walk to THE most famous of these places, Chocolateria San Gines.  The quantity of the churros is lots (but not the quality), and the chocolate is lacking flavor.  It is just a warm gooey something, with no flavor.  The atmosphere was good, but it really is some of the worst chocolate with churros is Spain.

Seafood cones at the Mercado San Miguel.

We are jamon hopping with sampling around town.  Then we have lunch at the Mercado de San Miguel.   Lots of food stalls, limited seating, but no closure in the middle of the day! We get a cone of friend octopus.  Wash it down with a 3 Euro glass of sangria with chopped apples and oranges.  Walking and eating throughout the day we make it to evening and our Tapas Tour, which really should be a Wine and Tapas Tour.  The TripAdvisor reviews did not lie – this is a fantastic walking tour.  We’re a lively group, and our guide Andres (of Walks of Madrid) gives us the best.  First stop we have sweet vermouth from tap with an orange or lemon slice in it and fresh, classic Spanish Tortilla.

Classic Tortilla – just one of many treats on our Walks of Madrid tour.

At our second stop we have several wines and very good sliced and dried jamon as well as cured and fried pigs belly, and a large, freshly cut tomato.  Wine is raisin wine, very sweet like ice wine.  Third stop is the best:  1st tapas was fried prawns that you dip in fish sauce, 2nd  tapas is clams in tomato sauce, very good, 3rd tapas was just divine – Presa Iberica (a pork cut that tastes like the best beef). 1st wine is Rioja, 2nd wine was something akin to cabernet; 3rd wine was fortified vermouth, like port, delicious as is, but then poured over vanilla ice cream.  We are in heaven, wine flowing and good eats with fun company (Australians – always good for a laugh).

7 April

Thyssen-Bornemiza Museum – one of the world’s great art museums.  Then the Naval Museum (right by the Prado), filled with more than 100 (large!) ship models, armaments, paintings of battles, etc.   Forgettable lunch followed by good churros with chocolate.  Museum of the History of Madrid has many good exhibits, and in the basement is a fascinating 1833 scale model of Madrid.

Quick stop at the house of Garcia Lorca, which has a lovely courtyard.

Courtyard at the House of Garcia Lorca.

At the Mercado de Barcelona we buy all sorts of goodies and they set out for a Meetup dinner at a farm to table restaurant (the food is okay, but the company is great – mostly Americans working in Spain).  The best thing was the patatas bravas.

8 April

Walk to train station where there is confusion because no sign on what track our train arrives.  After asking the unhelpful people 2 times, we just go into the track section and take the correct train to El Escorial (the Monastery of San Lorenzo de el Escorial).  Out of the station we take 1.30 euro bus to the combo palace / library / crypt / garden / cathedral.  Thank goodness it is self-guided.

Descent down to the royal tombs (where you are not supposed to take photos, and even though others do we prefer to be respectful.)

There is a temporary Bosch exhibit.  The highlight of El Escorial is, of course, the crypts.  They are running out of room for kings, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.  King Juan Carlos’ parents are still in the rotting rooms (it takes decades), so they are not yet residing in their sarcophagi.

Plaza Mayor.

Free hours at the Reina Sofia from 7-9 on weekdays, we are in a long line before 7.  It moves quickly and the crowds gather at Picasso’s Guernica (which Annabella had last seen in 1986, when it was in its old home).  There are also movie clips playing on the 4th floor.

The queue for free hours at the Reina Sofia, but the line moves quickly and it’s so large that it’s not stifling inside (perhaps it is horrible in summer, but not in early spring).

Back to Mercado San Miguel for a casual dinner.  We graze on vermouth, cone of calamari, pizza and crab croquettes.  On the way back , we stop at Maestro Churros and we share one order of churros and yummy hot chocolate.

9 April

Shopping trip to El Corte Inglese and its 6th floor — The Gourmet Experience.  We buy lots of treats to bring home for a Paella Party.

The wonderful Gourmet Experience at the top of El Corte Ingles has terrific food and drink as well as a panoramic window with the local sites marked on the glass.


Spring Saturdays bring crowds, and this appears to be a portalet van.


You can see why we’d think that, but it’s actually a portable prostate cancer screening vehicle.

We meet up with a college friend who picks us up and takes us out to the suburbs to a favorite restaurant, where we were spoiled with vermouth, and lots and lots of tapas:  fried Calamari, clams in some sauce, potatoes dipped in egg with jamon on the side, tortilla, and dessert was gelato.  Also wine.  Then great ice cream:  fig and torrone, cheese with quince.

Ice cream!

We are so full, but back in the city we had reservations at La Mi Venta, known for its Jamon Iberico cooked over a wood fire.  First fois gras on baked and cubed apples on bread as a starter and then Presa, which is out of this world delicious. We asked the waiter, why, and he said it is a special part of the pork that gets good fat marbling.


Presa Iberica – probably the finest cut of pork in the world, and one of our new favorite dishes.

10 April

El Retiro Park and the Crystal Palace, a glass and metal structure of old.  Very cool, like the green houses of old England, but this looks new.  People inside are going crazy taking photos.  Outside is a pond of ducks.  It’s a weekend, so out are the accordian players, guitar players, and other buskers.

In El Retiro Park.

Then the National Museum of Decorative Arts — 4 floors of history, leather work, ceramics, top floor is an old kitchen all tiled with a humungous marbled oven hood.

Fantastic tiled kitchen in the National Museum of Decorative Arts.

Back on the street to Reina Sofia because free and we want to watch some movies before dinner.  Well, the 3rd and 4th floor is closed, a fact made evident to us after we try 6 elevators that won’t go past 2nd floor.  So we view the Wilfredo Lam exhibition, a Cuban who started normal and then went all Picasso.

Last trip to the Mercado San Miguel because we need to go to bed early.  Vermouth, paella, and then to another shop for jamon ibirico sandwich and then to another place for Patatas Bravas and finally back to Maestro Churro for our last chocolate and churros before our morning flight.

Patatas bravas and Vermouth snack.

Sorry to leave.