Monday, August 16, 2010

European stop 8: Madrid, Spain (the final frontier)

We took the expensive but oh-so-fun high speed train from Cordoba to Madrid before we prepared to close out the last two days of our European adventure. Quite honestly, if we had not been flying back to America from Madrid, we would have skipped Madrid all together. There's nothing wrong with Madrid, but there's nothing particular that truly distinguishes this city either. Still, we had fun and mostly walked around and ate a ton of food during our time in Spain's capital.

Total time in Madrid: 1.5 days, 2 nights
Percentage of the time we spent in Madrid eating and/or drinking: 50

Hotel:
Hotel Intur Palacio San Martin
Plaza San Martin 5
Nice multi-story lobby space

Price we paid per night: $111
Location: Two blocks behind the Plaza Mayor and two blocks from the Sol metro station, we couldn't have asked for a more convenient spot. This hotel is also in easy walking distance from the Prado and Parque del Buen Retiro.
Room: This was by far the biggest room we stayed in during our trip. We could have added an extra bed to the room with all the space we had to spare. The bathroom was also equally spacious. The decor is classic, so no matter what your taste it's pretty uncontroversial.
Park your car in this huge hotel room.
The bathroom has a sign above the toilet that reads, "Madrid needs more water. Don't use the toilet as a trash can." Who uses the toilet as a trash can?
The hotel's old-fashioned elevator is fun
Breakfast included?: Yes, and what a buffet. We made the most of all of it, including the champagne. It's also nice that the breakfast room is on the hotel's top floor overlooking the city.
Service: Good quality. No complaints!
Internet: Fast, free Wifi throughout the hotel.
TV: The biggest flat screen and the only HDTV we had out of all eight hotels.
Overall assessment: This was a great place to stay at the end of our trip. Because we were especially interested in relaxing and moving at a slower pace in this final city of our trip, it was nice to have a pretty and spacious hotel in the middle of the action so we could take a siesta without traveling too far to get back to the hotel.

Food:

Cerveceria 100 Montaditos
Various locations throughout the city
Genre: Exceptionally inexpensive chain of restaurants that are self-service tapas bars (menu items are between 1 Euro and 3 Euros each).
How we found it: Our friend Annette, who had traveled to Spain just a couple months before us, recommended it, and then we discovered it's something we'd highlighted in our Lonely Planet Spain book back in January.
What we ate: This restaurant uses the sushi way of ordering. Choose among the restaurant's 100 menu items, mark your top picks on a menu slip, deliver it to the cashier and wait for your food to emerge several minutes later. We visited this restaurant twice, and both visits were at different locations. We enjoyed the tinto de verano that the bar serves on tap (the only of its kind we saw in Spain), the French fries with four dipping sauces, and a good variety of mini bocadillos (small sandwiches with different fillings). Bocadillos included shrimp with aioli sauce, salmon with garlic, tortilla espanola with bacon, jamon with tomate, and ensalad rusa.
Total cost: 6 mini bocadillos, French fries and two mugs of tinto de verano = 13 Euros!
Happy camper
Overall assessment: We love this place. The prices are unbelievable, and the tinto de verano was extra carbonated and extra awesome. Just don't order the ensalada rusa. We thought it was going to be a salad, but it's actually potato salad that isn't very appealing.

Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza de San Miguel (right next to Plaza Mayor)
Genre: Upscale prepared foods by multiple vendors (think Whole Foods' prepared foods, Spanish style)
How we found it: If you're at the Plaza Mayor, the Mercado is difficult to miss.
What we ate: Croquettes of blue cheese, gazpacho, tart with goat cheese and salmon
Total cost: 10 Euros
Overall assessment: With plenty of a la carte variety, this is an excellent place to stop for a snack or a full meal.

Ene Restaurante
Calle del Nuncio 19
Genre: Classy restaurant/pintxos bar
How we found it: Lonely Planet Spain book
What we ate: For our last meal out in Europe we decided to go out in style. We split a bottle of cava, fish croquettes, and pintxos of calamari, octopus, goat cheese and jam, and salmon.
Matt presents the croquettes
Pintxos
Total cost: 49 Euros
Overall assessment: This place is more swanky than we are -- for example, there's a multi-page water menu. The octopus was overcooked, but everything else was outstanding. The weird thing about this restaurant? (Besides the water menu...) Before we got our croquettes appetizer we were handed a piece of sushi, compliments of the chef. When the check arrived we were charged 2.50 Euros each for it. Not cool. Had I known it would cost us, I would have rejected it.

Sightseeing:

Museo del Prado
Matt had been to this most-famous art museum twice before our trip, but I still insisted we visit for a couple hours so I could take in the works of all the Spanish artists my culturally aware teachers introduced me to in high school Spanish.
Go inside the Prado to see Velazquez's original, way better than this copy adorning a garage on the street...
Tip: The Prado is free on Sundays. We just happened to be there on a Sunday. Perfect! Due to high volume on Sundays, the museum operators let visitors into the museum in waves. We waited outside the Prado in a line that didn't move for approximately 30 minutes, wondering what was going on, only to discover that no, the museum wasn't temporarily shut down but instead they were waiting for visitors to exit before letting anyone else in.

Walking tour of historic Madrid
Price: Free
Throughout our trip we really enjoyed the self-guided walking tours outlined in our Lonely Planet books. Because we did not have a particular interest in seeing much in Madrid outside the Prado, this wound up being an excellent way to get an overview of the city. In addition to seeing a sampling of historic spaces, I was pleased to encounter all the greenery and pleasant public spaces Madrid has to offer.

Plaza de la Villa is small but beautifully maintained
Palacio Real (Royal Palace)
Plaza de Oriente is so perfectly manicured it almost looks fake!
Jardines de Sabatini, next to the Palacio Real
Plaza de Espana, with a statue of Don Quixote
Views of Gran Via
Parque del Buen Retiro -- we were going to rent a row boat, except it was 100 degrees outside...
American Mickey Mouse calls us back home from the Plaza Mayor
 Well, there you have it, folks -- the nitty, gritty details of our time in Spain and Italy. We had the trip of a lifetime, and I hope our observations will help you plan a trip or relive a trip you've taken in the past. Now that I'm done with these (incredibly long) posts, tomorrow I'll sum it all up for you, Cliffs Notes style.

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