The main train station in Madrid, Estasio Puerto de la Atocha, is located near the historic center of the city. We checked into the Tryp Hotel Atocha, which is only a short distance from the train station on one of the streets that runs from the train station to the Plaza Mayor or Main Square. This location is within walking distance of the primary attractions we wanted to see in this city.
We started out at Plaza Mayor, which was constructed during the early 1600s by King Philip III. You find a statue to Philip riding a horse in the center of the plaza. Since we arrived in the late afternoon and dinner wasn’t until 8:30 we visited a wine bar in the plaza, sampled some cheese and olives. This gave us a chance to people watch, catch up on our impressions of the trip so far and discuss what we were going to do with our two days here. Afterwards we shopped the square and the shops that go over towards Plaza del Sol, which is the center of Madrid and Spain. There is a mark in the ground of the square that is the symbol of where all distance measures in Spain are made. San Miguel market is also just off Plaza Mayor and an interesting area to shop.
El Cortes Ingles has their flagship store on the square and shops radiating from the square are filled with a variety of goods, many of which are made in Spain.
We returned to the square and dinner at the appointed hour. Los Galayos is a small restaurant in one corner of the square. It has two outdoor areas as well as interior eating areas and is one of the older features of the square. It is famous as the location where Spanish intellectuals used to gather in the 1920s and 30s, before the Spanish Civil War. Many famous poets and writers were among those who frequented the restaurant.
Dinner was very good, with my spouse sharing beef strips that she cooked on a hot stone at our table. We also sampled a Valencian paella which has chicken, rabbit and peppers. When I was last in Valencia they had two kinds of paella. One as we had here and the other was with seafood and very short green noodles. I was hoping this would be the green noodle variety. We finished with a shared sampling of desserts that included white chocolate covered strawberries, flan, and a variety of chocolate creations and cakes. We accompanied our meal with a cava, which we found to have a longer bubbling than those we have tried in the US, much like Champaign.
Part of our group left dinner and visited the grounds of the former palace, which at night has become a place for couples to meet who have no place to go to show their affections. After observing the locals for a short while they called it a night and returned to the hotel.
On our second day we expected to tour the botanical gardens and spend the rest of the day at the Prado museum. Instead who chose, on a whim to visit Toledo. (See separate Blog: Historical Explorations: Toledo, Spain – El Greco’s Cathedral.)
Upon our return to Madrid that evening, we met friends who live in Madrid for tapas. We met them at Plaza Santa Ana, a short distance from Plaza Mayor, but much smaller and easier to find each other. The Tapas bar was called Casa Alberto and if you go out the northeast corner of the plaza and walk down the short street to the end, you find the restaurant directly before you. According to our host there are 500 tapas bars within a mile of Plaza Santa Ana. He knows as his business used to be located near the plaza and he has tried every one of them. Of the 500, Casa Alberto is the best, in his estimation. We ordered a bottle of 2012 Marques Carascole, which is readily available in the US and other countries, but our host said it was a pleasant wine that most people like. He was right, as even though the members of our group tend to like different wines, all seemed to enjoy his selection. For tapas, he ordered ham croquets that are deep fried, but have a soft melted cheese with ham inside. The cheese is very creamy and flavorful. We also ordered two tortillas, which are a potato omelet of sorts, a cheese platter of different Spanish cheeses, calamari and fried octopus arms, which proved to be quite tasty with the sauce offered with the dish. The best part of the evening was the conversation with friends we rarely see and catching up on what has happened in each other’s lives. But the food and atmosphere of Casa Alberto enhanced the experience.
Of course on our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a gelato/crepe shop just outside Plaza Major and sampled their wares. The Spanish don’t seem to have the same social conventions attached to ice cream that the Italians have for gelato, but a single scoop was an excellent choice for our group to reflect on the evening and the long return trips to the US for part of our party on the next day. We left the others at the plaza as they intended to shop a little longer. We walked back to the hotel and made one more stop: for a churro. However, since it was getting late we substituted a flaca, which is about four inches wide and two inches tall. It is deep fried and has the cross section of a churro. It came in sugar, honey or chocolate. We sampled two of the three before calling it a night.