Madrid in March

By Megan Hulshizer

My body has been cold since October. The other day in Hamburg, it reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit and I had some gelato. I have been desperate for warmth and sun for months, so I was absolutely excited when my trip to Spain over our Easter break finally arrived at the beginning of March! (Sure, Easter isn’t until mid-April, but Hamburg does their own thing when it comes to “schedules” and “holidays” and “responsibilities.”)

My boyfriend and I chose to meet up in Madrid, Spain over the March vacation because he found an amazing deal for flights from the US. I’m so glad we decided to visit Spain for two weeks – I don’t know if I could ever get tired of the food, the sun, the architecture, and the people. We stayed outside of Madrid in an area called Las Rozas near the Las Matas train stop. We were hosted by my friend Ignacio’s parents, who were so kind and welcoming. I first met Ignacio in Graz in 2009, and we have since seen each other in the US, Canada, and South Korea!

Brian arrived a few hours before me at the Madrid airport so we made a plan to meet near baggage claim before figuring out the trains to Las Matas. Even though Ignacio sent me detailed instructions on how to go from point A to point B, I managed to get us a bit turned around, but we made it in one piece. His mom, Marta, greeted us with food and beer and great recommendations for things to see and do in Madrid.

We decided to attack from the west of the city and work our way east. Our first stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid, which was gorgeous and massive. Photos are not allowed inside the building, but you are able to see the former throne room and dining halls of the previous kings and queens. The current royal family now lives a bit outside the center, actually on the way to where Ignacio’s family lives.

Even though we had a great breakfast provided by Marta, we decided we were starting to get hungry. Our walk east took us past the Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor market with many different stalls selling anything from massive monkfish to tiny caviar on toast. Fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and desserts fill the market, and it was hard to decide what to order. Brian sampled a type of sausage, while I ate some empanadas. I also had a croquette – Ignacio taught me how to make them in Austria but I hadn’t had them since! I made up for lost time over this trip thoroughly.

Through Plaza del Mayor, sticking our heads in La Torre del Oro bar (decorated with amazing bullfighter memorabilia), a stop for a cervesa and tapas in a little cafe near the Sol station, and a walk through Parque Retiro, one of the loveliest parks ever. Spring is arriving in Madrid so the trees and flowers were in bloom, and tourists were renting boats on the lake in the center. Many people were out enjoying the sun and warmth. We stopped in the Glass Palace, which was built as a greenhouse but currently shows exhibitions.

I could have spent all day in the park, but there was also still so much I wanted to see. Just a bit further south from the park is the Museum Reina Sofia, which houses many works of Picasso and Dalí. We started by taking the glass elevators to the top floor and worked our way down. It was a beautiful museum, but I was itching to get back outside!

We followed Marta’s advice to visit the Chueca barrio (neighborhood), where we had a drink on the rooftop of the Mercado de San Antón. It was packed and colorful and lively! Although it was almost 8 pm, it was still too early for dinner by Spanish standards, so as we walked around the barrio we discovered a craft beer store which had over 200 different selections. We picked a few out and were able to enjoy them at the store. Finally time to eat, we enjoyed tapas at different restaurants, including some amazing foie gras at Baco y Beto, before we realized the time – we needed to catch the bus back to Las Matas!

The next day Marta was very gracious and drove us to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, where Real Madrid plays. We had tickets for a stadium tour, which is self-guided but very impressive. The exhibits are lined with interactive screens, their (many) trophies, and stops where you can take pictures in the press room or where it looks like you are standing with a player. We even stopped for a beer partway through the tour! Of course, we remain Tottenham Hotspurs fans, but the stadium was still impressive to see. After we found a very local little place for a menu del día. These are popular set menus for around 10 euro, which includes a drink, a starter, your main dish, and dessert. It was delicious and so much food!

Short Madrid Intermission: We then visited Ibia, Malaga, and Sevilla, before returning to Madrid for a few more days, since Brian and I were both flying out from there.

Upon our return to Madrid, we again were greeted by Ignacio’s lovely family, this time with a big lunch before attending the Atletico Madrid vs Bayern Leverkusen Champions League game. We had drinks at Bar El Doblete, which is a bar right in the stadium. The game ended up being a 0-0 tie. It was fun to see a live match in Spain, and hear the chants and watch the scarves and flags fly. Marta and Jose Carlos picked us up after the game for dinner and drinks. We stopped at Restaurante Casa Alberto, a super cool place in a really interesting a lively neighborhood, considering it was 11:30 pm on a Wednesday. We were treated to mussels and absolutely delicious oxtail. Afterwards we went for drinks at a very cool bar, but unfortunately I’m not sure which one it was. They are known for their mojitos, and the bartender may have been a former flamenco dancer. Jose Carlos spotted a woman he thought he recognized, and it turned out she was on the Spanish version of Big Brother in 2005 – he never forgets a face!

Our last day in Madrid, and our last day in Spain. I was so sad to be leaving – but we managed to fit more things in for our last adventures! We started in the center and had tapas at Casa Labra, which has been around and unchanged for over 100 years. In one line you stand to order your little tapas (we had the fried cod, the cod croquettes, and a small sandwich – they are known for their cod and those two choices were the best!) and in another line you stand to order your drinks. Then, there are lots of standing tables outside in the street, or some narrow bars on the outside walls where you can prop your food and drinks while you chow down. It was a perfect find. We had drinks at the bar atop Circulo Bellas Artes, which overlooks the Gran Via and Metropolis building, Palace of Communications, and the Chueca barrio. It was a bit windy but I enjoyed laying in the sun a bit like the lizard I quickly have become on this trip.

No trip is without some misadventures, but our trip had gone relatively smooth up until the very end. We decided to take the metro to our airport hotel, not realizing the San Fernando train station is different from the San Fernando metro station. No problem, we thought, we can just get a taxi (we had luggage and couldn’t walk that far with everything). We arrived and some friendly police officers helped us call a taxi. Which never came. We waited almost an hour before Brian found some free wifi and managed to get an Uber, which arrived right as he lost his 15 minute free wifi trial, so we were incredibly lucky! It ended up taking us over 2 hours to get to our hotel, and we were tired from two long weeks of travel and burdened with our luggage. However, it was an amazing trip and we were able to laugh about a small mishap at the end over some dinner and ice cream.

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