Madrid, Part 3 (with a bit of an irrelevant ramble up the top)

HI! I still exist, despite having been very much off the social-media-radar for a little while. Turns out going to work the day after 36 hours in transit does not induce the best feelings in the world nor does it provide motivation for doing much other than sleeping… But we survived a full week back at work after what felt like just stepping off the plane and being back at our desks. I am finally getting back into the swing of things! Work has taken all of my energy, so personal life goals achieved this week have extended from ‘doing a load of washing’ and ‘buying a glass slide for the guitar I have borrowed from my friend down the road even though I have no idea how to use glass slides’, as well as ‘reading the 400-and-something bloglovin updates that were waiting patiently for me to log in again’.

But I digress… Onto more exciting things… Like an overdue recap of Madrid Part 3!

Madrid

For years my favourite restaurant was a very popular Spanish restaurant in Haymarket, Sydney, called ‘Encasa’… In fact writing ‘my favourite restaurant was’ in the past tense almost breaks my heart. I think this has to go down as my forever favourite restaurant.  I think I spent both my 16th and 17th birthdays there with my friends (because I was obviously a very cool 17 year old), I’ve used it as a great first date location, pre-theatre snacks, as well as many family dinners. Basically, any excuse to go to Encasa I will take. So. To say I was excited about experiencing real Spanish food in Spain is a huge understatement.

Madrid did not disappoint in the way of tapas. We shared an amazing patatas bravas, chorizos, pinchos morunos and of course croquetas galore – the croquetas were definitely a favourite, and something I had never had in my Australian tapas experiences. However, despite how much I just raved about loving tapas, that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

The surprise culinary highlight in Madrid for us was a trip to the oldest restaurant in the world. What? Did I just type ‘the oldest restaurant in the world’? Yes, yes I did. It’s incredible. Still standing having been built in 1725, Restaurante de Botin is a bit of a Madrid-ian hotspot for a good reason. The ovens they use today are the original ovens… Which to put into a comprehensible context for someone like me, means that people have been eating food from the same ovens since before Captain Cook even came to Australia so it’s a pretty long time ago. If sharing in an oven that is older than something you study in year 3 history class is not a reason to go there then I don’t know what is.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous, winding wooden staircases, stylish and rustic and old-fashioned all at once. It was packed, so take heed that you absolutely need to make a booking if you want to eat here, had such a vibrant atmosphere as waiters in meticulous aprons and suits flitted about taking orders and serving the hugest most amazing dishes of suckling pig I have ever seen. Being their specialty, we couldn’t turn it down and the three of us each ordered our own serve of suckling pig which turned out to be way too much food. Once again (this seems to be a running theme in my life?) I was too hungry to take photos, but I can assure you, it was really delicious. Please google image search ‘restaurante Botin’ immediately, you will not be disappointed. Am I disappointed in my lack of photos of the entire experience? Absolutely. Of course, the only thing to do after stuffing yourself with tender juicy pork is obviously to continue the feast back at your hotel with a variety of flavoured ice creams and great conversation. So eat ice cream and converse we did!

The following morning we sadly farewell-ed our wonderful host and spent the morning being miserable about saying goodbye, our misery intensifying further when we also couldn’t find a good place for churros. The Museo del Prado sorted us out though, you can’t stay grumpy at life for long when you’re confronted with a collection of some of the greatest art of all time. The Prado was one of the most incredible galleries I have ever experienced. We were on a bit of a time-limit so could only spend an hour there, but managed to squeeze in a whole bundle of sensational works, the highlight for me being Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights which I could easily have spent all day staring at.

Madrid

Goya

We’d love to go back to the Prado some day and spend a full day there – to do it properly and with the attention it deserves, you would literally need 8 hours there exploring. One day!

Our last stop in Madrid was to the famous Mercado de San Miguel, a hub of gastronomy and a big Madrid highlight for me.  We well and truly spent the last of our Euros in the aisles, trying everything from an assortment of tapas, olives and meats to oysters and desserts. The markets themselves are impressive but the food is a whole other level of amazing. The markets reminded me of a less cold and rainy version of the Borough Markets in London, but with the same, excited pulse of people happy to be snacking away and buying beautiful fresh produce.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San MIguel

Mercado de San Miguel

<< We had several of these, wanting to try different varieties, and they were like a party in your mouth I tell you. >>

<< We also had a few of these guys which varied in deliciousness. Not really knowing what we were in for, there was a pleasant surprise or two, although I think they had been sitting out for awhile and perhaps weren’t the freshest. But let’s blame that on the 34 degree heat… >>

The Mercado de San Miguel is a must-do for anyone heading to Madrid. Whether you’re a food-lover or not, it’s a great place to spend time checking out the food, taking refuge from the sun and soaking in the Spanish culture. We stocked up on a few treats and headed to the Parque del Retiro to share them. You could probably walk, but given our impending flight we jumped in a cab, excited to enjoy our picnic overlooking this majestic situation.

Had it not been so hot we would have used our time here to really see as much of the popular park as we could, but we opted this time to sit in the shade and do some people watching for awhile whilst enjoying our ridiculously expensive but super delicious Iberico ham and other bits and pieces.

iberico ham

Deliciousness

<<I promise he isn’t pregnant here. Unless you consider our passports to be children in which case, he was pregnant with 4 >>

And with that we found our way to the airport, jumped on a plane, and landed in freezing cold and stormy weather after three blissful days speaking Spanish, eating beautiful good and doing a lot of chatting and laughing with our dear friend. Did I mention we are the luckiest people in the universe? We can’t think our host and his family enough for getting us there, treating us to such a wonderful experience and allowing me to finally spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country after years of labouring over Spanish textbooks and a period of refusing to watch any movie that wasn’t dubbed/subtitled in Spanish. Let’s just say I can sing a fairly significant repertoire of Disney songs in Spanish now…

Madrid hasn’t heard the last of us… We will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. Madrid goes down as one of my favourite places ever, for sure por cierto (see what I did there?) 😉

Madrid… Part 2!

Aranjuez

One day I promise I’ll go somewhere cool and manage to post about it in one part. We just squeeze so much in, plus I take about three million photos of everything, so narrowing it down is impossible! I’m sure you know the feeling…

Which brings me to a miniature post on…

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez! One of the (many) benefit(s) of being with Blake is his ability to find bizarre and often unpopular things to do which end up being completely amazing and so much cooler than the normal tourist trail. He did not let me down in terms of Obscure-Adventures in his decision to book us a train out to Aranjuez to visit the Royal Palace. It takes about an hour each way on the train, so we totally understand why it isn’t the hottest tourist destination in Madrid, but boy it was one I’d recommend to anyone travelling to Madrid, even if just for three days like us.

Aranjuez^^ Hashtag no filter, hashtag amazing, etc! ^^

Although Madrid is filled with palaces, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez is one of the few that still operates as a residence for the royal family, which makes it feel pretty special wandering through the halls. The beauty of this majestic place is highlighted by the fact that there were hardly any other people there, so we were literally tiptoeing through the King’s humble abode like we weren’t supposed to be there, or something! It was a lot of fun, and of course absolutely stunning and lavish on the inside. Room upon room upon room of beautiful furniture, carpets, walls and such vibrant and bright colours which was a nice surprise. We got an audio guide (recommended by Blake if you don’t speak Spanish, recommended by me if your Spanish has a few missing words, royal jargon is not something I ever specifically learnt I must say) and spent a good two hours meandering through the halls.

The surrounding area is beautiful  too – there seems to be a vastness to Aranjuez. Maybe it was just the weather but it felt quite arid and dry, but in a pleasant way. I couldn’t get over the wide open spaces and long, empty corridors that seemed to fill the town. Living in a studio apartment, catching the tube to work and generally existing in London you are constantly battling for a metre of space to yourself. You queue for everything, all the time, no matter what, and forget about it if you can’t handle crowds because as I learnt pretty quickly, you’re in one constantly. Aranjeuz is the opposite.

It also helps that the sun bounces off every surface and the beautiful pinks of the architecture in the area are contrasted perfectly with what happened to be a stunning clear blue sky. I tell you, we have someone out there looking over us weather-wise when we travel. Cheers whoever you are, we love you!

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

We spent a good ten minutes debating whether or not to have lunch in Aranjuez but decided against it, knowing that we probably needed to have some TAPAS {yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!} considering we were in Madrid and a sandwich just wasn’t going to cut it thank you very much. So we jumped back on the train and back into central Madrid and we were so hungry that I didn’t even take any photos of our incredible tapas lunch.
Also, this is the kind of incredible view you get on the train trip back. Even if you don’t make it to Aranjuez, jump on a train and see some of Spain’s landscape. Completely amazing. True story, a lot of Western films were made in Spain. It really looks like Mexican dessert! It’s fantastic. I’ll be the first to admit it, these are not the best quality photographs you’ll see today, but gives you something of an idea of what you can expect to see on the journey out to Aranjuez.

So there we have Madrid part 2… Part 3 will bring you a decadent selection of photos from our experience at the Spanish food markets, a trip to the Prado and a picnic lunch spent people-watching in the Retiro park. But for now, I’m off to Birmingham to go and see James Taylor sing and I’m pretty happy about that too….!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Madrid – Part 1

Hello – apologies for the radio silence, it has been a huge few weeks over here after very sad news about one of Blake’s best friends and someone who was also very dear to my heart who recently passed away. It has been hard few weeks, grieving for our dear friend and dealing with such a loss from so far away. We have been trying to share our best and funniest stories and memories of Brett, praying for him and his family and keeping him and his spirit in our thoughts as always. He was a good man and his passing is certainly being felt amongst his friends and family. I’ve got a post planned to talk about the wonderful, genuine man that he was, as well as a little bit of information about the illness that he suffered from that needs to be spoken about more, but I need a few weeks to work on that one…

So for now, I’ll keep things lighter and share Part One of a recent last-minute adventure we took to Madrid for the August long-weekend, because basically we are the luckiest humans on the planet!!!! Landing in Madrid was yet another reminder of what a brilliant idea it was to move over here. London to Madrid in 2 hours? Yes please!

Spain

One of our beloved family-friends from Australia is currently in Madrid rehearsing the cast and band of the Spanish production of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. We were planning to pop over and visit him at some stage whilst he was there but weren’t sure when we would be able to make it happen. To our great surprise and excitement, our friends very generously offered to fly us over as an engagement present (again, are we not the luckiest people on the planet?!) and we got to spend the weekend chatting and laughing, exploring Madrid and catching up.

Considering I have spent many an hour in the classroom learning Spanish, I was also pretty pumped to spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country, although I was a little scared I had lost a lot of vocab after a couple of years of no longer studying it… I brushed up the days leading up to our departure and thankfully although I was a little rusty at first I got back into it pretty quickly and managed to more or less freely converse with everyone we came into contact with across the three days.

Our first stop after landing was at the Nuevo Teatro Alcalá, to meet our friend and watch his Priscilla rehearsals for a couple of hours. It was bizarre walking into a rehearsal room with everyone speaking and singing in Spanish, with huge kookaburra props being wheleed in and out, references to Darwin and Uluru… Spain and Australia juxtaposed in a pretty crazy way! After rehearsal Blake and I waited for a little while in an empty room with a piano and a score… I was in heaven. Sadly my piano skills have not stood the test of time, but I clunked my way through a couple of songs before we departed for the afternoon.

After a bit of a grocery shop (did you know it is really hard to find cordial in Madrid? Fun fact.), we headed to his apartment and hung out there catching up on our respective lives and hearing about his take on Spain so far. After a little while Blake and I walked across to the National Library of Spain to have a wander and get a feel for the city.

Madrid

Madrid

We came across a series of incredible series of sculptures and monuments. The sun was blazing hot, 31+ degrees, and there wasn’t much escape from the heat out here so we flitted around and took some photos before seeking refuge in the nearby library.

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Our immediate impressions of Madrid were that it felt like a cross between Rome and London, with the best bits of both and without the worst bits! The streets are wide and ornately decorated but they feel safe, free of clutter and chaos. It is well-kept and space is nicely manicured, yet it doesn’t feel clinical or boring at all. There is interesting architecture between beautiful old Spanish buildings, lots of greenery and trees and it feels old and important. It’s quite a majestic city, but not in your face at all… We felt entirely comfortable walking around without a map and not really sure of where we were most of the time.

Madrid

Madrid

We were pretty tired from a 5am departure and a big day so spent the evening chatting and catching up with family, dining from the local sushi place…. mmmmm good sushi… A strange London thing we’ve noticed is that it’s quite hard to find delicious sushi. Who knew, Madrid trumps London for sushi.

The next morning Blake and I headed out early into central Madrid in search of authentic churros before jumping on a train out to the edge of the city to visit a royal palace. The metro system in Madrid is almost exactly the same as the tube, and we were amazed at the lack of people and ability to get a seat. Another plus for Madrid!

Beautiful alleyways are plentiful in Madrid, often with second hand book stalls, little old ladies selling knick knacks and people taking photos. Blake navigated us towards the famous Chocolatería San Ginés where we enjoyed incredible churros, chocolate and coffee. And Blake bought a postcard (?!).

Chocolateria Madrid

Churros

I bring you poor quality iPhone photos of aforementioned churros…

churros

churros

After churros-ing to our hearts content we headed out to the fantastic Aranjuez, but that’s a story for the next blog post…