Madrid: This City Lives
Welcome to the city, where no space is left empty if there is a fountain or statue going spare. Each street throws up colour and locals simply won’t entertain the idea of dinner until after sunset.
I’d been to Madrid a couple of times previously in the days before camera phones and blogging so I have no reference points other than my unreliable memory.
The first time was when my friend lived there and then again when she decided to return for her pre-wedding party celebrations (some may call it a hen party). Back then, my friend lived north of the city beyond the Two Towers in the financial district and I remember going past the unmissable Bernabéu (non-footie fans - this the home of Real Madrid) on the bus to her place but no one else wanted to visit it. I decided on the last day I’d get up early and set off on my own on that bus to pop in. At that time Real Madrid had just won the Champions League and their ground was undergoing a major refurbishment with all their new money and I paid a few €s, walked right in and had a lovely time.
Cut to a couple of decades later, there was a 20-minute queue in the off-season, too-hot-to-do-anything heat outside and €21 to get in. A couple of sheltered hours well spent though – a lot longer than I recall last time. Real Madrid have won one or two new cups since then for one thing. We get to see the dressing rooms – not the real ones surely? – take a seat in the dugout and even enjoy a VR experience on the team bus. The only small downside is that I could have done without queuing up to get past the photo points, knowing I was never going to have one taken.
My other memory of the actual hen party is all of us being booked in for spa treatments while the rest of us sat and chatted in a shopping centre. I remember having a body scrub (as in those days I’d always have a massage before I went on holiday anyway) and the lady insisting on everything off, the full monty. We compromised on paper knickers.
My 2019 trip, to celebrate our 8th anniversary, is much more about the food. And the heat, but mostly the food. I do recall the great food even then and I adore tapas; my favourite way of eating is small plates. I distinctly remember going to a place in a maze of lanes, sitting on low comfy sofas near the window and consuming my own weight in freshly made hummus, which wasn’t available in every supermarket as it is now. Through frantic Whatsapp conversations, we deduced this was in the La Latinas neighbourhood which sadly held no magic for me in 2019.
After wandering although the main street and those around for an hour (seemed longer), we realised every restaurant may well offer tapas, however, they all seemed to have almost identical, uninspiring menus. In one place we stepped in to look at the menu and were put off by the distinct lack of anything resembling a warm welcome. Another where we accepted an invite off the street (you know you’re in a touristy area when the staff hang outside enticing you in. It’s worse off-season). Here we had a sincere welcome but between us, couldn’t find 5 things on the menu we liked.
Thank heavens for Tandoori Madrid within walking distance. I very rarely go to any Indian eateries at home but it’s a fallback for when on travels so this worked out great. Our first proper evening in the city and we do what madrileños do, have dinner after 10 pm.
The next day we realised our own neighbourhood iss full of good eateries. On Sunday we tried the Mexican at El Rincón de Los Cuates and the next night we finally found the good local tapas; everyone was in Yakitoro. Here we took one of the last seats at 10 pm by the grill which wasn’t as uncomfortably hot as I assumed. Instead, it was fun to watch our food being prepared and passed right over to us rather than waiting for the wait staff. They also cleverly have ice trunches in the middle of the tables in which refreshing bottles tempt you into submission. We loved it so much, we went back the next night, which was our 8th anniversary.
We summoned up some mid-afternoon energy to get out of the heat and into some lunch spots such as Mi Ramen, The Good Burger and even found a branch of Wagamana while window shopping around the fashion houses in Salamanca. The best we found is Mercado de San Ildefonso. This is what food courts should be and are conspicuous by their absence in the UK. Fresh food prepared in front of you served at a decent price across three floors. With something for everyone, it’s perfect for groups with mixed taste.
The coffees were all great at Mision, Waycup, Toma and The Fix. We figured some places will be closed during hot August when all the sensible (and, I imagine, reasonably well-off) leave the city, and that’s how we able to enjoy an old school rest in the shape of Jamaica coffee shop. We even squeezed in a beer at Mikeller Bar to end our anniversary, which was within strolling distance of the hotel.
What I didn’t have a love for during my previous trips to Spain were the summer shoes I’ve lived in for the last decade, espadrille wedges. I hadn’t even clocked we are going to espadrille country. If I’d given it any thought, I may have paid for extra luggage space because as you may expect, they cost less in Spain. I did squeeze in a pair in the sale from Camilla’s branch near our hotel. I have learnt for next time.
If there isn’t a fountain in every square, every round-a-bout or street corner, then there is a statue. Madrid is big on pretty and as I realised on the last day when we had a couple of hours before getting a ride to the airport, every street in our neighbourhood, Chueca, which I’d already decided I loved best, is bursting with colour. Maybe I noticed more this time as it was actually cool enough (23c) to walk outside without having a plan ready for getting into shade within about 2-3 minutes. On every other day, in early August, it had hit 30c.
There is something pretty to look at in every direction in Madrid, much more than I remember. I love our neighbourhood. Despite the hotel being on the main Gran Via St (and our phone being stolen while we are in the lounge just after checking in), it backed on to glorious restaurants, a playground enjoyed by local families and endless photogenic streets bursting with character. I look forward to going back, albeit in a cooler month.
Apologies for the out-of-focus photos due to our phone being stolen.