The last time I was in Madrid, it was September 1997. I was 25 years old and broke, on my way home from my Peace Corps assignment in Armenia and traveling with friends. We arrived by train from Barcelona and stayed in a cheap hotel in the Puerta del Sol area. I remember hearing U2 play in my room, as they were promoting their album, Pop, at a concert that was playing in town. My sister joined me in Madrid and I parted ways with my friends.
My sister and I were not particularly compatible travel companions and I don’t think I got as much out of Spain as I should have during that trip. I was also preoccupied by worry and the prospect of finding a job and going home, where I would end up living with my parents for two arduous years.
Since Bill had never been to Madrid or any other city in Spain aside from Barcelona, I determined that we needed to go there. The train seemed like it would take too long, so I searched for plane tickets. As it turned out, Air Europa, a somewhat new airline based in Spain, offered cheap tickets from Lisbon to Madrid. The catch was that the flight would leave early in the morning. However, these tickets were over $100 less per person than the others I found for sale. For about $200, Bill and I could fly from Lisbon to Madrid much faster and probably more cheaply than we could go by train. Since there was a time change in Spain, we’d arrive at about 10:00am, giving us plenty of time to see the city.
I booked the tickets. In retrospect, it was a good thing that I didn’t read the reviews written about Air Europa before I booked, or I might have been scared off. Our experience was actually pretty decent. We checked our bags and headed to the gate. It turned out the plane was pretty small, with two by one seating. Everyone with a bag of any size had to check it, so I was relieved of my carry on before I got on the aircraft.
Our flight was no frills. The lone flight attendant didn’t pass out any snacks or beverages and there was no entertainment. But honestly, I didn’t miss the lack of amenities. We had a smooth, safe flight and all our luggage got to the destination. We did have to pick up my carry on after we got off the plane, but the other two bags were at baggage claim, safe and sound.
The views on the way into Madrid…
We walked out of Madrid’s Barajas Airport and got a cab. Refreshingly enough, our cab driver was female and very friendly. It was 30 euros to get to our hotel, Hotel Atlantico, which was located on the Gran Via. I didn’t know it when I booked, but this hotel used to be a Best Western. But it was actually a pretty nice place to stay. We booked a cheap room with a view into a shaft. Since the weather was rainy and cold, that wasn’t a huge deal. The room was ready on our arrival, so we dropped our bags and then went exploring.
I had forgotten how grand and ornate Madrid is.
I think this was a stage production of Dinner With Schmucks…
I had to take a photo of a restaurant called Nebraska. It just struck me as weird.
Someone with a Jim Morrison fetish made this… “This Is The End”
We found a great restaurant here called Roll. I think it might have been owned by Spanish-Americans, since it boasted a Spanish-American menu. Plus, I heard a guy come in who obviously was important there and he had a distinctly American accent.
We got to Roll before 1:00pm, which is when the kitchen opened. It was cold outside, so we decided to drink some rioja while we waited.
Bill and I enjoy munchies while we wait. Unlike Portugal, it seems that in Spain, the pre-meal munchies are free…
First courses. That tomato soup was absolutely delicious and perfect for a cold afternoon.
I originally ordered the chicken in front of Bill, but it was loaded with mushrooms, which I can’t eat. We switched plates and I got the fish and chips, which were surprisingly good.
We were too full for dessert, but we did enjoy coffee and another glass of wine. The waitress had some leftover from a recent wine tasting. All in all, it was a very nice meal and I’m delighted we stumbled across this place. Here’s a write up by someone else who liked Roll, too.
The following photos were shots I took on the way back to the hotel. We decided to go back and take a quick nap.
Ham is BIG in Spain… and it’s uniformly delicious.
Love the blurry photo of the Spanish dancer mannequin…
At one point, we looked inside a cathedral and I took a couple of photos.
Right after I took a picture of the above cathedral, I took a picture of this door. Suddenly, an older woman in a thick white coat started yelling at me. I don’t know what she said because I wasn’t listening until I heard her say “camera”. She seemed a bit strange, so Bill and I ignored her and left the area. She must have lived in the area because we saw her several times over the course of our two days in Madrid.
I was eager to show Bill this Spanish landmark. The weather was chilly and rainy and the plaza was overrun with a lot of homeless folks. However, there was yet another great street musician playing guitar there and the plaza is still pretty impressive despite the smell of stale urine and sight of the downtrodden seeking shelter there. The last time I was in Madrid, I stayed in a hotel very near this landmark. I was surprised I still remembered so well how to get around.
Just beyond the Plaza Mayor, there was a great food market that had all sorts of tempting food and drink. Bill and I went in there to warm up with some hot beverages.
My hot chocolate…
After we left the food market, we walked back to the area around our hotel and looked for dinner.
The storefront of El Corte Ingles. This is a pretty cool Spanish department store chain that seems a lot like Harrod’s. I remember stopping there when I was traveling with my friends in 1997.
We had dinner at a small bar called Desengano 13. Bill ordered Iberian ham, which is made from pigs who have eaten acorns. It’s quite delicious.
We also had fried cheese tapas dressed with balsamic vinegar… I drank fizzy water and a little wine…
All in all, it was a successful day in Madrid. Stay tuned for my post about the Prado museum.