There are many reasons why I’ve wanted to come to Spain. First and foremost is the food. I’ve heard the food in Spain is ridiculously good. The second reason is the ham, which I suppose is still food. Iberico ham is supposedly the best in the world. Third, there’s the culture and history (which is true for a lot of Europe.) Spain has a lot of medieval churches and castles. What ultimately got me here though, is a pricing error on a Norwegian travel site that my friend Jack found. My flight ended up costing just under $500, flying into Madrid, and out of Rome three weeks later.
The journey to Madrid started pleasantly with a short flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Personally I hate LAX, but I had a lounge pass to burn for my long layover there, so it wasn’t too bad. I like how the Korean Airlines lounge has Shin Ramyun and OB beer. And the last leg of my journey, from Frankfurt to Madrid was pretty pleasant, I had a window seat from which I watched the European countryside and coast pass by underneath me. The middle leg of the journey, the longest part, an eleven hour flight from LAX to Frankfurt was miserable. I had forgotten to pick seats the night before, so I was stuck in a middle seat for the long flight. I learned a painful lesson– always pick seats as soon as possible.
We arrived in Madrid in the late afternoon. From the airport we took the subway to our apartment. After some tapas at a nearby bar we explored the area near our apartment. Thankfully our place was pretty centrally located, so we were able to walk to a lot of attractions nearby, including the royal palace.
We passed by the Mercado San Miguel, a famous food market in Madrid. Before our time in Madrid is over we’d end up eating here a few times. This market is so awesome that I’ll probably write an entire post just on food from this market.
The next morning we headed out to the Prado museum, which is basically Spain’s national art gallery. There are many paintings from famous Spanish artists, though I must confess that outside of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso I don’t really know any Spanish art.
The Prado did not allow photography anywhere inside the galleries, and they were pretty vigilant about it. But I was able to get a couple of shots of some of my favorite pieces. The one on the left is called “Three Ages of Man and Death” by Hans Baldung Grien. I liked the painting because it reminded me of the fragility of life. I was very impressed by the piece on the right because it looks like a painting but it’s actually pieced together out of polished stones.
The Buen Retiro Park is pretty close to the Prado Museum, so we walked around in the park a bit after the museum. There’s a statue garden near the entrance, and a monument to Alfonso XII next to a manmade lake. But the coolest thing there, in my opinion, is the Crystal Palace.
The view from inside the Crystal Palace.
Whenever I go to Europe I’m always impressed by the big plazas that all the cities have. Madrid has a very cool one called the Plaza Mayor. This one is surrounded on all sides by buildings, with archways to enter the plaza from the surrounding streets.
Spain is famous for their Iberico ham. For breakfast on our last day in Madrid we went to the Museo del Jamon, or the Museum of Ham in English. They had an amazing selection of a variety of different grades of Iberico ham– and they were pretty cheap too. We had a couple of platters of ham and a pitcher of beer for under ten euros. It felt kind of weird drinking beer first thing in the morning, but we looked around and saw that all of the locals were drinking as well. Man the lifestyle in Spain is awesome– beer first thing in the morning, siesta in the afternoon, tapas at night… I can see myself being very happy here… Of course my lifespan would probably be considerably shortened, but it would be a short and happy life. I’d be okay with that.
One of the more offbeat things to do in Madrid is buy nun cookies. I first heard about these cookies on the Spain episode of Samantha Brown’s show, “Passport to Europe.” Apparently there are cloistered nuns (nuns separated from the outside world) who bake cookies to support themselves. It’s kind of hard to find these monasteries, there’s no description or sign on the outside. Luckily we happened to be outside as a tour guide was leading a group in, so we followed her in through the maze of hallways to the little turntable where you can buy the cookies. If I’m ever in Madrid again, I might take her tour– she does a culinary tour of Madrid, which of course I’d be interested in, but more to the point, she was kinda cute… So anyways, Jack but down some money in the turntable, and then the turntable spun around with our cookies. They were pretty average cookies, the dry crumbly lemony kind that you eat with tea, and in my opinion kind of expensive. But it was worth it just for the novelty of buying cookies from strangers on the other side of a wall.
In total we spent just two full days in Madrid. If anything my time there has made me want to come back to Spain and explore in greater detail the gastronomy and the culture of Spain. My time there has added another item onto my ever lengthening bucket list– someday I’d like to bring a bike and do a cycling tour through the country of Spain, eating and cycling my way through the different regions.