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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Tapas in Madrid

SPAIN | Monday, 4 June 2012 | Views [785]

Can't get enough of the meat shots. The lomo is probably my favorite (lomo = loin).

Can't get enough of the meat shots. The lomo is probably my favorite (lomo = loin).

Since Madrid had direct flights to Quito, Ecuador, I decided to spend the last weekend of my "mandatory rest period" there before departing for my project.  I flew from Paris to Madrid on the European cheap airline EasyJet; I don't fly often on Southwest at home so I'm not used to "open seating", which EasyJet has.  I fell asleep waiting for the flight, and when I woke up, all the passengers already queued up!  I got stuck in a middle seat but it was up front, no problem!  It was less than 2 hours to get there.

I arrived on a Friday evening.  The metro ride from the airport to city center was extremely easy to navigate and quick, only 20 minutes.  (Side note:  the more I take public transportation between a major city's airport and the city center, I find San Francisco's BART system totally convoluted and unfriendly, hate to be a visitor and have this be the introduction to SF.)  Even though it was almost 9 PM by then, the temperature was a very warm 30°C.  (Another side note:  hey USA, time to switch to Celsius instead of Farenheit, you may be the only modern nation that continues to use an antiquated system to measure temperature, and very few Americans even remotely know how to convert between the two.)  I dropped my bags off, freshened up, and hit the streets around 10 PM, knowing the Spaniards don't start dinner until that time.  I had no idea where my hotel's neighborhood was situated relative to tourist attractions, but it didn't matter; I only walked a few blocks and found a major street with many restaurants full of patrons sitting outside, having dinner and enjoying the warm weather.  I got a drink only, got my bearings to the neighborhood, and returned to the hotel around midnight, with the streets still full of diners (not just adults, families with kids too) and bar hoppers.

I had only two full days to explore Madrid, so I decided to hit a few sights only:  Museo Sorolla (a small museum that used to be the artist Sorolla's residence), Gran Via (a major shopping area and theatre row, tried to get tickets to the Lion King but was sold out), a few plazas, and the Royal Palace.  I explored the city mainly by foot, taking the metro when my feet got too tired, which was a lucky move. The times I got lost, I ended up discovering something not on my agenda that I opted for instead:  I planned to visit the major museum Museo del Prado, but got off the bus one stop later and instead discovered the small art center Caixa Forum, which happened to have an exhibit on Ballet Russe; I was looking for the Egyptian Temple of Debod, but walked a bit too far at first and found a lovely park holding a rose exhibition, with roses planted as far as the eye could see; finally, I planned on a night of flamingo dance performance, but instead walked by a cafe where a local jazz band was about to take stage.  Spontaniety ruled!

Tapas was high on the agenda, and I decided to leave it to the experts instead of doing the homework myself.  I joined a guided tour on Saturday night, ran by expats living in Spain (Adventurous Appetite, check them out if you go to Madrid), and my guide Paul was an Irish guy who has lived in Madrid for 6 years.  The tour was small, 8 patrons only, and the other visitors were all friendly; we met at 8 PM and hit five tapas bars, with Paul blending in a bit of history about the areas we visited.  He recommended other restaurants and sights along the way, and shared his insights on how the locals live, eat, and play.  I found the tour highly informative and intimate;  the other diners were fun to be around, and with so many of us, we could try more tapas varieties and wines.  At the last bar, after Paul left, the eight of us stayed longer for another round of drinks.  I managed to find my way back to the hotel way past my usual bedtime; when in Madrid, live like a local!

Even though it was a short stay, I learned and enjoyed enough about Madrid to want to return.  I thought I wouldn't like it as much as Barcelona, but that assumption turned out to be wrong.  I highly enjoyed the food, and wish I could smuggle some Iberico ham with me to Ecuador!  I did not have a bad glass of Spanish wine, and the food and drinks were affordable and high quality and delicious.

Now that the "resting period" was over, it's time to leave Europe and hit South America, a continent I've never set foot.  I took the bus Monday morning to the airport, took only 20 minutes.  I flew with Iberia Airline, which others have warned me before, and the warnings were legit.  The plane was old and "creaky", as though the overhead compartments would fall apart; there wasn't even a personal TV screen, and this was an international flight!  I've never been on a flight before with so many families with kids, took at least 30 minutes to let them board first; the kids were rambacious on the plane, being loud and playing in the aisles.  At least the church should be happy, those are very devout Catholics in South America!

So on with the journey!

Tags: adventurous appetities, ballet russe, caixa forum, easyjet, iberia airline, madrid, museo del prado, museo sorolla, royal palace, tapas

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