A year in Europe followed by a move to Bangkok

48 Hours in Madrid - Day 1

Jake was away for work while I stayed in Madrid and upon his return, we had two days to spend together in Madrid before heading to Provence. While he was away, I had seen and learned so much about the city, and I wanted to show him everything!  

The first time I saw Madrid's Puerta de Alcala and Plaza de Cibeles, Jake and I were in a taxi on the way to the Ritz to have afternoon tea.  We zipped around the Puerta de Alcala, then a few seconds later, made our way through the Plaza de Cibeles. We were so taken by one of the buildings (the Cibeles Palace) that we asked the taxi driver what it was, and she replied a post office.  Holy moly, this city does it up fancy!  After the Cibeles fountain, we drove along the Paseo de Prado, some of the most expensive real estate in the city and arrived at the Ritz, which is located next to the Prado museum.

Wow, talk about a five minute taxi ride jam packed with awe-inspiring sites!  One after another, it just didn't stop. The message that Madrid is a world class city was swiftly delivered and enthusiastically received.

So on Jake's first afternoon back, we went on a walk to see some of these sites again, this time not from a moving car and with a little more knowledge about what we were looking at.  We didn't make it all the way to the Ritz and Prado this time.  Instead, we ended up at the Mercado San Anton for drinks and tapas.  It was such a fun afternoon.  Here is what we did:

Scenic spots in the Retiro Park:
Starting in Barrio Salamanca, we walked along the northern side of the Retiro park  (bordered by Calle de Alcala). Two of my favorite spots in the park are in this area. First, we stopped across from the Church of San Manuel y San Benito.  

The colors are beautiful  - the blue sky, white church, red building, yellow flowers, and green grass look striking together.

Henry has been to this spot many times and approves!


We continued walking west and came to the main gate to the Retiro park.  You can see the Puerta de Alcala monument just outside of the gate.  Inside the gate, the flowers and fountains make a direct path to the Retiro's famous rowboat pond.  This is a great place to stand - everywhere you turn there is something beautiful!

View from inside the Retiro looking toward the Puerta de Alcala:  
View looking inside the Retiro from the gate.  I love the lily pads:

Henry finds it all delightful!

Puerta de Alcala:
Once you step outside the gates, you are in the Plaza de la Independencia, where the Puerta de Alcala stands.  

The Puerta de Alcala (Alcala gate) was built in the 1770s when the King wanted to replace the existing less fancy gate with something more spectacular.  At the time it was built, it acted as a true gate and entrance into the city. The Puerta de Alcala was built into the actual city wall, which marked the eastern boundary of Madrid.  

Plaza de Cibeles:
We kept walking, and about three minutes later we hit the Plaza de Cibeles. This is another spot in Madrid that packs quite a punch.  There are beautiful buildings, one after another, with an amazing fountain in the center. Combine this with a six lane traffic circle and a trickle of lingering tourists, desperate to get a photo of the fountain when there is a break in the traffic, and you have quite the scene.   Note the car free photo of the fountain below - success!

The Plaza de Cibeles is also where Madrid celebrates its soccer victories.  Hours before the Madrid vs Barcelona match, the area was closed off to traffic while an elaborate podium was constructed in the street by the fountain. At about midnight, Madrid was victorious and thousands of people celebrated here into the morning.  I liked the confidence of the pre-win podium construction.  I wonder what would have happened had Madrid lost...

Palicio de Cibeles:

This is the building that Jake and I had been so taken with the first time we saw it from the taxi. Since then, I walked by it twice, wondering if I could go in. The police van and officers outside the door made me weary, and while I noticed a steady flow of people photographing the building, no one seemed to be going in or out.  Later I learned that you can indeed go in.  I'm guessing that the police presence might deter some people from attempting to enter, as it was almost empty inside.  Turns out, the police are outside because it is now Madrid's city hall (and it really did used to be a post office!).

When you enter, you and your bag go through metal detectors.  However after that, you can wander as you please. The inside is an interesting mish mash.  In addition to housing the mayor and city council, it is has reading/study rooms (complete with bean bag chairs), art exhibitions, a cafe, a nice restaurant, and an observation deck (2 euros).  

View from one of the windows (photo from a different day - it was the Madrid Marathon):

Note the modern art display behind me - a bunch of t-shirts hanging up:

A reading room:

Palicio de las Cortes:
Next, we made a left and walked down the Paseo de Prado to the Palicio de las Cortes where the lower house of Spain's legislative branch meets. Jake is standing almost in the same spot where Spain's King Felipe was photographed a few weeks later with his family moments after he was sworn in as Spain's new king.  

The legislature building is located in the Plaza de Las Cortes which also houses a statue of Cervantes, the Thyssen Museum (left side of  below photo) and the Palace Hotel (upper right side of photo). The Palace and the Ritz are the two most famous hotels in Madrid.  The Palace is now owned by the Westin.  This is a really nice area, close to the Prado museum and Barrio de las Letras. 

Turron from Casa Mira:
Turron is a Spanish specialty.  It is a nougat made from almonds, honey, sugar and egg whites.  Casa Mira is the most famous turron shop in Madrid.  It has been open since 1842 and supplies turron to the Spanish royal family. Turron is a traditional Christmas food for Spaniards, and during the holiday season, the line here can get to be over four hours long!

The two most popular types are Jijona (soft and chewy) and Alicante (hard and crunchy)

Unfortunately, the shop was closed when we went, so no Turron for us.  We were both very hungry, so we made a quick stop to refuel at a seafood restaurant a few doors down from Casa Mira for a calamari tapa and drinks.  Then, in true Spanish fashion, we headed out for more tapas.  Onward to the Mercado San Anton!

Mercado San Anton:
Located in Madrid's trendy Chueca area, the Mercado San Anton is a true market, selling seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables.  However, it also offers a traditional tapas restaurant, a floor full of counters with small plates of dishes from around the world, and a rooftop bar and restaurant.  

The rooftop bar has a great view and feels very chic.

Pig statue at the rooftop bar:

However, because there was no place to stand or sit, we headed back downstairs to the tapas counter. I enjoyed brie with caramelized onions and a glass of cava (sparkling wine).

Jake went for a bull's tail burger.  I was skeptical when he ordered it, but it was really tasty.

I especially like the bathtub in the middle:

Henry's Favorite Places at the Retiro Park:
We headed back to the apartment and got Henry to go for a walk in the Retiro Park.  While Jake was gone, Henry and I took multiple walks each day in the Retiro. Henry adored every inch of the park, but he had two favorite spots.

Our first stop was the General Martinez Campos fountain.  Whenever we would get within 50 feet of this fountain, Henry would tug at the leash.  He would joyfully hop up onto the low ledge and proudly grin from ear to ear.  His idea of a good time was to walk on the ledge all the way around the fountain. 

Next, we moved on to a marble staircase on the side of the Velázquez Palace exhibition hall that Henry was head over heels for.  The first time we walked past it, he tugged at the leash and made his way to the top.  He loved to sit on the cool marble and watch the world go by from his perch.  This was the best spot for photographs of Henry because he would just sit there with a goofy grin on his face, happy as a clam.

Finally, we headed back to the apartment.  

We were exhausted and spent a good deal of time trying to decide if we should go out to dinner or just stay in and eat the chorizo, Spanish cheese, Serrano ham and beer that I had bought to welcome Jake home.  After much discussion, we decided to go out for tapas.

La Casa del Abuelo:

We decided on a place called La Casa del Abuelo.  They are famous for their "Gambas Ajillo" which is shrimp in a spicy garlic olive oil sauce.  It was amazingly good, kind of what shrimp scampi should aspire to be.  

As we dipped our bread in the leftover garlic and olive oil, the waiter said he thought we needed some chorizo. Normally, I would be a bit weary, especially after our experience a few weeks prior at a different restaurant in Madrid where the waiter wouldn't leave us alone about the very expensive cut of beef he thought we "needed" and brought by our table on a silver platter three different times after we politely declined.  Anyhow, this waiter was right.  We did need some chorizo.  After Jake graciously agreed to confirm the price, we ordered the chorizo and two more drinks, toasting the perfect finish to a wonderful day in Madrid.  

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