Looking for a change of pace and space we decided to do a week-away in Madrid. The drive over (not quite 6 hours, toll roads through the snow-covered mountains, lots of tunnels; quite lovely.) brought us to this just-outside-the-urban-core neighborhood. It turned out to be a wonderful locale in most aspects. We had a decent grocery store down the block and a beautiful park a couple of blocks away. The sidewalks were wide and filled with restaurants and outdoor dining options. The downside: parking. Our Airbnb host was a bit disingenuous in telling us we would be able to find a spot for our car. (We were aware beforehand that parking in the city is difficult; we didn’t know that it would be almost impossible.) Our host emphasized that street parking in a “white” zone is free and that there were a number of white zones near the flat. True – there were white zones, but they were full, many cars not moving for days at a time. There were also green zones near the flat, but those were for residents with permits (if you could find one open you could get a 2-hour parking tag). Cars are ticketed and towed 24/7, and we didn’t relish getting up every 2 hours to refill the ticket machine, so we went on a hunt further afield for white zones. Two hours of navigating one-ways and narrow streets = no openings. Next tactic was to go on Google maps and drive to parking lots within a walkable radius to our housing. We found a half dozen that turned out to be private, full, or not allowing cars overnight. As we were beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with the challenge (I mean, you must find parking; you can’t just leave the car and figure it out tomorrow…) we saw a sign that indicated a parking garage that wasn’t identified on Google. Bob was able to both find an attendant and to converse with him in Spanish. We got a space for 7 days, with in-and-out privileges, for €80. A bargain, actually. And we were 4-5 blocks from “home”. You know that feeling that comes when you manage to leap a travel hurdle successfully? We had it.
View from our 4th floor flat. Not exciting, but typical. For our first day in the city we had booked an Airbnb experience titled “Off the Beaten Path: Tapas and beverages in a working class neighborhood”. Low and behold, the tour was within six blocks of our front door.

Our host, Isaac, is an expat from Detroit; gregarious, upbeat, and charming. We started our afternoon at Cerveceria A’Cochina with an aperitif of Spanish vermouth (served on the rocks and garnished with citrus and olive) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a mild red sauce). The vermouth was a happy surprise – somewhat sweet and nicely spiced. Our second beverage was a beer and lemon Fanta concoction that the restaurant is famous for. It was quite good, but the mussels that came with it were the real star.

Following Isaac through the busy streets we made our second stop at a standing only countertop where they doled out sauteed pig ears and Mahou (brewed and bottled in Spain) beer. The recommendation is to eat the ears right when they come to you as they get pretty springy and gelatinous as they cool. They were okay, though the texture was not really a winner for me – even hot.

A short distance from our pig ears course was Joyma Restaurante where we found a table outside in the sun and enjoyed a tall glass of summer red wine (a bit of a sangria-like combination of wine and fruit and spices) that was a nice palate cleanser. It came with a tapas plate of sliders made from Spanish omelet on toast and a side of fried potatoes and onions.

Our final stop of the afternoon (and probably a good thing because by now we had been eating and drinking for about 3 hours) was at El Callejon de Alverez Gato. Here we had both red and white wines accompanied by chorizo croquettes and a heavenly mushroom risotto. It was a filling and fulfilling start to our Madrid days.

An offshoot of the tapas experience: Bob went to our local Aldi store and picked up a bottle of vermouth for us to have at the flat. (Not quite knowing how to choose a worthy bottle for consumption he went all out and bought the most expensive one on the shelf – €4.) He also came back with with a new ice cream treat. Leche Merengada is a classic Spanish dessert that is typically served as a beverage but can also be frozen. It has a milk shake type of consistency and is flavored with lemon and cinnamon. For those of you who haven’t guessed yet – yes, it was time for vermouth floats!
One of the reasons we like having a car is for day trips outside the city. One sunny afternoon we took inspiration from Cervantes and headed out to the La Mancha region, north of Madrid. Our goal was windmills, but there were other sights to see as well, including this former castle as well as the walled city of Toledo.
This line of white windmills, the ones Don Quixote mistook for giants and attacked, are located outside the village of Consuegra (a word that translates to “the mother-in-law of one’s son”; interestingly enough).
To get to the ridge with the windmills we wound through the town, which had an eerily deserted feeling. We longed for these types of open street spaces back in our neck of the woods.
On our way back to Madrid we spotted one of the famous/infamous Osborne Bulls. Originally designed by a British company to advertise brandy, this symbol was embraced by Spain and has now become something of a cultural icon.
Just before we entered the city we passed Linear Park Manzanares and the intriguing Head of Ariadne sculpture. I think the line of admirers is a nice addition to the scene.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía courtyard. This was our favorite viewing afternoon and the photos that follow are all from that museum.
(As many of you blog readers are probably aware, photography of any kind is not allowed in most of the Madrid art museums, therefore I have few things to share visually. Sorry…)
Bronze from a display of indigenous clothing. She’s a beauty, and the floral work just glowed.
I loved everything about the Le Corbusier exhibit. His avant-garde architectural style has been embraced by much of Latin America and Spain. This photo shows one side of a model while the next photo is a close up of the drawings that can be seen through the windows.
Low and behold – miniature architecture renderings of the building and grounds. How perfectly delightful, and a bit cheeky.
The one that got me in trouble. I was so taken with this painting that I acted a bit spontaneously and took a (flashless) photo. Two museum workers rushed to my side, wagging fingers and clucking tongues, to remind me that photos were off limits. This oil, titled Adam and Eve, by Rosario de Velasco took my breath. That elaborate background work, the almost contemporary appearance of the couple, the every day pose of these two archetypes. Lush and evocative. Worth every bit of that scolding.
A photo that I was allowed to take: the schematic for one of the wings in the museum. The entire building, originally a hospital, formed a 4-story high square surrounding an open courtyard. The galleries were maze-like, no straight path from end to end. I found myself going back through rooms, some more than once. The good news is that much of the art was worth seeing again. Through one opening, walking south/downward from the red dot in the photo, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica took up the entire wall of the room. I knew it was going to be there. I have seen lots of prints and copies of it before. I was just not prepared for the overwhelming effect of it. It has stayed with my in a haunting sort of way.
One last stop in the courtyard to admire the fabulous Calder mobile.
Since we know that cooking diverse foods can be about as wonderful as eating them, we had signed up for a paella-making class. One of us (not Bob) loves paella and was looking for some tips and secrets. The class was small – only 4 of us, which made for nice conversations and a relaxed cooking experience. We did get tips: which wines are best for making Spanish dishes, how to identify a good smoked paprika, which ingredients are used for local/regional variations of the dish, the best variety of rice to choose, a reminder NOT to put in much heat as Spanish dishes are NOT spicy, and how to insure we get socarrat – that essential layer of crispy rice at the bottom of the pan that indicates that the paella has been perfectly cooked.
Our pan of goodness turned out really well and I am now ready to take on creating a meal for guests. Let us know when you can join our table group.
One final small town visit, Avila, with it’s intact historic walls and 80-plus crenelated towers. Within the walls are a cathedral, a convent, a monastery and a variety of housing options. The modern portion of the city is all outside the walls.
So it is adiós to our Madrid neighborhood and back to Braga. (Did those of you with sharp eyes notice the bull ring off to the right side in the first photo in this posting? Just checking.)