Monday, April 07, 2014

Up and down the hills, coffee, food, coffee, gardens, food, hills, food, dessert.



The day started with a visit to the apartment that my kids will be using when they visit Madrid in June. I’d been exchanging email with Paco, the owner, and when I told him we’d be here he graciously offered to show us around. The place turned out to be spectacular, big, modern and on a quiet street. And what a nice guy, went to college in Boston and worked in Chicago before returning here to have a career in advertising. After 20 years he chucked that and now he owns and manages 3 apartments and a fully automated Laundromat. We thanked him for his time and went on to Mercado San Miguel for a couple of coffees and pastries and a nice conversation with a couple from Oregon whom were having exactly the same vacation as we were – Sevilla, Granada, Madrid. San Miguel was clogged with one school group of teenagers after another, not buying anything just wandering up and down the aisles taking photos of the food and parking themselves in chairs at tables that are designed for people trying to eat. The place is in all the guidebooks and so I’m sure the tour groups recommend it, but since these kids are clearly not generating any revenue, I’m surprised the managers tolerate the inconvenience.
After picking up the newspaper we took off down Arenal stopping at a pharmacy to buy a spray decongestant for MLW. Another first, buying an OTC medicine in Spanish. Esperanza, the woman who helped us tried hard to push the homeopathic option but we insisted on real medicine. Nose spray it was back outside for a stop to photograph Kilómetro Cero once and for all and then down past the Chamber of Deputies (congress building) before stopping at Starbucks for an iced coffee. We had intended to visit the Thyssen Museum once again but neither of us was in the mood for art so after drinking up and having a genuinely good time people watching from the outside seating (the Plaza de Canovas del Castillo is unsurpassed for this activity,) we crossed Paseo del Prado and went to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

It’s such a nice place, we make it a point to visit every year regardless of the weather. Being a bit earlier this year, the tulips and rhododendrons were still in full bloom. A teacher had a class of 4th or 5th graders there, drawing flowers in art notebooks and tons of birds were singing in the trees. It’s just about peaceful enough to overcome the traffic sounds, but maybe not quite. We visited the nascent vegetable gardens and stopped a couple of times in the shade before leaving, crossing the boulevard again, photographing the famous Garden on the Side of the Building and then slogging up Calle Las Huertas again to a restaurant for lunch.

Las Madroñas turned out to be a nice find. The waiter tried to push a lot of food on us but we stuck to Delicias de Bacaloa, or deep fried cod fritters served with a jelly made from Madrone berries, the famous Strawberry Tree that factors into the city symbol along with that bear I had my photo taken with yesterday. What a wonderful lunch, unlike anything I’ve had here.

By now it was getting hot - 75° here today – so we finished the climb up to Plaza Mayor and decided to follow that beloved Spanish custom of an afternoon siesta.








The sun was heading down when we went back out, going off to the west for a change and climbing back up the hill behind the cathedral and past the old Moorish walls. That same string of idle men was there tonight and I suspected I had an answer when a car pulled up and the driver quickly stuck his hand out the passenger window. One of the guys smiled reached in and shook the drivers extended hand. The driver nodded and took off quickly. I’m almost positive I witnessed a drug exchange.
The main square in front of the Palacio Real was empty so I stopped to take a photo. We crossed Bailen and headed up Arenal, trying to decide on somewhere to eat. We kept on going as nothing really appealed to us and when we reached Puerto del Sol we crossed and went up into the hills. The side streets were surprisingly quiet. We stopped to have a look at the front of a religious materials store, suppliers to the marchers in the Semana Santa parades. There was a very ornate Jesus in one of the second floor windows, life sized surpassed by an even more spectacular Virgin to his right. At the top of the hill we turned onto Las Huertas and went looking for Plaza Santa Ana on the off chance that we would want to find a place for dinner. A very fancy ultramodern hotel on the northwest corner announced the place, but none of the restaurants looked all that appealing. Retracing our steps we went back to the local's place where we’d eaten two nights prior, choosing the cod with tomato tapa again and adding a pork loin with melted cheese as an accompaniment. Both were excellent.
The temperature had dropped a bit and the walk home was very pleasant. We stopped by San Miguel for a slice of ponche, para llevar and then turned back to the west and walking down Calle Puñonrastro and past the kid’s apartment, closing the loop on the giant circle of our day.
Best news of all, the elevator had been repaired and we thus avoided those 88 steps up to the 4th floor.



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