We arrived in Madrid in the middle of a heat wave that had temperatures soaring to 40C. Unusual for early june, it was nonetheless a killer for those of us recently out of a Canadian winter.
The heat no doubt coloured a bit our perception of Madrid, which Alan and I define as a much “harder” city than Barcelona. It just seems a little less relaxed. And despite its grand 17th and 18th-century architecture, it’s also not as pretty. But let’s not fall in the trap – too late it seems – of comparing two unique cities.
Madrid seems to be a city of contrasts. Its streets wind up and down hills, without the benefit of shady trees under the inclement sun, forcing the city hall to ingeniously stretch panels across the top of the buildings in the old city to ease the effects of the sun. I guess the sight of tourists collapsing could undermine its popularity abroad. ;) I don’t have a picture of it but according to the news, they do the same in Seville.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of its streets, the parque del retiro is indeed a haven. Some of its paths have the smell and feel of the deep woods. Indeed, a welcome retreat and where we took refuge from the heat in our first day. To see how it went and more pictures of the park, check Alan’s blog. He spent a lot of time exploring the park while I was at the conference.
Our time in Madrid was short – I was there for a conference – so we didn’t spend much time visiting the sights. The only tourist spot, properly speaking, that we visited was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Plaza Mayor. The rest of the time was spent lining up for tickets to Toledo at Atocha train station (buy it in advance!) and sipping beer and eating tapas.
Now, here is one area where Castilians excell – their tapas and cool drinks! Don’t get me wrong, one can find good tapas in Barcelona (particularly basque tapas) but it isn’t part of the culture as it is in central Castile and parts of Andalusia.
The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar”, meaning to cover, and initially it referred to a piece of bread, often topped with some cheese or sausage, that was given free of charge when one ordered a drink. It has now become a plate of finger food (slices of jamon serrano, chorizo, potatoes, etc) and, as everything now, it is far from being free. Or at least that’s what we were told and what we experienced in Barcelona.
In Madrid and Toledo the tradition seems to be quite alive.
Every cerveceria we went to gave us a little saucer of chips, canapes or whatever they felt like it. Sitting at the bar was great fun. The barmen were incredibly friendly in both cities and in our last night in Madrid we were even given a free drink (whisky with galliano) after we paid our bill. In Toledo we walked into what seemed like the most popular bar among locals. La Tabernita is a tiny little place with a restaurant downstairs and amazing food. We made friends with Desiree, Manolo and Esteban, who introduced us to “tinto de verano” and amazing castilian specialties such as cierdo a la plancha, morcilla manchega, and stuffed mushrooms from Murcia. Here are some pictures of the mushrooms and Desiree, our more than friendly waiter:
Some Madrid tshirts:
Stay tuned for more info on Toledo, the city of the three cultures!