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Plaza Mayor (Dec 2016).

After our first night in Madrid, my family and I woke up the following morning to start our second day visiting the capital city of Spain. We headed out around 9h00 along Calle Mayor (literally, the “main street” of Madrid) to get some breakfast, specifically at the San Ginés Chocolateria, located right besides the church of the same name and is famous for serving the iconic churros con chocolate, or “churros with hot chocolate.”

I’d been to the San Ginés Chocolateria when I last visited Madrid back in February on my own, and I absolutely fell in love with the food. These aren’t just your ordinary churros and hot chocolate: unlike the Mexican versions that I grew up eating back in Los Angeles, Spanish churros are thinner and crispier in texture, as well as not having cinnamon sugar on them.

On the other hand, the hot chocolate, well, that’s another story: the way I see it, Spanish hot chocolate has the consistency of ganache- seriously, it’s so thick! So thick that the residue sticks to the bottom and sides of the cup, and it is just unbelievable…unbelievably delicious, that is! That said, it makes for the perfect place to dunk your thin, crispy churros in, which is exactly what people do!

We got four orders of churros con chocolate, and for six churros and a cup of hot chocolate for 4 euros, it was an excellent deal! The server actually gave us one huge plate of churros for us to share, and interestingly, we’d gotten more than what we’d paid for- instead of 24 churros in total, we perhaps got around 30 or so! I’m not complaining, though, it was good.

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Churros con chocolate for breakfast.

Mind you, perhaps having something so fried and oily at the start of the day wasn’t the best decision, just because I felt quite heavy and sluggish afterwards and we still needed to go sightseeing in Madrid. Any case, I fought through it, and once we finished breakfast, my family and I headed over to the Atocha station, which is the city’s main train station that’s also, interestingly enough, a botanical garden. We entered inside, and we spent some time walking through the small, but lush and leafy garden- we even stopped to observe the turtles sitting around on the artificial islands created for them in the pond. They were so cute, not to forget so many of them!

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Atocha station.
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Turtles!

We left the Atocha station and headed to the Parque del Buen Retiro, or “El Retiro Park,” which is located on the east side of the city and is massive at 350 acres (1.4 squared kilometers). When I visited last time, I got lost, but with my family, we did all right finding the monuments that we wanted to see within the park, since it’s not just tons of trees and beautiful nature, but also several impressive sites worth checking out.

Our first destination was the Palacio de Cristal, or the “Crystal Palace,” which is sort of a greenhouse that was constructed for the Philippine Islands Exhibitions back in the late 19th century, and it housed flowers native to the once-Spanish colony. Today, it’s just a large, single room made entirely of glass that people can walk into. Due to the large, hollowed-out structure of the place, you can hear the people’s voices reverberating against the walls.

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Inside the Palacio de Cristal.

Our next monument on the list was the Monument to Alfonso XII, which is a semi-circular column structure with a large lake where people can row boats tranquilly, even on a winter’s day! It actually wasn’t too bad that day, as the sun was shining and it wasn’t as blistering cold as the night before (fyi I actually found Madrid to be even colder than Germany at times, although the rest of the places I visited in Spain were the contrary).

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Monument to Alfonso XII.

The Palacio de Cristal and the Monument to Alfonso XII were pretty much the only sites that we wanted to see in the park, so we left the El Retiro and ended up passing by the Puerta de Alcalá, one of the old gates back from the 18th century, then later by the Cybele Palace, which is where the city council is located. Again, great architectural pieces, especially among the crazy, traffic roundabouts near which they’re located.

 

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Puerta de Alcala.
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Cybele Palace.

For the afternoon, we strolled along the Gran Via, one of the busiest streets in Madrid with plenty of restaurants, clothing stores, and other “trendy” things to do there. Although we still weren’t hungry from the churros con chocolate that we’d consumed earlier that day, my family and I came across a bocadillo (sandwich) shop that sold some of Madrid’s local plates, including the bocadillo de jamon (ham sandwich) and the bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich). We bought some to go, and upon returning to our hotel early that afternoon, we dug in. Both were super savory, but I would say that I preferred the bocadillo de calamares, just because I’d already had plenty of bocadillos de jamon the last time I was in Madrid, so having a change was nice!

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Bocadillo de jamon and bocadillo de calamares.

We stayed in for the rest of the afternoon, just relaxing, even taking a small siesta before going out for dinner that night (again, at 20h00- still had to get used to “Spanish dinner time!”). This time, we went to a different restaurant near the Monasterio de la Encarnacion, which was actually empty when we entered. I supposed that it was because it was a Monday night (aka weekday), but we were the only ones there. Admittedly, we had some issues communicating with the waiter, since he didn’t seem to know English very well and we knew very little Spanish. In the end, though, we settled on some kind of pork dish, along with some potato croquettes and this shrimp rice dish which was really good- we ended up ordering a second serving of it! Service was nice, but frankly, I found the food to be just okay; I much preferred the previous night’s dinner.

Any case, we finished up the meal and headed back to our hotel, where we took the elevator up to the rooftop patio where we could see the Palacio Real lit up at night. It was a nice view, and then we retreated to our rooms to relax for the remainder of the night.

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Palacio Real at night.

We would be leaving Madrid the next morning, taking a five-day tour to the Andalusia region in the south (Madrid is located in central Spain). I’ll write more on that later, but at the end of it, we returned to Madrid for one night before we checked out the following day on Christmas. My family would be catching a flight over to Lisbon, while I would be heading back to France.

However, my flight wasn’t due until late afternoon, so after saying goodbye to my family (who were to catch an earlier flight), I spent my late morning/early afternoon wandering around Madrid. A good number of places was shut for the holiday, so I just strolled along Calle Mayor, stopping by Plaza Mayor again and managing to make it over to Puerta del Sol without feeling so claustrophobic from the crowds (unlike our first night in Madrid).

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Puerta del Sol in the daytime.

Although many places were closed on Christmas Day, I could rely on Starbucks being opened, so I popped into one of them on the Gran Via and ordered a matcha tea latte as I rested and waited until it was time for me to head over to the airport to catch my flight. Around 14h30, I left, taking the metro to the airport, checking in, and boarded the plane for the 17h30 flight, taking off soon after for Paris and thus ending my stay in Spain.

Overall, I would say that my second time in Madrid hasn’t changed my perspective on it a whole lot from the last time that I was there. Frankly, I have mixed opinions about this particular city, just because I find it too touristy and that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of things to do, despite its large size. While I like the fact that most of the big monuments and sites are concentrated within the city center and are easily within walking distance, I think that staying no more than two nights is enough to see everything that you need to see there.

I’ve also found Madrid to have colder weather than that of other Spanish cities that I’ve visited so far, perhaps because it’s in the center of the country. Interacting with the locals is a hit-or-miss, since some might speak English and others don’t, as well as in terms of being friendly and polite. I have to admit, though, the food in Madrid is amazing, and I would go back just to eat more of it!

More to come during my recent vacances de Noël! Next up: Córdoba, Spain!

 

— Rebecca

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