In true last-semester senior style, I turned in my final projects early and spent exams week in Madrid instead of in the library. I’d like to think we went around Spain the Spanish way— leisurely, with afternoon naps and little bites to eat here and there. Some say that Madrid can be done in 3-4 days, but stretching our time there to 6 really helped us enjoy the city and celebrate our undergraduate years coming to an end.
When we weren’t marveling at the architecture or exploring museums and markets, we’d take shelter from the hot climate in little cervecerías and tabernas to munch on tapas and sip cool drinks. I’ve included some of our favorites below.
La Mayor sits right by the Royal Palace, but it’s tucked in a corner and looks like your average bar. Not so— although the drink choices are endless and the staff are friendly, La Mayor also serves delicious, wholesome food. We tried the oxtail stew, which was perfectly tender and rich with fluffy mashed potatoes on the side. And that window seat view!
There are mercados full of food and drink stands all over Madrid, but the most popular among tourists is the Mercado de San Miguel, right next to Plaza Mayor in the center of the city. To be honest, we tried a few things, like bocadillo de jamon and various pintxos, but didn’t feel that any of its offerings were particularly remarkable. It’s also more touristy and pricey than other food around Madrid. Mercados that feel more local include San Fernando and San Ildefonso.
We set aside an entire day to visit the Buen Retiro park and Royal Botanic Gardens. I got a little sunburnt while sitting and sketching some flowers, but it was so lovely to look at and notice the way certain plants stood and bent towards one another. Green spaces in the middle of cities are always havens of a sort— they remind us that while we’re rushing around, we’re still people, alive in a world that is too. It’s alive in a way that transcends ourselves— maybe urban green spaces are curated and groomed and tended, but they still sound and smell like constancy, like the irreverence of life. These ones were no exception.
We all agreed that El Sur was one of the best meals we had in Madrid. Although the above squid dish might not look the most impressive, the squid was cooked beautifully and tasted so fresh— completely different from any other squid I’ve ever had. We also ordered the roja vieja, a pulled beef dish, and goat cheese and spinach ravioli, both of which were also delicious. Everything was fairly priced and we spent a nice slow lunch here.
One of my favorite – and one of the most foreign – things about Madrid was how generous with time everyone seemed to be. At restaurants, the staff never runs people out for faster customer turnover, and in certain tapas bars, you’re actually offered free tapas with every drink in an invitation to stay and enjoy yourself a little longer. The sun rises late and only sets around 9:30 pm, which makes the days feel long and languorous. In Spain, we had all the time in the world. And that’s how vacations should be.
Other places (food and others) we enjoyed included:
Cafe Julio: super yummy croquetas of many flavors
Taberna La Concha: very unique shrimp gratin toast
La Gringa: huge portioned brunch (make a reservation)
Taberna Malaspina: delicious Spanish omelette and tostas
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: gorgeous open layout for exhibits