Winter blues and any grey mood are easily cured by airports for me. Just getting to the airport and getting ready to board the plane to a new or an old favorite destination away is exciting and intriguing; what I will see, who I will meet along the way, what cool designers or local crafts will I discover. So when I suddenly realized that it’s Easter weekend, it was not long till I started browsing direct flights to cities I have not yet been to.
Madrid felt like a perfect choice. Easy overnight flight – check. Great food – check. Sunny weather – check. Friendly locals – check.
Upon boarding I immediately took a sleeping pill and was out for the entire 7,5 hour flight. Landing early morning on a Thursday was a breeze. After getting through the airport and finding a cab I was on my way to the center of Madrid.
I chose to stay at ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel which was located right on the Plaza de Santa Ana, walking distance to all attractions and among most restaurants and bars. The hotel was contemporary, hip and young, featuring a rooftop bar/lounge with pretty views of the city. The rooms were cozy, with plenty of light and organic amenities.
After quick refreshment and a change of clothes I decided it was time for coffee. It just so happened that the famous Chocolateria san Gines was just around the corner, serving homemade churros with famous chocolate since 1894. Well, there is a line for a reason, no worries if you choose to have you coffee and churros by the bar, the line moves quickly. Let me tell you, this was the most perfect cup of chocolate I have ever had! Perfect consistency and just sweet enough.
Having had such a perfect start of the day, next step was to walk over to the sardine shop for lunch. Thank god for Google maps, it was easy to navigate my way around and locate the places I had to try from my list (hint, if your US telecom provider is ATnT/Verizon, get their international plan, for just $10/24 hours you get to use the exact plan you have at home. Woohoo unlimited data! :-) ).
I ended up walking through sunlit Plaza Mayor, full of people, street performers, band playing live music, and tons and tons of cafes and tapas restaurants all around it. After a few minutes of admiring the architecture and enjoying the spring sunny day and positive energy vibes, I exited the plaza on the opposite side and saw the Mercado de San Miguel market. This place is amazing! Counters specifically dedicated to fresh mozzarella, jamon, seafood, paellas, deserts, and beers, and coffee … WOW! Everything looked incredible, and everything that I have tried there was delicious. I could not resist not to try a couple of tapas with a few glasses of Cava.
Now, completely full and happily buzzing, I continued my quest for sardines. Fortunately it was a further walk, but sadly I was not particularly hungry yet. Bar Santurce is a tiny local counter is family owned and specializes in fresh grilled sardines made simply with olive oil and sea salt. Since this spot is only open 12-4pm, I knew I had to try it right here and now. The sardines portion was huge (can order half portions), I was unable to finish it. Next door you’ll find a small art gallery where a daughter represents the work of her father. And outside on the street, stretching for blocks, a huge flea market is bustling with people.
This is when I truly hit the siesta time and needed a nap. Walking back to hotel was so pleasant, passing various plazas and parks, admiring architecture and the coziness of Madrid’s narrow streets. In the evening, I went up to the hotel rooftop bar for a sunset drink. Madrid lit in pastel pink hues looked dreamy. I was working up the appetite in anticipation of my dinner at Sala de Despiece.
Oh my and it did not disappoint. The lab looking counter is cool and serves as an extension of the open kitchen where it is fun to observe the cooking and plating processes. The concept behind is simple “Products first and last”, the creator and owner Javier Bonet values product quality, human value of team work and the ideal atmosphere to serve the food.
The carpaccio was delicately sliced, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, with added thin layer of spices, and then rolled into a roll. The meat melted in my mouth. Next followed the very well seasoned grilled octopus. Third choice was the steak tartar (Hey, since we are at the butcher’s shop!), which was unexpected in both the taste and presentation in a very good way. I chose to top it all off with a desert, a lemon sorbet infused with some kind of liquor. Strongly recommend, great experience of truly well prepared food with top notch ingredients.
First day in Madrid was a huge success, unfortunately the jet lag was letting me know it’s time to crash.
Next day full of energy and ready for action I picked up an almond croissant and a latte at a local coffee shop right on Plaza de Santa Ana and ventured out. Today I was set to do a city hop on-off bus tour and explore the Prado museum. The day was sunny but cooler and I cut my bus ride short.
Prado museum is a must for art lovers, it hosts an incredible collection of Spanish art. If you come across a huge line outside, no need to worry, just head across the street to the visitor’s booth and get your ticket to the museum there (same price, no line).
Eager to shop and find something cool, I walked through shopping areas and design districts in search of open stores. Luckily for my wallet, due to it being Easter weekend, lots of shops were closed. But, one who looks shall find. HI-IP boutique on 8 Calle de Fernando VI has a great selection of European designers, with one of a kind pieces from Spain, Italy and France. Here I found and fell in love with silver metallic Egoiste joggers. Bimba Y Lola is a fun and colorful store where I found my bright orange summer earrings. Ancla de Mar is a cute boutique where you can find custom shirts and sweatshirts from their own line, art books, interior design pieces, vintage fashion finds and little fun unisex gifts.
Dinner was planned at La Catapa, which is a very low key local Taverna serving the most authentic Spanish recipes. English is not the strongest suit in general here in Madrid, so the chef himself had to come out and explain the menu to me, which I must admit was kind of neat. After dinner drinks were had at Salmon Guru, which turned out to be the chicest bar in town with the top notch mixologists. Getting in is tricky, as the bar requires all of their patrons to be seated and space is limited, so either make a reservation or come early/late avoiding the line.
Saturday was bright and sunny.
After lots of water and Advil curing the hang over, I was set for Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, home to exquisite collection of Pablo Picasso works from various series as well as Salvadore Dali’s surreal creations, including the Face of the Great Masturbator. A current exhibit of Pessoa’s work has added additional spice to the airy and light space of Reina Sofia, centered with a pretty garden and funky rooftop.
On my last evening in Madrid, I headed for dinner to Sasha Boom, a restaurant famed for the fusion menu of Spanish and Peruvian specialties. Food was incredible. It turned out that it is impossible not to eat well in Madrid. Drinks followed at Habanera, both place and crowd were posh, at midnight tables were whisked away to make more room for dancing and mingling, and DJ was spinning great tunes. Around 2am the crowed slowly moved their dancing shoes over next door to Bling Bling for more dancing. The music was pumping, letting the pretty crowd dance into the sunrise. If it would not be time to catch my flight back to NYC, I’d probably be still dancing way beyond the 6am hour.
Why take Xanax if Madrid can surely cure any winter blues in a matter of a couple of days. Go.