Madrid's best coffee, best gambas (prawns), the Royal Palace of Madrid and Dingo
2 Deciembre 2016
This was the day we finally got down to the business of heavy duty site seeing. Nah, not really. We did try to visit the Royal Palace and did do some wandering but, again, we were chasing food and coffee for much of the day.
It wasn't all out fault. I did say attempt to visit the Royal Palace. It was closed for some Royal Function. One can only imagine the conspicuous display of wealth and art inside we missed. I suppose on the good side we wouldn't have paintings of the 18th century royal family inflicted on us. Brandy was still getting over Goya's creepy monster. I will still getting over Goya's portraits of Charles and his family.
But before we tried to climb the gates of the palace we had a wander around Madrid, found some excellent coffee and bought Dingo. Central Madrid is very easy to wander around. There are many wide boulevards radiating from Puerta del Sol that are pedestrian only. At some times of the day though they can be a sea of people especially during the paseo in the evening. You have to love the paseo. Like the Italian passeggiata it is an evening stroll for the sake of a stroll. Maybe for a little socialising too.
Coffee & Kicks
But an evening stroll was hours off. After a late breakfast of jamon boccadillos we fired up the Beanhunter app for recommendations for coffee in the vicinity. Coffee and Kicks was the best rated and, conveniently, the closest, not far from Puerto del Sol.
We've been to two cities on this trip so far, Paris and Madrid, and we've been able to find decent, really decent, Melbourne decent, coffee. It is great Europe that you've used our 10 year hiatus from your fair continent wisely and started surfing the third wave of coffee. Sometimes I worry about this new coffee imperialism and how every city will lose that special uniqueness when it comes to shit coffee. The cafes will all start looking like home and then we lose one of the reasons travel is special. Then as I sip my latte or cappuccino I think, whatever, bring on the coffee imperialism. Coffee & Kicks definitely had Madrid's best coffee and a very cool hipster vibe without being pretentious.
We definitely needed our awesome coffees after our morning of... of wandering and not doing very much at all. But the coffee came just in time anyway. As did the frambuesa (raspberry) milkshake, the huge chocolate chip cookies, cake and toast with butter. That is my other crack. Toast with butter. I know I've had a good breakfast when I've had toast and butter. The coffee was so good I suspected that we'd be coming back later in the day, sometime after siesta, for another round.
Siesta is another of those fascinating things about Spanish culture. The mid-afternoon shut down. Even coffee shops like Coffee & Kicks closes for a few hours in the afternoon. Many places do stay open - department stores, chain stores etc, but many independents pull down the shutters for a few hours. So civilised. It makes our culture of work work work seem barbaric. It can be incredibly frustrating if you're stuck in a small town somewhere and you need petrol between 2 and 4 pm though. Sounds like I'm speaking from experience doesn't it? Sitting at a petrol pump in a little town in Italy waiting to get petrol 20 years ago has not scarred me at all. I don't know why I even brought it up.
Brandon was going through a stage, hopefully a stage, tantamount to an obsession with little "mens". They could be anything from Lego people to tiny action figures to Playmobile people. Apparently he didn't have enough. Luckily for us Christmas was approaching so there was a pop-up toy shop conveniently located on Puerta del Sol. Also lucky for us it had a few Playmobile Knight sets going cheap. We spend a massive 4 euros for some mens for Brandon to play with. When would our luck run out? We couldn't just get Brandy a toy and not get Georgia something. Georgia chose a pink thing, possibly a dog, and called it Dingo. Dingo would be our constant companion for the rest of the trip and beyond.
La Casa del Abuelo
When I wrote the first draft of this piece I completely forgot about lunch. I don't know how I forgot. It was only one of the best tapas bars in Madrid. La Casa del Abuelo is one of the finest places to get gambas (prawns) anywhere. La casa serves tapas and racciones of prawns and other typical tapas dishes about 7000 ways. But the specialty is prawns. Gambas a la plancha, gambas al aljillo, Langostinos, croquettas... it goes on. I think we tried them all.
They have a number of shops in Madrid but two of them are across the alley from each other (also across from Enrique Tomas). One has tables and chairs the other just standing high tables. This time we chose the standing place. The prawns were superb. Fried, grilled, whatever. Absolutely the best tapas style prawns I've ever had washed down with a cañas for cerveza. A cañas is a glass of beer. Nice and cheap. Usually 1 to 2 euros.
Royal Palace of Madrid
Suitably prawned and toyed up we hit the road again for a stroll down to the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family. But they don't live there. I suppose I could say that it is my official residence too but I don't live there. It is only used for State occasions. I remember looking through the locked gates the last time we were in Madrid so we've never been inside. What better way to introduce the kids to a fair dinkum European Royal Palace than to visit one of the finest in Europe. Actually I have no idea if it is the finest. It is the largest by floor area and has 3418 rooms though. If you visited a room a second you could visit the whole palace in less than an hour. If it was open.
I should re-name this blog to "places we visited but closed minutes before we arrived". I suppose we could give ourselves a better chance of visiting places that close earlier than normal if we got up at reasonable hour and spent less time chasing good food and coffee and didn't arrive late in the afternoon. Ha. Holidays are about experiences and not mouldy old palaces where entitled snobs hang on to the relics of a bygone era gained by colonial exploitation and oppression. So, yeah, it was closed for a state function in the evening. Damn royalty. Georgia was particularly disappointed. She was hoping to visit a real palace and see more art. We arrived as the last visitors were leaving. We were going to be back in Madrid in about a month so we decided we'd try again then.
Surrounding the palace are extensive gardens. Madrid has many large parks and gardens. It is surprisingly green in parts. There is quite a view from the top of the gardens adjacent to the palace. A lovely spot to watch the sunset. Typical for major historic sites in Europe there was a carousel on the street in front of the palace. We came to expect it in the end and were mildly surprised if there wasn't a carousel somewhere nearby. What wasn't nearby was a toilet. I asked at the tourist information booth and they gave me directions, long and involved directions, which I promptly forgot as I walked away. Michelle asked where the the toilets were and I just waved vaguely in the direction of the Plaze de Oriente across the street from the palace. We never did find those toilets.
If you do urgently need a toilet it can be very handy to have small children. Desperation will send you to a cafe or restaurant and often they will only allow customers to use their facilities. But if you drag in a kid and ask for el baño por niño por favor they never say no. The Spanish love the niños. You could probably ask to let you kid pee all over their floor and they would think it was adorable. Don't do that though. The cafe on the plaza did graciously allow us to use their facilities.
Spanish dinners start late so that gave us time to head back to Coffee & Kicks for an iced coffee. After the frigidity of Paris Madrid was nicely mild. Still cold. Australian winter cold but mild enough to take off the down jackets for a while and have a decent chilled iced coffee. The mild temperature is just an excuse. I could drink iced coffee in Antarctica. Apart from Milo, iced coffee is my other favourite chilled drink. Although, I was building an impressive collection of canned Sangria in the fridge back at the AirBnb. For cheap canned booze it was surprisingly good. Getting to back to Coffee & Kicks involved another meander through the back streets of Madrid. The enjoyment of the walk and the accompanying sights, sounds and smells of a great city like Madrid is only tempered by whinging kids not wanting to walk and fighting over who gets to sit in the pram.
Restaurante Bocaito was up in the area near the restaurant we'd gone to the night before. It is a more traditional style of Spanish restaurant. Not at all like the funky hipster modern places we'd been to so far. But like Celso y Manolo the night before it was also a Michelin "El Plato: una cocina de calidad". Bocaito is an Andalusian style restaurant so the interior was was whitewashed and decorated with colourful plates and pictures of bull fighting on keeping with that southern Spain vibe.
We kept it simple and had some tostas, tapas on toast, with things like sardines or morcilla, followed by a tomato, avocado and tuna salad and fried fish and chips. All this was followed up by crema catalana and flan de leche - Catalan creme brulee and Spanish creme caramel. Our first crema catalana on our return to Spain. When we visited Madrid 10 years ago we dragged a couple of friends all over Madrid looking for a crema catalana. At first they were bemused by our efforts to find a crema catalana. Until they had one. Thank you Spain for your creamy custard deserts.
This had been our last day in Madrid for now. The next day we were going to pick up a rental car and drive to San Sebastian. We were then going to loop around Spain in an anti-clockwise direction, down into Portugal, across to southern Spain and then back up to Madrid. We expected to be back in Madrid in about a month. We'd have a couple of days to see the things we missed this time. By some measures, ticking off sites, we'd missed a whole lot of Madrid. But if you counted just being there and taking in the ambience and strolling and participating in the the local food culture we'd done heaps. We'd managed to see exactly one museum. Two if you count the Museo del Jamon. That was enough for a few days.
San Sebastian probably has churches and museums too. But to us San Seb is a monument to food - Basque tapas - pintxos. It also has a number of the world's top restaurants. San Sebastian, here come the Nixons. Adios Madrid!