This unbelievably great city continues to excite.
After a brief nap I awoke and decided to go exploring. First call was the the Plaza de Espana which is home to the Monumento Cervantes. This was just a short stroll down the Gran Vila. The Plaza houses a small but delightful park. There is a magnificent fountain at the front and the rather grand statue to one of Spain’s literary giants stands imposingly in the middle. It is very easy on the eye.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is of course considered the greatest ever Spanish writer, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. It has often been suggested that they met in Valladolid in 1605, but there has never been any concrete proof. It is also more often than not said that the two literary giants died on the same day, but in fact Cervantes died the day before but was buried on the day of Shakespeare’s death. Cervantes of course wrote Don Quixote, one of the greatest works of world literature.
I was a little surprised to see that most of the trees in the park were eucalyptus, these are among my favourite trees with their wonderful, peeling, mottled bark. I walked through the park and out the other end to take in the view of the old Church of San Juan de la Cruz. John of the Cross, to give him his English title is famed for his writings and his poetry. Whilst his literary studies on the growth of the soul are considered by the Spanish and beyond as the summit of mystical Spanish literature and indeed one of the high points of all of the country’s writing.
I wandered around for a while looking at the truly amazing array of eating and drinking venues. The people of Madrid must do nothing else but eat and drink. This has to be one of the world’s truly great gastronomical venues. I found a quiet bar and ordered a simple ham sandwich and a beer. It was magnificent, as good as ham gets, crusty and tasty real bread accompanied by a foaming pint of decent larger all for under 3 Euros, that’s just $3.50. The bar had huge Serrano hams hanging up and a counter packed with wonderful cheeses. The smell was out of this world.
I decided to jump on the Metro, save my legs and see some more of the city. I went to the closest Metro station and bought a ten-journey pass, for under 15 Euros; excellent value. I looked at a map, asked someone which platform I required, jumped on the train and immediately set off in the wrong direction on the wrong track.
I have no idea what happened but I finished up in a rather uninteresting business district. Having said that, it still had amazing looking bars and restaurants with people dining al fresco in the streets. I wandered round for 15 minutes but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I found my way back to the Metro and successfully negotiated the journey in reverse. By this time my legs were shot and I had to go back to the hotel.
After my rest I ventured into the hotel bar for a cheeky red. It arrived with a complimentary bowl of the tastiest olives I have had in a long time, really delicious. I could really get used to this life.
At 8pm the buffet opened and went in search of sustenance. Again the standards were very high. Huge selections of cooked meats, cheeses, smoked salmon and bread. Pasta and sauces, cooked meat, soup and a serious looking sweet counter. Throughout the standard of quality was exceptional. Oh and ice cream, did I tell you about the ice cream? . . .bliss. This is the first time I’ve noticed what I miss about Europe. I am surrounded by culture, as I eat, Pepe Blanco wafts over the air with his rendition of Cocidito Madrileno, very suitable. Alright indulge me, I shazammed it.
One thing that seems strange after 10 years in Asia is that it is still light at 10.00pm. This is one of the things that I genuinely miss about Europe. It is wonderful to enjoy such a long day. I set off to find a bar and enjoy it. I consulted a map, chose a venue, grabbed a taxi and off we went. On the way we drove past the famous Palacio de Cibeles which is officially known as Palacio de Comunicaciones. This iconic building in the famous Palacio de Cibeles, is one of the most beloved buildings in the city. It now serves as the city’s town hall, and is often called on as an iconic backdrop for local and national celebrations around the fountain, here.
Plaza Santa Ana
The Plaza de Santa Ana, and the myriad of small streets around it, make up the Huertas district of Madrid. This is the most lively and vibrant area of the city, with hundreds of tapas bars, terrace cafes, pubs and amazing restaurants. It was too good to miss, I’m glad I didn’t.
Cultured cool and characterful., I love this place. A clarinet player's music drifted across a crowd that is football crowd, crowded. However conversations are muted and there is a genteel elegance permeating every square inch of this rather square shaped square. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of chatter, people are actually talking to each other and few have their heads buried in a smartphone. However levels are very acceptable. There must be about a thousand people here all drinking eating chatting and having fun.
At the top of the square the Reina Victoria Hotel dominates the vista. The hotel was built in 1916, the large front windows of its rooms provide guests with truly spectacular views of the Plaza. The whole square is pedestrianised with just a single lane road running along the bottom end and up along one side. Taxis continually paused to drop more people off. They drive slowly without the constant honking horns that have been my aural wallpaper for the last 5 years. The waiters here have to constantly cross the road ferrying full plates out of the bar and empty ones back as satisfied sated customers enjoy the food.
The sights sounds and smells are pure Spain. It's a struggle to find a seat but eventually I spot one, order a glass of red (again with complimentary olives) and soak up the atmosphere as Madrid bids adios to another hot summer's dia. As the cloak of impending darkness begins to envelope the plaza the whole ambience becomes even more atmospherical. Sitting here, I get the impression that Madrid's police have quite an easy job.
It was just about perfect, but then clarinet player played Bailando and Despacito, back-to-bleedin’-back as always. You just had to go there didn't you mate? Ah well I guess you really can't have everything. Finally at 10.30 the blue sky bade farewell and real darkness descended. What a day! I quaffed my second red and went in search of transport home to the hotel. This is one of the coolest cities I have ever been to. A late night hotel drink awaits while I write this up.