Happy New Year’s Eve! After a very tasty vegetarian dinner at Al Natural we made our way to Puerta del Sol. As one of the busiest spots in all of Madrid on an average day, you can only imagine the crowds on New Year’s Eve – there must have been half a million people.
At midnight, the clock in Puerta del Sol chimes twelve times. Onlookers eat a grape on each of the chimes for twelve months of good luck. The pits in Craig’s grapes prevented him from staying with the chimes, but he eventually ate them all.
After we finished the cava (that we snuck in to the square) we followed the crowds of people to the bars to start off 2014 with a bang! We eventually made it back to the hotel at 6 AM, and after packing odds and ends we left at 7 AM for the airport.
A great start to 2014!
Could there be something better than wine? Yes, there could, and it’s called Tinto de Verano, or summer red wine. It’s a drink of red wine and soda (can be soda water, a sprite like drink or Fanta). We ordered one during lunch at a local food market. It’s quite delicious! You can even make it at home…
Soccer fans in Europe are nuts. They love the game, and even a charity game gets them revved up. The Monday night game, benefiting families in the Philippines, put players from teams of eastern Spain against teams western Spain. Since Madrid was on the west team we rooted for them. A new roster of players for each team took the field every thirty minutes. Every time they announced a player from Real Madrid the crowd went crazy.
Before the game started we went to the concession stand for some beer. Listed was “Mahou (local beer) Sin” and “Mahou Mixto”. Realizing that sin meant without I asked about Mixto. He explained it was non-alcoholic Mahou mixed with lemon soda. He then went on to say it’s law that there is NO alcohol at sporting events in Spain. The look on Ryan’s face was priceless. So, we ordered two Mahou Mixtos and a bag of chips – so much different than baseball or football back in the US.
The game was a ton of fun, aside from being freezing cold, but our Real Madrid gear helped. The final score was 6-8 with east winning.
Neither of us of have ever been to a wax museum (nor any desire to go), so since free admission the Museo de Cera in Madrid was included in our Madrid card we paid them a visit. It was cheesy beyond belief. While there were a number of celebrities and sports stars, there were a number of Spanish historical figures including Franco (with whom people were actually posing for photos, odd). The most disturbing room featured a bull fighter being gored in the eye by a bull. Highlights included meeting Barack Obama and Justin Bieber.
Chocolatería San Ginés is, many would
say, the best place in the city to eat chocolate and churros. We stopped by for an early afternoon cup of hot chocolate and a few churros (and their larger cousins, porras). The place was packed and for good reason, as the churros and chocolate lived up to their reputations. I can definitely see why they have been in business since 1894. The churros soak up the chocolate when dipped – the longer you leave the churro in the more chocolate saturates the pores of the churro. And, to top it off, there is powdered sugar to sprinkle over each bite. Mmmm!
We all know soccer is one of Europe’s most beloved sports, so where better to tour a stadium than Madrid? The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is home to Real Madrid, one of Spain’s most popular clubs. Our tour started with a panoramic view of the field from the uppermost level of seats. We then walked through a club history museum with dozens of trophies – opera music was playing in the background for effect. After leaving the museum we walked around the field and made our way into the Real Madrid changing rooms before walking into the field. The tour, of course, ended in the official Real Madrid merchandise store where you can buy a jersey for 96€, yikes!
While getting tickets for the tour we learned that a charity game was being played on Monday, December 30. We had tried to purchase tickets to a game during our trip, but none of the teams were playing at home when we were in their cities. So, we decided to go and bought tickets. Stay tuned…
Our first hotel in Madrid was the Palace Hotel by Westin. It was directly across from the Prado Museum. They upgraded us to a larger room overlooking a beautiful fountain. And, the manager sent a bottle of cava!
We arrived in Madrid on Saturday morning. Since our hotel room wasn’t ready we set out for lunch. So, if you’ve been following the blog (or know us at all), you know we like to eat – so we apologize for making you hungry. The Mercat San Miguel sits just to the west of Plaza Mayor, and has a ton of small restaurants where you can eat at their counters. All the tapas are sitting on the counters or behind glass cases. We settled into one with what looked to be good, and interesting food. We had no idea what we ordered as there were no menus, we just pointed. The triangular shaped omelet was great – oozed with cheese. The dish with the large piece of bread was piled with a creamy salad, the best of the dishes. And the last was a giant seashell filled with a creamy substance like mashed potatoes with bay scallops hidden within. At first the consistency made us a bit squeamish, but once we figured out what it was we were fine. The only bad thing was the price, at about 19€ it was more expensive than the other cities we visited. We hope that’s not a trend!
For lunch on our last day in Barcelona we visited the Mercat de Santa Caterina just east of the Barri Gótic. Refurbished just a few years ago, it reputedly has the best market restaurants in the city; our lunch definitely held true to that claim. Just to the right of the main entrance was a small restaurant with two-thirds taken up by a bar and the kitchen at its rear. Five spunky older women wearing red feathered hats were serving the large crowd gathered around the bar and at the few tables. We had grilled asparagus with a heavenly sauce and a fried egg dish with fried potatoes and blood sausage. The latter was phenomenal – the blood sausage had a sweet note to it , which really complimented the salty potatoes and rich egg yolk. Why don’t we have more of these markets in the US?
The day after Christmas we ventured to Els Encants Vells, Barcelona’s flea market. The content was not all that impressive – blankets laid out with a random assortment of old knick knacks, booths with tourist things, etc. The food stands were a good surprise, as our Jamon sandwich and beer at 11 AM was quite tasty. The highlight of the market was the giant steel and glass awning constructed to shade the stalls and protect them from the elements, which made for some