For my final day in Madrid, I knew I wanted to cover a fair amount of ground in El Centro, which is the ‘central’ neighborhood of Madrid, south of the two neighborhoods I explored yesterday.
I started with a walk around the neighborhood to get acquainted with its various sites – for example, a beautiful monastery, winding side streets, and old school taverns.
One of the few things I did in preparation for this trip was make a lunch reservation for this morning at restaurant Botin, which is located in this neighborhood. Despite leaving the hotel around 10:30am, I still had a lot of time to kill before lunch, so I wandered across quite a bit of ground, eventually making way way south to the La Latina neighborhood. On my way, I stopped into the Museo de San Isidro, which is a free museum dedicated to the history of Madrid from pre-history to current day.
The museum begins with some fossils discovered in Madrid, including many ‘elephants’ (I assume they mean wooly mammoths) and other large creatures.
As the museum is dedicated to Saint Isidro, there is also a fair amount of religious iconography, as well as a beautiful chapel that still remains within the museum.
It is also right next to the Saint Andrew basilica – I wasn’t able to go in, but it was gorgeous from the outside!
Then, I wandered through the neighborhood market, which had all of the stands you’d expect to see (and some interesting extras, like this giant fish / eel).
After the market, it was finally approaching time for my lunch reservation – I headed back to the Plaza Major, which is the main square in El Centro. Surrounded by shops, it’s quite a beautiful shopping area, although packed with tourists. The Plaza is known for Madrid’s traditional food, including calamari-sandwiches – sadly, I didn’t get the chance to try one given I had lunch reservations, but according to my guide last night, they’re relatively simple – literally just well seasoned calamari, good bread, and occasionally a spray of lemon.
While I waited, I circled the entire plaza window-shopping (mostly to kill time, although it was interesting to see what was on offer – for example, there was a whole store dedicated to Spanish tortilla, that egg and potato cake served often for breakfast, in tin containers, proudly boasting ‘The best way to remember Spain!’ to which… I have to disagree; also, what friend or relative would like a shrink-wrapped omelette equivalent for a souvenir?).
After 15 minutes had finally expired, I headed to restaurant ‘El Sobrino de Botin’. The restaurant, located just off the Plaza, holds the Guinness World Record for being the ‘oldest restaurant in the world’, having continually operated since the mid-1700s. It’s beautiful inside, with lots of authentic touches and good service. Of course, there was a long line to get inside, even though I had a reservation right at opening.
For my meal, I wanted to get the ‘most authentic’ items – so, the waiter recommended Sangria and the suckling pig, which is served with potatoes. Of course, the Sangria was only available in a ‘half pitcher’ size – i.e., enough to ensure I really enjoyed the meal. The suckling pig was incredibly rich, and not something I’d eat normally (or again) – looking back, I wish I’d opted for a seafood plate instead. Despite not being a pork fan, I could tell it was well cooked – moist, falling off the ribs I was served, and the skin was so crisp it literally ‘cracked’ (both physically and audibly) when I cut into it. I can’t deny it would be delicious if you were looking for the world’s best pork dish – however, it was ultimately extremely rich for me and not among the favorite things I’ve eaten on the trip. Of course, I had to finish the meal on a high note (or perhaps it was the Sangria ordering), and I got the flan for dessert.
After the meal, extremely full and regretting the consumption of so much Sangria, I headed for one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Madrid originally: the Reina Sofia art museum. It’s quite a hike to the museum, over by the central train station of Madrid.
The museum houses an incredible amount of art, focusing on everything from contemporary art (much of which was on loan from the Whitney Museum in NYC), to Spanish artists like Picasso, Dalí, and Miró. The key piece of artwork is one of my favorite paintings – Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. Unfortunately, you aren’t able to take photos of the Picassos, but I did grab a couple photos of other pieces that struck me.
After the museum, I had one more stop planned: the Crystal Palace in Retiro Park, Madrid’s answer to Central Park. It was beautiful, although a bit underwhelming compared to the hype it gets online.
After visiting the Crystal Palace, I was thoroughly exhausted from walking about 6 miles across Madrid and headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare for my flight tomorrow.