After Greece, we returned to one of my favorite countries and someplace I could legitimately see myself living: Spain! Given our schedule and the nearing end of our trip, we only had one day in Madrid (Madrid was the only direct flight to Spain from Crete, so we figured we’d make a day out of it!). I’d previously visited Madrid back in 2019 and absolutely loved it, so I couldn’t wait to see the city again.
We started out bright and a bit too early – I’d forgotten that Spain’s schedule is a little less geared towards early risers, so when we left for the Plaza Mayor at 9am, pretty much all that was open was a small cafe. So, we grabbed a coffee and did a bit of walking around before ultimately returning to our hotel and taking care of one travel-related item while we waited for things to open up: the dreaded rapid COVID test. Thankfully the hotel pointed us to a clinic with rapid testing on-site, so we were in and out quite quickly. After that, we sought out a little treat: churros with chocolate and fresh coffee from Chocolateria San Gines.
Although extremely good, we found the double order of churros and corresponding cups of chocolate sauce a bit too much and had to force ourselves to move on when we reached a point of churro oversaturation. From there, we continued our gluttonous ways by going to the Mercado San Miguel, which is an upscale market offering a variety of Spanish specialties, from pintxos with vermouth to fresh seafood to Spanish / Asian fusion to traditional items done well.
We ultimately tried a couple things: red vermouth with pintxos (I got the olives with anchovies, since it reminded me of my time in Barcelona); a Spanish-inspired “bao”; salt cod, mushroom, and Iberico ham croquettes, fresh Iberico ham; fresh oysters; patatas bravas.
After lunch, we took a bit of a walk over to the museum area – ultimately, we decided to visit the Prado, which houses an incredible array of Spanish art (including the royal collection of artists such as Bosch, as well as famous Spanish painters like Goya, Velasquez, etc.).
After the museum, we wandered the city a bit and ultimately decided to stop for a couple cocktails at one of the “World’s Best” (#22) bars, Salmon Guru. Their entire schtick is that the drinks are “crazy” and have creative presentations, so we ordered a couple that gave us that experiential element. You see the menu from a QR code on a Rubix cube, and then the drinks themselves come out with interesting presentations – several include smoke, creative plating, or things like an edible food item you have to eat and then immediately follow with the cocktail so that you get the full experience (usually pop rocks or some kind of “melting” sensation).
We ordered the lotus and the Horus, and both were delicious and very aesthetically pleasing.
Following the bar, we did a bit more wandering before heading to tapas for dinner.
For dinner, we headed up to the Retiro neighborhood, where we shared a couple amazing bites of “less traditional” tapas fare. We had a quail dish with a lovely cream-based sauce, fresh salmon in the “gin and tonic” style (we weren’t quite sure how to interpret this since the fish was fresh, but it seemed like perhaps it was lightly cured in G&T), an omelette with tripe and a delicious red pepper sauce, scallops with grilled artichoke, and a basque cheesecake.
At the end of our meal, the waiter asked how long we’d be in Madrid and we admitted that we were heading to Valencia the next day – so he asked the chef for restaurant recommendations on our behalf, and they spent the next 15 or so minutes tracking down the best paella in Valencia for us and writing down recommendations! Overall, a great way to end our time in Madrid and to give us something to look forward to in Valencia.
The following morning, it was up bright and early to head for the train station and its beautiful foliage, which makes it one of my favorite stations in the world.
Then, on to Valencia!