Tapas, Truffles, and Tours: A Well-spent Saturday in Madrid
After getting used to the basics such as the weather and time difference, my roommates and I decided to plan a fun Saturday tour around Madrid. If you are planning on visiting Madrid for the first time, I hope this quick, one-day itinerary serves as a jumpstart to get a feel of such a fantastic city.
Our tour started around 12:00 p.m. at “el Mercado de San Miguel” (San Miguel Market). This world-renowned gastronomic market is located in the middle of “Plaza de San Miguel,” and it is over a hundred years old. It is full of small restaurants where you can find all sorts of “tapas” and desserts that come from different parts and cultures of Spain. After walking around the crowded market, I finally settled for a focaccia bread with “jamón serrano” (dry-cured Spanish ham) cream cheese, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and spicy aioli. For dessert, we bought ice creams from a place called “Rocambolesc.” I had spotted these 3-star Michelin ice creams online ever since I decided to study abroad in Madrid (do not check their Instagram account if hungry!). It was hard to choose from such a menu, but I ended up going for a thick chocolate ice cream with chunks of brownies, marshmallow cubes, and shortbread cookies as toppings (one of my roommates ate the same thing but inside a waffly dough called “panet”). As a first-timer at this grand food market, my best advice is to take turns with your friends to save seating spots (as they are limited), while some of you walk around and observe all the food options, and vice versa.
After our delightful lunch, we decided to walk towards “el Palacio Real de Madrid” (Royal Palace of Madrid) at around 1:30 p.m. This palace is surrounded by huge iron doors, yet you are still able to appreciate its grand architecture from afar. We were not able to book a tour on time, but it is highly recommended to do so, and get a glimpse of one of the largest royal palaces in Western Europe (said to have over three thousand rooms!). After this quick stop, at around 2:00 p.m., we walked through “La Plaza Mayor” (Main Square) located in the neighborhood of Sol. This plaza is a traditional Madrid tourist spot located in the heart of the city. If you look up “Madrid” online, a picture of the deep orange, four-story porched walls will inevitably pop up. There, you can find the famous statue of Philip III. Luckily, the holiday decorations from the past December were still on, which gave the plaza an even more joyful feel. People enjoying meals on the terrace, crowds walking from side to side, live dancers and musicians performing... I surely experienced Madrillian vibes at its finest!
Our next stop was one of my favorites. By 3:30 p.m., we walked around “Plaza de Cibeles.” Among many monuments, this plaza hosts “El Palacio de Cibeles” (Cybele Palace) and the Cibeles Fountain, where many Spanish sports teams celebrate their victories. We went inside the Cybele Palace, and up to “Terraza Cibeles,” a rooftop restaurant right in the middle of the plaza. There, we enjoyed my favorite traditional Spanish drink, Sangría, while watching a jaw-dropping sunset. (Foodie fact: In most, if not all, the Spanish bars and restaurants, you will receive a complimentary plate of dried fruits or mixed nuts which are the perfect side to a traditional fruity beverage).
Our mini Madrid tour would not be completed without taking some time to enjoy art. Madrid hosts many expositions, which are often available for only a few months. We really did not dare to miss “Van Gogh Alive: The Experience,” so we made sure to purchase tickets a few days in advance. By 6:30 p.m., we made a quick five-minute walk and headed towards the “Círculo de Bellas Artes” to see Vincent van Gogh’s art come to life. In a nutshell, this exposition consisted of a big dark room with screens and projectors all around (even on the floor!), which displayed Van Gogh’s artwork chronologically. The paintings were complemented by beautiful, classic opera as background music and some of his most famous and inspirational quotes. An hour went by quickly as I laid down in a bean-bag chair, admiring art from all over. I must admit that I am not knowledgeable in classic paintings or art history. However, if you are not really a museum person (like me) yet still have the chance to be around when art exhibitions are happening, I would recommend giving them a go! More than an exposition, it was a captivating show.
If you have not noticed so far, I love food, simple! Thus, my evening happily ended with a delicious dinner at the restaurant “Ten con Ten.” Friends and family, who had previously visited Madrid, always told me eating there was a must! At the restaurant, my two roommates and I shared a thick truffle and semolina risotto, and a plate of penne pasta with a black truffle and spinach sauce. As if that was not enough, then came dessert. We enjoyed a thin, crunchy apple and caramel pie (accompanied by vanilla ice cream) and a cup of Spanish “arroz con leche” (sweet rice pudding), topped with cinnamon and caramel brittle. Zero complaints!
Madrid is a place with so much to offer that it gets overwhelming to think about all the places I want to go, all the food I want to taste, and all the attractions I want to visit. Juggling school and daily tasks at the same time make it even more hectic to try and make time during the week. For that reason, my roommates and I decided to clear up our Saturday and dedicate it fully to immersing ourselves in such a wonderful city. In case you are wondering, we did all this day tour walking (the distance from one location to the other is relatively short). As we are still newbies here, we hung ourselves to maps in our cellphones, yet we decided to walk to truly enjoy the streets face to face (and burn the calories!). I am looking forward to more fun Saturdays ahead. So far, so good.