We spent most of January 3 travelling from Iceland to Spain. Between wanting to be early for our flight and the flight itself, then getting to our hostel in Madrid, most of the day was gone by the time we were ready to do anything.
Here in Madrid, we’re staying at a hostel called “The Hat”. The location is great with tons of sights and places to visit within walking distance. After we checked in, we set out to explore the area a bit before dinner and found several large plazas and a huge shopping district. The city is quite crowded, especially when contrasted with the small city and wide open spaces we had been getting used to in Iceland. After wandering for a while we decided to try our luck with a recommendation we’d had from a friend, Restaurante Botin.
This restaurant has been continually running since 1725, making it the oldest restaurant in the world. It also hosted several famous artists and authors such as Goya and Hemingway as they grew up and created some of their best-known works. We stopped by the front to find it was still closed for siesta, and came back later to find a large crowd of patrons waiting for the doors to open. Without a reservation, we were seated within 10 minutes of the place’s opening. We later found out this is highly unusual and that most of the guests book reservations at least 5 days in advance, and that the restaurant is usually fully booked out.
We had to walk through the kitchen to get to a small back room with 5 or 6 tables where we were seated. We had heard the restaurant’s specialty was roast suckling pig, so we placed two orders of that and an order of sangria. The food was excellent, easily the best pork I had ever tasted. They use an old-style wood fired stove and cook the pig twice with precise timing to make sure it’s juicy and tender. They cut it in front of you so that you can make sure it was cooked the proper old-fashioned way. Full and happy, we stayed out for a bit longer with more sangria before heading to bed.
On the 4th we woke up and had a cheap but filling breakfast at our hostel before heading out on the hostel walking tour. I didn’t take a ton of photos but we got to see a ton of cool sites while the guide explained the history of Madrid with stories and legends. We learned about several nearby plazas, saw the royal palace, checked out the Cathedral of Saint Mary, and tried the local liquor, el madroño. It was fun learning about the bear symbolism of Madrid and get a feel for the history of the city, the influence of southern Spain and Moorish culture. We also discussed Spanish culture more generally, looking into flamingo dancing and tapas. The tour was long but worth it.
After the tour we followed our guide’s recommendation for a place for lunch and ordered the menu del dia. The waiter spoke no English, so I was forced to struggle through making choices off of the menu in Spanish. Until I came to Spain I hadn’t realized how much I had forgotten; I find myself trying to use German grammar with Spanish vocabulary, forgetting a lot of words, and generally embarrassing myself.
We left the lunch place and made for el Prado, a world-renowned art museum. We spent several hours looking through the extensive collections, observing different styles and themes through the pieces. Religious subjects dominated most of the collections, but there were some classical Greek and Roman influences as well as some more contemporary landscape and everyday art we were able to view.
It was a lot to take in in one day and I’m sure we missed a lot of the museum. It was impressive seeing the extent of the collection at the Prado and realizing how old many of the works were. It would be too long for me to reflect on individual works here, but I enjoyed my experience of the museum and wish we’d had more time there.
We just got back from another delicious dinner, this time we had Iberian Ham and Paella. Tomorrow we are trying to get to Toledo to see some of the old architecture and the old historic capital. As always, I’ll keep you posted.
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,