On route from South America to Basque country, I landed in Madrid late on a Thursday afternoon with a train scheduled to leave Friday afternoon. Knowing how much I LOVED Madrid the last time I was there, I knew I had to sleep little and see a lot. The weather was hot and sunny and I set out pronto to walk around Plaza Espana, Palacio Real, Teatro Real, and admire the other beautiful buildings and cobblestone alleys of the city.
Like most of Spain, there is food and drinks everywhere, and very good ones at that. If you are new to the idea of tapas, head to Mercado San Miguel, where you can get a proper overview. This market is a collection of stalls selling their own personal specialty, and the idea is to buy a tapa or drink, or both, and wander. Once you´re done, get another. After that, get another. The stuffed olives were particularly good, as was the Spanish tortilla and the goat cheese-topped crostini. But really, you can get anything you want.
I continued through the Centro and Atocha districts, with some great street art along the way.
I had heard about Triciclo being the place for “internationally-inspired” tapas. Being curious what exactly that meant, I followed up my traditional tapas round at San Miguel here. Luckily I squeaked in without a reservation – already at 8:30 pm, practically morning in Spain, the place was heaving with people. House-pickled olives and bread are brought over with the menu. The items can be ordered as a Racion (full portion), ½ or 1/3 portion. At the advice of my waiter I ordered the prawn with shisha and mango. Arriving in a crispy wonton jacket on top of a leaf, it´s meant to wrapped taco-style in the leaf and dipped in the salty sauce.
I followed this up with the confit cod, served with fresh beans and butifarra. Triciclo is definitely the place to go for a “scene”. The food looks fancy, tastes more or less OK, and comes at a high price. Better stick with what Madrid does best, tapas in their traditional form. The bar down the street, La Meripepa, serves portions of manchego, olives, jamon, and good greasy fries.
The next morning arrived hot and sunny again, perfect for some exploring and shopping along Calle de Preciados. A stop at the Reina Sofia museum should not be missed, to see the modern masterpiece which is the Guernica. The Guernica, Pablo Picasso´s ode to the Spanish civil war, is a phenomenal piece of art. The first sketches were made the day he heard of the bombings while living in Paris, and at the exhibit you can see many thumbnail images of what was to become the 11.5 x 26 ft. painting. The thumbnails show emotions and progressions, all variations and parts of the same final image. The final massive painting is a clash and obviously tense depiction of the horrors of war, without restraint and in my opinion, purposely made to make the viewer uncomfortable. It is beautiful and shows immense talent. Regardless whether you like Picasso or not, the piece is a work of art.
Before departing via train to Bilbao, I had to make one last stop at Chocolateria San Gines, famous for another Madrid staple – churros con chocolate. Serving since 1894, it doesn´t look like much, but it´s famous for a reason. Churros are cut from ropes into 5 lengths of fried dough per order. Not too sweet, but chewy and crispy, with dark very thick hot chocolate in a small cup for dipping. Simple and amazing. A short metro ride to the main train station in Madrid and I was off again to Basque country, a thoroughly enjoyable adventure through Bilbao (here and here) and San Sebastian (here and here).