Thursday, April 7, 2011

Madrid and Toledo: Pork, potatoes, beer, repeat.

By Melissa at 3:23 AM
Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico, sliced ham, bacon, stewed pork, pork croquettes, we ate it all. Is it possible to eat too much pork? Possibly, but after eating it every day, sometimes three times a day while we were in Madrid, I think my saturation point is quite high. There is really only one way to eat potatoes in Madrid and that's Patatas Bravas, sauteed, cubed potatoes covered in a spicy red sauce. Yummy. Okay so maybe you should also make room on your potato menu for a Tortilla Española (potato fritatta), it's pretty good. The beer seemed to be free flowing at all times of the day and since you always got at least one free plate of tapas with your beer, Brian took to ordering a caña (about a third of a litre draft beer) at lunch and dinner.

Legs of cured ham in the Museo del Jamon, which isn't a museum
From Madrid

In addition to the plethora of pork we encountered, the rest of our week in Madrid was a great way to start to the trip. As in the case with most Mediterranean cultures, the Madrileños really know how to live it up. The atmosphere was relaxed, but not slow and full of food, drink and socializing. Being a night owl, the schedule in Madrid really suited me. Many restaurants don't open until 8 PM for dinner and the streets were quite busy until the early morning hours so we woke up late, stayed up late and took a siesta on most days.One of our favorite foodie sites in the city was the Mercado San Miguel, a beautiful historic building filled with all the fresh seafood, tapas, fruit and vegetables you could possibly dream of.    

Mercado de San Miguel
From Madrid

Tasty fish tapas from the Mercado de San Miguel
From Madrid

Madrid turned out to be quite easy to navigate both on foot and by Metro and most of the main sites were within a ten-minute walk from our hotel. I was expecting something more akin to sprawling Paris, but it was much more compact. It seemed there were little plazas where people hung out around every corner. We strolled through and napped in the Parque del Buen Retiro, a very large and beautifully landscaped park at the edge of the central city.

Plaza Mayor at dusk
From Madrid

A stroll down Retiro Park
From Madrid

We also visited two of the three largest museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia, both had excellent collections. I think I preferred the Reina Sofia with its modern collection and its main attraction, Guernica by Pablo Picasso, over the Prado with its collection of pre-20th century works. After visiting many other museums and cathedrals in Europe, there are only so many takes on the Adoration of the Magi you can see before they start to lose their luster. The collection of Goya paintings in the Prado is not to be missed though.  We were also lucky to catch a military exercise performed on horse back during our visit to Palacio Real, the Royal Palace.

Military exercise in the courtyard of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace)
From Madrid

Midway though our time in Madrid we took one day trip to Toledo, which is about a half an hour train ride from Madrid. There has been a settlement in Toledo since before Roman times, but most of the current buildings date from the Middle Ages. After having successfully navigated the similarly labyrinthine streets of Sienna, Italy, I was surprised to find myself completely lost in Toledo almost immediately.  Unlike Sienna, the streets do not all orient towards a main square. But the streets are quite pleasant to stroll on and we eventually found our way to the cathedral where Brian took some forbidden photos of some amazing sculpture and wood carvings in the choir area.   

View of Toledo
From Toledo

Detail from the Cathedral
From Toledo

We arrived by plane in Marrakech, Morocco today and will be in the country for two weeks, making our way from Marrakech to the northern part of the country and back to Spain via ferry. So stay tuned for our posts on Morocco and Spain Part II: Andalucia and Catalonia. 

From Madrid

More Photos
Madrid Photos
Toledo Photos