THE next day, running on four hours of sleep, we started the walk to Gran Via determined to get everything checked off our list.
We did some browsing and gave in to some retail therapy. Pardon me for digressing. Madrid does cater to your fancy if you have a yearning to shop. Whether at the local flea market, or for a more luxurious treat, at the Salamanca district, you can easily “ka-ching” your day away!
The rest of the day we conquered the city with all the energy my caffeinated body could muster. We walked around Plaza Isabel, Teatro Real, the Royal Palace, Catedral de la Almudena and Plaza Mayor. Some might not necessarily agree, but I think next to Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor is the epicenter of Madrid’s beat. It’s a great place to mingle, talk to the locals, and people watch. So when in Madrid, do as Madrileños do. After a guilt-free lunch of cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig), we found a comfortable spot at Plaza Mayor with a good vantage point providing a panoramic view. Coffee in one hand and churros in the other, it was downright nirvana.
We made one more stop for the day before succumbing to the call of happy hour. Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid, soccer icons and demigods (if you live in Madrid). They have the statistics to back up their iconic status, but lest I want to be stoned by other Champions League soccer fans, I will scale down the superlatives.
With all the walking, undoubtedly we deserved a proper Madrid meal. We picked Sergi Arola’s Vi Cool on Calle de las Huertas. Arola is one of the beloved chefs in Spain. Described as rebellious and imaginative, this Catalan born chef has been mentored by the great Ferran Adrià (considered one of the best chefs in the world). Go ahead. Fact check and Google away. Fried baby squid sandwich, fried prawns and curry, sea bass ceviche, burrata cheese salad, octopus carpaccio with fennel…these are just half of what we ordered. We called it a night after we wiped our plates clean and had enough vino before crossing over to incoherence.
Last full day in Madrid was equally packed. Determined to be in the same breathing zone with Rafael Nadal, we made our way to Caja Magica for the Madrid Open. We cheered, oohed and aahed, but not for dear Rafa, but for an American tennis player named Alison Riske. We were lucky to get in the tennis arena at the last minute, but not that lucky...
Disappointment quickly dissipated when our Uber driver picked us up in a Tesla! Of course we are all about being environmentally friendly, but riding a Tesla with a driver who looks like he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue doesn’t hurt one bit. Vamonos Alejandro!
Still riding on adrenaline, we spent the afternoon at Plaza de Toros. There was no bullfight that day, so we decided to go to the museum, next to the arena. The audio documentary was very informative and graphic. I was both fascinated and disturbed with this Spanish pastime. I get the tradition and all the pomp and circumstance (and no disrespect), but can there be at least a panic button for the matador (and the bull for that matter) before sharp objects fly about! If your day job requires you to stop by a chapel (strategically located adjacent to the bullring) for potentially your last rite, it is somewhat a sign that the odds are stacked against you.
Shaking off the image of blood and gore, we unanimously agreed to go back to our neighborhood for some retail gratification. Luckily, siesta was over and the shops reopened to resume business. We spent a good hour shopping at Calzados Lobo - one of the oldest distributors of espadrilles (their business goes way back to 1897). Ahhh, shoe shopping...happy place!
Exhausted and famished, we sought refuge back at Mercado San Miguel. Numerous tapas and rounds of sangria later, we called it a night as we joined the other night owls reveling in the street. We saw chic and sharp 80-year-old Madrileños having their vino or coffee, showing the same enthusiasm and energy as the eight-year-olds devouring their churros.
Oh Madrid, your sweetness and spunk enamored me! Do I dare close my eyes and miss la vida?
Our flight back home came too soon. Siesta awaited...This time I fell into the temptation.