Iwan2Go went...to Madrid

Aug 12th, 2019, 09:28 AM
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Iwan2Go went...to Madrid

In 2008 my husband and I went to Spain on one of our first European vacations. We spent only four nights in Madrid and always wanted to return, so when our adult son suggested this trip, six nights in Madrid and one in Paris, we were all in. We left Los Angeles on April 24th and returned on June 1st.

Our flight from LAX to Paris on Air France was uneventful, and we made the connection to Madrid at CDG without any problems. We chose to return to the same hotel, the Catalonia Las Cortes in the Barrio de Las Letras, not far from Plaza Santa Ana and very close to the three main art museums in Madrid. https://www.cataloniahotels.com/en/h...nia-las-cortes I had emailed ahead and asked for the same room on an upper floor – high enough to see over the rooftops, light and bright, separate tub and shower. When we arrived, we were given rooms on the first floor facing the street behind – no, please, move us - no view, too dark. They were happy to accommodate our wishes, and we moved up the next morning, to the same room we’d loved in 2008. Downstairs, the hotel has a small snack area (included in your stay) with sandwiches, soup, fruit – a perfect light dinner before crashing.

The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast (a wide array of buffet choices plus cooked to order options), we walked to the Museo Thysssen-Bornemisza to pick up the Paseo del Arte tickets I’d ordered at home. These allow faster access and a discount entry to three museums: The Thyssen, the Prado, and the Reina Sofia. However, they must be redeemed at the museum where the online purchase was made. I had read that it would be easier to do so at the Thyssen, so that’s what we did. (Note: The Pass certainly did allow a shorter ticket line, but we still had to wait in the Security line, which the following day at the Prado was quite long. Still, I’d get the pass again).

The collection at the Thyssen was amazing, with art from the 13thcentury to the 20th, but we were particularly interested in their Impressionist collection, including pieces by Gauguin, van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne… We spent several hours there.

Ernest Kirchner, The Loam Pit

Saint Mark, 1501, attributed to Felipe de Borgona

I’d bookmarked restaurants all around the city, with an eye for those with vegetarian options for our son. Our first restaurant, a small place not far from the Thyssen and Prado, was a winner: Cacao Restobar, on Calle de Moratin. Our waiter was darling, and excited about introducing us to Venezuelan cuisine. https://cacaomadrid.es/es We shared a sweet corn cake with cheese melted inside (OMG), fried plantains with a sprinking of cheese, and several arepas, which are a sort of corn bread pancake, split and filled with your choice of chicken, shredded beef, etc. Looks like the total was around $60, and it was excellent!

Cacao Restobar - SOOOOO good.

We went back to relax at the hotel, then walked to my favorite museum of the trip, the Sorolla.

I had never heard of Joaquin Sorolla until our son copied one of his self portraits. He was a Spanish Impressionist, and his lovely home is now a museum. - Museo Sorolla - Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte The front gardens buffer the house from the noisy street, and paintings hang high on the walls of his airy studio. An Andalusian courtyard in the center has a lovely room with ceramics filling the walls, and Sorolla decorated the dining room with a colorful frieze of garlands of fruit and portraits of his wife and daughters. It is absolutely not to be missed, IMHO, and we were there for at least an hour.

The front garden at the Sorolla

We left the Sorolla to catch the Metro (now it’s about 5:00). Wowsers, that thing was PACKED. I mean, some of the people by the doors looked like starfish clinging to the sides of the train. We were just in awe (also, laughing hysterically). OK, so now what, do we walk back almost two miles to the hotel? Naw, we waited until the next train and squeezed ourselves into it (after making sure my purse was zipped and held tight against my body).

On the way home, our son suggested stopping for a drink. It’s interesting how people can introduce you to new experiences that you discover you love. When my husband and I travel alone, we don’t particularly do that, but we thought, that sounds like fun! We ducked into a vermouth bar on the Calle Gran Via named The Gran Clavel – and stopping for vermouth became our new favorite thing to do. Our new haunt had a sinuous upholstered banquette running along one side, with tiny tables and barrel-shaped slipper chairs, low to the ground, cradling you. I had a glass of white wine and they tried two vermouths: 61 Cuatro Rayas (delicious and not sweet) and a Lazuesta (a bit sweeter, and I got that one the next time). We just sat, nibbled on some chips and chilled. https://granclavel.com/en/wine-bar/

And moved on to dinner! at Vi Cool, very close to our hotel. It was hopping. We had Burrata salad, pizza, and escalivada, which I think are oven roasted vegetables, with garlic and parsley. Dessert was chocolate “textures” and burnt Catalonian cream with tangerine sorbet and a biscuit, two glasses of wine, and water, and the total was $100.00. Now, off to bed, the Prado calls the next day.

“Chocolate textures” at Vi Cool - yum

Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 11:13 AM
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Thanks for posting. We love Madrid .
danon is online now  
Aug 12th, 2019, 09:35 PM
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Great pictures! Thanks for sharing!
ninasimon is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 11:30 PM
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my friends are traveling to Madrid in a couple of weeks, I will make sure to recommend Cacao Restobar! Thanks for the report.
emily_jablon is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 04:50 AM
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Thanks for the report! We were in Madrid in 2017 and plan to return in 2021. Cacao Restobar was on our short list but we never made it there. We’ll be sure to try it when we return.
indyhiker is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 02:56 PM
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Day two: The Prado and a Food Tour

We woke up refreshed the following morning and walked to the Prado. We particularly wanted to see Hieronymus Bosch’s giant painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (a bit creepy but fascinating), and of course the Spanish masters: Velasquez, Goya, Zurbaran, El Greco. It is certainly one of the great museums of the world.

Leaving the museum and wanting a light lunch, we decided to walk a mile or so to see the Mercado de San Miguel, a large covered public market with stalls selling tapas, desserts, and drinks not far from the Plaza Major. It was really, really crowded, and my husband preferred a sit-down lunch, so he had a sandwich at a forgettable café in front of the market while we had a drink, then walked into the Mercado to quickly get a few tapas. Perhaps another time or day would be better – it was interesting to see once, but I wouldn’t go back. We older folks were tired by now and walked back for a nap, while our son went to the Palacio de Gaviria to see a Tamara de Lempicka exhibit, which he enjoyed.

And that night we did one of our favorite things to do in a new city: take a food tour. This one, entitled Tapas, Taverns and History was by Devour Madrid, and did not disappoint! We were part of a friendly small group, perhaps ten people, from the US, Australia, and Scotland. https://madridfoodtour.com/tours/tou...-history-tour/ We met our guide not far from the Plaza Major, and went to four different tapas establishments, each with a particular focus.

The first (Casa Labra) specialized in bacalao (cod) croquettes (with something veg for our son); the second (Meson del Champinon) in these amazing green peppers as well as mushrooms with chorizio. These were a bit tricky but fun to eat, with toothpicks on two sides of the overflowing hot mushroom caps – you took one toothpick in each hand and hoisted it into your mouth on one swoop. Our third stop was at La Casa del Abuelo for sizzling shrimp, the delicious sauce scooped up with bread. They even served some of the patrons through an open window, pretty funny.

To digress for a moment: One of the places I’d read about prior to the trip was Casa Toni, about which our son (Tony) said – we gotta go there - it sounds great, and it’s named after me. Serendipity! Our last stop was….Casa Toni (no website link). We all crowded around a wooden table upstairs and ate one thing after another – I cannot remember all the selections – washed down with beer and wine. The entire night was such a convivial, relaxing, interesting event, and we discovered places we never would have known on our own.

As we went from place to place, we stopped and our guide David gave us historical information and tips. We walked by the Royal Palace, Plaza Major – all over the historical center of the city. At one of the places, the Plaza de Ramales, David explained that some of the squares were originally the sites of churches.Joseph Bonaparte ordered the destruction of this one, Iglesia de San Juanito, to open up a pocket of fresh air in the then-crowded streets; the outline of the church can still be traced within the plaza by observing the differences in the stones laid into the ground. It is believed Velázquez was buried in the church (his picture is a plaque in the square).

Plaza de Ramales

We finished our tour not far from our hotel, and went to bed late, knowing that the next day we’d need to be up early to take the train to Toledo.

Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 03:44 PM
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Loving your report. We did a similar tour in Sevilla with Devour and had so much fun. We met up with another of the people on the tour while we were all in Madrid later that week and put together our own tapas tour at some historical taverns. Spain just seems to inspire festivity.
indyhiker is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 04:31 PM
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Day three: Toledo!

Late the prior afternoon, I thought, we should probably book one of those trains tomorrow to Toledo. Duh! I looked at the availability and realized – they can fill up much faster than I’d anticipated. We ran into some glitches (credit card), but luckily someone at the hotel desk could help us and we were able to get them, and we hot footed it to our food tour. Long story short: Get the train tickets ahead of time, as it’s a popular side trip.

The journey is only about 30 minutes and very comfortable, and when we arrived – there it was, waaaay up there on the hill, just like the pictures. Looked like there were two options to hike up there; one put you close to the Alcazar, while the other seemed to be more out of the way. We wanted to start our visit with the cathedral, so we chose the former. Crossed the river, took a photo, saw this staircase, and started up. It’s one of those that I call “stopping for the view” staircases. Ahem. Made it up, walked past lots of stores displaying swords, and read that Toledo steel is famous – Hannibal chose them for his army. Who knew (well, I didn’t, for one, but now I do).

Toledo steel

We got tickets across the street for the cathedral (it got busy later), and walked inside. Wow. There was a beautiful retablo, with painted wooden sculptures; the choir loft; gold, gold everywhere, paintings, some by El Greco; vestments of cloth and gold embroidery. I cannot begin to describe it, other than to say, It Is AMAZING, one of those magical places where you think to yourself, This is an Embarassment of Riches.

Choir stalls


Thank goodness for the printed guide, because as I wandered it mentioned “the Giant”, and I turned to find this huge wall painting of St. Christopher. I think that was one of my favorite things in the whole building. As I recall (and I cannot find online confirmation, but I think it’s what was written), the guide told the story something like this: St Christopher offered his services to people in crossing a river (you can see the fish and water at his feet). A child came to cross, and as they moved forward, his burden became heavier and heavier. Then Christopher realized he was carrying the Christ, with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

St Christopher (note the lady at the base for scale).

You can correct me if I’m wrong (though I love the story anyway, so I hope I’m not!). For me, it was one of the most moving places on earth, and I added it to my personal short list (Venice’s San Marco, St. Chappelle, and le Mont St. Michel) of those places.
Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 04:41 PM
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We walked from there to the Monastery of San Joan de los Reyes, the Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca, and then sat on a park bench to take in the views for a moment.

Monastery cloister gardens

A quick look into the Museo del Greco (the primary paintings are of the twelve Apostles, and the building and gardens are lovely). By now, we were hungry and walked across town for lunch.

Gardens at El Greco museum

I’d bookmarked Clandestina de las Tendillas restaurant and oh boy, was that a good bookmark. Inicio We arrived before they even opened and were seated at a lovely table in the garden (when we left it was packed – so reserve if you want to go there).

When we sat down, our son said that he had something to say: in June it would be our Fiftieth Anniversary, and two of my siblings had given him some money for a special surprise treat on the trip. Wow – cool! We ordered glasses of sparkling wine and started to order. Patatas bravas, “Cottage cheese and pear ravioli, leeks and almond cream with mushroom ash” (amazing!!!), lemon meringue tarte, chocolate ganache and ice cream, coffee. He gave me the slip so I could remember what we were served, and the total for three of us was only 86E. Restful surroundings, shaded under the tree, white tablecloths, and the thoughtfulness of our family – oh my, it was a beautiful, beautiful meal.

The most amazing ravioli I have ever eaten!

Lemon meringue pie

Chocolate dessert!

We walked back toward the train, this time going the other direction, and I was glad we’d taken the stairway halfway to heaven instead of this long, drawn out walk.

The staircase and Alcazar - beautiful Toledo

Trained back and stopped for some vermouth, where we decided to use more of my siblings’ gift and booked a flamenco show. OK, so the name of the flamenco place was “Las Carboneras”. There was another place just down the street with a very similar name, and we leisurely walked over there. To discover, ah no, your place is over past the Plaza Major, a little over a half mile away. Ooops. Power walked over just in time, and saw an hour-long show. The musicians and dancers were very good, and I think that seeing it once in Spain was well worth it, but I do not feel the need to see another.

On the way home we made a pit stop for churros and hot chocolate at St. Gines Chocolateria, then home to our hotel and bed.

Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 06:16 PM
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Enjoying your TR! Looking forward to more. I love Spain.
joannyc is online now  
Aug 13th, 2019, 06:54 PM
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Happy Anniversary. Enjoying your report and lovely pictures.
Paqngo is online now  
Aug 14th, 2019, 11:16 AM
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I am loving this trip report! DH and I are going in less than two months, just booked our train tickets to Toledo this week. Everything you're writing about are things I've thought would be interesting to do (flamenco, tapas tour), so I'll be following this thread closely!
Flwrhead is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 06:43 PM
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Oh, thanks so much for saying you’re reading this and it’s helping! Sometimes you throw something out into the ether and think, huh... So I do appreciate it!
Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 06:52 PM
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Day four: The Royal Palace

We bought tickets online for the Royal Palace, with a late morning entry time (got the tickets a day or two before, and that was the earliest time available). We decided to try to see the Temple of Debod first and walked about 1.5 miles, past some beautiful buildings and through two lovely parks. There was a short line to enter the temple, but unfortunately it did not move quickly – and the time for our Palace entry was closing in – so we left. It looked very interesting; maybe another time.

Park near the Palace

Walking to the Temple of Debod

Over to the palace. Well. There was quite a line, and again, it was the security line. It took about a half hour to be processed. However, the line to get the tickets themselves hardly moved at all! So, word to the wise, get your tickets online – and allow yourself extra time to get through security.

Once inside, we marveled at the staircase, the throne room, a beautiful room with walls of porcelain, and – I caught my breath in awe – a room with walls entirely embroidered. I took a photo and was immediately scolded by a guard. Didn’t realize you couldn’t do that! But here it is!!! Can you imagine, the time and artistry to embroider a whole room? Wowsers.

A close up of the embroidery

We cut our visit slightly short in order to make our lunch date at an Italian restaurant I’d read about, Davanti. It was described as a restaurant plus market, which sounded odd, but the reviews were so good we gave it a go. Oh my, was it worth going! https://davanti-food-market.negocio.site We arrived at opening and were greeted by the owner, who was gracious enough to speak to us in a mix of Spanish and English. We sat on a long banquette against the wall, and to one side were shelves with foodstuffs (which I presume someone purchases, though we didn’t see anyone do that). The place filled very quickly.

We each had a glass of wine, bruschetta, salad with pear and gorgonzola, gnocchi, ravioli with mushrooms and truffles, tagliatelle, dessert, coffee, grappa…total was 118E - well worth it, one of the best meals of the trip.

The coolest thing was the way they added the cheese to the pasta. There were these two big half-height wheels of cheese on the counter, and I wondered – what are those for? When our pasta dishes came out, the waiter poured the hot pasta into the cut wheel, tossed it up a few times, and presto-chango, parmesan on your pasta! It was culinary theatre and we loved it. Great, friendly, casual, and delicious, and we were SO glad we’d reserved it.

In goes the hot pasta!

While our son went to the Caixa Forum for the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit, we wandered around, did a little shopping, and relaxed. In the late afternoon (this was a Sunday) we all walked over to the Parque de El Retiro, where families were relaxing, walking, boating, having fun. We were peckish but had no specific place in mind, so stopped at a small outdoor place near the park, La Plateria Bar Restaurante on Calle Moratin, for a light meal. The waiters were very nice (though running off their feet), the food was meh, but it was lovely to sit outside! Walked back and to sleep.

Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 15th, 2019, 02:32 AM
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Am collecting Spain reports, hope to get there one day..
Enjoying yours
Adelaidean is online now  
Aug 15th, 2019, 10:41 AM
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Day Five: The Reina Sofia

We set out for the Reina Sofia, a walk of only about a half mile, after breakfast. The museum’s collections include modern art from the turn of the last century through Postmodernity, and one of the most moving pieces is Picasso’s Guernica. Most of you are familiar with the story, but for those who are not: Guernica was regarded as the northern bastion of the Republican resistance movement (against the Nationalists and Franco) during the Spanish Civil War. In 1937, Germany, which supported the Nationalists, used the war as an opportunity to test out new weapons and tactics, and bombed the city for two hours.

There is an excellent online explanation on the website of the museum. As it says, “Guernica became a political symbol, to such a degree that it appears as an emblem in any episode of violence or the vulnerability of civilians”. The canvas is enormous, and there is a reverent silence in the room as people absorb the tragedy.

We stayed for several hours, as the collections are quite extensive. At one point I rested in the lovely, quiet garden that sits in the middle.

We walked close by to a small place for a quick lunch of “tigelleria”, which are small, round breads with fillings (including vegetarian options). They also had pizzas and salads. It was a cute, informal place and fine for a quick bite, but I wouldn’t seek it out again, particularly. Menu | Bresca

As it was our last day in Madrid, our son accompanied me to do some shopping. Socks, earrings, and books for the grandchildren, small momentos for our children. We wandered through the Plaza Major and there on the corner was a nougat candy store. I’d never had torrons (almond nougat), but hey mister am I gonna look for them again.


There was a young man handing out samples and I tried some. Oh wow – I’d never tasted anything like that before - we’re not talking my childhood fav, Big Hunk (which is probably responsible for more dental work than anything in the ‘50s and ‘60s - other than Bit o’Honey, I suppose). These were creamy, full of flavor, simply amazing. When one sample person switched places and went into the back to restock, I hit up the other one (“Oh wow, that looks good! May I try one?”). In my defense, I did buy about six small bars and two humongous ones and had to divide them between two suitcases to equalize the weight. And I do not regret it! I am still hoarding one now. https://www.vicens.com/en/ The stores are all over Madrid, so now you know.

Dropped off the bags of gifts and went off the Gran Clavel for our last vermouth run, our son went to a bookstore and to see the Muslim Walls of Madrid, and we rendezvoused for dinner at El Sur de Huertas, also near our hotel (this hotel location is great, as you can see). https://www.facebook.com/Elsurdehuertas/ It was a simple place, but the food was not that great. We each had the ravioli and a salad, and with one glass of wine and two waters the total was 70E ($78). Wouldn’t go back.

We finished up the evening walking around and bidding farewell to Madrid. It’s a beautiful city with so many things to see, and a great central location for side trips and connections to Barcelona and Seville. The Spanish people are SO welcoming. Packed up for our one night in Paris. We’ll be back, Espana!

Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 15th, 2019, 11:30 AM
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Thank you for the interesting report..
Too bad manny visitors to Madrid don’t have the time to explore parts of Retiro and the
diistrict north of the park which is , IMO, the most beautiful and elegant part of the city.
Perhaps you saw it on a previous visit, or will in the future.
danon is online now  
Aug 15th, 2019, 11:35 AM
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We did do some walking near the Sorolla; is that near the area you are referring to? I would love to have your suggestions for other places to explore, as I imagine that we will return.
Iwan2go is offline  
Aug 15th, 2019, 11:49 AM
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It is a good size wealthy neighbourhood just north of park Retiro (called Salamanca ) known for
upscale stores, numerous restaurants, leafy streets and boutique hotels. - south
east of Sorolla location.
We only had a glimpse of the are on our first visit to the city , now we always stay there.

danon is online now  
Aug 15th, 2019, 01:16 PM
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Thanks so much, Iwan2go, really enjoyed your report.
dreamon is offline  

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