Between dropping off our rental car, a 3 hour flight and losing an hour we spent the majority of the day getting to Madrid but we were rewarded with beautiful sunshine and finally some warm weather! We had dinner in Plaza Santa Ana and reveled in an enjoyable summer evening. The next day we of course had to start our journey in Madrid with another free walking tour which started in Puerto del Sol which is a huge square where many demonstrations are held and which has some interesting statues including the famous Bear with the Strawberry Tree (although strawberries don’t grow on trees) and the point where all major streets converge to in Spain.
Our tour guide showed us the oldest hotel in Spain and how you can tell whether a business has been in Madrid for longer than 100 years (it has a plaque in the street outside) but the coolest old business she showed us was the oldest restaurant in the world, Casa Botin which opened in 1725. Hemmingway, Dickens and even Nancy Reagan have all eaten there. The best part was that we were able to go inside the restaurant which has three levels of dining and a super creepy old wine cellar.
We also went to Plaza Mayor which is celebrating it’s 400th year this year so they were setting up for a large concert/festival as one of ways to celebrate the anniversary. We of course also had to view the Madrid Cathedral which is extremely new for a European capital cathedral at only 24 years old (there were some problems with funding and issues with the arch bishop of Toledo when the capital was moved to Madrid so it took a long time to build). The cathedral is right across from the palace so we also got a good view of the outside.
Our tour guide told us ‘in Spain we live to eat’ so in the afternoon we tried to experience that as much as possible. We started by going to a very local bar which is loved by many (our tour guide told us that you can tell a place is good and local if the average age of the clientele is over 60 and there are lots of napkins and toothpicks on the floor). There we had the tapa special which was fried cod and their Vino Tinto. Next we went over to Mercado San Miguel which is a little more touristy but we were able to try tons of tapas by easily walking around the little market. We had olives with cheese, meat, and sun-dried tomatoes, red sangria, shrimp with fruit, caba, burrata with bread and prosciutto, vegetable paella and passion fruit yogurt. To top it all off we walked over to the famous churro and hot chocolate place San Gines and split the delicious dessert. Afterwards we had to participate in another old Spanish tradition – the siesta.