Tag Archives: Madrid

On the road to Arboleas

On the road to Arboleas

It’s almost a five hour drive from Madrid to Arboleas. The highways are well taken care of, and the best thing of all is that people don’t hang out in the left hand lane driving under the speed limit. No road hogs here! Pass and shift back to the right hand lane, people. A lesson I wish more people here in the States would learn…

We decided to stop at a village to get something to eat, but unfortunately we weren’t thinking about the time and what might be open. I wish I could remember what the name of this town was, but I don’t recall now. This was a small village, and we honestly didn’t even see a bar or restaurant. What we did happen across was this: people walking along the main road…

Village

Wait! What’s that beyond that car on the right??

Is that a pony???

Pony

A pony??

Yes. It’s definitely a pony. How weird. Walking a dog? Sure. Walking a pony? Kind of strange. We continue on down the street and then we see THIS:

More ponies

More ponies??

Okay, are we seeing things or is there a grown man riding that pony straight ahead??

Man riding pony

YeeHaw!

The next thing that happened was the man fell off the pony and the other guy with the white horse laughed his head off. It was the funniest thing we’d seen yet. So odd. Maybe they were having some sort of equine festival or something, we had no idea; but I was glad we passed through that little village and got to see that bit of silliness!

We left the village and got back on the highway. We needed to find somewhere to eat because we were going to start getting cranky if we didn’t get some food and coffee soon!

Alternative energy is a big deal in Spain. So we passed fields of solar panels and traditional looking windmills and more modern wind turbines.

Solar panels

Fields of solar panels

Windmills

Don Quixote where are you??

Turbines

Wind turbines

Stomachs growling, we stopped at this gas station to get something to eat. Don’t judge, now, because in Spain a gas station is typically a great place to eat! It is not like stopping at the Quickie Mart for a microwave burrito here in the US. This place was run by an old Spanish guy who at first seemed a little peeved at us — he started impatiently rattling off all the bocadillo options and Curt interrupted him and said, “Dos bocadillos jamon y queso, y dos cafes con leche.” and then the man was quite friendly. I guess he was happy to hear our attempts at Spanish!

When you order a coffee in Spain, even at a gas station, the beans are ground right then and they pull a fresh espresso for you. There is no drip coffee carafe hanging around for hours. This is the real thing, people, and I’m not talking Coca Cola!

While the owner of this fine establishment was making our coffee and sandwiches, Curt chit chatted with him, and I went to the ladies room. I knew we were in rural Spain when I heard chickens clucking outside the open bathroom window. Look at the cool old-timey toilet tank and flusher!

Toilet tank

A pull chain flusher!

We felt much better after our late lunch, and got back on the road after bidding adios to the owner of the gas station and his family who were eating their own meal at an adjacent table.

The closer we get to Arboleas, the more scenic the drive. There are more mountains, and it gets a bit greener.

Mountains

It’s interesting to see this road sign. Morocco is fairly close, and there is still a lot of Moorish influence in Spain, so that explains the Arabic. There are only a couple of signs in Arabic along the way, which is a good thing otherwise we would’ve been totally lost!

Arabic Road sign

Near Huercal-Overa

Near Huercal-Overa

The last picture was about half an hour from Arboleas. It was too dark to take a picture once we got in town. We checked in to the Hostal Meson which is only about a 5 minutes walk from our house. Although dark, the night was still young… we were going to have to get settled and then think about dinner.

 

An evening out in Madrid

An evening out in Madrid

Madrid is such a beautiful city, and we had only explored a tiny portion of it, so we decided to take a walk east of the Hotel Victoria and see what we could see. We walked to the Museo del Prado, one of the most famous museums in all of Europe. It houses the largest collection of Spanish art, including some of the best works by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya.

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado

When we got to the Prado, there was a HUGE line that literally wrapped around the building! We thought that this was a line to see one of the temporary exhibits or something, but it was just a huge line of people waiting to get into the museum for FREE. (Yay for free stuff!) It turns out that the Prado museum is free to enter from 6 pm to 8 pm Monday through Saturday and from 5 pm to 8 pm on Sundays. We had no idea, but it saved us from spending the 10 euros per ticket!

After we browsed around all of the paintings and sculptures in the Prado, we walked over to the Cheuca neighborhood to check out El Tigre, which is a bar well known for generous servings of tapas provided with each round of drinks. El Tigre is located at Calle de las Infantas, 30. This is a fairly small street, and at first we weren’t sure if this was a “nice” neighborhood or not, but it actually seemed to be fine in the end. On our way over we did pass by a small plaza that looked like it was the hangout for neighborhood teenagers… and I mean ALL the neighborhood teenagers! There were a lot of people hanging out there!

El Tigre, Madrid

El Tigre for tapas!

When we walked in, the place was fairly crowded. It is a narrow space, with a small entry area and then a long bar directly on the right. We wanted to scope it out and then decide where to plant ourselves, so we squeezed through the crowd past the bar. Beyond that there was a sort of “hallway” with long, narrow, wooden bar tops attached to either side of this narrow room. No chairs here. Just sidle up to the tabletop and someone will come take your order. It used to be customary to get free tapas with any drink all over Spain, but this is more of a rarity now, so we were really interested to check out El Tigre and see what this was all about. We ordered a beer and a sangria (6 euros each for larges) and this is what we got:

Tapas

Yum! Tapas!

It got more and more crowded as time passed. People were really friendly and seemed to enjoy chit-chatting, especially when they found out we were Americans and from Texas. (yeehaww!) A lot of university students hang out a El Tigre because, as some of them told us, they are almost always broke and with free tapas you can get a decent meal. Some nice girls took a picture of us.

Us at El Tigre

On the way out we were baffled because someone had just come in with a BABY. Curt had to help hold the door open for them to get their stroller back down the steps and out the door. That was pretty weird because it wasn’t like they just popped round the corner and *poof* found themselves in the middle of a bar. They had to get that stroller in the door and up a few steps to end up in the entry area. Ah well… who knows what those people were thinking? At least I’m guessing they didn’t stay long…

All we knew was that we we had a great time at El Tigre. The people were friendly and the food was decent. It was a fun place to hang out, and we would definitely go back again!

Madrid at night was really pretty! The walk back to the Hotel Victoria was nice.

Madrid at night

Madrid at night

Madrid

Gran Via

Madrid after dark

Metropolis Building

Eating in Madrid

Eating in Madrid

Going straight to the Plaza Mayor after checking in to our hotel when we arrive in Madrid seems to have become a bit of a tradition (okay, okay, so we were only on our second trip, but maybe I should say we were starting a tradition), so we walked on over and had a seat at one of the tables outside the same restaurant where we ate at last time.

Cerveceria Plaza Mayor

We ordered two bocadillos jamon y queso and two coffees. This is a really “simple” meal, but so awesome! The ham is paper thin and slightly fatty. It’s hard to describe just how good the ham is, but trust me — it’s amazing! The bread is perfectly crispy on the outside and just soft enough in the middle and the Manchego cheese has this distinct “sheepy” flavor. It’s a mix of being creamy yet sharp at the same time. It makes me hungry just remembering about it!!

Bocadillo Plaza Mayor

Enjoying a bocadillo at the Plaza Mayor

Yum! Bocadillos and coffee!

You’ll notice that the Plaza Mayor was not anywhere near as crowded as it was when we were here in September. That is because it was a whole lot colder. As the sun was going down it was getting downright chilly!

We walked around a bit more and saw this interesting fella. This was at a tapas bar window, but we weren’t brave enough to try out this dish!

Madrid Octopus

Maybe next time…

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Our room at the Hotel Victoria was on the top floor and was interesting because it was set into the roof line and had a different sort of layout than you would expect. It was modern and clean, and while the bed was not anywhere as comfortable as my dreamy cloud bed at home, it was just fine.

Hotel Victoria

Hotel Victoria room

To look out of those windows beyond the desk, we actually had to stand on a chair, but it was nice at night because we just left the window open and although it was a little loud (what with the happy, singing Madrid partiers) the January night air was cool and made sleeping quite comfy.

Hotel Victoria views

Views over the rooftop

 

View Hotel Victoria

Out the window and looking down a side street from our room.

 

We went for a walk down that side street and this next picture is a view looking back at our hotel room. It’s the one at the top left with the window that we (ooops) left open.

View to Hotel Victoria room

See the top left dormer? That’s our room!

Off to Spain again!

Off to Spain again!

We arrived at Madrid’s Barajas airport. The last time we flew into the older part of the airport, but this time we arrived in the newer part, which is beautiful. A bit of history: The airport was originally built in 1927 and of course has gone through numerous remodels since then. This newest terminal was built in 2004, so it is quite new. The architecture is very attractive!

Madrid Barajas airport

Barajas airport

This time while in Madrid we decided to try out a different hotel. We really liked our stay at the Hotel Plaza Mayor last time, but just wanted to stay somewhere different. We picked the Hotel Victoria because it was located in what seemed to be an interesting side street very close to Puerta del Sol.

Across from Hotel Victoria

See what a cool side street?

There were all these awesome tiles decorating the exterior walls of shops and restaurants.

Beautiful tilework

So pretty!

…and it was right down the street from the Museo del Jamon!

Museo del Jamon

Remember? We went there on our last trip.

There were quite a few photo opps just within the block outside the Hotel Victoria. Here is Curt being oh-so-serious in front of another set of tiles. (We did NOT go to another bullfight, by the way. Once was enough for us, I think!)

Toro tilework in Madrid

So serious!!

 

Adios, Madrid!

Adios, Madrid!

…But first a quick dash into the Museo del Jamon (which by the way, is not a museum of the history and importance of ham in Spain, as we thought, but a restaurant!!) for a couple of bocadillos mixtos!

Museo del Jamon

…then back into the bowels of the parking garage to retrieve the car…

Whaaat?!? Why is this police car now blocking the exit to the garage as we are trying to leave?? Oh well, “we are in Spain”… so we open the bag of bocadillos and have lunch while we wait for the police to get back from the traffic accident…

Police car blocking garage exit

And now we are on our way to Albox and our stay at Casa Olivos!

Leaving Madrid

 

Windmills! But otherwise pretty barren.

 

Beautiful Madrid!

Beautiful Madrid!

Madrid Sol

The architecture in Madrid is awesome, and we enjoyed walking around and soaking it all up. There were lots and lots of people everywhere, especially at Puerta del Sol, but the bustling vibe is what made it even more interesting. The Puerta del Sol translates to Gate of the Sun. It gets its name because this was the location of the city’s eastern gate which let in the rising sun.

Madrid

This building above was just across the street from a Starbucks. Just to let you know, Starbucks is no big deal after having a coffee at the Plaza Mayor!

Sol

The statue above of Carlos III was in the Plaza del Sol.

Even the view from our hotel windows was fantastic. We looked out over a street in one direction and then out of the other window we could see a relief carving that was on a building next door.

Out the hotel window

Little plaza in front of Hotel Plaza Mayor

Looking to the right from the hotel window

Wall of adjacent building

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

Bullfighting is such a cultural tradition in Spain, and while I hate the thought of animal cruelty, we decided to go see a bullfight to experience this tradition first-hand. The Plaza de Toros in Ventas is a beautiful building! You can really see the Moorish influence in the architecture: amazing tile work and lots of arches throughout the entire arena.

Ventas is within Madrid and we were able to take the subway from Puerto del Sol to the Plaza de Toros. The day had been quite warm but as the sun went down and we sat outside waiting for the doors to open, it became very chilly. We sat on a bench and did more people watching. It was funny because we could spot the Americans instantly! We hoped that we weren’t so obvious!

The inside of the Plaza de Toros was pretty, but it was COLD and the seats were stone benches. I was only wearing a sundress and sweater, so I was freezing!

I have to say that we didn’t enjoy the actual bullfight because it really was brutal. The bull was just taunted and it was cruel. The highlight for me (I hate to say) was when one of the matadors got caught by the bull and was speared in the behind! I found myself rooting for the bull!

Note the hole in his pants!

 

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor, MadridDuring the Middle Ages, the Plaza Mayor was a market place outside the city walls; eventually it was made into a real square. There is a lot of history that goes along with this plaza. Its surrounding buildings used to be wooden and actually burned down and were rebuilt multiple times. The Plaza has been used for all sorts of festivities: from bullfights to soccer games to the crowning of kings! It was also the location of more gruesome activities such as executions during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Plaza Mayor is surrounded by beautiful red buildings. Apparently, after Franco was no longer in power, a vote was put to the city and the people were allowed to choose the color for the buildings. Some of the buildings also have really beautiful murals and there is a large statue of Felipe III in the center of the Plaza.

Along the perimeter there are many restaurants with patio seating and this is where we had bocadillos con jamon y queso, sangria, and a great cup of coffee.

Bocadillo!

This was  a fantastic spot for people watching! The Plaza Mayor is closed to traffic (there is parking underground.) It was fun to watch the tourists, and there were many street performers for our entertainment as well. Actually, I use the term “performers” loosely, because while there were some true entertainers, like these musicians:

Musicians, Plaza Mayor, Madrid

there were also some strange people dressed in costumes in hopes of having people pay for candid shots with them. Surprisingly enough, many tourists did pay to have a picture taken with the less than svelte Spiderman and the psychedelic cabrito.

Spidey at Plaza Mayor

Cabrito at Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor was packed with people, but it was a great place to sit back and relax…

Spiderman at Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Even Spiderman needed to take a load off

Cheers!

Cheers!

Seriously.

Not “Cheers” subtitled in Spanish, but an actual remake of Cheers with Spanish characters! Instead of Norm, there is a character named Blas who is greeted with a hearty “Blas!” as he enters. Sam is “Nico” and is a womanizing soccer player (as opposed to baseball player), and instead of the theme “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” it’s: “Dónde la gente se divierte” (Where people enjoy… or have a good time, I guess… I really need to learn Spanish!)

We were quite entertained by this strange show, but didn’t spend too much time watching it because we had Madrid to explore! We left our quaint room to see what Madrid had to offer.

Room 503

Hotel in Madrid

Hotel in Madrid

We checked in to the Hotel Plaza Mayor. We had an awesome room: the one on the top floor with the window facing straight out above the hotel entrance. The trickiest thing was the parking situation because the hotel stated that they had parking available for half the price of public parking. Little did we know that this was one parking space in a “preeevaht” garage and as the girl at the desk let us know, “Eeees berry cohmpleeecated.”

The complication she was talking about was how to find the private garage which was on another street and beneath a totally different building.

The actual complication was manuevering the car through this garage which had to have been dug out of the cellar of the building because no one in their right mind would have designed a parking garage with such tiny lanes. To make things more challenging there were supporting columns placed in what seemed to be total random fashion throughout the levels of the parking garage. The columns were knicked and had broken bits of concrete off their corners, so we knew it wasn’t just the “crazy Americans” who had a hard time in there. At least we didn’t crash into anything!

Madrid parking garage

That’s our rental: the dark car backed in to the spot. We decided to back it in while we had room so that leaving would be a simple straight shot out of the space.

Hola Madrid!

Hola Madrid!

After landing and gathering up our luggage (all carried on) we headed over to the rental car agency booth. In line in front of us was an interesting character: a muscle-bound American who was unhappy… cursing and dropping f-bombs… made me embarrassed to be thought of in the same cultural category. He was rude and annoying. The people behind the counter didn’t seem to notice too much, though. Maybe the Spanish really are as laid back as they say in all the guidebooks…

The drive from the Barajas airport to the center of Madrid was rather eventful. Actually we did not drive from the airport to the CENTER of Madrid exactly: we drove AROUND the entirety of Madrid proper and returned to the airport and THEN drove to the center. We laughed and said that when we later told people that we “drove all around Madrid” we REALLY drove AROUND Madrid.

Luckily we are easily amused.