Hola Madrid!

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Sep 15, 2011

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Flag of Spain  , Madrid,
Friday, August 5, 2011

With so many random people getting on and off the bus throughout the night, I wanted to be extra careful with my possessions. I kept my backpack between my feet and my hands on my purse throughout the entire ride and this made the arduous journey even more uncomfortable.  This would certainly be the first and last trip I ever take with Eurolines but I was really in no position to complain.  I had just spent an amazing week in the south of France and now I was off to Spain, the land of sangrias, tapas, and siestas!  At 1:30pm, I finally arrived in Madrid and quickly took the metro to the hotel to meet up with L and her two sisters.  I was worried that they were bored out of their minds waiting for me but they were already practicing the art of the 'siesta'!  After I took a much needed shower, we set off for the city centre to check out the area that over 6 million people call home.  When we got out of the Sol metro station, we quickly realized that Madrid is one big city.  Even though it was regular work day, there were people everywhere.  Our eyes grew wider as we walked past the multiple storey high street favourites like Zara and H&M.  With no intention of actually doing any sightseeing on the first day, we unanimously decided that it was best if we split up and "window shop" before meeting up at the mounted statue in Puerta del Sol, one of the main squares in the city.  

Unfortunately, we didn't get the memo that there would be an organized protest at the exact same spot later that evening.  The police blocked off all access to the square and L & I were convinced that it would be next to impossible to find her sisters since the streets were filled with curious onlookers and none of us had a working cell phone.  Just as we were about to give up our search, we spotted one of them!  I guess it helped that there weren't too many Asians in the crowd!  We walked away from the touristy area to the La Latina neighborhood known for its excellent tapas bars.  My Tripadvisor research led us to Casa Lucas, an unassuming bar with about 8 tables and a simple one page menu.  Apparently, arriving at 9:30pm was still too early for dinner because the place was somewhat empty.  We were so excited to order a pitcher of sangria since it is THE drink to have in Spain!  You can imagine the look of horror on our faces when our server told us that they didn't have sangria.   She could sense the panic in our eyes so she explained that they served a drink called tinto de verano (one part red wine, one part carbonated light lemonade) which was very similar to sangria.  I later found out that the reason why most traditional tapas bars don't serve sangria is because the locals would never order it at a bar in the first place!  The whole concept behind sangria is to take cheap undrinkable wine, water it down, sweeten it, add some fruit and ice, and voila...  a house party drink that goes down easy and gets everyone drunk without breaking the bank.  No local would ever pay good money for sangria at a bar except for, of course, tourists!  After our collective sigh of relief, we happily ordered some raciones (larger portioned tapas) and a grilled pork pinchos calientes (hot tapa) to share.  The food was simply divine.  Casa Lucas clearly set the bar too high because it would eventually prove to be one of the best meals we enjoyed during our 2 weeks in Spain.

The next morning, we visited the Palacio Real de Madrid, the largest palace in Europe covering over 1,450,000 sq ft and 2800 rooms.  The palace is only used for state ceremonies as the current King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family reside in a much smaller palace just outside of the city.  With temperatures in the high 30s, we decided to beat the heat and people watch in El Retiro Park for the afternoon.  We couldn't believe how many people were willing to pay to take pictures with street performers!  We spent the next day in Toledo, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Spain about an hour bus ride from Madrid.  Its charm definitely warrants a day trip from Madrid but beware of the scorching temperatures since it is on top of a hill.  Our "quick" lunch stop turned into a 3 hour affair because we didn't want to deal with the 40+ degree sunshine outside.  You can't visit Spain without experiencing some authentic flamenco dancing so we stopped by Torres Bermejas, a traditional flamenco restaurant.  The two hour show was very entertaining especially when the lone male dancer tried to include a Chippendale-esque twist to his routine.  Next stop: paella and beach time in Valencia!
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