I slowly drifted awake, gently deposited from one level of consciousness to another. The steady breathing of our roommates and the slit of light peeking through the wooden covers of the window allowed the first semblance of a feeling to emerge, not exactly happiness but nearer to comfort, escape. I was in Madrid, a new city, a new pocket of the world that I could claim. There were a lot of to-sees on our list today but not enough to stress my extra-sensitive nerves of late.
We slowly mulled in the murmur of the museum, breaking the silence to talk about the meaning of the paintings. Thankfully for us, students between the ages of 18-25 receive free entry, saving us 11€ on top of the 8€ saved from Reina Sofia the night before, though you still have to line up with everyone in the ticket line. Although it was a Friday, by 11PM, there were a lot of people milling about, including 2-3 private school groups. Unfortunately, the museum prohibited photos so you’ll just have to take a leap of faith that I went.
Afterwards, we searched again for a restaurant. This time we would have paella, we declared. Again, like the night before, we walked towards the directions that we thought would contain a cluster of restaurants. If there were a gift for sniffing out good restaurants, we would be famous.
Usually, I’m very wary of those signs restaurants post in the streets, displaying with the sign a feeling of desperation. However, a desperate sign is how we found Cuatro Fuentes on Calle Alameda. There were better-made signs out there, ones that weren’t handwritten on A4 printer paper in Sharpie, but we couldn’t resist the deal: a two-course meal, drinks, dessert, and bread included for 11,50€.
A heavy cigar smell wafted up to meet us as we crossed the wooden doorway. I could picture how it would look at dinnertime, with its white tablecloths, the white tiles, and the dark, polished chairs. Because it was 12:30, we were the first ones to arrive. And, like smart restaurant owners, they put us in the display window.
You can choose one from each column and, unlike other Spanish restaurants, the bread—along with an alcoholic drink and dessert—was included ! All for 11,50€ ! I half suspected that there would be a hidden charge somewhere but, true to their word, our bill came and it cost exactly 11,50€. I ordered the paella, of course, and the Russian steak.
“If you ever need a refill, just tell me,” the waiter assured us as he deposited a tray of cheese and crackers. Although this wasn’t written as being included in the price, it was.
One difference I noticed between Madrid and Barcelona was the amount of English its people knew: little to none. Gestures were very important in Madrid as well as a heavy dependence on all the romantic languages I knew from which the Spanish could be derived. Even in tourist-heavy areas, such as the streets surrounding the Museo Nacional del Pardo, our waiter knew just enough to conduct the transaction.
Thanks to the amazing paella experience I had in Barcelona, I was able to see how this compared. Verdict: it didn’t measure up. It took only 15 minutes to make, which means that it was prepared beforehand; my suspicions were confirmed when some of the harder pieces of rice caught in my teeth. It was also not served in a whole pan, but I didn’t expect that because of the price. However, it was the timing of the food, not the skill of the cook that made this a less palatable experience.
Russian steaks, explained to me as a steak that was like an American hamburger with tomato on top, made me realize how little I actually understand when people try to explain things to me. I usually like to pretend that I can understand other people on the basis that we’re human, but I guess I overestimate the power of eye contact though that doesn’t prevent me from staring soulfully into someone else’s eyes every time I have difficulty hearing. The waiter meant tomato sauce on top of what tasted like fried meatballs. This was actually very good and I ate all that I could before exploding.
My friend ordered the grilled steak, which was a little disappointing in thickness. That’s what she said.
Oops, I forgot that we also had desert to look forward to. Barely with any space left, I gobbled down the cube(?) of ice cream. Out of all shapes, why a cube? And how do they even serve these in cube form? So many questions unanswered.
This girl now needs a nap. We said our goodbyes to our second gem and headed off to explore, albeit a bit sluggishly.
Like zombies, we headed into the Parque de el Retiro and beelined towards the nearest bench swathed in sunlight, collapsed onto it and dozed off for half an hour. On any other trip, I would’ve thought napping while in a new city was a waste of time. But for some reason, it was ok in Madrid.
We spent as much time as possible in this tranquil park, very much like a cooler version of New York’s Central Park. But, it was getting dark and I wanted to try out the churros from the café we had passed last night.
When the Spanish say hot chocolate, they really mean hot chocolate. This mug was the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever had and I’m pretty sure that if I left it there for a day, it would be solid. If you’re expecting the churros you find at state fairs in the states, you’re going to be disappointed. Here they fry churros until they’re crunchy and serve it without the cinnamon sugar, resulting in this fried, unsweet dough that isn’t really that great… until you realize that everyone here dips it in their melted chocolate.
I chose to have a churrismo, which is more like the ones I’m used to back home. Though still without the delicious cinnamon sugar topping, this came stuffed with cream and with gooey cream piled on top. I’m sure that had these been fresh, it would have been delicious; however, both our churros and churrismos arrived room temperature.
We continued our Christmas festivities outside at the Christmas market. One thing the Puerta del Sol market had over the Grenoble Christmas market was the draping of lights above the square. It looked like glowing snowflakes hovering above our heads. One key thing that was missing was the Christmas market food, like my precious German sausages or the hot wine. Hot wine! How could you not have hot wine at a Christmas market?!
Of course, after sating ourselves with Christmas joy, we had to sate ourselves with more Spanish food. This time, we chose the Bar/Taperia on the left corner, same side as the cinema, of Calle Doctor Cortezo right before reaching the plaza. Each time we walked past around dinner time, this place was bumping. It was a miracle that we arrived the moment a table was leaving—although we had to stand there awkwardly for a few moments before figuring out how to order.
It was only confusing at first because servers ran around delivering food to the tables but no one was ordering. We eventually figured it out: you order at the bar after which they hand you a wooden painted coca-cola bottle so that servers can identify you. The food they served were typical bar foods, but I’m pretty sure it’s customary to move from bar to bar and just dine like that.
These drinks that we thought were wine were actually really nasty-tasting shots. We hurried to finish them so that we could get our sangria back on—we never should’ve doubted you, sangria!
So far, this trip was going well; Madrid welcomed me into its arms, offering me some much-needed respite as of late. Although not necessarily as exciting as my adventures in Barcelona, it was quickly becoming a place I would associate as a safe-haven where I could regather myself. As I fell asleep that night, I found myself somewhat looking forward to tomorrow.