Even the “barf bag” on our inter-city flight from Barcelona to Madrid had its charm. The bold, curvaceous yellow font mixed in with tiny cartoon drawings made it mildly comforting, and the awful prospect of having to use it much more tolerable. Somehow, the design of this bag (although the bag itself is purposed for something really gross and absolutely unpleasant) made me feel at ease, as if it was saying, “Hey, it’s ok if you puke. It happens.”
Following hours and hours of delayed and uncomfortable travel (and the handiwork of an older Spanish man), we finally arrived in our quaint yet chic apartment in El Barrio de las Letras (the Literary Quarter). Minimalistically decorated, it still felt cozy and comfortable. We settled in, then ventured out into the neighborhood.
Our first stop? El Sur.
Here, we ordered the ham croquettes, shrimp in garlic sauce (not pictured because we inhaled them as soon as they arrived!), spinach and cheese quiche, and pork tenderloin. Oh, and two glasses of red sangria🍷 I overheard an English speaking couple two tables over and initiated a chat. They were visiting from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and generously offered to send us some great recommendations for dining in Madrid, Seville, and Granada. We exchanged contact info and went about our foodie business.
The next day, we took a local train to Toledo, where we explored the ancient holy city on foot, and enjoyed some authentic plates at Ludena. While waiting for a table (which could potentially take hours), we met another couple traveling from Northern California. They arrived at the restaurant about thirty minutes before we did and, when they were seated at a four-top, they graciously offered for us to join them. How cool! We shared a bottle of regional red wine, traditional paella and carcamusas, and intellectually stimulating conversation. We talked about Tom’s days of modeling in Paris and Milan, Jenny’s passion for writing, politics, and education. We couldn’t have asked for better company to share in this experience. If you’re reading this, guys, MUCHAS GRACIAS!
Aside from the kind American couples we encountered, every single Spaniard we interacted with was over-the-top nice. There was no mocking our attempt at speaking the language, no whispering and cackling behind our backs (or in front of our faces), no trickery, no BS whatsoever. I can honestly say, of all the European cities we’ve traveled through, Spain breeds some of the most righteous human beings.
From the taxi drivers, to the airport and restaurant workers, to the pedestrians, Spain is entirely made up of super pleasant folks who are happy and eager to assist, accommodate, and help you feel welcomed. As tourists, we undoubtedly could have gotten by on the beauty of the city alone, but the good will and generosity of Madrid’s citizens really made the experience quite exceptional.
If you are heading to Madrid or Toledo any time in the near future, here are my recommendations:
You may save a few bucks by purchasing a round trip ticket in/out of Barcelona or Madrid. You can then take trains, fly local airlines, or drive for inter-city travel. We flew Vueling from Barcelona to Madrid, which was overall excellent, albeit a tad bit bumpy. We took a quick train to Toledo, and also trained it from Madrid to Seville. We plan to drive ourselves back up to Barcelona.
Breakfast (Madrid): Matilda, Benteveo
Tapas (Madrid): El Sur, Mallorca
Lunch (Toledo): Ludena
Dessert (Madrid): Le Comptoir de la Crepe, Celicioso Gluten Free Bakery
In Madrid, I liken Calle de Leon to New York or London’s SoHo. Great for shopping or just hanging out.
If you’re feeling fancy, Calle Jorge Juan in the neighborhood of Salamanca is your spot for upscale shopping and dining.
Museums, parks, and galleries are abundant, if you have the time. I tend to need full days for visits to museums, so when we’re in and out of a city in two to three days, they’re hard to cover. Of course, however, there is always ample time for eating 🙂
That said, as I reminisce over our wonderful lunch at Mallorca, and fantasize about our next meal, we head out in Seville for some more exploration.
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Would love to hear about your experience traveling in Madrid, or Spain in general, in comments below.
“Don’t listen to what they say. GO SEE.”