Before I had left on this trip, I considered taking a day trip to Segovia on this particular day. But I decided to skip the day trip and just stay in Madrid to explore. So, after getting ready (which included taking down the laundry I had washed the night before and hung to dry in the shower) I went out in search of some breakfast.
This was the day I truly began to eat my way through Spain. I started out at a cafetería on Paseo del Prado where I ate a hardy breakfast: a small omeletta boccadillo (an omelet of eggs and potatoes on a roll) and a cup of café con leche. Actually, since I really needed the energy to get going, I had two cups of café con leche! I ate this sitting at the counter and avidly watching and listening to the action going on around me.
I saw one man order a beer with this breakfast. It was watered down with something else (I couldn’t see what), but I clearly saw the beer being added to the glass from the tap. This was also the first time I saw someone eat the “olive oil and tomato on toast” that I had read about in the guidebook. It wasn’t what I expected. I had thought there would be toast, certainly, brushed with olive oil and then topped with sliced tomatoes. Instead what I saw consistently whenever anyone ordered this was a topping made of pureed tomato spread on the toast. It wasn’t tomato sauce exactly, but it was something similar. Tomato jam, perhaps? My breakfast came to 6€, so I paid the bill and left to wander the city streets.
I scoped out the entrance to Museo del Prado. I wanted to figure out how and where to enter because I planned to return that evening during the free hours. Most of the museums in Madrid are free for the last two hours at least one day a week; visiting museums this way would save me money since I rarely have the mental energy to spend more than two hours at a time in a museum anyway.
After my Prado planning was done, I headed to Plaza Mayor. The day was partly cloudy, but it was a Saturday and the city center was bustling with people.
During the walk through the city I saw plenty of Se Vende (For Sale) signs hanging on the balconies of apartments. The housing crisis hit Spain hard, too, and I’ve heard several stories about Spain’s mortgage and banking issues on NPR and Planet Money podcasts. I was reminded of them as I walked along and viewed the real estate (and potential neighbors enjoying the morning air).
I wandered further along Calle Mayor and ran across what became my favorite place in Madrid: Mercado San Miguel.
This market had only a cursory write up in my guidebook where it was described as a place to purchase gourmet picnic supplies. One could certainly stuff a picnic basket with the offerings, but the market also had tables where the food and beverages could be consumed on site. In addition to raw ingredients, there were many items ready for take away: canapes made with fresh fish or caviar; oysters; jamon; cheese plates; empanadas; olives; sherry; wine; beer; coffee; gelato; pastries and confections. I could go on and on about the bounty of the San Miguel Market!
Since this was a Saturday the market was packed. As I drooled my way through the busy aisles I managed to find a small space at a bar where I purchased a noon-time snack.
That’s a small beer (una caña) and a canape (open-faced sandwich) made with fresh bread and a few slices of the famous jamon, or Iberian ham. I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for lunch, though, so I left the market after my snack was finished and continued walking towards the Palacio Real.
It was a beautiful day for walking and I savored my stroll, stopping to gawk at weddings and fountains and the beautiful facades of the buildings. I made it to the Palace and then…I decided I didn’t want to go in. It was 14:00 — the lunch hour in Spain — so I stopped at random restaurant for the menu del dia. Fixed price, three-course lunches that include a beverage (wine, beer, or coffee) are common in Spain and I enjoyed them whenever my schedule allowed. On this day I had ensalada mixta (mixed green salad), hake con arroz negra (grilled hake fish over rice cooked with squid ink), a vino tinto (red wine), and torta chocolate to finish. I splurged for a cup of cafe solo (plain espresso, no milk) to accompany my cake. My total lunch bill came to 11,90€.
By now it was nearly 16:00 and I needed a rest, so I started the long walk back to my hostal. Along the way I stopped at an ATM to get more cash. The ATM I visited this time (a Deutschebank one) did not flash a fee screen at me, and since at this time I wasn’t sure how often I’d encounter fee-free ATMs, I tried to withdraw a fairly large sum: 400€. After a bit of churning, I got a message that my transaction was rejected by my bank, so I walked across the street to a Barclay’s ATM and gave that a try. I got the same message.
I started to get worried that I’d have to go to the expensive ATM, and then my tired brain finalized reasoned it out: at home I have a $300 withdrawal limit and 400€ is much higher than that, so I should try again for a smaller amount. A withdrawal of 200€ worked with no fee message and I was relieved. While I had been able to use my credit card to pay for lunch, I knew I was going to need 120€ in cash to pay for my hotel room in Granada in a few days, and I wanted to get the money in hand. If I was going to have cashflow problems, I wanted to know as soon as possible.
As I walked back to my hostal feeling much relieved, I stumbled upon one of those small neighborhood stores the locals called chinos and decided to look for a power strip. This store had a little bit of everything and I walked out with some fresh fruit and my power strip in hand. I took a short rest at my hostal before walking the two blocks to the Prado and strolling freely inside for the next two hours. With the exception of a few Goyas from his “black period” it seemed that the entire Prado collection was religious art. I’m glad I went, but I didn’t feel the need to schedule any more visits to Prado since I just don’t like that type of art very much.
It was now about 22:00 on a Saturday night: prime dinner hour for Spain. I stopped at a place near my hostal that was bustling with people. There was no room at the bar (my first choice to dine since one can easily point to the sandwiches and canapes on display without having to figure out what to call them), but I was seated at a small table by myself. As I sipped my vino tinto and nibbled on the olives and canapes I had ordered (jamon de pato or “duck ham” and sardine with roquefort) I felt very lonely.
I looked at the tables full of families and couples and felt conspicuous in my corner my myself. But I still savored the experience. I jotted in my notebook about my day and wrote about how fabulous the food was and how much I was enjoying it. I couldn’t finish the olives, but rather than let them go to waste, I offered them to a table full of fun looking people near me. They gladly took them with thanks (gracias!) and a smile. Then I paid my tab and went back to my room to call B and sleep.
Incidentals: 7,70€ (power strip and fruit)