A Spanish Birthday Celebration - Arrival Day (Day 2)
August 31st, 2015
Our first few moments in Madrid were not the greatest. I mean, getting off the plane and through Customs was fine enough (though we did see a fight between two men, with the wife of one of the men yelling, "POLICIA!! POLICIA!!" Which was pretty badass). But figuring out what was next was a little wonky. Adele and I tag team on the trip details. One person gets a room here, the other, there. Adele got the room in Madrid, so she also set up a car service to get us to our hotel. We could have taken the subway. But if I've learned anything from International Travel, it's that navigating new city while not sleeping on a plane does not jive. We get a car now. It's easier for everyone involved.
Our car wasn't waiting for us.
As we exited the secure area of the airport, our eyes darted from one person to another, looking for the lucky person with the "Green" sign. But no one was there. We maneuvered to a less densely populated area and took turns walking back and forth through the crowd, searching for our guy. While I was taking a loop, Adele got on the phone to find out what was up. Turns out, they never got our confirmation. We sent the email and they responded, but no official confirmation.
No big deal though, they already had someone at the airport for another reason, so we would be taken care of shortly. Slight blip in the road. It's all cool.
Our driver was a Spanish woman, who walked us to her car like we had to put out a small fire there. She was fast. We were tired and lugging 35-45 lbs of suitcases. But it didn't matter anymore. We were on our way!!
Exiting the airport, Adele and I took mental notes. We would be back here soon, once we picked up our rental car for the bigger part of our journey. Street signs mean what?? Merging is how?? All eyes were on the road, desperately trying to glean some kind of knowledge that would help us during the hard part of the trip.
Soon enough, we made it into the heart of the city. We stopped at Hotel Catalonian Plaza Mayor and dumped our junk for the next few days. I'll write about this hotel later on. But we ended up with a lovely room overlooking a courtyard.
Our first order of business was to grab a bite. Then, we needed a siesta. But food was more important.
I've mentioned before that we have a few rules for choosing hotels. Some rules are bendable (free breakfast), others are not. Free WiFi is not negotiable. And this is where we say, Thank You, Free WiFi!!
Adele and I went directly to the phones, looking for a place nearby that would be decent to have our first bite in Madrid. We landed around the corner from our hotel, at a tiny place called O'pulpo. This place was rated highly in TripAdvisor and was open. Let's do this.
Honestly, I don't think we could have done better for our first place to eat. Sure, we could have sat at the bar, but whatever. We sat at a table, trying the octopus sandwich (the house specialty), chorizo and a duck foie. We were so tired, we didn't even consider drinking wine. But as we ate, we marveled at what was going on already. We had been in the city for an hour and had already eaten amazing food.
We liked Madrid almost immediately.
Now, we had a tour set up for later in the night, but we were also kind of the walking dead. So we decided to do as the Spanish do. It was Siesta Time. We curled up on the beds and set the alarm for two hours. Two hours would do it, right?? I don't even remember falling asleep, it happened so fast.
When the alarm went off at 4p, I wondered if octopus had some sort of tranquilizing agent in its suckers. It was the only explanation for how we could both have slept for so long and hard. It was an amazing sleep and sorely necessary. The two of us got ready for wandering around the city.
Our hotel in a perfect location for what we wanted. It was close enough to all of the sights and we found the streets to be pretty darn walkable from the start. Our first real adventure would be the food tour in a few hours, but that...that is a story for another blog. We had some time to kill before heading over to the meeting point. So we walked to Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor is one of the public squares in Madrid. If you want a place to come that has plenty of public squares, Madrid would be it. This particular square was the city's main gathering place back in medieval times. Not the tacky restaurant, Medieval Times, but the real time in history.
Around the square are restaurants and apartments. Plaza Mayor is a combination of touristy and historical. Restaurant servers hawk their place as the best for a bite, while the cobblestone streets remind you of the days when bullfighting actually happened here. A fat guy wearing a Spider-Man suit hangs out on a pedestal, asking a Euro or two to take his picture, while Philip III rides a horse in the middle of the plaza, overseeing where heretics were once burned. I could have done without Spider-Man.
After taking the plaza in, we walked outside of the area for a bit. Adele's Grandpa mentioned the other day that we had to visit the oldest restaurant in the world. A lightbulb went off over my brain, because when Michelle went to Madrid a few years ago, she also went to that restaurant. When I looked up the details of Sobrino del Botin on Michelle's blog, I also saw/remembered her story about getting shoes in Madrid. Shoes that were crazy inexpensive and adorable. While I am not a shoe person, Adele is. So we decided to make a small loop to see what this shoe thing was all about.
This shoe thing was pretty epic. Casa Hernanez is a smallish shop, with three clerks (the fourth spent his time sitting on a bench, so I don't really count him). As you enter the store, different styles of shoes sit in the window for patrons to see. But you will have to wait in a line first. Don't think you can just walk in. And depending on the time of year, be prepared to wait. For us, we didn't wait too long. It was later in the day and we are in the shoulder season in Spain. Most tourists are gone, having to take their kids back to school for the year.
If you have excellent Spanish, you can get away without taking pictures of the shoes you like. We took pictures. I didn't go for any shoes (remember how I said I wasn't a shoe person??), but Adele picked up a few for the road, grinning over the whole experience.
After making a loop to find Botin (it doesn't look like we'll get a chance to eat there), we walked back to the hotel, dropping off our wares before meeting up for the food tour. We had an 8p meeting time and we didn't want to be late.