The South American leg of our trip had come to an end and in all honesty, after the wrist incident we were both looking forward to arriving in Europe. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our time in South America – to the contrary, we loved it. In a way it was like discovering a whole new world, especially at the Salt Plains, but we weren’t to leave without one last bit of excitement.
Waiting at the airport to catch our flight from La Paz to Lima, my name was called over the loud speaker, after which I was taken by security outside into a holding area on the tarmac where both our checked bags were sitting alongside 3 dogs and their handlers. Needless to say I was a little nervous despite knowing there was nothing illegal in our bags. The security guys asked me to confirm they were our bags, then asked that I open them; as soon as I did one of the dogs jumped on my bag causing my heart to drop to my stomach…had somebody planted drugs in our bags? Thankfully nothing was amiss and the whole fiasco was just a random check, though they did completely rearrange our neatly packed bags before closing them again, shoving everything back in.
After landing in Lima from La Paz, we found our way through the airport and boarded our flight to Madrid with the Spanish airline Iberia. Ahead of us was an eleven-hour overnight flight. Surprisingly I slept most of the way, the food wasn’t bad and the coolest thing was the camera on the tail of the plane, which showed us everything going on outside. This was awesome to watch at take off and landing but uneventful otherwise as it was mostly night for the hours we were flying. We were sat in the middle row of 4 seats, next to a woman and her baby son. Thankfully she did a great job at ensuring he stayed quiet throughout the entire flight, to the point of giving up her seat and sitting on the floor while he sprawled sleeping across two seats, too young to appreciate how good he had it!
We landed in Madrid in the afternoon where it took a while to get through customs, which is always a bit frustrating after a long flight, but the moment was made a bit lighter when the officer at the passport control desk had a little giggle at Simo’s attempt to speak in Spanish after he asked how many days we’d be in Spain. It’s easy to confuse the word nine (nueve) with the word new (nuevo) though we could tell he appreciated our effort at trying.
From the airport we caught the metro (which is fantastic – very clean and efficient) into town to our hotel, Flat5Madrid. Our room was tiny but very cute and modern, with typically European Juliet balcony doors that opened to the busy street below. We only had 2 nights in Madrid so we quickly freshened up then made our way to el Viajero – a rooftop bar my friend James had suggested we visit, in the area of La Latina. There was a great atmosphere here with people drinking after work so we were lucky to get a table. After downing a few beers we decided to eat dinner in the restaurant downstairs, so went down to get a table and were told they didn’t open until 9pm. Despite being hungry and having to adjust to European hours (the Spanish generally don’t eat until ~10pm and the sun doesn’t set until 10:30pm during summer) we weren’t bothered in the slightest, happy to be in a cosmopolitan summer city! When we finally did eat we were treated to some wonderful food; a goats cheese salad with a huge slab of cheese on top and some amazing chorizo, as you would expect being in Spain. Feeling satisfied, full, thankful to be in Europe, and jetlagged to boot, we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep.
James had kindly written us an itinerary of must do things for the next day as he was out of town and unfortunately couldn’t be there to show us around. After breakfast in bed we wasted no time and got on the metro to our first stop Retiro Park, where the sun was shining – perfect weather for exploring. This park is huge and stunning, boasting beautifully manicured gardens, a lake, plenty of birds and statues while there are people everywhere jogging, cycling, rowing, walking or just sitting and enjoying nature. There’s a real family feel with kids and entertainers everywhere; one guy making massive bubbles was a real crowd pleaser. It was hard to drag ourselves away from the park but with much to see we made our way up to our next stop at Mayor Plaza.
On our way, whilst waiting to cross the street, we were treated to sight I won’t forget in a hurry – hundreds of people riding bikes in the nude. We weren’t sure what this was in aid of but it certainly made everyone looking on smile! Once they had passed we came to the Plaza de Sol; one of the town’s main squares, which was full of tents set up by protesters camping out in this public space. We later learned that protests have been going on in Madrid for quite some time in response to environmental policy and health reforms.
The next stop on our itinerary was the heavenly San Miguel markets. This place is in a wrought iron, art deco style glass building and is simply stunning. To my mind, the closest likeness to this building is probably the deli section of the Queen Vic markets in Melbourne, but smaller and more fabulous as people linger at the stalls to drink and eat. As soon as we walked in it literally took my breath away, as I recall gasping in amazement! There were lines of shop fronts selling all things wonderful; from Sangria to olives, cured meats to bread, fruit to seafood, though most impressive of all was the range of jamón (prosciutto). There were numerous stalls selling just jamón and each of them had many legs of pork (complete with trotter) lining their walls in order of quality, as you could tell from the prices displayed beneath each one. We selected one we wanted and asked for 100g, after which the jamón man retrieved it and placed it in a special carving shackle in front of us. He then carved enough slices by hand to bring the scales to the weight of exactly 100g. This guy definitely knew what he was doing! After stuffing ourselves silly we decided to walk a bit more, so headed to the Royal Palace. It’s a beautiful building not far from the markets, which used to be occupied by the Royal family of Spain. After a day filled with much walking and eating we finally headed back to the hotel for the most Spanish pastime of all – the siesta.
Later that night we headed back to La Latina area and tried another tapas bar. I liked the set up of this place as it was like any other bar with a few stools scattered round, but also with a display of tapas which you could choose the same time as ordering a beer. It struck me as a really social and informal way of having dinner or even just a snack. We ordered a couple of tapas and a glass of red then headed back to the restaurant where we ate the night before as we enjoyed it that much! Piggies!
Still feeling a bit jetlagged we headed back for the hotel to rest up before heading to Barcelona the next day. I was very excited about this, as I was going to see my sister Steph again after spending the previous 10 months apart. Actually, “excited” doesn’t begin to explain my feelings! We loved Madrid and didn’t have nearly enough time there; it will definitely be a place we go back to.