Back to Sol we went for some sightseeing and more feasting!
We took many pictures with the famous statue, El Oso y El Madroño (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree). No one is quite sure as to how this became the emblem of Madrid. Something having to do with bears once living the area… and strawberry trees that do not actually grow strawberries. Overall, it’s a very confusing monument, but oh so cute.
We set out in search of paella, and ended up finding a great place with a beautiful terrace near the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). The restaurant was called Café de los Austrias—“los Austrias” deriving from the fact that the Habsburgs once ruled Madrid. I really just can’t get away from those Habsburgs! They are all over Europe.
The Palacio Real, which has 2,800 rooms, is the largest palace in Europe in terms of floor area. The palace is still used by the royal family for ceremonial purposes. The rooms are the most lavish I’ve seen yet, so much so that some rooms feel a bit garish and oppressive. It was impressive to behold, but I didn’t get quite as much out of this experience because you have to pay €4 extra for audioguides at all the attractions in Spain, which I wasn’t willing to do. In retrospect, I probably should have, since this is the only palace I’ve been to that is still used for official functions.
We then walked to the nearby Parque del Oeste, which seemed like the perfect location for a picnic lunch, situated atop a hill.
We specifically went to see the Templo de Debod, an ancient temple that was a gift from Egypt to Spain. It was not as interesting as I might have hoped, but I found it unique in how accessible it was. For being an ancient temple inscribed with hieroglyphs, some of which have vanished with time, there was a curious lack of “Do not touch” signs.
We stopped by a small market at the Plaza de España, which has a famous monument to Miguel de Cervantes. The bronze statue at the base is of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, while stone-set Cervantes contemplates them from above.
Cervantes felt even more ever-present in Madrid than Shakespeare does in London; iconic images of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are sold in the plazas and on postcards; streets and monuments are dedicated to him; his books are sold in souvenir shops. Shakespeare certainly has his fair share of historical designations in London too (the Globe, the statue in the Southwark Cathedral, pubs named after him), but he doesn’t seem quite so omnipresent.
Madrid and London both are cities with rich literary history, Madrid perhaps being best known (to English-speakers, at least) as a favorite of Hemingway’s. On the metro trains here, excerpts from literature are displayed at eye-level to read during your commute. The subway in New York does this too, but they only ever include two or three lines from famous works or authors. Whereas Madrid’s public transit has full-page excerpts by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda and others—some of the Spanish greats! My Spanish is rusty, but I tried to read them whenever I had the chance.
In the afternoon we went to the Thyssen Museum, which my friend M recommended because its collection is more digestible in one day than the Prado is. But we had only an hour and a half before closing—not nearly enough time! Here, I fell in love with Canaletto, whose works I don’t think I’d ever seen before.
It seems like all roads lead to Sol in Madrid! We ended up back here to meet P for dinner.
P showed us the Fontana de Oro, a bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented. We would have stayed, but there were no tables, so we marched on. As an aside, I loved the tile decorations everywhere in Madrid. P explained that in the civil war, so much of Madrid was damaged that few of the bars and restaurants were left with the original tiles intact, but the city’s establishments used to be covered with them.
Though not many of the tile decorations remain, all the street signs are still made of tiles with beautiful calligraphy and pictures depicting the history of the street. The one pictured above isn’t even one of my favorites—give it a Google search and you’ll see what I mean. Paris has nice street signs, and London too. But these are definitely my fave.
Dinner: tapas, sangria and flan!
True confession, I don’t like many Spanish desserts—churros are too dry, dulce de leche too sweet. It’s odd because I’m not a very picky eater, and I LOVE dessert. Flan is another Spanish dessert I never really understood either, but again in the spirit of wanting to try things in their authentic environment, I gave it a shot. And it was SO good. Whatever I ate before was not flan. This, I love.