Wow, it's a surreal feeling to be back!
Although, I'm still feeling the mild effects of jet lag, I feel mentally rejuvenated. Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling with a close friend to Spain and Portugal, and it was a girls trip I'll never forget. I've decided to break up these blogs into two sections as there is a lot of ground to cover: This one focusing more on Spain, and the next post on Portugal. I know a lot of you have been asking about my travels as well as my travel recommendations, so here it goes!
April 19th - ¡Hasta Luego California!
The first day is always the roughest. I woke up at 3:45am that day to wrap up a few projects for work, and then headed to LAX around 5:20am that morning. My energy was pretty shot and my eyelids were bloodshot. Despite all of this, I was optimistic and excited at the thought of new experiences, environments, and good company. Our flight to from LA to Madrid, Spain lasted an entire day, with a brief layover in New York and a loss of 9 hours due to the time zone difference. As someone who is not used to long haul flights of this caliber, this was an adventure.
April 20th - ¡Bienvenidos a Madrid!
We finally made it! 14+ hours of flying, a layover, and several time zones later, we stepped foot in Madrid Barajas International Airport. The airport was unexpectedly brisk, and the sky was gray and overcast.
Feeling adventurous, we decided to take the metro from the airport to our hotel in the heart of Madrid. It was a daunting process, having to figure out signage, stand in the overly congested ticketing queue, and finding the most efficient metro route to our hotel. Having absolutely no international phone data and with our MiFi en route to our hotel, we had a big challenge trying to find our hotel. Once we were able to locate our destination and let things mellow out a bit, we headed out into the city for lunch and exploration.
The first stop of our journey was Plaza Mayor, a central gathering place in Madrid. There, we were greeted by street performers, ranging from Homer Simpson to "headless" naval captain. It was a tourist hotspot for travelers to take photos, shop, and maybe grab a bite to eat.
By the time we had arrived in Madrid, we were starving. We had reservations at 1:30pm at Restaurante Botín, more commonly known as the oldest restaurant in the world. Walking into the multilevel restaurant, I noticed how quaint and homely the environment was. The hosts and servers were all very welcoming and accommodating, which made it quite easy to settle in. There, we enjoyed steak and Cochinillo Asado, a specialty Suckling Roast Pig, which was quite tender and delicious. Of course, no meal would be complete without the house sangria, which was refreshing and perfect to the taste.
Corral de la Morería Restaurant
After a much needed nap, we headed out for dinner at Corral de la Morería and a Flamenco performance. There, we enjoyed a three course meal which included: a tomato squid ink risotto starter, a citrus smoked salmon entree, and a 5 layer chocolate dessert. I was really impressed by the meal and the dance performance. All of the performers were so passionate about their art, which was so moving to watch. Afterwards, our server let us get up on the stage for a photo, which was a great ending to the night.
April 21st - Más Aventuras
I was in dire need of a coffee fix on this morning, so we headed to Toma Café for some brews. There, we split the ever so popular avocado toast, comprised of a house-made bread, cream cheese, avocado, sesame seeds, strawberries, cilantro, honey, and a side of lime. It was a nice compliment to our strong brew coffees to get our day going. I really enjoyed my iced latte, which had a strong and bold flavor.
Traveling definitely took a toll on our appetite, so we headed straight to lunch after breakfast. We were in the mood for a hearty plate of seafood paella, so we walked to La Barraca. The flavors were perfect, and I appreciated the fact that they cooked the shrimp head and all.
Real Jardín Botánico
On the way to Palacio de Cristal, we decided to take a shortcut through Real Jardín Botánico. The garden and park itself reminded me a lot of Central Park in New York. We saw a lot of tourists, runners, and sunbathers all hanging out. The rose garden was particularly beautiful with green archways, and lots of rose varieties throughout the garden.
Palacio de Cristal
This was the most widely anticipated location on my trip, as I had read and seen so many wonderful photos of this location. Upon arrival, we realized that the palace was closed due to construction. However, the building itself was nonetheless beautiful to witness. We couldn't help but spend about 20 minutes in the area, walking around the glass structure and gazing at the way the light reflected through the glass.
Museo Nacional del Prado
As a big fan of art museums, I had high expectations for the Prado Museum. Unfortunately, we had less than one hour to tour the museum before it closed. Nonetheless, I had a great time exploring the various paintings. Francisco Goya was a popular artist at the Prado, with paintings spanning multiple floors and rooms. Surprisingly, we made it through the majority of the museum before it closed, which was awesome.
Of course, no trip to Madrid would be complete without visiting one of the most popular bars in the city, La Venencia. Once a popular spot for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the bar itself looks like it hasn't changed much in 70 years. The bottles of wine behind the wall were covered in the dust, and much of the furniture appeared as if it came from a different era. We were very fortunate to be able to grab a table almost immediately when we got there, as the bar was packed with people (mostly tourists). After a glass of sherry and some green olives, we were well on our way to go grab some dinner.
In wrapping up our final evening in Madrid, we decided to enjoy some Spanish tapas for dinner. We dropped into Alhambra, a bustling eatery known for their tapas. There, we noshed on bread, a meat and cheese platter, some Spanish croquettes, and salmon toast. I really enjoyed the salmon and jamón (pork), opting for those choices over the chorizo and aged meats. For tapas, I felt that that the bread, meat, and cheese portions were quite generous. They also like to yell out their orders, so if you decide to head over that way, don't be surprised if the waiter yells out your order to the person behind the bar or in the back of house...haha. Really though.
Our final night in Madrid was mellow, spending the last hour of the night at a local cafe enjoying a cocktail and churros con chocolate. Reflecting back on the visit, the weather was perfect in the daytime, staying within the early to mid 70s range, while dipping down to the 50s in the evening. Most locations had an English speaker and/or English menu, which was very helpful. I only had to use Spanish in moderation to communicate with some drivers and specialty storekeepers.
If you have some Spanish knowledge, it wouldn't hurt to brush off on your Spanish before you go. Another recommendation that I have is that if you do not plan on getting an international phone and data plan, be sure to do your research and get a good MiFi service. We struggled a lot with our universal MiFi device. We wasted a lot of time and energy with lost connections, and trying to use whatever resources we could during our outages to help us to get around.
April 22nd - ¡Adiós!
Our brief visit had quickly come to a close. We woke up at 8am that morning to wrap things up and head back to the airport for the next chapter of our journey. Next stop: LISBON! Cue the next blog post...