Madrid on a budget

This summer found my daughter and a girlfriend of hers taking in the sights and sounds and flavors of Spain and Portugal. This post is a recap of their time spent in Madrid. A testament to the abilities to eat well and live well on a budget.

Madrid: a real-life grown-up vacation by Allison Malecha

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

During college, the Barcelona-Madrid duo was popular among the study abroad crowd. The general post-trip consensus was: Barcelona—so fun! Madrid—so much art! (but kind of boring.) This year, as I was planning a trip with a friend who’d traveled around Spain the previous fall, I was a little skeptical to only have Madrid and (in Portugal) Porto and Lisbon on our itinerary. But from my first morning in Spain’s capital city, I loved it, and I soon realized that my priorities weren’t to “go out” or meet fun new people. I do enough of that in New York. I felt tired. I wanted days spent walking along gorgeous old streets instead of sitting at my desk; evenings full of cheap, delicious food, even cheaper, more delicious wine, and comfortable conversation; and a bedtime several hours before dawn. Madrid was happy to provide.

We upgraded from college hostels to an Airbnb, and stayed in a spacious second-floor apartment that doubled as a gallery space for the artist-owner. Mixed media sculptures and moody paintings on the walls. Tea sachets and little bowls of brittle biscuits on the kitchen counter. Fresh, not-entirely-absorbent towels neatly folded in the bathroom. An Ikea-outfitted space right near the center of everything.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

My traveling partner and I are both serial snackers, so we easily slid into the eat-and-mosy-and-eat-a-little-more pattern of tapas dining. Tapas (derived from the Spanish verb “tapar,” to cover) are strongly associated with Spanish cuisine in general, but the tradition originated in the southern region of Andalusia, and is not as deeply ingrained in the north, where Barcelona is. In Madrid (Spain’s belly button geographically), many dishes are offered in either small-plate portions (the traditional tapas) or meal sizes (“raciones”), but why have one when you can have four (or five or seven)? We consecrated the beginning of our first morning in the city, a Sunday, with slushed sangria and huge hunks of toast topped with iberico ham and olive oil-soaked octopus from El Capricho Extremeno. My traveling partner taught me her favorite Spanish word, “bacalhau” (cod), and I fell in love with saying it too—the way the l opens into the h. At some point in the day, we stopped for bacalhau with a smear of olive oil on toast and a less-than-two-euro glass of house vermouth on ice at Bodegas Ricla, operated by a mother and her two sons. We ate 2-euro (lightly, barely, beautifully fried) calamari sandwiches just off the scaffolding-smothered Plaza Mayor and a 15-euro skillet of luscious paella at La Barraca. We did the traditional food-march along Cava Baja: vino tinto and queso at Tempranillo, vino tinto and jamón and teeny sardines at Txakolina, vino tinto and tomato-rubbed toast at the place across from a place that ran out of empanadas. For good measure, we ate a plateful of salty ham, with pork haunches hanging all around, at Museu del Jamón. The menu prices in Madrid are reasonable, cheap even, but at each tapas place, with each drink, you also get a freebie of sorts: a tea plate filled with dry sausage slices and pretzel crackers, a dainty wedge of manchego on toast, or patatas bravas (which we never actually got, but apparently they’re everywhere). By bedtime, we had inevitably consumed a small pig and a loaf or two of pure carbs.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Museu del Jamón.

Museu del Jamón.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To let our stomachs settle, we saw art. Goya, Velázquez, and the deliciously imaginative Bosch at the Prado. A Vogue-sponsored exhibit of waifs in saturated states of dress and undress, in gilt Versailles halls and algae-wrapped bathtubs, in the basement of the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Paintings made melancholy by age and a gorgeously show-offy staircase at the Cerralbo. We rode the glassed-in elevator and played a high-brow version of I spy with the Reina Sofia’s Salvador Dalí paintings (. . . a Hitler mustache . . . . a swarm of ants . . . two tiny humans on the horizon).

"Vogue, Like a Painting" exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

“Vogue, Like a Painting” exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

I started day three with a 9 a.m. run through Retiro Park (the full Spanish name translates to “park of the pleasant retreat”). Un-hungover, ready for another day of flexing our legs and stomachs and consuming all the wonderful culture of a grown-up city.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Happy Trails in the New Year of 2015!

After a relaxing and fun-filled holiday season, I am refreshed and re-energized for another year of blogging! Travel plans are already underway for Canada, Spain, South of France, Alaska, Montana and Cape Cod. And if I know my family, there will be more additions to that already great list of travel destinations.

According to an article in todays New York Times, What a Stronger Dollar Means for the Economy, the Euro is trading at the lowest it has in 9 years – which means a strong US dollar for travel to Europe. So there may be a need to add an extension to the list of European locals.

The start of a new year is a time to think forward, make resolutions, plan. But it is also a time to reflect on the year we recently gave closure. Revel in the highlights, learn from the lowlights, and be grateful and happy for all of the new memories made to savor in the years to come. My nephew and his girlfriend started an in person chat session at our New Year’s Even gathering asking everybody what their personal highlight of 2014 was and what their family highlight of 2014 was: my personal highlight was accomplishing the one year anniversary of my travel blog – and still going strong; my family highlight was flying my kids home to surprise their father for his 50th birthday.

For myself and my travel forays, 2014 was a year that saw me sticking closer to home. Which is something I intend to build on. All corners of the US and points in between behold scenery to rival any place outside of the US and I plan to make a concerted effort to add a few of these amazing locations to my 2015 travel bucket list.

I live within a 6 hour drive of some of the most incredible rock formations showcasing some of the most vibrant colors – swirling red and tan sands, stoic red rock, and azure blue watering holes. Inclusive of the Grand Canyon, The Wave, and the Sedona Red Rocks. So add Arizona, Utah and New Mexico to that growing travel list.

I will also take the opportunity to continue to expound on features I implemented in 2014 – i.e. monthly restaurant reviews and writings by guest bloggers. I plan to expand my ‘Favorite Author/Artist‘ section by adding links and writings of several favorite travel writers, and artists of all genres, I have begun to follow over recent years.

For now I am off to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I will share the beauty of one of the most remarkable large cities in the world – where the waters of the Pacific Ocean flow into the Salish Sea on the west end of the city and the mountains of Whistler provide a dramatic backdrop to the North.

Happy New Year and all the best to my readers for a great 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great year ahead in 2015!

Happy New Year! Cheers to a great travel year ahead in 2015!

Spain: From Madrid to Seville

When asked what place I’d like to revisit, Spain is one of the first locals to come to mind. A comfortable ease exists as the underlying day-to-day life force. The people are welcoming in a reserved, classy way, but are passionate about living life to the fullest. Nothing is done half heartedly.

When walking through the streets of Madrid, a clean inviting city, the people take pride in the way they dress, from the young professional to the elderly couple out for a stroll through one of the many tree-lined streets teaming with unique boutique stores showcasing some of the worlds best clothes, shoes and bags. A very historical culture with a modern flare.

The historical architecture and landmarks and the tradition of strong royal bloodlines that still have a pseudo reign today, make Madrid a must stop on any European itinerary. In 1877 a semi-circular colored stone slab was installed in the center of Madrid, denoting this as the very center of Spain. All distances to other cities are measured from this point. The Madrid Royal Palace has a lot of onlookers hoping for a view of the royal family and King Juan Carlos, but they live in a Palace on the outskirts of Madrid, and the city Palace is only used for ceremonial purposes.

The center point of Spain - in Madrid - all roads leave from this 0Km marker

The center point of Spain – in Madrid – all roads leave from this 0Km marker

The Royal Palace, Madrid, Spain

The Royal Palace, Madrid, Spain

To experience the full onslaught of what Spain has to offer, I suggest a trip to Seville. And if you can, time your visit during their largest annual festival, the April Fair. Be prepared to eat, drink and learn the flamenco, but pace yourself because this party goes on for a week. It is staged on fairgrounds that cover a 12 square block radius and houses over 1,000 canvas tents, that are all corporate run or privately owned. So if you don’t know someone who owns one of the tents, you are probably out of luck. We were lucky enough to have a “connection” and we arrived at the festival in ornately decorated horse-drawn carriages. We were quickly enthralled by the locals, of all ages, dressed up in traditional festival outfits. It is quite the colorful affair.

An ornately decorated horse drawn carriage takes us to the April Festival, Seville, Spain

A horse drawn carriage takes us to the April Festival, Seville, Spain

Local woman dressed in traditional style flamenco dresses at the April Fair, Seville, Spain

Local woman and children dressed in traditional style flamenco dresses at the April Fair, Seville, Spain

Being I wasn’t a seasoned veteran of the fair, one day was enough for me, but being the late night owl I am, I did quickly take to the Spanish style of living. Waking at will and easing into the day. Take a nice leisurely walk through some of the historical district of Seville and visit some of very ornate architectural structures. Most of the city takes a three-hour siesta break in the late afternoon, and that’s when I became obsessed to three Spanish traditions. Our group would congregate in the hotel bar – where we were served the biggest, most naturally flavorful and perfectly ripe green Spanish olives; a side plate of thinly sliced, dry, lightly salty serrano ham; and washed down with my new favorite liqueur – Patxaran, a sloe flavored digestif.

The Giralda, formerly a minaret, built in the 12th century, was eventually converted to a bell tower, Seville, Spain

The Giralda, formerly a minaret, built in the 12th century, was eventually converted to a bell tower, Seville, Spain

Ornate interiors of buildings that remain from the Moorish periods from the 8th-13th centuries, Seville, Spain

Ornate interiors of buildings that remain from the Moorish periods from the 8th-13th centuries, Seville, Spain

After a short rest in our rooms it was off to dinner no earlier than 9:00 pm, and often not until 10:00 or even 11:00 pm. And these were no leisurely dinners. The Rioja wines flowed freely, which became another favorite, as they are usually sulfate free and I never woke up with a headache after drinking these wines. Each meal was a gastro experience of the best kind – fresh fish, tender beef cuts, red sauced pastas and more of those great olives and serrano ham.

And of course, one cannot come to Spain and not somehow be introduced to their countries long-standing tradition of bull fighting. My husband actually took in a bullfight, that he described as being something amazing to see once, but not something he needs to see again. Apparently, the blood and gore is overwhelming, but the strategy of the bullfighters was impressive to watch. I was content to get my picture taken the with prized bullfighters that just so happened to be staying in our hotel.

Posing with two of Spain's most prized bullfighters, Seville, Spain

Posing with two of Spain’s most prized bullfighters, Seville, Spain

Check out the Global Gallery for a few more pictures showcasing Madrid and Seville, Spain.