Madrid – Day 1

Madrid, Travel

Isabel and I went to Madrid on March 9, a Christmas present from her to me because she knew I had wanted to take a vacation and my plan didn’t work out so I wasn’t planning any vacation for myself for the foreseeable future and was quite disappointed about it.  Her gift was an astonishingly generous, thoughtful, and lovely present.  She picked flights without crazy layovers, which, I know, takes a lot of effort and time, and a hotel that was just perfect.

I met her at the airport for our overnight flight and, seeing that there was a Legal Seafoods there, we just had to get a table to have the  gluten-free fried clams.   At least this time we didn’t supplement them with fries and Legal’s really good, warm gluten-free rolls for an all-white dinner as we have on prior trips!  A fitting, very American, pre-Europe dinner!  We didn’t get a lot of sleep on the plane, it was only a 5 hour flight, and I was quite uncomfortable for some reason, but got some sleep.  I’d been going to bed and getting up early, so I’d pre-adjusted my clock a bit.  Isabel told me the steward had a hard time believing her when she told him I didn’t want to be woken up to choose between “pasta or meat” for the meal.  I don’t know, with such a description I would have thought she’d think I’d be tempted!  We had a short layover in Lisbon, with a huge, huge line for immigration, but no customs. No customs in Madrid either. Weird.

We took a cab to the hotel. We were immediately introduced to a Spanish cultural vignette.  We had a really nice friendly driver who cut off another driver as they jockeyed for lanes going into a short tunnel and the two of them had a back and forth through open windows that was fairly rancorous, but not nearly as rancorous as one would expect in New York.  I remember worrying just a bit if people in Spain were wont to pull a gun as an answer to  road rage.  The shouting back and forth  went on for quite some time as the traffic was crawling around a circle, the sun brilliant, the air warm.  And then the two men started speaking more softly, even chuckling about the whole thing, and eventually laughingly said goodbye to each other as the traffic picked up speed.   Welcome to Spain!

I was so very conscious of us being American and assuming we would be judged as awful because of Trump.  I had wanted to get a “not my president” button or some such thing to wear but never got around to finding anything.  But in the first few interactions, with the cab driver and the lovely people checking us into the hotel, I realized that it was not on their minds, just mine.  I didn’t escape the feeling entirely, but the only ones to bring up the subject were some Americans I encountered a few days later.

I think we got to the hotel around noon.

The hotel was really great. It is the Petit Palace Lealtad, one of a chain of Petit Palace hotels of which we passed four or five in Madrid.  But it did not feel like a chain at all.  It is in an old building with beautiful old elevator doors and a lovely interior staircase.  The rooms have plaster trim on the ceiling and columns with fancy tops, and Isabel made sure we had a balcony, which had windows that open letting in fresh air and surprisingly little street noise.  The old is mixed with the new with some exposed brick wall when you walk in, and a lovely bathroom with a multi-function shower and a door with jelly fish.

We unpacked and showered, which took a while because we were punchy. I think we left the room around 1:30 or 2. We were starving and I hadn’t had any caffeine, so I’d found a restaurant a five minute walk from the hotel, right around the corner from the back side of the Prado, El Botanico.   We sat outside in a group of tables on the sidewalk.  We were deciding between seafood paella and “black” paella, and I told Isabel about Jim’s and my first meal in Venice on our honeymoon, which was squid ink risotto, so my vote was for squid ink for our first meal in Madrid.  It came with mussels, clams, and shrimp and was a beautiful, glistening black.  We had flan for dessert.  It was so delightful eating really good food in the warm – mid- to high-70s – sunshine.

During the meal Isabel said she thought, ‘That lipstick color really isn’t good on her,’ until she figured out it was the paella. When she pointed it out to me, I pointed out to her that she looked like she’d been done up like a snaggle-toothed person in a movie.  Not only delicious, but amusing.

The restaurant is right across the street from the entrance to the botanical gardens, so we went there after our leisurely and late lunch.  The gardens were just coming into bloom with daffodils, pansies, camellias, magnolias, forsythia, and a few other things out. And fruit trees with lemons and other citrus. The air was so soft, so relaxing. The city feels relaxed in most parts, tons of kids and dogs, easy to walk around in, very clean and beautiful.

We saw parrots in the botanical garden! Two were at one of the fountains.  I had to take the photos from a few yards away so I didn’t frighten them.

The gardens were laid out with many sections, according to a variety of categorizations.  I loved looking closely at the thistles and vegetables.

When we were done in the gardens, we wandered around the other side of the Prado, where we  saw, actually mostly heard, more parrots, a whole giant tree full of them.

We were really, really thirsty and started on a quest for a shopping area that we thought would have water. We walked down the Gran Via for ages, stopping at a couple of stores and getting more and more dehydrated.


I was in full-out zombie mode from dehydration when we saw a gluten-free bakery Celicioso and picked out some desserts, a cupcake for Isabel, a piece of Tarta de Santiago cake for me, and two very, very badly-needed waters. But we wanted to sit down to eat them as our feet were screaming, so the guy said we should sit and he’d bring our stuff to us. So we sat down at a table.  And we waited.  Dying for water, which we just had in our hands.  At least 20 minutes later a waitress comes over and we explain that what we picked out was up at the counter.  After about ten more minutes (the counter was two steps away from the tables) she came back with the cupcake.  We explained that we had water and the tart.  She came back again after several minutes with the tart.  Then she was standing around and I would catch her eye and she would make a motion like she suddenly remembered that we needed something else and bring a water.  But only one at a time with several minutes in between.   Of course the waters were the last thing. It was really strange.  I was thinking maybe they were cooking something extra into the baked goods they were sampling.  There is no other explanation.  The cupcake was so-so, But that tart was fantastic.  It turns out it’s an almond cake made with only almond flour.  I looked up the recipe.  Now all I need is someone to make it for me!

I emerged from my zombie state after the water, and we walked all around an area called Chuacha. There are lots of restaurants that looked great and fun and lots of shops. But by the time we’d been reconstituted with the water, it was 9/9:30. So we stopped in a few shops and then headed back to the hotel, going through the Plaza de Cibeles, Cibeles being a sun and earth goddess.  The Palacio de Cibeles, if you look closely at the picture you can see it, had a huge “Refugees Welcome” sign hanging on the front of it, in English.



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