Buenos Días! We are currently sitting down to breakfast at our hotel in Spain. Yesterday was a very long day. We had our alarms set for 4:30am and you never get a good sleep when you have an early alarm set out of fear of oversleeping. We had to make it to Termini station to catch the express train to the airport. The sun was rising as we were walking to the train station. Rome only gets about 7 hours of darkness. It was also 24 degrees at 4:30am. Not a nice temperature when you’re hauling 20 kilos of luggage over cobblestones!
We got to the airport with plenty of time to check in and have breakfast. I (Aimee) had a mozzarella, ham and tomato panino and Ronnie had a croissant. It was just average and expensive airport food. Our flight was at 8:10 and it took us 2 hours and 35 minutes to get to Spain. We flew with Alitalia. It was a smooth flight but it just didn’t have any entertainment. Lucky we had our iPad and phones because we just can’t sleep on planes. We would have loved to after the tough wake up.
Getting our luggage and getting to a taxi was super easy at Madrid airport. There is no immigration or customs area if coming from another EU country (we assume that’s the reason) so we were quickly on our way to the city. Our first impression from the driving and the scenery is that Madrid is a little less hectic than Rome. We arrived at our hotel and they already had our room ready for us so it all worked out perfectly. This hotel is a bit dated but is unique and quirky. They do this thing where they give you a postcard where you have to write one of your dreams on the back, give a date that you expect to achieve it by and then on that date they mail you your postcard. The rooms are broadway musical themed, we are confused by what ours is based on and it is really creepy.
We stayed in the hotel for a while before heading out to lunch. We knew we couldn’t go overboard with lunch because of our evening food tour with Devour Tours. We headed to Mercado de San Miguel for some small bites. Our first taste was of empanadas. We had pollo (chicken) and curry, and spicy chorizo. They were a bit dry but had nice flavour.
We then tried croquetas which are crumbed fried balls of bechamel sauce with added ingredients. We tried five types – mushroom, prawns, jamon, cod and queso.
We then moved on to sweets. I kept seeing on Instagram and YouTube a toasted brioche ice cream sandwich and I wanted it! I had chocolate ice cream and added caramel crunch, white chocolate sponge and milk chocolate sauce. It was thankfully not too big because it was decadent. Creamy in the middle with bit of crunch from the caramel and bread. Ronnie had frozen yoghurt ice cream (that’s what they called it) with toasted hazelnuts, caramel crunch and butter cookies. He enjoyed his too!
We then went to Starbucks for a nice cold drink. Ronnie got an iced caramel frappe and I got a peach citrus shaker. It was similar to the Açaí Berry refreshers that I loved in USA, but not quite as great. After this we decided to go to a convenience store across the road for some snacks (Jamon flavored chips and these bugle chips that are like 3D Doritos, wtf! They still exist in some form). By that time we were extremely tired from waking up so early that we decided to go back to our hotel and have a nap.
I played Stardew Valley on my iPad for a few hours while Ronnie slept until it was time to go out for our main event today, our next Devour Food Tour. After yesterday’s tour we didn’t think we would ever eat again, but we were hungry again and we were prepared for a tonne more food. This food tour also had a history component so we were ready to learn a lot.
We met our tour guide Eleanor at 7:30pm and we were struggling to see where we were walking because of the sun. We left the hotel without our sunnies or hat because we were expecting it to get dark pretty soon after we left the hotel but how wrong were we! After everyone gathered for the tour, a full group of 10 plus the guide, we moved on to our first stop called Casa Labra. We were first given a glass of vermouth which is caramelised wine that has been flavoured with aromatics. On its own it is very sweet and strong but it paired so well with the food item on this stop which was Tajada de Bacalao – salt cod fritter. Amazing!! It was greasy and salty and the perfect start to our food tour. After we were finished eating our tour guide asked us to throw our serviettes on the ground. Scrunched up rubbish on the ground of a tapas bar is a sign that it is authentic and good. It felt weird to us but when in Spain, you do as the Spaniards do.
We were given little history lessons between the stops but we’ll talk about the rest of the food first and give you some history tidbits after. Our second food stop was Mesón del Champiñón which is a bar that hasn’t changed since the 1960s. There’s a picture on the wall of the bartender back then and he was there in the flesh serving us yesterday. At this stop we had what Spaniards drink all the time…no, not sangria. They drink tinto de verano – red wine and sweetened soda water. It’s very sweet like sangria. We had two food tastes here. The first being my favourite of the tour – mushrooms grilled with garlic, parsley and a slice of chorizo and finished with a squeeze of lemon. These tasted like perfection. I’m normally a mushroom eater so I knew I’d love it but wow. Ronnie is only new to eating mushrooms and liked them but had one to save room for our next two food stops. I had three! We also had flash-fried padrón peppers. 1 in 30 are spicy, most are not. They were nice but not as flavourful as the cod or mushrooms.
Our third food stop was at La Casa del Abuelo. At this bar the menu is just written on the windows or mirrors. We were given a sweet summer wine, a red, which was too sweet to be drank on its own but it was meant to be paired with the bar’s specialty which is Gambas al Ajillo. Gambas is prawns and Ajillo is garlic so it was sizzling garlic and chilli prawns. Well they were delicious. The prawns were soft as they were so fresh and the sizzling garlic and chilli oil was so tasty because of how high quality the oil was. The wine was easier to drink paired with the prawns. We soaked up the oil with the bread, we couldn’t hold back despite a sit down meal to follow. So far the bars we had gone to were standing room only. There is no such thing as personal space in Spain but in a fun way. You have to use your elbows to create some space to get to the bar.
Our final food stop of the night was at La Casa de las Torrijas and there was a little area with a table reserved for us. We had lots of food here and we failed to get through all of it. We were presented with what looked like just a full tomato to be shared between two people but when you cut it in half it was filled with a tuna belly mousse. I don’t normally like tuna, I never really it at home because I prefer salmon but I ate all of my half. It was light and fresh. Ronnie only had one bite. He didn’t mind the tuna but doesn’t like whole fresh tomatoes. We were then served a Spanish omelette which is a mix of potatoes and egg and this one had veggies and onions but they don’t always feature in this dish. It is cooked in a very precise way to keep the omelette soft in the middle but not raw. Ronnie loved this dish the most. For such simple ingredients it really was tasty.
We weren’t done yet with food. We were given croquetas to try next, one with jamon and the other with mushrooms. The mushroom one was very earthy and strong in flavour and Ronnie liked it more than me. I preferred the jamon one. These ones weren’t too different from the ones we had at the market. Just really creamy fried food.
Our final savoury dish of the night was beef cheek cooked in red wine served with thinly sliced potatoes. The potatoes were delish. Potatoes both here in Spain and in Italy are just next level tasty. I don’t know what it is. They just know how to season them right. The beef cheek was tender and fatty and had a strong meaty flavour. Ronnie wasn’t too keen on it but I finished mine. We paired off these dishes with two drinks of our choice. I stuck with white wine for both of mine and Ronnie had red.
The dessert was torrijas, the dish the bar was named after. There were two kinds for us to try. One that was soft with a custard tart like consistency. I don’t like custard due to both the taste and texture, even baked, so I didn’t eat much of this but Ronnie enjoyed it. The other kind was a fried pastry covered in sugar and when you ate you got a burst of a very strong citrus flavour. I liked the crunchiness of it but the flavour was strange to me. I’m glad I tried it but it wasn’t my favourite. With dessert we had a really strong dessert wine which was similar to vermouth.
We really liked this tour. Our guide Eleanor was very knowledgeable. We learnt a lot about Spain’s tumultuous history and why they live as though they are celebrating. It’s because they remember the bad times. The times where it was illegal to own a Beatle’s album because the borders were shut down. Where traditionalists were fighting the progressives and this sometimes meant father against son. Spain has only been a democracy since 1975. Before this Spain was ruled under the dictator Franco. During his rule it is said that at least a quarter of Spain’s population was seriously injured or killed. When he died he placed King Juan Carlos in power and although he was placed in power by a dictator he gave democracy to all.
By the time we left the tour it had just gotten dark, at 11:30pm! There were kids playing in the streets and crowds everywhere. This is a vibrant city and we’re so happy to be here. We headed to the hotel for a much needed rest before our first full day in Madrid.
- Breakfast – €14
- Water – €2
- Taxi to Hotel – €30
- Train to Rome Airport – €28
- Mercado de San Miguel lunch – €24.50
- Snacks – €3
Well under budget again- that is definitely a good thing! Another huge day in Madrid tomorrow.
Ronnie and Aimee