Friday, December 30, 2011

Hola....Madrid

'Guided Tours' put us off after our last experience.  This time around, we decided to try travelling on our own to see and taste the Spanish people's way of life.  We do not think speaking 'no Spanish' would pose a problem to both of us. However, friends did not give much encouragement and some were worried.   Good or bad, we were adamant to embark on our journey.  A journey of adventure (as we call it).  We will be staying with the locals as our hosts, no guide to show us around and we do not even speak or understand the language. A day before we embarked, a good friend sent me an email with a footage of how gypsies conned and robbed tourists of their wallets, money, etc.  It was a good thing as that made the two of us aware and we prepared ourselves.
Our hosts were nowhere to be seen when we arrived and exited Barajas Airport in Madrid.  Our cell phones could not dial Patricia's number so hubby went to seek help at the information counter.  The woman at the counter allowed hubby to use her phone. Patricia arrived shortly (with Bruno waiting outside).  We have wonderful hosts.  They met us at the airport for only 15.  Alcobendas, the place we stayed is away from the city. 
Chirimoya
Since it was our first day, we decided to just roam the area around Alcobendas where we were staying.  I saw this fruit (picture above) in a shop where we bought our fruits. At first glance, I thought it was a custard apple (aka Nona in Malaysia) with all the 'bumps' cut off.  I bought one and took it back to show our hosts. Patricia told me that it is Chirimoya (or Cherimoya).  This fruit taste just like our nona with similar looking seeds. It is quite popular in Spain and is a seasonal fruit.  Chirimoya and Nona, they are relatives.
Beautiful road-sign
The next day after breakfast, we headed for the train station.  It was roughly a 15 minutes walk. We commuted by train from where we stayed (in Alcobendas) to the city daily.  Madrid is a beautiful city and Spanish people, they are very friendly.  It was odd for me to hear 'Hola'  from strangers (initially).  With a camera in my hand, I started clicking whatever I found interesting.  I/We never had the chance to walk at our own pace, in our own time savouring little details.  
 
Both of us have a few foods we must try in Spain. Paella was one of them on the list. Bruno gave hubby the name of the restaurant to visit for the paella.  Cosido and Oreja de Cerdo were added onto our list of foods to eat.  Patricia told us Cosido is a traditional soup and the latter are pig's ears.  Armed with a map, hubby told me this, "Follow me; I will take you to the restaurant".  The restaurant was located near Plaza Mayor.  Since Plaza Mayor was our first sight to see in Madrid, we decided we would have lunch in that area.  
Restaurante Riazor
The place was packed.  According to hubby if we see many locals (they looked like Spanish people) then the place must be good.  We were seated by a waiter and then the interesting part. The waiter handed us a menu and both of us signed that we do not read Spanish. The waiter does not speak English.  Of all things to forget, both (yes!) of us could not remember the word for beef in Spanish.  We do not eat beef.  I did some gestures like putting my hands with fingers pointing to indicate horns and said 'No'.  The waiter said 'Si Si'.  He understood that we do not want beef. That was a relief.  We asked for Paella.  He said something in Spanish and the word paella was in it.  We settled for what he recommended and happily waited for our paella.
appetiser-a big plate of seafood
The first plate of food arrived.  Wow, that is a lot of seafood.  The waiter past by us and I just had to ask him about the amount.  He said it was for 'dos' (two).  I thought I told him I do not take seafood.  Did my sign showed, I wanted them?!  We have a problem, as I am not a seafood person.  Hubby had to enjoy all the prawns and crayfish as I could only take the bamboo mussels.  The plate of seafood was very fresh.  It was lightly steamed and with the lemon juice and olive oil sprinkled, the taste was finger licking good.  I enjoyed the mussels but hubby said he had too many prawns to stomach.

The paella was next.  We thought it was paella at that moment.  I was disappointed as it was full of prawns and calamari.  I began to think that my hand gesture showing a fish swimming must have prompted the waiter to think that we wanted seafood paella. It was a huge bowl for one person.  Since there were prawns in the dish, hubby had to eat it on his own.  We double-checked with the waiter and it was one order.  There was another order on the way.  I think Spanish people are big eaters.  I had to taste a spoonful of the Paella.  I am in Spain I told hubby.  A big disappointment when we got back to the apartment.  We found out that the bowl of rice was not Paella.  It was just arroz con bogavante (rice with prawns and seafood).  Never mind, that is a typical Spanish dish too.
 bacalao al horno con gulas (baked cod with baby eels).
The next plate of food had fish as the main ingredient. The fish was fresh and I think it was baked.  At that moment, I do not even know the name of the dish.  I particularly enjoyed the little strips, which I tasted, and thought them to be abalone mushroom.  I even exclaimed that these mushrooms are so well sliced and cooked.  I loved the bite.  I wish I had not done it, asked the waiter are the strips abalone mushrooms.  The word mushrooms (I think) made him shake his head.  He said something that sounded like 'gula' to me.  I raised my eyebrows and he drew me a picture on the paper he held.  I thought it looked like eel.  I said eel?  'Si Si', he smiled.  This is Spanish cuisine.  I have never had my fish dish served with baby eels before.   The amount of gulas was a lot as a topping.  The fish was tasty but a tad too salty.  Hubby could not finish his rice.  The portion served was just too much for one person.  

The desserts were lovely and that included the coffee.
Sangria-a must try drink 
The above picture showed a glass of Sangria. It is a punch with wine, chopped fruits and brandy so we were told.  This drink is typical of Spain.  We had our first glass of Sangria and thought that it was too fruity.  There were no chopped fruits and I think fruit cordial was used.  We found out from our hosts the next day that Restaurante Riazor is very popular with the Spanish people.  It is highly listed.  However, the restaurant was not the one recommended by our hosts.  Ahem, I did not remind hubby that 'he will take me there!'  I would say not bad we did some fine and good dining.
After lunch, we walked to Plaza Mayor, a tourist ‘must visit’ place.  This is the central square (plaza) in Madrid. There was a Christmas fair held there.  There are many restaurants and bars located around the plaza (square).  However, the prices charged here is ‘tourist fare’ as our host told us.
  
Plaza Mayor after sunset
From Plaza Mayor, we walked to Mercado San Miguel. Incidentally, Mercado is market in English.  The sight of the market awed me.  The things found inside and the number of people was intriguing.  You can find almost anything here.  It is something like our wet markets in Malaysia but the Mercado is clean and neat.   I was to find out after that this Mercado caters more for the tourists.  
Fresh seafood
Pickles

Paella (what non Spaniards call it)
It was still early for dinner so we bought some snacks and ate it whilst walking to another tourist spot. 
Santa María la Real de La Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)  was our next stop.  It was quite a distance to walk from the Mercado.  I enjoyed the walk, as it was cold enough with no winds blowing.
Both hubby and I are not very into cathedral so a few pictures were what we took.  We went in for a quick peak. The interior was beautiful.   
Catedral Santa María la Real de La Almudena is adjacent to Palacio Real de Madrid.  We took a walk over.  I was disappointed as we were too late.  Entry was denied, as we do not have enough time to tour the palace.  Closing time was 6:00 pm.  We had only about 45 minutes left and it was too short.  This is the official residence of the King of Spain (Juan Carlos) and his family but they do not reside here.   We took a few pictures and decided to walk to the back of the palace where the Jardines de Sabatini (Sabatini Gardens) is located.
Sabatini Gardens (inside)
View of Palacio Real de Madrid from Sabatini Gardens
To return to the city of Madrid, we had to walk back the way we came from.  We had to pass the Palace and the Cathedral.  We need to head for Puerta Del Sol for a Flamenco show.
 Cathedral Almudena in the evening
Puerta Del Sol
There were throngs of people around Puerta Del Sol.  I do not think I have seen so many people at a place.  We were there to look for a place to watch the Flamenco.  I do not remember how many times we walked by the square.  The Spanish people hubby asked for help were friendly and helpful.  The thing that went wrong was each one gave a different direction.  There are bars and restaurants having a Flamenco performer there.  These were not the places we wanted.   We finally located the place.  Teatro Reina Victoria situated in Carrera de San Jeronimo.  This is a theatre and the dancers are all professional dancers. 
inside Teatro Reina Victoria
show starting
Once the show started, an announcement came on that no photography allowed.  The dancers were spectacular.  I have never watched a flamenco dance live.  The way they danced, moved, the tapping of the feet and the sound the castanuelas (castanets) clicking had me awed. The dancers were so energetic and by the end of each dance, sweat dripped from their faces.  Their performances were spectacular and the audience could not stop clapping with yours truly included.
In the middle of a dance, we saw some flashes of light.  Someone was taking pictures!  Therefore, hubby followed albeit secretly without flash used.  
The show lasted for two hours.  By the time the show finished it was 11:00pm.  We took the last train back to Alcobendas.  The streets were deserted but we already knew that Alcobendas is a safe area.  We decided to go to Open Cor a supermarket to get some desserts for supper. :o)...to be continued.
**No visa application required for Malaysians travelling to Spain.

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