Travel Wishlist: Madrid

While Madrid may not have the obvious charm found in Gaudi’s wonderland of Barcelona, it’s a tremendously vibrant capital and makes a great city break. For me, the highlights were visiting the incredible museums – two of the most renowned in the world – the Prado and the Reina Sofia. For the foodie, the Mercado San Miguel is an upscale tapas haven.

To Stay:

  • Vincci Via 66: This lovely modern hotel is a stone’s throw from the Santo Domenico metro station on the Gran Via. While the are itself is not the most charming, it’s a very central location which makes it easy to get around the city. Even better, the amazing San Miguel market is walking distance away.
Vincci Via 66
Gran Via 66
Madrid, Spain, 28013
+34 (91) 5504299

 

Culture:

  • Museo Nacional del Prado: I wanted to visit the Prado ever since I studied Spanish in high school. The Prado is home to some of the most amazing art in the world, and my favorite was definitely Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. This amazing work, structured in three wood panels, depicts Adam and Eve’s paradise on the left, hell on the right, and in the middle, the intricate scenes of earthly delights. The intricacy and complexity is unbelievable.
  • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: The jewel of the Reina Sofia is most certainly Picasso’s huge canvas representing the grotesqueness of war, Guernica. I spent about 20 minutes just staring at this masterpiece. Spain’s pride in both Picasso and Dali is clear at the Reina Sofia as the collections are vast and varied. The architecture of this modern art museum is stunning as well, so leave time to explore.
Museo Nacional del Prado
Paseo Prado 
Madrid, Spain 
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Calle Santa Isabel, 52
28012 Madrid, Spain


Tours and Experiences:

  • Walks of Spain Tapas Tour: I’m a huge fan of a good food tour. 🙂 The Walks of Spain tour was my first tapas tour in Spain and I was spoiled. Lead by enophile Andres, who brings wine from his own collection to the stops on his tour, it’s a combination walking history lesson and tour of some of the modern and trendy tapas stops in Madrid. The tours run at 65 Euros per person, a reflection of the quality of food and wine. No tourist traps here!
Walks of Spain Tapas Tours
Meeting place: Plaza de la Villa, Madrid, Spain
+34 653 91 28 79
http://www.walksofspain.com/#_=_ 

 

To Eat:

  • Mercado San Miguel: While this amazing market has all of the fresh produce, seafood and meat stalls you would expect, it’s decidedly more upscale than its Barcelona equivalent. What struck me most were the varied global food options served in small plates, tapas style. My favorite were the Italian offerings including an incredibly light burrata topped with prosciutto at the Moz stall. A must!
  • Loft 39: This trendy spot was a stop on the Walks of Spain tapas tour mentioned above. The “buenas noticias” or “good news” was the winner of the 2011 national tapas competition (yes, that’s a thing). If not a stop on your tour, or you just want to skip the tour and get to the good bits, this is a great stop!
  • Chocolateria San Gines: Mmmmm churros and chocolate. This hot spot is known for being open nearly 24 hours a day, so you can get your churro fix with the frequency you’d have gelato in Italy and at your own convenience (read: three times per day). There’s no customer service here: join the line, pay for your churros, pop the receipt on your chosen table and it will be slapped down when it’s ready, all with few words spoken by the staff. Don’t be intimidated, you’d not want to talk much either if you were slinging churros to tourists all day. 😉
Mercado San Miguel
Plaza San Miguel, 
28005 Madrid, Spain
+34 915424936
Loft 39
Velazquez 39, 
28001 Madrid, Spain
Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo de San Gines 5
28013 Madrid, Spain 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2015.

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Travel Wishlist: Barcelona

Barcelona has a bit of everything: Undeniable charm in its cobblestone streets, stunning architecture, sun, sand, sea and sangria. It’s one of the European cities I could easily live in and one of my favorite destinations. As with most places in Europe, it can be stiflingly hot in the summer and crammed with tourists, so May, September or October are my most desired times to visit.

To Stay:

  • Hostal Grau: This little hotel is on an active little street parallel to the Ramblas and a short walk from Placa Catalunya, so you can’t beat the location. Don’t be fooled by the name, it’s not a hostel but a small hotel. It’s had an update in recent years to minimalist furnishings and eco-friendly design. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment in an adjacent property which was fantastic and budget-friendly.
  • Hotel Granados 83: A boutique hotel in the heart of the Eixample, you’ll be close to some of my favorite tapas restaurants and walking distance to Casa Mila. the décor is more modern and industrial but with warm touches like exposed brick in the rooms. A lovely rooftop pool area completes the experience.
Hostal Grau
Calle Ramelleres, 27
08001 Barcelona, Spain
Hotel Granados 83
Enrique Granados 83
8008 Barcelona, Spain 

Gaudi:

  • ParkGuell:   Gaudi is obligatory in Barcelona and my favorite without question isParkGuell. Youusedto be able to visit for free, and while always full of tourists, I still found thisparkto be a perfect place to come for hours at a time to read, sun myself and relax whileenjoyingGaudi’s spectacular mosaics. Now you must pay to enter the historic center of the park, andticketscan be purchased in advance for a specific time slot. The park is about a 20 minute bus ride fromthePlacaCatalunyaorRamblas, but worth spending the better part of a day.
    • Your turn! If you visit, please fill me in on the experience with the new paid entry. Your experiences will help others – good traveler karma, dontcha know. 😉
  • Casa Mila/La Pedrera: This incredible apartment building in the Eixample is well worth the 20 Euro entrance fee. your experience includes winding up the building itself, exploring the alien-like sculptures on the roof and touring an apartment boasting early 20th century style as residents would have when it was built. Again, you need to book online for a time slot but this allows you to choose your favorite time of day to take in views of Barcelona from the roof.  A magic hour treat.
  • Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s most famous work, the unfinished Sagrada Familia church. It’s a must to see from the outside, though I’ve been unwilling to dodge the crowds to tour the inside.
Park Guell
Carrer Olot 5 
08024 Barcelona, Spain 
Casa Mila
Carrer de Provenca 261 - 265 
08008 Barcelona, Spain 
From March 3 to November 2: Monday to Sunday, from 9am to 8.30 pm (last admission: 8.00 pm)
From November 3 to March 2: Monday to Sunday, from 9 to 6.30 pm (last admission: 6pm)
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401
08013 Barcelona, Spain

Tours and Experiences:

  • Fat Tire Bike Tours: Bike tours are an incredible way to see a new city and Fat Tire’s tours are exceptional. I’ve taken the tour in Paris twice, once in London and once in Barcelona.  The tour generally takes four to five hours and hits many major sites at a good clip, fast enough to get you acclimated to the city which makes it that much easier to navigate in subsequent days by foot. The Barcelona city tour has a break in the middle on the Barceloneta beach complete with refreshing sangria to share. Fat Tire tours are run by English speakers, last about 25 Euro per person and can be reserved online. http://barcelona.fattirebiketours.com/
  • Cook & Taste Barcelona: This fabulous cooking class begins with a tour of the Boqueria market to gather fresh ingredients for the day’s menu. The class is then conducted in a kitchen on the top story of a building overlooking the bustling Ramblas. As you sip wine, you will be divided into small groups and tasked with preparing classics like gazpacho, tortilla and paella. Our crema catalana with fresh figs was a highlight. Tours start at 65 Euro per person and can be booked online. http://www.cookandtaste.net/
  • Tapas Tour Barcelona: Like many big European cities, eating in Barcelona can be tricky if you don’t know where to go or how to abide by local food customs. With a tapas tour like Tapas Tour Barcelona, you literally get a taste of what the city has to offer. On my tour there were some standouts like La Plata and Can Paixano, but there were also some mediocre choices too. Use this as a jumping off point to get familiar with the tapas scene and then venture out on your own! Tours start at 39 Euro per person and can be booked online. http://www.tapastoursbarcelona.com/#_=_

Tapas: Oh, where do I begin?!?! You can find my definitive post on Traipsing the Tapas Scene in Barcelona here. But here are a couple of musts for any Barcelona travel wishlist.

  • Can Paixano – “La Xampaneria”: Just off the Barceloneta, you’ll likely hear this hopping spot before you see it. Known for it’s house made cava for about 1 Euro per glass, it’s likely to be packed with tourists and locals alike gearing up for a night out. Just join the fray and make some new friends, you’ll have to get cozy in order to grab a drink or a bite. It closes early by Spanish standards – around 10pm – so plan this as a first stop before tapas hopping elsewhere in the city.
  • La Bodegueta: In the Eixample, this is a great stop before or after visiting Casa Mila or if you’re staying in the area. Just great quality dishes and a casual, friendly atmosphere. The fried artichokes are special.
Can Paixano - "La Xampaneria"
Carrer de Reina Christina, 7
Barcelona, Spain
La Bodegueta
Rambla de Catalunya, 100
08008 Barcelona, Spain

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2015.

Traipsing the Tapas Scene in Barcelona

“See?” says the waiter while holding up a hamburger the size of a silver dollar. “It’s a Big Mac!”

Such was the scene while I soaked up the tapas bar atmosphere at Ciudad Condal on Barcelona’s Rambla de Catalunya.  While tapas are traditionally seen as lively communal dining opportunities with sharing aplenty, they are also a great way for a single traveler to sample a variety of small plates without committing to a large entrée.  Ciudad Condal is clearly always busy as I went very early by Spanish standards on a Monday evening and had to lurk a bit before I could even squeeze into a lone stool by the waiter’s station.  It’s easy to first gravitate toward the identifiable items like croquetas, but on this particular night I was also craving vegetables.  While I doubt the nutritional value in mushrooms and asparagus sautéed in butter and doused with garlic, I also doubt those veggies ever expected they could be that delicious.  I followed up next with a typical Spanish dish of fried potatoes julienned like American hashbrowns served with bacon and a fried egg on top.  I saw this lovely simple dish in a tapas bar on the afternoon I arrived on this trip in Barcelona, but I still don’t know what it’s called.  Readers, can anyone shed some light here?

For some reason, on my first trip to Barcelona in 2009, we had a hard time eating well.  It was only after enlisting the help of my cousin who was living there and spoke fluent Spanish that we were able to partake of some quality meals.

This time, nearly four years later, I gave myself a fighting chance to break the Barcelona food curse by joining a tapas tour.  I joined Dirk’s Tapas Tour Barcelona with a group of German speakers.  A bit odd as I was the only English speaker and poor Dirk had to translate just for me, but a great tour around Barcelona and into a hidden gem or two.  I originally chose this particular tour as I knew that one of the stops was the “Xampaneria” Can Paixano, a cava house and the most memorable of my first visit to Barcelona. Additionally Dirk took us to Olimar, a shop specializing in local products, Bilbao Berria where I can say the highlight was the cider but the food mediocre and the wonderful La Plata which only serves sardines and tomato salad in addition to their 0.50 Euro cups of wine.  The Xampaneria continues to be one of my all-time favourites in Barcelona.  Go early, get friendly with the crowds and enjoy some 1 Euro per glass house made cava and plate of chorizo or bocadillo. I went back on my last day in Barca before my flight back to London. A Tuesday at lunchtime was pleasantly quiet.

I tried two outposts of Taller de Tapas or “Tapas Workshop.”  At the Barri Gotic location, I had some refreshing gazpacho and a brilliant little salad topped with jamon and goat cheese.  Washed down with a sparkling cava sangria and finished with Crema Catalana, the meal felt luxurious after a day of sightseeing.

My favourite tapas bar on this trip was La Bodegueta. Located in the Eixample district a block or two from Casa Mila, it’s a bit of a hike for anyone staying in the center near the Ramblas.  However, this little gem just happened to be two short blocks from my hotel.  On a fairy quiet tree-lined street, it’s fairly easy to spot with the entrance just below street level and a noisy bar and a few small tables up front.  After the standard croquetas, I dug into a little plate of chorizo and some crispy fried artichoke hearts before a little pan con tomate and manchego. Friendly and attentive staff kept an eye on my from the bar, ensuring I constantly had a drink at hand. This would be a great stop after sightseeing the Gaudi wonderland of La Pedrera or if you’re staying north of the Ramblas.

Gracias Barcelona por las tapas bonitas!

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Hola Madrid

Something has happened to me.  I think it’s serious…

I officially get stir crazy if I haven’t jetsetted off to a different European country in the course of a month.  It’s a sickness.

So, when we had our end of summer bank holiday in the UK at the end of August, I felt the need to get away.  Mainly I wanted to relax and not feel pressure to tourist around so I was initially thinking of going to Rome or Paris, two cities I’ve visited before.

But then, through the influential powers of trip deals on Expedia, I thought, why not Madrid?  I’d been wanting to visit the Prado since taking Spanish in high school, and a little chorizo and patatas bravas wouldn’t go amiss either. 🙂

Madrid is often described as being the most “Spanish” of Spanish cities.  It’s a bit grittier than Barcelona and without the unique sandcastle Gaudi architecture, but it’s culturally significant in that it’s home to the Prado and the Reina Sofia (both of which I had the extreme pleasure to see on my visit.)  I got to peer firsthand at canvas upon canvas of Picasso and Dali, and of course, gaze at “Guernica,” Picasso’s masterpiece now housed at the Reina Sofia, for the better part of a Sunday afternoon.

And then there’s the food.  I wanted to take a tapas tour and luckily I found the fantastic Walks of Spain tapas tours after perusing TripAdvisor.  This is not a tourist trap, but instead a culinary journey guided by enophile Andres.  He actually brings wine from his own cellar to the restaurants.  And the stops on the tour aren’t restaurants you would find in a beaten guidebook, but instead some of the trendy, modern gems of Madrid.  My favourite munchie?  The “buenas noticias” at Loft 39, winner of the 2011 national tapas competition – Viva Espana!

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2012.