July 05, 2013

Me Gustas Mucho Madrid - What to Eat, Drink & Do

Spend an afternoon in Real Jardin de Botanico, Madrid / July 2013
I had few expectations of what the city of Madrid would be like when I arrived - friends in Barcelona had warned that it wasn't as fun, and the fact that I had the flu meant all I could look forward to was recovering in bed. We stayed in an apartment just off Puerta del Sol, which is the busiest plaza in Madrid, located right in the heart of the city. Being school holidays, the plazas were filled with an array of fantastic street performers and cartoon characters. Even mid-week, the plazas were bustling with families and the elderly. Every pub, bar and club was packed - the city truly never sleeps!

El Pazcador - Come here for free tapas. Seriously. They are free.
If I hadn't been brought to this spot by a local, there is no way I would ever have stopped here based on appearance. There were legs of hams hanging behind the counter, a slots machine by the entrance, five tables at most in the dining area and no ceiling fans or air con. We actually went to El Pazcador for sangria and beers (so to this day I'm not sure whether it actually identifies itself as a restaurant or bar), but sure enough with every round of drinks we ordered, another three plates of tapas would land on our table.
We ate tapas at a few different restaurants in Spain, and this was by far the most authentic tapas experience. They served standard plates such as baked potatoes with spicy sauce and marinated olives, but then came dishes of crumbed muscles with béchamel sauce, fried chicken wings, roasted pig ears (oreja de cerdo) and fried pig skin (chicharrón). I don't eat meat so I was a bit restricted with the plates I could eat, however, my very adventurous friends assured me that the meat dishes were amazing and the plates were all polished clean. The drinks were cheap and very generously sized so at the end of the night you will find yourself very drunk and very full.

La Vía Láctea - Malasaña is definitely my favourite area to explore at night - full of eclectic, quirky bars. (The club Tupperware tops my honorable mentions list.) La Vía Láctea is another local haunt - they play all sorts of garage rock, psychedelic and classic punk - the vibe was awesome, I just wanted to dance all night. The decor was very cool - lots of 60s band memorabilia, tour posters and front page newspaper articles. There was plenty of room to dance, booths along the walls, a pool table and little tv sets playing movies like Pulp Fiction. It was nice to get away from the ridiculous tourist clubs filled with hostel groups that serve overpriced drinks and only play Swedish House Mafia or Pitbull.
I would like to take this moment to mention that I drank my first ever beer in this bar - probably only because I was already too drunk to taste it.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia - From April to September this year, this museum has a Salvador Dalí exhibition across the third floor. I'm a big fan of Dalí, not just for his versatility across different art forms, but also his sheer eccentricity, so I had to see this exhibition. We lined up for a good half an hour to secure tickets as access is spread across several sessions in the day. I expected to see a few rooms of paintings from the Surrealist movement, but the entire third floor was dedicated to the exhibition and didn't just include paintings but also drawings, letters, photographs, video interviews, films he had co-created, and his 'publicity stunts'. (Yes, The Persistence of Memory was in the exhibition. If it isn't already on your bucket list to observe this painting - it should be. As wanky as this sounds, it felt like such a significant moment to see this incredible piece of art in person.)
Definitely give yourself at least a half day to see the whole museum - you need to at least see all the post-modern and experimental installations, they were fascinating! The museum has to be in my all time top 5 favourites - I came out of there feeling as if all my creative energies had been revitalised.

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