Here I Am Again on My Own

Monday, March 26, 2012

Leisurely morning at Artistic B&B. The night was thankfully very quiet here and I had a good night’s sleep.  I am still not really certain where I am when I wake up.

I make my way out to the breakfast room to find Paola (owner) and a couple from Italy.  We chat it up over cafe con leche, yogurt, cheese toast and fresh whole grain bread made by Rudolfo (Paola’s husband).  Delightful.  After breakfast I manage to arrange my things in my room a bit.  I prefer not to “live” out of my suitcase and try to make my room feel more like a home.  When I am satisfied that everything is well organized it is time to venture out.

Janel is working today and I am on my own in Madrid.  Today’s agenda is a challenging one.  My major goal is to visit the Palacio Real (Royal Palace)and hopefully to find and purchase a phone somewhere along the way.  I am concerned that the phone purchase may be quite challenging to try and do with my fledgling Spanish skills.  I decide to gather up a bit of laundry and drop it off at a “laundromat” I noticed very close to my B&B.  Good luck.

I am armed with my map(s) and set off down the street hoping that I will remember what this street looks like upon my return!  Ahhh – there’s the laundry.  I enter with trepidation and notice a sign that indicates it is “self-serve.”  There is a woman ironing in the back and I attempt to ask her if it is ONLY self serve.  She says it is and directs me down the street to the Tintoria (dry cleaner).  Away I go to the Saigon Tintoria.  The clerk inside acts like he knows that I want some of my items washed (in cold water thank you very much) and one item (Janel’s jacket) dry cleaned.  Come back tomorrow afternoon.  I leave there very satisfied that I have accomplished the task even though there is a tiny bit of worry that all will be washed in the hottest water and will look like doll clothes when I pick them up.

With a renewed spring in my step I plunge ahead making sure to consult my map(s) at almost every corner to make sure I am going the right direction toward the palace. My goal is to end up on one of the major shopping streets to hopefully locate a phone store. Walking around Madrid is fantastic. Even if you don’t get to your chosen destination, the journey affords wonderful scenery around every corner.

After a while I find myself on a commercial street and start to look for a phone store. No problem – they are everywhere. I pop into one and ask her (in Spanish) for what I think I want – a very cheap, pre-paid phone (“un movil pre-pagado, muy barato”). I am almost ready to purchase when I decide to ask if I can change the SIM card when I go to Italy (“Podria cambiar el SIM quando voy al Italia?”) No. For that I need a more expensive (“mas cara”) phone and they don’t have one. She directs me to another branch of their store and I pretend to understand her directions.

Somehow I find it. In the photo the PHONE HOUSE is just in back of the sandwhich sign guy who offers to purchase the Rolex that you just stole from some unsuspecting tourist.

Great. Now I start all over with my spiel and make sure to add that I want to be able to change the SIM for Italy. The clerk is super friendly and actually understands what I want (I think). I buy the phone and he sets it all up for me even setting the language to English Score! I text Janel immediately and let her know that I am now connected. I feel much better knowing that now we can find each other and make plans.

Now fully charged up with my purchasing/language skills I continue on towards the palace. All of this work has made me a bit hungry and I certainly could use a coffee. I come around a corner close to the palace to find some sweet outdoor tables in a beautiful setting. Perfect. I order up a cafe con leche y una tosta con jamon.

The view is nice, the weather is gorgeous and I am feeling great.

The Palacio Real looms just across the way. I find the ticket office, purchase an entry and an audio guide and I am in, baby. This palace was built in the mid-1700’s and is stunning. Even though it is the official home of King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family, they do not actually live there. It is used mostly for state ceremonies. There are no photos allowed inside so I take a few outside and then enter.

There are three sections of the palace that are open to the public: main salons, the pharmacy, and the armory. The rooms are beautiful and majestic as one would expect. I enjoy using the audio guide and looking at my own pace. Since I am alone I can linger or move on as I wish. While the salons are gorgeous, it is the armory that is the most impressive. There are huge rooms full of armor from many years ago along with full-sized models of horses/riders dressed up in full Spanish regalia.

I am equally as fascinated with the Royal Pharmacy. It is a series of rooms filled with apothecary containers of all sizes/shapes and a distillery where plant extracts, etc were used to create medicines for the Royal Family. Way cool.

Great visit and a fine way to spend an afternoon. I decide to wander back towards “home” by taking the smaller, side streets. So glad to have good maps. I definitely can not get a feel for where I am or even a sense of direction so I am totally dependent on the maps. I could pop into a Metro at any time, but what fun would that be?

It is time for a late lunch, but since we have reservations for dinner I want to eat very light. I find a nice little plaza just outside the Mercado De San Miguel and choose a table outside. I place an order for a glass of red wine and a snack of “navajas a la planca.” (grilled razor clams) Perfect.

A tiny friend joins me:

I have decided that Spaniards must eat all day long and rarely eat at home. Everywhere you turn there are bars, cafes, restaurants and they always seem to be bustling with people having a coffee, wine, beer, etc. Don’t these people work? The “cafe culture” is so dramatically different that what we have in the US. People here take their relaxation and time with friends seriously.

No problem finding my way back to my B&B. Janel calls and we make a plan to meet for a little tapa. Our dinner reservation is not until 9:15 and it is only around 7:00. Neither of us had much lunch and we are getting hungry. She suggests that I come to her place. Don’t I know how to get there? Oh sure. I have only been there once and it was my first day in Europe when I was in an airplane-induced haze – no problem. With my trusty map and a couple of wrong turns, I manage to find Calle Tres Peces (3 Fishes Street – love the name!) I make a quick meet and greet with one of her roomies (David) and we are off to one of Janel’s favorite neighborhod haunts – Taberna Mina.

Taberna Mina is a fantastic, tiny, local spot where the speciality is Gambas a la Plancha (grilled shrimp). We snag an oudoor table (weather is quite fine) and quickly order 2 cañas (small beer) and an order of gambas.

The gambas arrive and they are gorgeous. Janel tells me that she eats them shell and all. Oh, and you must suck the heads.

Wow. The shells are paper thin and crusted with sea salt. The gambas are sweet and rich. So nice. We enjoy our little snack while we sit and contemplate our next few days. Then it is time to leave for our dinner rez. The decision is made to walk since the evening is so beautiful. Besides, the excersize will be good for us. It is about a 40 minute walk and Janel snakes us through some interesting neighborhoods along the way.

Tonight’s dinner will be at La Manduca de Azagra. We chose this restaurant due to their speciality being products/vegetables from the Navarra region. Reviews had intrigued both of us.

Upon arrival we were immediately surprised at the stark, modern decor. We were escorted through a couple of dining areas to a nice room with about 7 tables spaced rather far apart (decidedly for discreet conversation). As more guest arrived it became apparent that this is a hotspot for business folk. Fortunately there appeared to be a couple of tables of “regular folk” like us. The rest were business(men) in suits.

A starter of cava was ordered and then we proceeded to study the menu. Our waiter was very friendly and proceeded to help us make our selections. That was the last we saw of him. We think he is the main waiter but is not actually a “server.” The servers are all women. Very cold women. I don’t think we even got ours to crack a smile at all. We decided that their off-putting manner must be what is expected at this place. It was rather strange to us and to be honest it took away from the entire experience.

The food, however, was outstanding. We started with an amuse of asparagus soup that was perfect.

We were next presented with what was to become the star of the show for us – “Pimientos de Cristal Asados en Parrilla” (roasted Crystal Peppers) We weren’t really sure what Crystal Peppers were, but looked them up later and found this:

“Crystal peppers La Catedral de Navarra are the finest and most delicate peppers grown in the Navarre Region. Crystal peppers are popular in the Spanish hospitality industry, due to a refined and subtle taste. The crystal peppers are noted for its sweetness contrasting with its nuances and bitter acids. The red peppers come in strips, because of their delicacy and fragility that makes it impossible for presentation as a whole pepper.”

Yes. Oh yes.

It was difficult to follow the peppers, but we did. Our “Revuelto de ajetes con hongos” (egg softly scrambled with young garlic and mushrooms). It also has shaved foie. Delicate and soft, very delicious.

Just when we were lapsing into a food coma our main courses arrived. Grilled lubina (bass) for Janel and Rabo de Toro (stewed bull’s tail) for me. The lubina was very simply prepared by grilling and topped with sea salt crystals. The Rabo de Toro (a very famous dish) was rich and complex. We were in heaven.

Would we care for postre? (dessert) Not really, but we did anyway. We ordered “Sopa de Cereza Amarena con Helado de Limon” – Cherry Soup with Lemon Sorbet. Just for proper digestion, you know.

We finished our evening with a bit of coffee (decaf) and then were asked if we would like a chupito (a little “shot” of a digestive, usually complimentary). We turned it down at first – it was offered by our stoic server. But then the main waiter (gentleman) came over to us and almost insisted. We agreed to a very small portion.

Turns out it was a great way to end the dinner.

Another fantastic evening. We were a bit put off by the cool attitude of our server and the “business-y” atmosphere, but Janel and I can have fun almost anywhere. A short Metro ride later and we went our separate ways to end the night.

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