5:45 a.m. A much earlier alarm than we would have liked, but since we planned to catch a train to Madrid today, we wanted to try and make the most of our time.
6:15 a.m. We checked out of our much adored hotel (read more about our experience here), and we were picked up by a cab to head to the train station. Since it is a Sunday, and early in the morning, we were completely expecting to be the only people out. Well boy were we wrong. We were completely taken aback by how many people were still out from the night before; some wandering home, some still chatting with friends and drinking, and some probably looking for an open bar or discoteca. It was kind of hilarious for us, because we thought that we were being night owls by having dinner at 9:15 p.m. last night, but very clearly we were on the very conservative end of the spectrum.
6:35 a.m. We arrived at the train station, grabbed a quick coffee and headed on board to stow our luggage and find our seats.
7:00 a.m. The train promptly left the station.
8:45 a.m. Once the sun rose, our view from the train became an endless landscape of olive trees and mountains.
10:00 a.m. We arrived in Madrid, and to be honest, we were completely frozen immediately. (Okay, I was completely frozen immediately.) We grabbed a cab and headed to check into our apartment at Plaza de Oriente Homtel.
Unfortunately we were too early for check in, so we left our luggage and decided to try to go find something to eat for an early lunch / late breakfast. We had heard that Madrid was famous for its bocadillos calamares, and we had specifically read about a place that churns them out all day long, so we made that our heading. Map in hand, we braved the cold (a.k.a. I did, because the hubby was totally fine) and started walking. We were no more than 10 minutes from our apartment when we already found ourselves walking through a little food market. Enticed by the huge displays of some sort of stuffed focaccia, we decided to pick one up as an “appetizer”.
It ended up being a little bit like a thin layer of pizza dough, stuffed with a ragu, with pizza dough on top. I liked it a lot, and I dare say the hubby loved it.
Onwards we walked, and before we knew it, we arrived at Bar La Campana. The smell of fresh fried calamari wafted the air, and there were people practically spilling out onto the street with their bocadillos.
We ordered one to share, and truly both went gaga over this. Just like everything else that we have loved in Spain, it was completely simple – a fresh roll topped with fresh fried calamari and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Yum.
11:30 a.m. After finishing our deliciously crispy calamari sandwich, we decided to try and walk a little bit, get some fresh air and also get a feel for the city. We quickly found ourselves in a main shopping area, bustling with locals, lined with street musicians and artists, and a Christmas market of course.
We wandered around for awhile, enjoying mostly how different things feel. For us, it is so much fun to get to experience a different culture and way of living…and the one thing that we have noticed about the Spanish is that the people here live life to the fullest (and I truly mean that in the best way).
12:15 p.m. Our wandering brought us right past, Chocolatería San Ginés, the most famous place to get churros y chocolate in Madrid, and possibly in Spain. Since we weren’t sure if we would be back to this part of town again, we decided to stop and share an order.
The smell inside of San Ginés was quite intoxicating, and I imagine a little bit like what Willy Wonka’s factory might smell like – melting chocolate and fresh fried dough. To say we were excited was a bit of an understatement.
And you know what? It actually ended up being a disappointment. We had churros y chocolate at a Christmas Market in Sevilla last night, and that really ended up being the winner. The churros at San Ginés didn’t have the same delicious flavor as the ones last night, they tasted a bit bland and more oily. We are probably the only people to disagree with the almost 10k positive reviews on Tripadvisor :)
1:00 p.m. Post churros disappointment, it was time for us to start walking towards the Catedral de la Almudena so that we could make it to the 1:30 mass. But of course our walk was not just a walk, as we have now learned in Spain. We actually walked right into a parade, with a band of people playing either piccolo oboes or fancy recorders, performing “Feliz Navidad,” while a group of women danced and played the castanets. The amount of festiveness and celebration of Christmas in Spain is amazing, I seriously can’t get enough of it!
Luckily for us the parade moved in the direction of the Catedral, so we followed along until it was time for us to get going.
1:30 p.m. We attended mass and were completely in awe of the light pouring into the cathedral through the stained glass windows.
2:30 p.m. After mass toured both the cathedral and the crypt.
3:45 p.m. We started walking back to check into our apartment, but almost immediately (of course) got distracted by the most beautiful carousel that we have ever seen. Since I definitely love to be silly and childish, and really have no plans on growing up, a carousel ride was definitely in order.
As we rode, the carousel played Spanish Christmas music, and we enjoyed views of the Royal Palace; and to top it off, I completely felt like Marry Poppins.
4:15 p.m. We finally made it back to Plaza de Oriente Homtel, and picked up the keys to our apartment for the next few days – which by the way is perfect. Our apartment is light, it’s airy, it has way more space than we need, but we also love it. Plus, the location couldn’t be any better (it’s only about a 10 minute walk to the Royal Palace).
5:00 p.m. Surprisingly not feeling like we needed a siesta today, we decided to walk up to the Gran Vía to do a bit of shopping.
Although my pictures barely show it, I don’t think that either one of us has ever seen so many people in one place before. Not in New York City, not in Beijing or Shanghai, not anywhere else that we can think of. But the crowds weren’t going to stop us (or me), I had my eyes on hitting up one of my favorite European stores, Primark. When we first went into Primark, it was light out, and when we left…
…yep, it was completely dark (sorry honey). But in my defense, there is really no quick way to work your way through 5 stories of European goodness. As expected, it was a success, and I will miss my Primark run until the next time we are in Boston or Europe.
8:15 p.m. After a long day of traveling, walking and shopping, we both felt ready to sit down for a drink and figure out a dinner plan. We stopped in a hotel on the Gran Vía (sorry, I can’t remember the name), and enjoyed some Spanish wine while we decided where to go for dinner.
9:00 p.m. Feet rested, we headed to Rosi La Loca Taberna to grab some paella (the first of our trip!).
We happily sat, we enjoyed many glasses of wine, shared a slightly too sweet salad, and sadly were disappointed with the paella (I’m really starting to loose faith in Tripadvisor). Lacking in flavor, overdone in salt and no crispy crust. But, oh well. We enjoyed the wine and each other’s company, and in the end that’s all that really matters (I’m talking about the company of course).
11:30 p.m. Having had a very full day, we sauntered back to our apartment more than ready for a good night’s rest. Our first day in Madrid was a long one, but we wouldn’t have changed a thing. And that’s the beauty of life and travel – when you live it according to your own joy and happiness, it’s perfect.