Retiro/Prado/llaollao

16 09 2010

Today is slated as lazy exploration of a few famous Madrileño sites within walking distance of our piso – it’s the final day before I begin work at José Luis Sampedro, and we wouldn’t want me to stress. As such, the first item on the agenda is a picnic lunch in Retiro, the enormous and very well-groomed park about ten minutes away.

Leah and Elena join us for leisurely chats and eats. The Sriracha on my cumin-paprika spiced chicken and semi-cured sheep’s milk cheese bocadillo is blissfully piquant. Everyone digs on the variety of crunchy Taiwanese sesame seed cookies I’ve snagged from the Asian market.

We wander, and it’s immediately obvious that one could quite easily get lost within acre after acre of manicured grounds. Unlike the symmetrical control of the French style, which I find off-putting in its harshness, this Spanish park conveys a sense of tranquility to be found in cooperation with nature. I mean, let’s be honest, it is designed to the nines, but the paths are wandering rather than strict and straight, and interruptions by man-made objects are spaced-out and surprising.

The Spanish sun is particular insistent this afternoon, and we can feel our skulls sizzling in their shells. It’s perversely pleasant – I will forever be a masochistic desert girl – but also quite draining, so we make our way over a few grassy knolls towards the sounds of traffic.

On the way back towards the Atocha metro, a gorgeous church-esque building is far too prominent on a street corner not to explore further. It turns out to be an extremely souped-up mausoleum for several select Spaniards, entombed beneath elaborate statues of gods and owls. Not that hanging around corpses is exactly my scene, but it’s absurdly cool that this kind of stuff is seamlessly intermeshed with the Mercadonas and doner kebabs in this city. In my city.

Elena and Leah are called away to their respective barrios, Emily and I to our Street of Delights. It is well past siesta time, but we make a futile attempt at an hour of rest. The day’s rigors have worn us thin.

Yet we persist in our dogged exploration of Madrid’s finest, particularly because “Prado” rhymes so well with “helado” and the plan just seems divinely proclaimed. Each night from 6-8 PM, the museum opens wide its doors, such that one may view scads upon scads of masterpieces for free. This offer entices plenty of other potential appreciators of the arts, but the line hustles right along.

I remember not being at all into the Prado when I visited it a couple years back with the Earlham Spain program; my memories are tinged with the resentment I felt at being forced to go see “great art” instead of exploring what the backstreets of Madrid had to offer. Today is wholly different. I visit of my own volition, and at leisure – the great art is ten minutes from my house, so Em and I plan to check out only a very small percentage of what’s here today, returning for future visits such that we may give the space its proper due consideration.

Once inside, we head straight for The Garden of Earthly Delights, as I recall loving its hyper-detailed, almost cartoon-like style, so distinct from the majestic portraiture found in many other parts of the museum. It’s still there; it still fascinates. After, we casually make our way towards Goya’s Pinturas Negras, passing a billion representations of Christ and plenty of stunning ancient statue work.

Spending too much time with Goya takes a lot out of a person, especially two that have been subjected to such a brutally stressful afternoon. We require icy cold sweets for dinner to recover.

llaollao, conveniently and mnemonically located just off metro stop Callao, is Fausto’s favorite yogureria in town. There’s only one flavor – natural and tangy-sweet – and plenty of topping options, from fresh fruit to fudge sauce. Fausto highly recommends a specialty concoction called “Sanum,” which Marta and I opt to split.

I know this photo came out blurry, but there’s no way I’m not including it.

I’m just gonna say it straight up – it is better than Pinkberry. This mountain of creamycold yogurt and fruit and granola and chocolate bits drizzled with honey was 3€, and more than enough to split (Fausto devoured his solo).

Yeah. You needed a closer look.

Best dinner in Spain so far.

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Cien Montaditos

9 09 2010

In the midst of piso-hunting today, Sam and I managed to meet up at 100 Montaditos, a chain of restaurants known for – can you guess? – one hundred different teeny sandwiches. You order via checking boxes on an extensive menu card, which includes the hundred sammies plus drinks and such. I went for tortilla con salsa brava, carne con guacamole, and jamon york con cebolla crujiente y compote de frutas rojas, plus a cold caña.

Oh baby. These are toasty lil buddies, and massively satisfying (especially the guac… yes please). I totally want to try them all, and they’re just an euro apiece.

This “caña” was also a euro. Jeez. No wonder this place is popular with Erasmus kids.