I just arrived back from my first-ever trip to Spain, and there is so much to share. If you haven't visited Madrid and Barcelona, once I tell you about these fabulous cities you'll want to hop on the next plane. Be sure to get a copy of Frommer's EasyGuide to Madrid and Barcelona before you leave!
One of the best parts of this year's vacation was having a chance to travel with my daughter A and my sister N. We were tres señoritas on an adventure, and it was so much fun.
So where did we go? What did we do?
First Stop, Madrid
We rented an apartment via airbnb.com in the La Latina area, which was convenient to most major sites. It was a large three-bedroom on a quiet side street. The owners, Marta and Adolfo, were friendly and recommended restaurants to try during our stay.
Madrid is a very manageable city to navigate, and after a few days of walking around town we were pros at finding our way. (OK, OK, I admit it was nice to have my daughter A with us, who was especially good with a map.) Our feet took us everywhere; we never once used the metro, although the La Latina station was nearby. Taxis were equally easy to find, and they accept credit cards, similar to NYC.
Tapping Out on Tapas and Perfect Paella
Most evenings we ate dinner very late, after 9 p.m., as is typical in Spain. The food of choice was tapas. We dined on a variety of Spanish cheeses, including manchego, from the milk of sheep. We sampled jamón ibérico, cured ham from black Iberian pigs. We devoured dozens of Spanish olives, which appeared nearly every time we sat down and, if they didn't appear, we ordered a bowl. No meal was complete without a pitcher of sangria, typically red wine with chopped fruit, some sweetener and a little brandy, though there are many variations.
One night we took home tapas from Txakolina, not too far from our apartment. There were so many choices—crab salad, sliced eggplant and smoked salmon with a drizzle of balsamic. Delicioso!
"You have to enjoy paella at La Barraca," said Adolfo. We made a reservation for lunch on Sunday. The restaurant is in the Chueca section, on a side street behind Grand Via. We ordered a tuna salad, olives and mixed paella, made with shrimp, pork, calamari and chicken. We agreed that La Barraca's paella was the best meal of our trip. (Note 1: I bought some paella spices in one of the markets and promise to make a batch for my boyfriend L. Have to find a recipe. Will let you know how it turns out.) (Note 2: Ooh, ooh, ooh, do you know who ate paella at La Barraca years ago? Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. So excited to see their picture on the wall at the restaurant.)
Magnificent Sites to See In Madrid
There are many magnificent sites to see in Madrid, and we tried to see as many as possible in our few days there:
Plaza Mayor: We walked around the historic cobblestone square and sat and enjoyed a drink and tapas at one of the outdoor dining spots. It felt like we had stepped back in time as we sipped sangria and listened to the musicians in the plaza.
Mercado de San Miguel: Outside the gates of Plaza Mayor is a modern-day market filled with food stalls—empanadas, ham, seafood, paella, wine and oyster bars, pastries, fruits, vegetables and more. The market stays open late, so we ventured there on Sunday evening for a night snack.
Palacio Real: The Royal Palace sits high on the hill and provides a beautiful view for picture taking. We bought tickets and toured the grand halls. My sister N said it reminded her of Versailles in France. (Never been to Versailles—must add to my bucket list for my life after 50.) The gardens outside the palace are lovely and we dined at the terrace at Cafe de Oriente which looks out over the palace.
Real Jardín Botánico and Museo del Prado: Sunday was a sunny day to visit Madrid's beautiful botanical gardens. According to Frommer's Guide, the gardens contain more than 104 species of trees and 3,000 types of plants. Afterward, we toured the famous Prado museum to see "Las Meninas," the masterpiece of Felipe IV's royal family painted by Diego Velázquez.
Tres Señoritas Shop
Our last full day in Madrid was spent shopping. We headed to the chic Salamanca neighborhood to ooh and aah over the shop windows and go inside some of the upscale boutiques. Zara, a stylish Spanish clothing store, was on my daughter A's "to do" list. Salamanca has the nicest Zara store in the city and prices are cheaper in Spain than in the U.S.
We also explored the trendy Chueca neighborhood, but found it caters to a younger crowd with many brand names that you can find in the States.
My favorite stop was an espadrille shoe shop near Plaza Mayor called Lobo. (Did I say I absolutely, positively adore espadrilles? I do, I do, I do.) I wanted to buy a pair in every color, but I held back. I purchased dark purple flats and striped wedges. My daughter A bought two pairs too. (Note: The owner told us that you can buy Lobo's espadrilles online at www.calzadoslobo.com. I checked out the website and it is in Spanish, but it said on my receipt that they ship worldwide.) (Ooh, ooh, ooh, maybe I will become an exporter of Spanish espadrilles as part of my second career during my life after 50. What do you think?)
On Tuesday morning, we packed our suitcases and headed to the Madrid Atocha Train Station for a three-hour ride to Barcelona. Zip, zip, zip—the first half of our trip was over.
What do you think? Are you packing your bags yet? If not, just wait till my next blog post when the tres señoritas take on beautiful Barcelona, our second stop on our travel to Spain.
Adiós por ahora.
This post originally appeared on aboomerslifeafter50.com.