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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Spain -- Madrid 8.11.09

                                    * Madrid Vision                                                     * La Catedral

                                    * Mercado de San Miguel                                   * Casa Lucas

Tuesday 8.11.09 -- Eat, shop, and be merry
The wake up call from the front desk woke us up at 7:00 AM.  After breakfast in the hotel, we walked to Plaza de Oriente to catch the Madrid Vision bus tour at 9:45 AM. Madrid Vision bus has two routes, Historical Madrid and Modern Madrid.  The total travel time is less than three hours.  It is the easiest way to cover a lot of ground in a short time.  However, this type of sightseeing was never my thing.  I did see  beautiful exteriors of many famous buildings and took a lot of pictures.  Even though the audio guide on the bus provided some basic explanations, but by the time I finished the tour, I could not remember anything.  All these buildings were just a bunch of names that I was not connected to. If I had more time, I would have loved to take the tour inside of Plalacio Real though.  

I said good bye to E and got off the bus on Calle de Serrano as she was meeting her sister's family later, and I wanted to do some shopping.  Calle de Serrano is in the Salamanca district, an upper bourgeois neighborhood.  The street is full of luxury brand shops. It's unfortunate that the street was under heavy construction at the time of my visit.  I knew that Ferran Adria's Fast Good restaurant was nearby.  Since I could not afford the real deal, El Bulli, in Barcelona, I figured that I should at least try his fast food. When I finally found the restaurant (not without getting lost first, of course), it was located inside of an office building, and all it has to offer was SALAD! What?? you gotta be kidding me. UGH.... okay, I refused to come all the way here to eat salad.  There is no way.  So I left disappointed.  

I decided to have lunch at La Catedral near the hotel.  I passed by the restaurant yesterday and was immediately attracted by it's fancy woodwork and charming interiors. The menu of the day was quite a bargain for 10.25 euros.  I had mixed paella and hake fillet with eel. Both came with huge portions and were really delicious.

After lunch, I continued shopping at some smaller streets around Puerta del Sol.  I also went to the supermarket inside El Corte Ingles department store to get Mahou beers for my husband and some ciruelas, small green plums that I discovered during this trip. They were so juicy and sweet.  I have never seen them in New York. 

Finally, I had my hands full with shopping bags. It was time to go back to the hotel.  It was a little past 8 PM.  I was still full from lunch.  But to make up all the dinners we did not have in Barcelona, I vowed to eat well in Madrid.  I quickly freshened up and headed out again. 

I took a stroll from Puerta del Sol to Plaza Mayor.  Tourists seemed to congregate towards this area. There were several street performers. I also saw a lot of police force present. 

After passing through Plaza Mayor, I accidentally discovered Mercado de san Miguel, a iron-canopied food market with striking ornamental details.  I must have stepped into the market at the perfect timing.  At quarter to 9PM, the market was packed.  

There were lines waiting to order food and drinks.  People drank wines and ate pintxos, oysters, and seafood just freshly made from one of the booths.  I had to get something, but it was nearly impossible to find a table or seat in the market.  Finally, I settled for a few fresh oysters.  I was in heaven! The oysters were fresh and delicious. It was even more fun because it was such a surprising discovery. AH~ I LOVE food markets!
Continued on to my dinner quest, I walked to cava Baja, the street that filled with tapas bars. Based upon Maribel's guide,  I decided to check out Casa Lucas on Cava Baja 30.  It is not to be confused with Casa Lucio, Cava Baja 35, which is a well known old establishment, but unfortunately closed in August. (Even the google map mistakes these two.) Casa Lucas was a small contemporary tapas bar with only four sit down tables. I was lucky to be able to get a chair at the bar. I ordered cava to start with. While I was struggling to make sense of the menu on the blackboard, one of the guys behind the bar offered me the English menu, thank god.  I narrowed it down to two choices and asked the bartender for recommendations.  They were so accommodating that they offered to give me a half portion of each dish! 

The food I had at Casa Lucas turned out to be my favorite in Spain: Black pasta stuffed with curry seafood and vegetables over fresco cream cheese sauce.  Fried squid wrapped in bacon with squid ink mousse and garlic mayo.  They sounded amazing already before you took a bite! And let me tell you, they tasted even better than they sounded.  I was so happy sitting at the bar, sipping cava and eating the amazing food, and having an awesome time!  Something about traveling alone in a foreign country where I do not speak their language and nobody knows me is very thrilling to me.  I loved the anonymity and the brand new experience of exploring the unknown territory. All my senses were heightened and I felt totally aware and present.  I left Casa Lucas just before 11 PM.  It was still early, and I would have loved to check our another tapas bar but I was so full that I just could not eat anymore. 


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