Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Spain days 1 to 3 - Madrid and Toledo

It seems like a very long time ago that I hit 'publish' on my last post in Perth. In some ways, of course, it is rather a long time ago - half a week - but there is something about international travel that makes time blur and buckle, and change its form. It is certainly difficult to believe that this is only our fourth (and third full) day in Madrid. 

This is rather a long post despite the short time frame, so feel free to skip over the words if you're mostly into photos, or to read it when you have sufficient time if you are looking for Spain-related detail.

Plaza Mayor, Central Madrid

Our first Madrid afternoon was largely spent recovering from the 24-ish hours of travel that took us from Perth on Saturday evening, via Dubai airport some time in the early hours of Sunday, to Madrid on Sunday afternoon - with a few time zone changes in the mix. By the time we found our accommodation, we did little more than relish in running water, take a mini walk that incorporated a supermarket, and eat an early, uneventful dinner of soup, carrot and bread before collapsing into bed at about 7.30pm. I slept for some 11 hours, and Mr Bite managed 13 (!).

Madrid apartment - spot the bed!

Our Madrid accommodation is in the form of a self-catering apartment, the first of three for the next month. We found all via Trip Advisor but this one is also in AirBnB. It is a loft apartment, which means our bed is in an alcove up a ladder, which I must have known but had somehow forgotten. It was an amusing discovery given that I had recently read Hannah's post about her attic loft in the American mountains. It may not be an optimal arrangement if you have bad knees or small children, but is rather fun for us.




The main advantage of this apartment, other than the obvious benefits of self-catering, is that it has free wifi and is very central. It is just off Plaza Mayor (top photo), which is in the centre of the 'old' district of Madrid. The price per night is also about the same as a cheap hotel.

I didn't have many expectations of Madrid or Spain, because prior to this trip I knew little about Spanish culture. From my Lonely Planet reading, I knew that Spain was likely to be warm, that vegetarian food may be hard to find, and that Madrid houses some wonderful museums and art galleries, but wasn't 'beautiful' in the way that, say, Rome or Paris or Vienna are. Thus far I can say that each of these is true but also not true.

Monastery in the centre of  Madrid - Convento de las Descalzas Reales

We started our first full day with a self-designed walking tour, intended to give us some sense of the city and take in some of the more notable plazas, buildings and gardens without requiring us to tax ourselves too much. This sort of activity encompasses much of what I love about travelling - seeing new sights, with no requirement to take a particular route or stick to a particular timeline, and making decisions along the way according to whim.


We discovered that Madrid's smaller streets wind rather a lot, which is enjoyable and picturesque, but makes navigating a little tricky. I have thus delegated that duty to Mr Bite, as my sense of direction is otherwise liable to take us down the wrong street in the wrong direction (as I discovered on my first solo morning outing...).



Madrid isn't really a city of gardens, but it does have green sections throughout, as well as parks within squares, and they provide a welcome break from walking and from the sunshine.

Walled garden, discovered unexpectedly

We returned to our apartment for lunch, with views to finding food at the indoor markets near Plaza Mayor - Mercado de San Miguel. My sister had recommended these to me for frozen yoghurt and general quality, and they did not disappoint.


Madrid seems to love frozen yoghurt, actually, which is rather good for me. As a bonus, they sell it almost exclusively in plain, real yoghurt form. Stores provide a range of toppings (from fruit to chocolate with everything in between) but the yoghurt is served as it should be - more tart than sweet and definitively yoghurty.


I made a decision that frozen yoghurt would be lunch, and subsequently bought rather a large cup (technically medium, but very well filled!) with banana and peanut butter to round it out. To my sister - thank you, it was a worthy recommendation :-) .


Mr Bite's meal was more lunch-like but still rather holiday-ish - two mini pies (tuna + vegetarian) and a chocolate croissant.


Suitably restored, Monday afternoon took us to Museo Del Prado ('The Prado'), probably the most renowned of Madrid's art galleries. It was wonderful. No photos are permitted, but we spent nearly 3 hours winding our way through paintings by Spanish and Italian (and other) artists such as Brosch, Brueghel, Raphael, Titian, El Greco, and Goya.

Exterior of The Prado

I am not strongly artistic, but even my soul can appreciate the skill in well-done paintings, and these were definitely well-done paintings.

Monday evening saw us eat out for the first time, at the very Spanish time of 9.30pm. We had intended to visit a vegan-friendly vegetarian restaurant we passed earlier in the day, but our Spanish hadn't been up to working out that it was closed on Monday nights. We thus found a nearby Spanish-y cafe instead, with tables across the sidewalk, and ordered a vegetarian paella (which I suspect included some dairy but was at least cheese and egg free) for me and a tuna pizza for Mr Bite.

The lighting was not particularly favourable, but Mr Bite enjoyed his pizza and the cutting device it arrived with, and my paella was sufficiently full of vegetables to keep me happy.



Tuesday, yesterday, saw us navigate the Madrid metro and then rail network to make a day trip to Toledo. Toledo is a world heritage site and was the seat of considerable religious (including Christian, Muslim and Jewish) power in previous centuries.

Toledo city, from below

The city speaks to each of those religious influences, with architecture that is distinctly Arab in appearance, but nods throughout to Christianity and Judaism.


It has many winding, narrow streets, which are fun to explore even if your legs are protesting how much walking is being asked of them.


It also has a (Christian) cathedral that is, I think, one of the most ornate I have ever visited.



My pictures probably don't do it justice, but I have zoomed in below on some of the more impressive sections, in an effort to try and give some sense of the ornate interior. We spent an hour taking an audio tour around, and it is a space that requires at least that much time to explore.



After the cathedral, we were more than ready for lunch, but Toledo was our first taste of minimal vegetarian cuisine (and largely non-English menus!). We ended up with a Mediterranean salad for me (with the cheese removed), which was good, and a rather odd 'vegetariano' sandwich for Mr Bite, which consisted of toasted white bread with iceburg lettuce, a whole boiled egg, some tinned asparagas, tomato, and mayonaise.



Fortunately we weren't in Toledo for the food, and we moved on to spend the afternoon within the Alcazar, which is now a military museum. Military history isn't my favourite history topic, but the Alcazar is an amazing building - stone and once a Roman palace - and was worth seeing. No photos were permitted, which was the only downside.

Today is back in Madrid, but before I wrap up this lengthy post, I want to add to those original expectations I had of Spain...

  • Madrid is definitely warm, but in September not excessively warm. However, Lonely Planet is correct in that I wouldn't want to visit in July/August.
  • Vegetarian food requires some searching out, but isn't completely absent and in Madrid there are some vegetarian-specific restaurants that I hope to visit. There is also a huge range of fresh summer fruit at present, and prices are cheap when you factor in the Australian-Euro exchange rate.
  • Madrid houses some wonderful museums and art galleries, but also has a certain charm in its architecture - particularly if you get off the main roads. In saying that, I am aware that the central 'old' district is quite different to the sprawling newer suburbs, which we have seen only from a distance. 

To these points I would add that English is not commonly spoken in Spain. This is as it should be - I hate relying on others to speak my language when I am in their country - but is unusual for Europe and a fairly novel experience for me. I am managing to convey quite a lot with sí (yes), no, and gracias (thank you)!


If you have read this far - thank you. I expect to blog summary posts semi-regularly over the month we're away, but expect they won't all be this long!

If you have been to Spain - how do my first impressions compare with yours?

34 comments:

  1. I've been to Spain quite a few times, to Barcelona, Madrid, and a few other places on the Coast. I've loved it each time, but I agree that vegetarian food is extremely hard to find! I have one waiter who, when my friend said, 'no meat please', he said, 'yes of course! we have lots of chicken options'. It took us about half an hour to establish that she didn't eat that either! Looks like you're having a lovely time though, I'm jealous!

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    1. You are super well traveled! And that is hilarious about the chicken (but a bit terrifying too!) :)

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  2. Great post - love your reflections and your photos. Your experiences are very different to mine - I wont write screeds here explaining why it is different suffice to say that I didn't want to be there (though now I wish I was in Spain - oh the irony). I did enjoy toledo and some of the painted walls in madrid but I wish I had found that market. I think I found it quite hot but I had come from Edinburgh where hot is just in the imagination!

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    1. I remember you saying recently (I think) that you weren't too happy to be in Spain when you were here. You will have to re-visit and visit in a more positive light :) I think the market may have re-opened in 2001 after being closed for some years, so perhaps it wasn't there at the time?

      We are finding it definitely warm and coming from Perth I can only imagine the contrast from Scotland!

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  3. Beautiful! I really like that apartment in Madrid... although I think the stairs with no railing might freak me out a bit. It's very modern looking.

    Plain, tart yogurt-tasting frozen yogurt is the best way to go. I think all places should offer it. A rice pudding shop near my old work sold it for $2.50 and I spent WAY too much money on those!

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    1. I am so grateful for the good exchange rate while we're here. Frozen yoghurt in Australia is usually about $5 (!) and here it's more like $3 so I'm feeling quite virtuous about the cost :) (American prices are still better though!)

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  4. Great pictures- it looks beautiful! I can't believe you are even finding time to blog on your honeymoon. I can't even blog on a 3 day weekend. Haha. Can't wait to see more pictures.

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    1. Thanks Tasha :) I think being away for a month gives us time to relax quietly at times, and blogging gets squeezed in there!

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  5. Thank you for taking the time to write this lovely post on your honeymoon, Kari! I expected you'd be far too caught up in holiday happiness (and, mind you, I do expect you to focus on holiday happiness rather than the pressure to write, okay? :P ) And thank you for the shout out! I think there may have been fewer spiders in your loft than mine ;)

    Squeeeee frozen yoghurt for lunch! I had gelato for "lunch" yesterday. High five!

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    1. I've done it once more since too - I'll have to put gelato on the agenda for some variety :P

      Holiday happiness is definitely present, bless you - thank you xo

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  6. It sounds like you are having a great time and thanks for sharing it with us! I can't believe you are finding time to write posts and keep up with blog reading and commenting too.

    I'm not sure if you are heading to Barcelona but I thought I would send you a link to this new post just in case it helps with seeking out food - http://veganinbrighton.blogspot.com/2012/09/barcelona-adventures-part-1.html

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    1. I read that blog this afternoon and thought of kari too! Was fun having two spain blogs to read on the same day!

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    2. Thanks so much to both of you! Sadly we're not making it to Barcelona but I am rather pleased just to have discovered the blog :)

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  7. OMG! Look at this! Food, architecture, gardens, history. It's majestic and I am totally envious!!!

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  8. I've been waiting eagerly for this post! ;) Thank you!
    I've never been to Spain so heck yea I read every single word you wrote here!
    I know what you mean though..when you go to places that are soo beautiful, it's very difficult to capture in pictures. That's why I hope to visit someday. The apartment looks so cute and cozy! I'm glad you were able to find some vegetarian places to eat! I'm esp marveling at the sight of Toledo city!

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    1. Oh, thanks so much Min! It means a lot that you liked it. Toledo was wonderful - I definitely recommend it.

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  9. Loved reading your post today, exciting hearing about your trip! I've never been to spain but it's on my list of must see places. Can't wait to hear about your experience in london and england, besides perth, it's the place I love the most. Whole Foods Kensington in london is like the best grocery store ever (and I found little creatures beer there)!

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    1. London is my favourite place in the world too :) I am loving this stretch of the trip but can't wait for that too!

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  10. Yay for holiday blogs! I'm loving this. It doesn't surprise me that little English is spoken, the spanish seem very committed to their language everywhere they are. Keep having an amazing time!

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  11. How beautiful! I have never been to Spain - thanks for taking me there.

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  12. It's so good to hear from you Kari and know that your honeymoon is going well. That must have been quite a trip, just getting there. Your apartment looks good but yes, that loft business could have it's advantages and disadvantages. Madrid looks beautiful. I haven't been there but really must! xx

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    1. Thanks so much Charlie - and yes, you must!

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  13. It sounds like you guys are having fun and doing a ton of sightseeing! I LOVE that you stayed in a self-catering place...makes it feel more like home! Thanks for sharing all these pictures. I feel like I've been visiting also!

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    1. Thanks Joanne! We love self-catering too and whenever we're staying somewhere for more than about 3 days pretty much insist on it :)

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  14. FOOD FOOD FOOD!! haha...that's my stomach chanting. and just so u kno anything in the icecream family is a perfectly suitable meal option anytime and anywhere! :) looks like u're having a blast and enjoying this special trip. keep on doing the same and working on becoming fluent in 5 other languages too. ;)

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    1. Oh geez, 5 others?! I am struggling with 2 :)

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  15. Oh, gorgeous! I would love to visit Spain - I read an article once about cycling from Barcelona to... Seville, I think, and ever since then I have added it to my dream list.

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    1. That would be amazing - but definitely do it in cool weather :)

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  16. I used to live in Spain- first in Madrid then in Sevllia- and this brings back such great memories!

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  17. I have never been.... I WANT TO NOW though :) Your photos are great... love your little apartment, how cute.

    I am giggling about Mr Bite's Veggie sandwich, ha that's disgusting ;) Your frozen yoghurt on the other hand looks YUMMO!

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  18. If you’re looking to visit Toledo on a budget you should definitely check out Be Your Guide Toledo, a mobile device application (aplicaciones desarrollo) that was developed specifically for the city of Toledo! It’s free to download in the app store and is the only one of its kind on the market. Being from the city of Toledo themselves, Nexora Solutions felt that this would be a great opportunity to share the wealth our city has to offer the world. It works offline too, so even if you’re traveling and don’t have an international plan you can use all of the features. It also provides user reviews of local pubs and restaurants to ensure that you have the best experience possible.

    Check out the full features at http://www.beyourguidetoledo.es/ !

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