A Long Walk, A Gintonic and Flamenco

I’’m not big on sweets (thank God!!!!) but there are a few things I really like. The short list includes ice cream. I also like coffee, so it is only natural that an affogato is something I might veer out of my way to get to quench a sugar craving. I have no idea why this combination of an espresso shot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (hazelnut works equally well) is not available in every restaurant.

But the Spanish like their coffee and their ice cream too, and from there to DIY affogato is not a big jump. The perfect pick-me-up after a busy day of sightseeing.

I waited for the caffeine and sugar combo to hit my bloodstream as I pondered what to do with the rest of my afternoon. Go nap? Go see more stuff? Go nap? Walk around? Go nap and then decide….

After 15 minutes my energy level and enthusiasm were finally artificially restored…. No nap needed. Time to go see more stuff.

I walked among the tourist mob and kitschy souvenir stores in the Gran Vía and eventually made my way to the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple donated to the Spanish government in gratitude for the help received during the relocation of the temple of Abu Simbel prior to the flooding of the Aswan dam. Fascinating history all around.

 

The light was way too harsh in the afternoon sun to get any decent pictures.

Next stop was at the Rosaleda. It was kind of pretty but there was not even a rose bud this early in the spring. Not one. Nothing. The gardeners were not even done with the spring cleanup. But the views from the upper level are worth the detour.

 

The eventual destination of my wanderings was the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, where the Panteón de Goya is located.

Google maps decided to take me on a somewhat solitary and shady-looking route across a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks. I admit to hesitating for the first time during my visit to Madrid, mostly because there was a corner I could not see around. Should I continue? Turn around? The alternate route was a long detour away, backtracking uphill.

This reaction says more about me than about Madrid. It is just a habit to pay attention to my surroundings.  Outside the main tourist areas, San Juan -where I live and hang out- is not exactly the safest city on the planet or the friendliest to solo women.

I like to think that I’m past the age where sexual assault is a primary concern but not too old to look like an easy target to those that prey on the frail. Of course, everyone that raised an eyebrow back home when I said that I was going on a week-long solo trip disagreed with either one or the other of these premises.

It is not uncommon to read in ‘Women’s Magazines’ that middle-aged women feel invisible within our Western society. Some might even argue that this ‘safety’ is the plus side of reaching AARP membership age. I have never felt this way.

BTW, since I’m rambling about the joys of middle age, very few Spanish women allow their natural gray to grow out. Even wheel-chair bound nonagenarians have their wispy curls dyed Medium Ash Brown and highly coiffed. It seems to me (Survey Participants = 1) that gray hair is much more common among the French and German ladies.

Let me tell you something, letting my natural gray come out is the #2 best decision I ever made. Getting a hysterectomy and marrying my husband tie for #1.

I also have an ultra-short buzz cut. Hair this short on females is usually seen in Spain only among the younger -pierced and tattooed- alternative crowd. So yes, I do stick out a bit. Invisible I am NOT, lol.

Allow me to redirect my ramblings towards personal safety as a female traveling alone.  I got back to the hotel way past midnight on more than one occasion, using the metro and continuing on foot -by myself- and never felt unsafe in any way.

Madrid is a super safe city. Not that it is free of petty crime, normal urban-center precautions need to be taken.

I’’m equally surprised first as to how careless some people were with their possessions, and second that these were still where they left them when they finally had the common sense to come back and collect them. Handbags  hanging open over barstools or expensive cameras left unattended on top of a table at an outside terrace café come to mind.

Back to my conundrum at the pedestrian bridge. I hung back a little until I saw some other people walking nearby and then continued along the way Google had routed. My husband might not be entirely pleased to read this.

The neoclassical Ermita de San Antonio de La Florida was built in the late 18th century. It was decorated with frescoes by Francisco de Goya. He also painted the amazing cupola. Upon his death, the artist was buried in the church and it also became known as el Panteón de Goya.

The site was subjected to two pilgrimages, those of unwed women asking St Anthony to find them a novio and those seeking to pay homage to the artist. The local clergy finally decided in the 1920’s to build an identical temple next to the Ermita so that it could function as a church and allow the panteón to be a full time museum.

 

The paintings on the cupola were definitely worth the trip to its somewhat inconvenient location. Marvelous art! But it IS better to take a taxi if you have already had an intense day of sightseeing.

In the museum there was a small room where they projected a short documentary about Goya and the history of the twin churches. It was dimly lit and perfectly cool on one of the first warm days of spring. You know where this is heading, right?

I probably snored and drooled publicly through three or four showings of the documentary. My best estimate was that I slept for around 40 minutes! Yes, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that all my belongings were still on me when I woke up.

Embarrassing. There probably is at east one cautionary Youtube video of me, mouth wide open and head against the wall, warning people to travel when they are young. Oh well. I got my nap after all.

Feeling refreshed (no kidding!?!) I made my way back up to center where I plunked down at an outdoor terrace behind the Teatro Real to enjoy one of the most iconic Spanish summery drinks, a ‘gintonic’. The middle ‘and’ is omitted in Spain.

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This is the one drink where you know for sure that the globed stem glass is going to come full of ice. And that you will not be given just a single cube if you ask for additional ice to keep your drink cool on a sunny warm day. The waiter might even forgive for hogging a prime table for an hour of two.

Which is exactly what I did as I enjoyed people watching and nursed my drink for more than an hour under a gloriously bright blue sky, the exact shade that instrgram filters try to emulate. It was a delight to be out in the sun.

Eventually it was time to move on. I walked through Cava Alta and Cava Baja streets. I popped into San Isidro but there was an ongoing mass. But I was tired from the long day and when I saw an open table at a bar at the pedestrian-busy intersection of Cuchilleros and Puerta Cerrada, I grabbed it. Prime people watching! Even got to see pretty pups out on their afternoon walk.

I got with my glass of wine a ridiculously mayo-laden potato tapa that I didn’t even like much but wound up eating most of it anyway. Why do we do these things to ourselves?

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By then it was almost nightfall and I had to make a dinner decision. I wasn’t that hungry (remember the burger AND the half-a-jar-of-mayonnaise with potatoes). But there was one thing I wanted to try after hearing the tour guide at La Encarnación make a recommendation to a couple in the group.

They had asked for the best place to have a Bocadillo de Calamares, a fried calamari sandwich, one of Madrid’’s top late-night staples, and the guy had answered without hesitation: Bar La Campana, on a small street close to the Plaza Mayor. He even called his firefighter friend at the station next door to the bar to confirm the address.

Even more carbs? Sure. Not really hungry? Not a problem. I was on vacation, had probably walked more than 13.1 miles throughout the day, and had been given a prime local tip. ‘Go for it‘ is ALWAYS the answer.

This is why I will never be really thin. And I’’m OK with that. Except sometimes at yoga class when I’m surrounded  by 99-pound twentysomethings and ultra fit vegan middle agers who have not had a hamburger since they were teenagers. But I get over it quickly. By the time I hit savasana I’m already thinking about lunch or happy hour.

Bar La Campana was as much about the experiencing the quintessential Spanish joint as about the food itself. This is about as Old School as it gets. Probably has not been renovated much since the 1950’s.

Located less than 30m from tourist central, the street opens directly from the Plaza Mayor, it is a haven for locals in need of cheap, quick, and filling fare. And of course, a few wandering tourists as well. Not for the first time I marveled at how close ‘off the beaten path’ and ‘the local experience’ can be.

– What can I get you? (Shouted over the bar as soon as I walked in) – I was told this was THE place for a Bocadillo de Calamares.
– You got that right. What do want to drink?
– A house white.
– Find yourself a place.

Short and to the point. No ‘‘Hi my name is Chad and I will be your server tonight‘’. This is a business transaction in a super busy bar and they will accommodate you only as far as it does not interfere with tending to other customers.

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Did I fall in love with this carb-festival combination? No. I would have preferred crispier calamari and less fluffy bread. I guess its one of those things you have to grow up with. But I’m glad I had it. Betcha it is great hangover food.

The best part of the experience was the son and father sitting next to me. Kid was around 6 years old. They were playing at ‘menu del día’. Each had a chance to come up with an imaginary perfect combination of dishes for each member of their family. The kid thought his mom would like cocido soup for first, fish and potatoes for second, and strawberries with cream for dessert. Dad agreed that the son’s proposal was better than his own.

There I was, in the Plaza Mayor shortly after 9:00pm. Not sleepy after my unplanned nap. Perfect timing for Flamenco!!!!

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The choice of venue was a no brainer (not for artistic value but for being 100 meters away from my hotel): Tablao Cardamomo. And they had a 10:00pm show, nap or not I did not think I would hold out for a midnight function. Ten minutes later I was sitting on a stage-side tiny table with a complimentary (well, included in the price) glass of wine.

Some guests had tapas/dinner during the show. Though everything looked good, this is very unpractical. The tables are too small and there was no space to comfortably lay all the plates they bring. The diners’ attention was constantly taken away from the show so that they could deal with their food and pass plates around.

The venue is small. The seats to the back are raised auditorium style. I think that everyone in the seats that face the front of the stage gets a good view. I’m not so sure about those with the side view.

The cast consisted of 5 ‘cantaores’, 2 guitar players, 2 male dancers, and 2 female dancers. The show lasted around an hour and I really enjoyed it.

 

Though it was nowhere even on the same planet as the María Pagés show I had seen, the quality of the singing, dancing, and costumes was up to par with other commercial flamenco venues I have visited in the past. I thought that the €€39 that I paid for admission (and the one drink) was a fair price for a solid performance. The story might be different had I partaken on one of their dining options.

The neighborhood was booming when I left after the show, but I had no energy or interest to keep going. Fifteen minutes later I was showered and fully asleep in my hotel bed.

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Day 5, Thursday, April 18, Part 2


2 thoughts on “A Long Walk, A Gintonic and Flamenco

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