Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, June 01, 2015


My daughter and I arrived in Spain late in the afternoon on Saturday October 12th. Our hotel was close to the Palacio Real de Madrid (the Royal Palace) so after settling in we set off to have a look at it before finding somewhere to eat. As we approached it became obvious that Something Was Going On! There were large crowds of people and military bands left right and centre. We were told that it was the weekend of a Spanish national holiday and further investigation has revealed that it was Fiesta Nacional de EspaƱa which commemorates the day that Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas in 1492.

The following morning we began our day with the traditional Spaish breakfast of chocolate and churros. Churros are a fried dough pastry and you dip it in the chocolate which is rich and thick. Definitely not a low calorie breakfast!

After breakfast we wandered down through El Rastro Market - it's a huge open air flea market that is open every Sunday and there are lots of antique shops in the area too. We knew about this and various other things because Juliette has a friend who used to live in Madrid.

By the time we'd wandered round the market and various antique shops it was lunchtime so after buying ourselves something to eat and drink we walked up to Retiro Park and found a bench in the shade to have our picnic. Retiro is a huge park with lakes, long shady avenues of tress and also more formal areas with statues and flower beds and specimen trees. It was a hot day and being Sunday the park was full of people and yet it never seemed crowded and it was always possible to find quiet areas. We had our lunch near one of the lakes which had all kinds of wildfowl on it including several beautiful black swans.

One of the lovely paths - you can see the first touches of autumn colour in the trees and other than Juliette and I there wasn't a soul in sight.

El Parterre is one of the more formal areas of Retiro and there are several of these sculpted Mediterranean Cypress trees as well as colourful flower beds and one or two lovely specimen trees - cedars I think.

After lunch we went to the Prado Museum and spent about three hours wandering round - neither of us are passionately interested in art but we feel that when we have the chance to visit world class museums and art galleries we should take it. For both of us Rubens was the highlight and I liked the Van Dyck portraits as well. No photography allowed inside the Prado of course so the rather uninspiring photo of the outside is the only record of our visit.

In the evening we visited the Mercado San Miguel a wonderful covered market built in 1916. It stands on the site of the 13th century church known as Iglesia de San Miguel de los Octoes which was destroyed in a major fire in 1790 and demolished in the early 1800s. A fish market soon occupied the open space until the covered market was opened in 1916. It's filled with a wonderful variety of stalls selling everything from fresh fish to chocolates. There's a bar and you can buy food to eat as you wander. If you're hoping to sit down and eat you are likely to be disappointed though - the seats are few and far between and invariably already occupied. These little pastries were delicious - I ate a lot of them:)

Among the things on offer were sea urchins - apparently a real delicacy in Spain.

Juliette is much more adventurous on the food front than I am - she was brave enough to have one and here it is. She ate it all but wasn't exactly ecstatic about it:)

We had booked a walking food tour for Monday morning in the Huertas neighbourhood - this was the old literary quarter of Madrid. There were only four of us, all female, so it was a really nice small group and very international as well - we are English of course and one girl was American, the other South African and our guide was from Argentina!. Our first stop was this grocery store to taste various jams, honeys and other goodies. All of us exited carrying a large and expensive box of Rabitos Royales - chocolate covered figs stuffed with truffle! We  moved on to have porra and chocolate - similar to chocolate and churros - and then to a small business that did homemade potato crisps - they were just fabulous, far and away the best I've ever had and very more-ish!!

The Mercado Anton Martin was just a small local market. We visited several of the stalls here including this one selling olives. I had no idea that there were so many varieties of olives. I didn't take much part in this tasting session as I don't do olives I'm afraid.

Another of the stalls sold an incredible range of cheeses and hams - I don't think I've ever seen such variety before. In all we visited ten different places tasting food and/or drink in each one. To be honest it was the literary associations that took me by surprise and which I found really interesting. Our guide not only took us to taste various Spanish specialty foods but also told us something of the history of the area we were walking round.

I saw this on a wall as we were walking between two of the food venues - I just love it. Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and the recalcitrant donkey:) Click to enlarge it.

This plaque is above the doorway of the house on Calle Cervantes where Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, died in 1616. He was buried in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians which is still a working convent. The exact location of his tomb was lost for centuries but earlier this year it was announced that it has been found again.

All over the old part of Madrid we saw these lovely tile pictures illustrating the name of the streets - Calle de las Huertas means street of the gardens because once upon a time it led to an area of gardens.

After the tour finished we decided to visit the Reina Sofia Museum which is dedicated to modern art. The work we particularly wanted to see was Pablo Picasso's iconic painting of the Spanish Civil War - 'Guernica'. I am not a fan of modern art and to be honest I wouldn't give you 10p for a work by Picasso or Salvador Dali but there's no doubt that 'Guernica' is a masterpiece and evokes the horror of the Civil War very dramatically. Juliette appreciates the work of modern artists more than I do and enjoyed our visit.

The wonderful tiled frontage of the Farmacia del Leon which I believe dates back to the 1700s.

A close up of one of the panels showing an apothecary at work.

A last view of the Royal Palace as we walk back to our hotel - tomorrow we're off to Seville.


moonstruckcreations said...

Welcome back!

I loved your post, and cant wait for the next one as we were in Seville in Feb too and fell in love with it.

And I am so pleased you posted about Madrid as that is on my bucket list!


Jacqueline~Cabin and Cottage said...

I agree that it's hard to keep everything in memory, I love Spain and have visited Madrid a couple of times. The food was the BEST!!! I love olives and the tapas. My husband is addicted to Cerrano ham. The chicken croquettes are unforgettable. I forget what they call them there. We tried to make them from a Williams Sonoma recipe and failed miserably. Seville was enchanting as well. Such a romantic country! SO nice to have a visit from you!

Jan said...

Wonderful pictures! I've never been to Spain, but these make me want to go!

Bovey Belle said...

Good to see you posting again. That looks a lovely holiday, and I would have loved the food markets too - still have good memories of those in Florence last year.

That guided walk sounded very interesting. Just up my street. (Tam still in Sheffield - living in Walkley now).

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Good to see you posting again. I think I would have enjoyed trying some of that lovely food on offer. (I'll pass on the Sea Urchin thanks!)

Granny Sue said...

Welcome back, Rowan! I enjoyed the tour very much. I'd never considered visiting Spain but your photos certainly make it look inviting.

Dog Trot Farm said...

Hi Rowan, no one in blog land can take us on a tour/journey as well as you...I would love to visit Spain someday but till then I look forward to the second part of your post... I am no "foodie" but that is my kind of breakfast! From across the pond, Julie...