26.04.22 — Travel

Rhea Visits

With my little holiday down to the south of Spain wrapped up, it was time for me and Rhea to spend our Easter holidays together here in Madrid. Her visit marked the first time that she’s been able to come over and visit me in Spain, so it was kind of a big deal – and we surely packed enough in to do the occasion justice!

The trip began as I went to look for Rhea at the airport, where we had our big reunion in arrivals – I’d not seen her since just before the pandemic began! Once we’d dropped off her stuff, our priority was getting some lunch, and so we headed up to share a selection of Madrid dishes at my favourite local bar.

Rhea was looking as radiant as ever in the sun, which returned just for her visit.

We then had to make a change of plans, as we’d spent so long munching, drinking, and chatting that it was too late to squeeze in a wander down the river as I’d planned. Instead, we headed straight up towards the city centre, where I was determined that we’d catch one of the Easter processions that take place across Spain. I first discovered these awesome spectacles back in 2016 when I moved here for the first time, but I was also keen to see one again after two years without them courtesy of our old friend coronavirus.

Up in the La Latina district, the streets were absolutely packed, with throngs of crows making it impossible to even catch the slightest glimpse of the passing procession. We listened to the dramatic music of the brass band for a while, before eventually diving into a bar on the famous Cava Baja street for a vermut and Rhea’s first tapas experience.

We grabbed this selfie just before we got tipsy on vermut and cheese.

Our little evening of barhopping down Cava Baja then continued with a stop for some wine and croquettes, after which we were pretty worn out and ready for home.

We started the next day with a proper Madrid breakfast of churros and chocolate, heading up to the centre and to San Ginés for the real deal. After this, we explored some of the centre’s most emblematic sights, markets, and streets, passing by the Royal Palace along the way.

The city centre was absolutely heaving with people, which I attributed to the combination of the Easter holidays, relaxing COVID travel regulations, and the sudden bout of good weather. To escape the crowds a bit, the two of us headed up to the north of the centre and to an Asturian restaurant that Sara had recommended we check out.

We then enjoyed a delicious and absolutely huge lunch at Llagar El Quesu, starting with some pastel de cabracho, a fish “cake” and one of my absolute favourite dishes from Spain. This was followed by artichokes with jamón, and finally a delicious cut of beef with some chips. We left the place absolutely stuffed!

The food was great, the waiter was hilarious, and the interior design was on point.

Rhea and I then headed to the abandoned metro station, but decided to give it a pass when we saw that there was a wait to get in. Well, the sun was beating down and we were stuffed fit to burst: it was no time to be standing in a queue!

Asturian food will always hold a place in my heart, but it’s not a great idea if you then plan on doing things afterwards…

We instead continued back southwards towards the centre, which took us through the Chueca neighbourhood, Madrid’s gay district. There, Rhea was very excited to discover the various sock shops, and so we had a good snoop around whilst avoiding the worst of the midday sun.

As the evening wore on, we headed down to a little Mexican joint, where I snacked on a couple of tacos and we had a couple of margaritas. With the sun now low in the sky, we paid up and left, heading up to a vantage point by the royal palace and cathedral to witness the sunset.

With the sun gone, it began to get cool, and so we began walking towards Sala Equis to have our final drink of the night. We wound up running into yet another Easter procession along the way, signalled by the loud music, throngs of people, and the smell of incense thick in the air.

As with the evening before, we couldn’t make out much of what was going on with so many bodies squished into the small corners of the square where it was all taking place, and so began to head towards the bar down a back street. It was here that we had a stroke of luck, finding an alternative entrance to the square which had been opened to spectators.

Heading into the plaza, we had a front-row view of the spectacle, watching the huge floats with holy figures be carried to the sound of the brass band and the odd round of chanting from the crowds. It’s a surreal experience, and one I would encourage anyone visiting Spain to try and catch.

Once the procession began to leave the square, we finally made our way to the bar in question and had our last couple of drinks before heading back home. It’d been quite the busy second day!

In order to then relax somewhat, we began the next day at home, cooking and preparing a set of local dishes. Rhea, an excellent cook and food photographer, was keen to take some local recipes back to the UK with her, and so we’d decided to start the weekend with a picnic in the park.

With bags full of many snacks, including an ensaladilla rusa which we’d made with one of my colleague’s mother’s recipe, we arrived in the park and began our feast with a glass of sangría in hand. As we finished eating, we spent a while reading our books whilst the sun forced us to move the picnic mat periodically – I’m not the biggest fan of sunbathing!

We then headed for a wander around the rest of the park after our picnic, grabbing an ice cream along the way as the temperatures continued to rise. Once we were well and truly knackered once again, we grabbed the bus back home, relaxing for a while before the evening’s activities.

We decided to stick around my local area that evening, walking down the river and chatting away until the cold began to bite somewhat. Back home, we then spent the rest of the evening watching Mrs. Doubtfire, a hilarious film that I still can’t believe I’d never seen before!

The next day was Easter Sunday itself, and so I celebrated in the only way I know how – by eating a whole chocolate egg for breakfast!

Me and Rhea then began Easter Sunday by making the most of Madrid’s policy of pedestrianising certain streets on Sundays. Our plan was to walk up the Paseo del Prado, the city’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site, but the bus dropped us off at the other side of the train station.

This actually worked out well for the two of us, as I was keen to have a snoop at the tropical gardens inside Atocha train station, a lesser-known spot which I hadn’t seen for a good few years. Our wander through this indoor forest got us to where we needed to be, and we then carried on with our walk up to the spot that we’d chosen for lunch.

After a tasty and varied lunch at Vinitus, the two of us then spent an afternoon doing a spot of shopping, from a popup artisan market to a casual browse for some new sunglasses for yours truly. We wound up having a drink around Malasaña and then heading home, where we painted our nails and rested ready for an evening out in the city centre.

With the sun setting, me and Rhea had a wander around the centre, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the lovely sights of the literary quarter. In a stroke of bad luck, the Jazz bar that I’d been to with my parents and which I wanted to take Rhea to was closed, but we soon found ourselves another spot to munch on some Spanish food and get pleasantly tipsy on some good cocktails.

The streets of Lavapiés are always a lovely sight to behold on the way home.

The next day then came around, and with it Rhea’s last day here in the city with me. We were still pretty tired after so many days of doing so much stuff, and so our morning was spent down at the Matadero, the cultural centre near my house. We headed down there for a snoop around after some breakfast at my local bar, and spent a while taking in the atmosphere before stopping for a drink.

I also fancied taking a look at a free exhibition put on by my neighbourhood’s local council. This took us inside the Casa del Reloj, a beautiful building which forms part of the same ex-slaughterhouse on which the Matadero sits: “matadero” is just Spanish for “slaughterhouse”.

The exhibition looked at the work of Luis Bellido, Madrid’s municipal architect from 1905 to 1939. He was the one who actually designed the Matadero and the Casa del Reloj, and so it seemed very fitting to be discovering his work from inside one of his buildings.

I feel like Rhea really enjoyed the architecture of the space.

After the exhibition, we then headed out the back of the Matadero and down to the river’s edge. There, we found a spot of grass to again unfurl our picnic mat and spend a while lying down and reading our books – even if we were chased by the sun and its unforgiving rays once again…

Once the sun got too much for us, we made the short journey back home for some lunch. In the second installation of Rhea’s Spanish cooking sessions, we whipped up a tortilla de patatas, which we shared with some veggies. Between the two of us, I have to say that the omelette came out quite spectacularly – it was delicious!

That evening, we headed back out for tea at a Basque pintxos restaurant that never fails to serve up some tasty small dishes. From there, we swung by my office so that Rhea could have a look at where I work, all before heading down to the Debod Temple to watch the sun set over the mountains in the west.

I may be biased as I live in the south of the city, but the city streets here are beautiful.

With day turning to night and the cool of the evening setting in, we had a quick drink on a terrace near the temple. This was followed by our last evening walk back home, which we managed about half of until we decided to surrender to our aching legs and wait for the bus to take us the rest of the way.

Thus concluded Rhea’s visit to Madrid, as she’d to head off back to the airport in the early hours of the next morning. It was an absolute pleasure to have her here, and a fabulous opportunity for me to reconnect with some of the parts of the city that I’ve not passed by for quite a while. I can only hope that this was her first visit of many, and I’m also hoping to visit her and everyone else over in London just as soon as I can!