The hostel I’m staying in doesn’t market itself to the usual backpacker crowd. It’s a place for contractors, people in the city for work.
So there is no late night partying (not that there was in Barcelona, considering the district it was in) and nobody seems to be sleeping in until 10am (as I assumed to be the case in Barcelona when I was the only one up at 8am).
Everyone I’ve met so far seems to be Spanish, and nobody speaks English, which is never an issue as far as I am concerned. Via the medium of mine and sound effects, I had a few conversations with the women who are staying in the same room as me this morning. Firstly, to apologise for having the sound on my alarm (instead of just letting it vibrate on my pillow) and secondly to agree that yes, the shower is amazing.
The hostel is an apartment on the second floor of a traditional building in the centre of Madrid. It’s up a beautiful, original wooden staircase and looks out over a busy square. My room is away from the square, and the soundproofing is superb. It’s close to one of the main metro stations which must make it a great location for workers.
Of course, I’m here on holiday.
Today’s activity: another food tour.
There was far less contextual history on this tour, as on the Barcelona walk. And without the Barcelona experience, I think I’d have found this to be disappointing from a history geek point of view. From a food perspective, it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
With only three of us on time for the walk, our tour guide was a little concerned about where the other seven were. Cynthia and Carl, from Las Vegas, introduced themselves, and we chatted while we waited. Once six of the missing showed up, there were no group introductions, and we cracked on with the tour.
The tenth guest remained unaccounted for.
Most of the walk was based around the literary quarter, so called because most of Spain’s great poets and writers lived here at some point. We passed the house of Cervantes and the bar Hemingway used to enjoy a sherry in. (I’d never had Hemingway down as a sherry drinker, but I made a note of the location to go back later).
First stop: a chocolateria for porras (a chunkier version of churros) and chocolate. As Spain undertook its exploration of the world, they brought home chocolate, BUT THEY DIDN’T REALLY LIKE IT and therefore didn’t know what to do with it.
Words fail me.
Feeling obligated to do something with it… after all, they’d sent ships all the way to South America… for about a hundred years, they vaguely used it as a medicine, thinking it might have some benefits.
Eventually, some bright spark noticed that people who had been feeling lethargic perked up after consuming chocolate. To make it more palatable, sugar was added, and it was turned into a drink. (It would be a while before the Italians worked out how to turn it into a solid form for consumption).
Chocolate and churros, traditionally, is more of a breakfast pick me up, rather than a dessert. If it’s in the quantities I was served on the previous night, there’s no way second breakfast would be possible.
We headed to a bakery, run by a man from Gallicia, appalled by the quality of bread on sale in Madrid supermarkets; and from there to a market to sample olives and vermouth. During the Pandemic lockdowns, supermarkets regularly sold out of Vermouth because everyone was having Vermouth Zoom calls to socialise with their friends.
In the last year, this local market has had to start opening bars and restaurants in the market to encourage people to return to do their shopping. Most of these were closed, which gave the venue quite a deserted feel.
Most of the venues we visited today had been in the same family for over a hundred years. The grandfather of the cheese and wine shop proprieter still turns an occasional hand at the till.
The calamari sandwich shop just off Plaza Mayor, while not in the same family, has always been the calamari sandwich shop… and at weekends, the queue can be an hour long. The shop next door likes to point out that it has shorter queues. There’s a reason for that.
At this point, Mini Mouse accosted us… or rather, tried to give two year old Penelope a balloon animal. Penelope was not having any of this. “You’re not the real Minnie Mouse,” she told the startled street performer.
That kid is going to go far.
The cake shop we ended our tour in was a favourite of the royal family – so much so that they gifted the owner enough furniture to eastablish a tea room. The owner was so concerned about theft, as a result, that he had a narrower door installed to deter would-be furniture thieves.
Having said my goodbyes to the walking group, I set off for more exploring. It’s fair to say that I had a fairly varied afternoon.
As my afternoon edged into the evening, I came out of the Station and found the road closed, police cars parked and ambulances lined up.
It’s International Women’s Day today, and a rally was being held. Yes, Madrid is a capital city, but even in reporting from London, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people join an IWD rally. There were women and men of all ages from small babies with their families to teenagers out in groups to people in their 70s. They carried placards, blew whistles, sang songs, chanted slogans and danced to drumming bands. There was a friendly atmosphere, but they were here to march for equity. Almost all wore purple – hats, coats, Tshirts, scarves or wigs.
Happy International Women’s Day.
“For International Women’s Day and beyond, let’s all fully #EmbraceEquity. Equity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA. And it’s critical to understand the difference between equity and equality.”