It’s already been about 3 weeks since I boarded my flight to Madrid which seems crazy to even put into words, the time I spent there, and the time since coming back has gone by so fast that I’m only now getting a chance to put my experience into writing. I’m hoping to discuss a few of the amazing things to see in the city and some places to grab a drink and a bite. I’m also going to discuss the difficulty of how it felt being a vegan holidaying in a city whose culinary culture revolves so heavily around meat and dairy, and whether my choices impacted my enjoyment of the trip.
The Food and Drink
I title this section ‘food and drink’ but in reality it will mainly be drink, for the most part I spent my time in Madrid eating bread (after Josh had picked the cheese and meat off the top), patatas bravas, olives, padron peppers, and pan con tomate (a dish that was so loved in the country that it was featured on McDonald’s breakfast menu). A notably exception was the fabulous Freedom Cakes, a fully vegan bakery we found while wandering the back streets of Madrid at which I enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with fresh strawberry ice cream. This is not to say that Madrid was bereft of vegan venues, there were quite a few vegan venues but the menus were heavy on bean burgers, salad bowls, and curries – things that I either make at home or find kind of boring.
I also wanted to have as authentic an experience as possible, so tried to stick to a lot of traditional dishes, whilst staying true to myself and my beliefs. Not trying any of the non-vegan products was as clear cut to me and not going to see a bullfight. It was a little difficult at times as I’m not used to overthinking being vegan too much anymore in the UK, it is just easy here. Being challenged by the food culture around me gave me a good opportunity to reflect on my choice, which is something I haven’t done in a while, and reaffirmed my belief that being vegan is the right path for me right now.
Of course knowing me I had to search out some craft beer and Madrid was happy to provide. On the first day we found Bee Beer which was a cute little bar which had the unique idea to have a beer tasting board on their menu alongside cheese and meat boards. We followed Bee Beer with Fabrica Maravillas which was a unique bar with some of the most fascinating beers I’ve had in a while. It seemed to be a real hub of international activity with $1 notes from all over the world (or their equivalent) proudly displayed behind the bar, and a coppers stuffed into the cracks in the wall, a fun quirk of their decor which I’m sure has a fun story behind it. After going to Freedom Cakes we visited Mikkeller, this is a beer brand that I recognise from my adventures in the Manchester beer scene, their venue in Madrid was a relatively new opening but had notably fun decor, friendly bar staff, and a fantastic range on tap. A final notable craft beer spot, before this section goes on forever, was La Tienda de La Cerveza a cute back street venue which had friendly vibes similar to Port Street Beer House in Manchester, the knowledgeable bar man provided us with free pie (the most generous of all the free beer snacks which were usually olives or nuts) and it was fun to see so many beers on tap from Manchester breweries.
On the topic of beer I certainly experienced my fare share of famous Spanish lager – refreshing, relatively low alcohol, beverages. El Tigre provided their larger in giant mug-style glasses. El Tigre is one of the few remaining venues in Madrid that provide you with ample tapas alongside your drink. We paid $5 each to be provided with a large beers and large plates of assorted tapas, and happily for me a large amount of patatas bravas was included. Looking at Tripadvisor reviews on my return it appears to be a venue that it helps to speak a few words of Spanish to request your drinks to avoid being over charged. Working in a bar myself I honestly have respect for the staff if they charge rude tourists that did not bother to learn the word ‘cervesa’ a bit more, I low key wish I could get away with charging a rudeness tax sometimes but I luckily never have rude customers at La Boca.
On our last night in the city we visited two fantastic cocktail bars, something that I’ve fallen out of the habit of doing in the UK having been drawn into the beer scene in the last year whereas my heart used to be firmly in Camp Cocktail. We started off the evening at
Del Diego a slick vintage style venue with possibly the most talented waiter I’ve ever seen, whose efficiency was combined skillfully with charm, the bar felt truly like a step into another decade and was worth the steep price point for the experience alone. Then onto Museo Chicote a self-styled museum of cocktails that orignally opening in 1931 and was patronised by Salvador Dali, I enjoyed the history book style of the menu which featured my very favourite cocktail – The Aviator.
In Madrid we focused a lot on soaking up the culture through the people and atmosphere rather than through museums and galleries (although we did visit the Museo de Historia de Madrid which was a perfectly informative Museum which told a surprisingly predictable story of the history of the city).
This atmospheric feeling of culture of typified in our visit to an amazing Flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco La Quimera. The back street bar featured a small stage which felt like the raw beating heart of Madrid. I felt like a venue that was off the beaten track with the audience appearing the consist of at least 50/50 native Spaniards to tourists, I was able to use my few words of Duolingo Spanish to confirm with the bar man that we were there was just drinks and the show but no meal, which made me feel proud that my effort had paid off in learning so key phrases. I felt so much passion from the band of traditional Flamenco performers that it was impossible to take me eyes away from the stage for the duration of the show which lasted the best part of an hour and a half but simultaneously felt like a lifetime and a second all at once. Due to the low intimate lighting of the venue it was pretty difficult to get a photograph that captured the true soul of the performance so I’ll provide the link to their website here and would urge you to check them out if you were visiting the city (
We visited three major parks each of which had a unique character and made me crave for more expansive green spaces in our UK cities, despite living next to one of the best parks in inner city Manchester. El Retiro park, dotted equally with historical statues as it was with buskers and sales people, had a busy festival feel on the main thoroughfares, contrasted to peaceful clearing between the trees if you only strayed a little from the given paths. We enjoyed a (well came to enjoy after we’d got the technique right) an hour on the boating lake, which gave me throwback memories to a day trip to the Lake District me and Josh had done while we were both in Lancaster, reminding me that all of our experiences are interconnected collages rather than distinct events.
Casa De Campo offered a very different style of park, an expansive wild grass land on the edge of the city we could have spent the whole holiday walking around various areas of the park. We had a trip on the cable cars which offered amazing views of the entire city, from the green lands of its’ parks, to the historical buildings and high-rise apartments. We sat in the sun by the lake and read our books, a beautiful golden retriever came over and let me pet his head and in this moment I think I knew the overriding feeling of peace that will define this holiday for me had been perfectly captured.
At the Temple Debod, an Egytian temple which was donated to Spain by the Egytian government following Spain’s involvement in the construction of flood defenses, we watched the sunset over the palace, the cathedral and the hills, I felt so peaceful and I truly understood what Walt Whitman meant when he said:
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals […] and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”Walt Whitman, Introduction to ‘Leaves of Grass’
I hope you have found this blog somewhat informative and somewhat poetic, I enjoyed revisiting my trip as I wrote this blog and I feel happy that I experience the city on my own terms. I by no means ticked off any list of ‘top things to see in Madrid’ that can be found on popular travel sites; I experience the city in a relaxed way and in the process experienced the joy that I believe any holiday should be about. I have fallen in love with Spain all over again as I did when I visited Barcelona for my 20th birthday and I honestly cannot wait to go back and write about it all over again.