Our afternoon in Madrid was a lethargic trudge through the Spanish heat. The few exchanges with one another were brags about who’s feet hurt the most, or self-deprecating remarks about sunburns and dehydration. It was the halfway point of the trip, and luckily we had a visit to Chocolatería San Ginés for some churros con chocolate to rally behind.
As soon as we got our churros, there was an instant shift in our group’s morale. The desert seemed to smile back at us, a sort of reassurance to earlier doubts about figuring out where to go and what to do for the rest of the day. The combination of the crunchy churro with the creamy, rich chocolate delivered a tremendous sugar rush. We even asked for seconds, they were THAT good. I owe my thanks to the chocolatiers for lifting our spirits and giving us the energy boost we needed for the evening.
With a reinvigorated sense of adventure, I took a small group with me to Plaza de San Miguel to indulge in tapas and try new foods. The indoor market is filled end to end with food booths that features the the very best of the local cuisine. It was all served in a tapas style, so we were able to mix and match our plates, sampling from each of the booths. They had stands for freshly cut ham, cheese bars, seafood, fresh fruit, wine, and beer. The atmosphere was incredible, seeing the anticipation of the people looking for a good bite, and then searching for a spot to eat like it was a high school cafeteria. None of the tables in the middle were open, so we went to the outer edge of the building to lean on the bar top. The walls were all glass so we had a nice view of the people outside as we ate. For my order, I had a glass of red wine paired with some cheeses and a tapas de toasta that had chorizo, Iberian ham, and a roasted pepper on top. After our appetizers, we went to get ready for what was going to be my highlight of the day.
Earlier, we did a walking tour of Madrid’s literary quarter, Barrios Las Letras. During the 16th and 17th century, many famous Spanish writers lived and wrote in this area. Play writers such as Lope de Vega and “Don Quixote” author Cervantes are celebrated to this day in the area with museum tours of their homes, as well as their quotes engraved into the street to commemorate their cultural significance. The Lorca statue honors the memory of the Spanish writer who was a victim to the Spanish Civil and is placed in front of the Taetro Espanol, one of the oldest comedy theatres in the country. Even one of Ernest Hemingway’s frequented bars preserves his window seat for everyone to see. It is a very historic neighborhood and made me so greatful to be able to come back here to finish of the night at the nearby Cafe Central for dinner and a jazz show.
Just like old Ernie, I got a window seat in the corner of the cafe and ordered a drink in his namesake. The lights were dim and still, and the band came on stage. What I thought was noodling around became an assortment of random sounds and incoherent phrases, and suddenly the band came together. The show was on. I was mesmerized by the music, feeling out the groove with the rest of the crowd. The bass twanged along with the drummers in a complicated time signature, while the saxophone provided a mellow sound which contrasted the intensity from the trumpet. There was so much skill and musicianship in front of me, and I was so locked in to music, feeling the emotion of the moment. The improvisation in the music reminded me of our trip up to this point, roaming freely across the city and cutting loose from set schedules. We were really embracing the spontaneous nature of it all, taking advantage of every chance to see new sights and visit new places.
The band played their last number and bowed off stage. Our night ended with applauds and cheers from the staff and patrons, a fitting conclusion to a day that had a sluggish start. We walked back to the hotel imitating our favorite parts of the performance, attempting to recreate the memory as best we could. It was a lot of fun and I am excited to discover what’s next for the second half of our stay in Madrid.