By Monday, Madrid had become much busier and most shops, restaurants and bars had re-opened. We got up a little earlier than the day before, and walked to Madrid’s CaixaForum – an art gallery in a former power station.
The building itself is amazing, and has been designed to look as though it floats. It has an incredible vertical garden built alongside it, and is entered via a winding shiny silver staircase.
We were there to see the Philippe Halsman exhibition, which was a perfectly-curated insight into his very long career and extremely entertaining collaborations with Salvador Dali. It was such a fun exhibition, which ended with an interactive photobooth that allowed visitors to recreate one of Halsman’s most well-known works; ‘The Frenchman’.
Not understanding much/any Spanish, Ross and I had an interesting time selecting the accompanying questions for each photo and when they got projected up on the wall for all to see, we weren’t quite sure how they were received by other visitors. Nevertheless, it was great fun and we both left the gallery with big grins on our faces.
We walked through the tourist city centre to reach the ‘barrio’ of Malasaña, which was packed with some great little shops.
After a few hours of walking in the chill, we sat down for the menú del día at a local café. In Madrid, you can get a three-course set lunch menu in really nice restaurants for 10-15 euros, including wine and coffee! I found it incredible, and cursed London and other big cities for the prices they charge. This blog has a great round-up of the variety of the city’s menú del día. It seems like an easy way to get a table at some of the city’s most popular restaurants without having to book or pay a fortune.
After lunch and a bit more walking through Malasaña (which had been pitched to us as the ‘hipster’ area, although I got the feeling that perhaps it had passed its ‘peak hipster’ moment), we ducked into the tiny Bodega La Ardosa for a drink.
This place has been around since 1892 (according to Lonely Planet), and you get the feeling it hasn’t changed much in the last half-century or so. The front part of the bar was already packed, and there was only standing room for us at the bar. The back room had some tables where we saw people eating, but to get through there you had to literally duck underneath the bar and sort of crawl through. Ross ordered a vermut (served on tap) and I opted for a red wine, and we stood admiring the bar, the lightning-fast, no-fuss efficiency of the staff and feeling as though we had momentarily stepped back in time.
We walked back to our apartment for a late afternoon nap, before embarking on another culinary adventure in the evening. We began our night at Los Caracoles, which – unbeknownst to both of us when we went inside – translates as ‘The Snails’ in Spanish.
It didn’t take long to realise that nearly everyone there was eating a bowl of snails. Determined not to seem like close-minded tourists, we ordered some as well. Admittedly, the thought of tucking into a bowl of snails didn’t fill me with joy, but curiosity got the better of me and despite not knowing where snails sat on the unspoken list of ‘pescetarian dos and don’ts’, I gave one a go.
It really was quite awful. I’ve tried French snails before, but they usually come served out of their shells and smothered in butter and garlic. You had to pull these snails out of their shells and they were so unexpectedly long and muscly, and there was a lot of grit in them too. I think they also were also stewed in a chorizo broth, so it wasn’t really a surprise that I didn’t enjoy it.
Meanwhile, Ross was gobbling them up one-by-one, until the huge bowl we’d been served was nearly all gone. One of the (extremely lovely) bartenders had been watching me in anticipation as I tried the snail, and you could see he was enjoying my reaction and laughing at us taking photos of the snails. When he realised I wasn’t eating anymore (I stopped at one), he very kindly brought over a small bowl of bar snacks for me to eat, and as I hopefully looked into the bowl at what I thought might have been croutons, he enthusiastically told me that it was pork cheek and promised I’d love it.
I felt terrible and spent the rest of the time there pretending to be chewing on the pork cheeks, and ordering Ross to eat them while the bartender’s back was turned so that it appeared as though I’d finished them off.
We said our goodbyes – the staff there were so nice! – and began walking to our next destination, Corazon, which was back in Malasaña. Corazon was an old Irish pub, which had been refurbished and now serves cocktails and plays fun music.
After a few drinks here, I was feeling hungry after only eating a single snail and a few olives and so we walked back to La Concha, where we’d been the night before, for a nightcap and a couple of small plates.
After a long day of walking (and eating!), we decided it was time to head back and get a good sleep before our final full day in Madrid the next day.