Madrid for the third time

March 12, 2018

This time, March 2018, we stayed in another neighbourhoud than the previous times. Staying in another district gives a whole new perspective of the city. We stayed in the posh Salamanca area, where Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Armani all have a shop just around the corner. Not that I was in any way interested. On the contrary, places to eat where obviously more expensive in this area and not alway because the quality was so much better. But it makes you visit new places.

Our hotel, NH Collections Colon, just a step away from Plaza de Colon, was a nice surprise. The interior designers took all the right descisions. Th lobby is small, which makes sense, why spend all this lost space on a lobby just to impress. It is much more effective to impress with the right rooms. Visitors will in the end remember a good nights’ sleep and a good functioning bathroom over an impressive lobby. In the lobby they do welcome you with a free drink, some candy and an apple. You can read one of the many newspapers available or print out your boarding pass on the computer with printer.

The room boasts a very large comfortable bed with a choice of three pillows, against a very romantically lighted wall. There are enough sockets to load your phones, tablets and computers, and the desk is large enough to work on and has a very comfortable chair. The room boasts a huge TV screen, and you can relax in a sofa with a book. There are coffee and tea making facilities, a safe and a well stocked mini bar. The bathroom has a great rain shower, a large range of toiletries, and a real professional hair dryer, which is great! I always bring my own hair dryer, but this time I did not use it. Coffee, tea and toiletries are refilled daily. The room is separated from the corridor by a small hall that gives acces to the bathroom and a second door that blocks out all the noise from the hotel corridor and lets your partner use the bathroom without disturbing you if you decide to sleep in. You can change the climate of the room with a thermostate. The hotel has a small but very functional gym and an outside pool, which was closed since it was winter. I can really find no fault in the design and decoration of the hotel and its rooms. You can even open the window enough to ventilate for fresh air if needed. Taxi’s are always available in front of the hotel. And there is a metro stop close by.

We had lunch on Sunday in Pasteleria Mallorca, a famous deli/restaurant where all the posh people come and get their food and pastries on a weekend. We took two boards to share, one with Iberico ham and one with salmon. The pastries looked deliscious but we declined. The only downside was that the restaurant was rather cold, a dissapointment since this isn’t the cheapest place.

We made a walk through Retiro park, as do many Madrilenos on a Sunday. We walked up to the Crystal palace, but couldn’t visit the interior because a glass panel had come down, and the fire fighters were checking for security. We walked around it. We walked back to the hotel past the Prado museum. I took a siësta to catch up some sleep after a very short night. We walked out for dinner, but as we found out, most places are closed on a Sunday night. We found Romola (on the same street as the hotel) and El Jefa ( some streets down) both closed and Ten Con Ten was a bit too expensive to our taste. We ended up in Sugarcane, tired of walking in this very blustery weather. The restaurant is just OK, I do not especially recommend it.

The next morning we stepped out for breakfast and walked up to Harina, a bakery opposite the entrance of Retiro park. I had spotted the place the day before and it looked like a nice place for breakfast. It is in fact an ecological bakery where they also serve breakfast, brunch and lunch. We had an OK breakfast but were in the end a bit disappointed with it all. The plates were a bit uninspiring, the scrambled eggs with toast a bit too simple, and our toasted croissants were burned. And again this is not the cheapest place…

Our next stop was the exhibition ‘Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.’, in the Arte Canal Exhibition Centre. The center is located in the middle of the Chamartin quarter, smack in the middle of the financial district. It is the first time a large exhibition organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State museum travels outside of Auschwitz. A large majority of the objects, pictures and visual materials have never been shown to an audience before. The exhibition is made up of 25 rooms and the audio guide has 66 stories to listen to. It took me more than three hours to walk through the whole exhibition and I did not read all the explanations given. But I did not get bored one second. The exhibition gives a very detailed account of how nazism came to rise, how anti-semitism grew before the war, how Auschwitz was built, how everything was planned, how people were arrested, deported, selected, murdered, how they had to work there, how they survived, lived, suffered, rebelled or just gave up, made friendships and lost family members. And all this without showing the usual gruesome pictures of piles of dead bodies. The exhibition draws on human stories, often told by survivors in the many video fragments, or by just showing small personal items like a kids shoe with his stocking still tucked in. We visited on Monday when entrance prices are reduced. The exhibition is very popular zo if you visit on popular days I advise you to buy your tickets in advance online. In the next 7 years the exhibition will visit altogether 14 cities around the world, 7 in Europe and 7 in North America, bringing its history closer to millions of people. I really urge you to visit if it passes near you. It is a must see exhibition.

I took a late lunch near the hotel at Platea in Mama Framboise. I got really great cups of herbal tea, a multi grain bread with salmon and one of their famous pastries. It is a great place to while some hours away alone with a book or chatting away with a good companion.

In the evening we returned at Platea for dinner at El Foso. It is a kind of food hall, but one with style. You can choose beween, burgers, sushi, Italian, seafood or meat. I took the grilled cuttlefish with salad and my companion chose the beef sirloin steak with fries. As a dessert we had pastries from Mama Framboise. Great quality food, great atmosphere, great service for a reasonable price. From 8:30 PM onwards a DJ starts his set, but at the restaurant the music is not too loud for a conversation.

The next day I took my breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, a better choice than Harina bakery. I ordered a fresh mint tea and they brought me a whole teapot, and a granola parfait with yoghurt and fresh fruit. They played classical music, which I really enjoy at this time of day. After this healthy breakfast I did some shopping in the surrounding streets. The shops on the main street are all high end, but in the side streets you find something in every price range. I found a great sweater for just 20 euros, a find!

I left my luggage in storage at the hotel and walked to Fundacion MAPFRE close to Plaza de Colon. They host a temporary exhibition on Derain, Balthus and Giacometti, focusing on their friendship and the artistical influences they shared. The exhibition runs from February 1st to May 6th, 2018. The permanent exhibition on Miro normally holds around 60 paintings by Miro but was now reduced to only 15 works by Miro. The entrance ticket to the Derain exhibition includes the entrance to the works by Miro and only costs 3 euro, with my student card I only paid 2 euro. The entrance is free on Monday afternoons. I especially liked the paintings by Derain, although there were also some interesting works by Balthus and works by Giacometti whom I only knew from his famous sculptures I had seen in Berlin and other musea. Here you see earlier paintings and sculptures by Giacometti. It is forbidden to take photographs in the museum.

From the Fundacion MAPFRE I walked twenty minutes to the Museo Sorolla. The museum is housed in the artist’s family home. The paintings are displayed in all the rooms of the house. The interior is for the most part preserved together with many of the furniture and decoration. The museum hosts a temporary exhibition on ‘Sorolla and fashion’ from February 13th to May 27th, 2018. The exhibition shows paintings accompanied by period dresses and accessories. There was a small queue in front of the entrance. The museum is quite small and if too many visitors come at the same time they make you wait. Best buy your tickets online if you visit on popular moments. You can combine it with a visit to the temporary exhibition with the same title at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum where another 70 works with period dresses are on show.

We had lunch at restaurant Tierra del Qeuiles just around the corner from our hotel. We immediately realized it was a pity we hadn’t eaten here on our first night. The restaurant is famous for its traditional dishes from Navarra using fresh produce from Navarra’s abundant farms. On weekdays they serve a set lunch which at 13,5 euro, for three courses including a drink and delicious fresh bread, can’t be beaten. You can choose between three dishes for every course. We had a salad with mushrooms, steamed fish with a salad and the most delicious rice pudding, flavored with cinnamon and orange. The place has two floors that are packed, with more people waiting at the bar for a table. We had to wait 5 minutes before being given a table on the first floor. The service is swift, and the food freshly prepared as you would at home. I think we were the only tourists here. There is no menu in English, and you better speak some Spanish, but they stay patient and friendly if you are not fluent in Spanish. I can highly recommend this place, next time in Madrid I will certainly come back.

To round of our trip, we had a last coffee and tea at Mama Framboise at Platea.

The NH Collections Colon has actually all the right restaurants in the direct vicinity of the hotel. Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast, Tierra del Qeuiles for lunch and or dinner and Platea for afternoon coffee, tea and pastries and for dinner. And for some local couleur, Mallorca for lunch, afternoon tea or some take-away sandwiches.

Also many of the important museums are all within walking distance of the hotel. The Prado, the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the MAPFRE, the Sorolla museum and the Archeological museum, all great for art lovers. The Retiro park also oftens hosts art exhibitions.

Madrid charmed me again with its cosmopolitan atmosphere, while keeping its Spanish feel.

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