By Sharmila Chand
It started off with flamenco, a beautiful and uniquely Spanish combo of music and dance. The electric energy, the vibrancy, the passion, the expression, the lilting music and the magical beats of the dancers’ feet at the Flamenco show at the Las Carboneras in Madrid left me spellbound.
Thanks to my tour guide, the founder of Insider’s Madrid that organises personalised tours of the Spanish capital, I enjoyed the show at the contemporary flamenco bar-cum-restaurant bang in the centre of Madrid and close to the Plaza Mayor. My guide tells me this restaurant is styled on the lines of the old establishments known as café cantantes — intimate venues dedicated to quality flamenco, which can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors.
She insists that I get there early to grab good seats and order some great snacks. A delicious spread of tapas: Grilled vegetables, croquette de jamón, artichokes with cheese and jamón, manchegocheese, salad with nuts and goat’s cheese, tuna empanada, all washed down with even more delicious sangria.
Soon the show begins and we get engrossed in the stunning Anna and her compadres, with soulful voices, strumming acoustic guitars, clapping, whirling and stomping to the rhythm. Unmindful of her hair clips flying off, Anna was the epitome of passion, power and I got a bit of gossip from the tourism counsellor to the Spanish embassy in India, Arturo Ortiz. Apparently, in the 1920s, while attending a royal wedding in Madrid, the Maharaja of Kapurthala fell in love with a flamenco dancer, Anita Delgado, who was performing in a bar. He married her and brought her home to India. But later, she fell in love with one of his sons. Poor man, I thought to myself.
El Sobrino Botin – a 300 year-old restaurant
No guesses there, high point of my visit was to have a meal at the over 300 year-old restaurant El Sobrino Botin which is famous for its food and it’s long list of celebrated guests. Started in 1725, the restaurant has hosted he likes of King Alfonso XII’s sister and Ernest Hemingway. It is the same restaurant where artist Francisco de Goya once worked as a waiter before getting accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
High Up There
I got to see Madrid from a new angle, from the windows of a Teleferico Madrid cable car, which takes you on a 2.5km trip over the Casa de Campo or Faro de Madrid, the communications tower which, at 92m gives the best views of the city. What a thrilling experience. The old stomach churned a bit, but I loved every moment of it.
Hop On, Hop Off A Double-Decker Tour Bus
Yes it’s touristy, but hey, what better way to get all the sights and sounds of a city when you have limited time on hand. The double-decker tour bus takes you on a scheduled panoramic tour of Madrid on two possible routes – Modern Madrid and Historic Madrid. It is a great way to see the city’s fantastic monuments and sights, allowing you to get a good overall view of Madrid, with the flexibility to hop off the bus to further explore any attractions you particularly like. And then you can hop-on again to continue your tour as the next bus comes round. You can hop on and off the bus as many times as you like on either of the routes, or even start one route, and join another at one of the interconnecting stops.
Once on the bus, you are given headphones that allow you to listen to the ongoing commentary, which supplies tourist information about the sights in 8 languages.
Madrid Walking Tapas Tours
I tried tapas in Madrid the way the Madrileños do! This is a walking tour for those who love exploring old, historic Madrid at night, visiting undiscovered restaurants and tapas bars, indulging in the real Spanish gourmet food & wines, and meeting like-minded people.
The tour is organized for small groups (the average maximum group size is 6 people), and allows you to leave the typical tourist track and receive an introduction to the real Madrileño lifestyle with traditional Spanish food and drink. The tour visits four traditional bars or restaurants to try authentic Spanish delicacies such as chorizo in cider, octopus from Galicia, cider from Asturias, sherry from Andalusia and other regional specialities.
The Irresistible Rastro Flea Market
Madrid’s largest open air flea market is ‘El Rastro.’ It is said that the name derives from the fact that cattle from Madrid’s abattoir were transported to nearby tanneries located in Ribera de Curtidores Street and left a trail (‘rastro’ in Spanish) of blood on the streets.
I went crazy here as this is supposed to be the largest flea market in Europe with upwards of 3500 stalls selling everything you can dream of and somethings you didn’t know existed. Established in the Middle Ages, its hub is the Plaza de Cascorro featuring a statue of legendary soldier Eloy Gonzalo and the market sprawls downhill towards the river.
There are many sights, sounds and smells of Madrid that I will carry in my heart forever. It’s that kind of place. Unforgettable. Hasta la próxima, I say to a city that I hope I’ll be visiting again one day soon.