Christmas in Spain – Day 6: Madrid

Ho ho ho… Merry Christmas… Feliz Navidad… It’s Christmas Day in Spain! Which we celebrated by sleeping in to about 9:30am… When we woke up, we did a modified version of a Christmas tradition we’ve had since Caitlin was little – her advent calendar – which started out as one of those cheap Disney-princess one chocolate-a-day concoctions you can buy at drug stores then expanded to the more expensive Lindt chocolate ones and then to a fairly expensive reusable one from Purdy’s that is designed to be refilled with Purdy’s chocolates each year… Which we’ve never ever done… But Marie has filled the little 1.5”x1.5” boxes for each day leading up to Christmas with a variety of little gifts – from chocolates to scratch and win lottery tickets to little things of makeup and even underwear! The calendars have been so well appreciated – and so much fun for Marie to put together – that she’s has expanded her venture to include one for me (filled with scratch and wins… last year I won $25 on a variety of tickets but this year only won 2 free $1 tickets 😢) and for her mom… This year, Caitlin wasn’t able to come home before Christmas to get her advent calendar and it didn’t make sense to ship it over to her as she was leaving for England well before Christmas… so Marie painstakingly wrapped each day’s gifts and packed them with us to Spain… In the bag which had been missing until yesterday afternoon… So it’s fair to say that Marie was pretty happy that her bag was returned in time for Christmas morning so we could keep the tradition alive.

We aren’t doing the traditional Christmas morning exchange of gifts this year – mainly because this trip is our Christmas present and because gifts take up valuable space in our bags – space we plan to use to bring home cheap booze. But Caitlin did find a unique gift for us that took up minimal bag real estate – a donation in our name to WISH in Vancouver (a drop-in resource centre for street-based sex workers) where she worked as a volunteer for a couple of years and which has suffered a series of financial hits due to flooding in their offices…

After we opened our gifts we put together a small Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs with leftover charcuterie ham and Manchego cheese and pieces of french toast infused with a knockoff Spanish version of Baileys that Marie bought a couple of days back… With a bit of raw sugar dissolved in water as syrup and fresh blueberries to top it off.. It was surprisingly tasty… Although we all commented that we missed Marie’s “Land of Nod” cinnamon buns that have become our traditional Christmas morning breakfast.

After breakfast we made our way to the Paseo de Prado (about a 10 minute walk away) to catch the Hop On Hop Off bus that we’d booked tickets on to do an 80 minute city tour. We’ve used these buses in quite a few cities in the past… sometimes they’re a decent alternative to public transit… most times they’re at least a good way to get an overview of the city and to see some of the main sights that would be too time-consuming to travel to without transportation… and even at their worst, they’re a decent way to see stuff without having to walk long distances. I was pretty sure that I had done the same tour when I was here by myself back in 2015 but I have to admit it all looked fairly new to me… so either I fell asleep in the blazing hot sun or they’ve changed the route… or I’m getting old… I’m going to blame the sun… In any case, one of the big knocks on these bus tours is that they can tend to be a bit slow due to traffic but this one wasn’t bad because traffic was pretty minimal with it being Christmas day. Add in the fact that it was a bright sunny day and it was a pretty decent way to spend an hour and a half. I’m not sure I’d recommend it if most of the main sights in Madrid weren’t closed because it was Christmas Day but it fit our schedule pretty well all round…

We exited the bus at Puerto del Sol and spent the afternoon exploring and window shopping (more places had been open on Christmas Eve than we expected and more places were closed on Christmas Day than we expected… so much for the accuracy of the internet!). We grabbed some beer and tapas at a place not from the square – and across from a restaurant that looked promising for dinner… Then made our way to the Mercado San Miguel… Home to a bunch of trendy food and drink stalls, it’s packed with tourists and locals alike and is pretty much what most markets aspire to be. It’s housed in a refurbished cast-iron structure built in the early 1900s and it’s wildly expensive but the food is amazing, the drinks are excellent and as long as you don’t mind bumping shoulders with half the population of Madrid, it’s a must-do. Marie found a delicious lemon pie (sorry Grandma but it was even better than your lemon tarts… which is saying a lot considering Marie loves them so much that she snarls and snaps at me like a rabid dog if I’m ever foolish enough to try eating one). Caitlin and I found some pretty delicious sangria. Which is pretty standard on our travels – Marie goes for the sweet stuff and Caitlin and I go for the booze.

After the mercado we made our way back to the apartment and hung out for a bit letting the tapas and sangria digest a bit before heading back to Puerto del Sol to eat at the restaurant we (wrongly) thought was doing a special dinner for Christmas Day… turns out their special menu was probably just their regular Wednesday lunch menu and they actually weren’t doing anything special for Christmas. I keep forgetting that most of the two and three course meal specials are for lunch and not dinner… In any case, we’d already been seated and didn’t want to be rude and get up and leave so we ordered… lasagna for Marie (it was very tasty), a chicken caesar salad for Caitlin (not bad) and a ensalada mixta for me (also pretty tasty). With a pitcher of sangria and some bread we were more than sufficiently full by the time we were done… Although Caitlin is expecting that we step up our game for New Year’s Eve dinner in Jerez.

After dinner we made our way back to the general area of the Prado again to catch a Christmas lights bus tour we’d booked. We cheaped out and didn’t do the package that included hot chocolate and some kind of sweet (a good choice because for an extra €5 per person we would have got a styrofoam cup of hot chocolate and a plastic-wrapped generic sweet bun). As it was, the tour wasn’t awesome (we weren’t expecting much as it only got about a 60% rating from reviewers) but it was a relatively painless way to to pass the time… It followed much of the same route we’d followed on our earlier bus tour but Madrid does go all in with the Christmas lights (the city not individual residences like we do in Victoria) so it was worth the time and it wasn’t too expensive. In retrospect we probably should have opted to walk through the botanical gardens which were nicely lit up but they were considerably more expensive…

By the time the bus tour ended it was almost 11pm so we made the fifteen minute walk back to the apartment where we did a bit of packing in preparation for our early morning train to Cadiz the next day. In all, it was a pretty relaxing way to spend Christmas…

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