Exploring Madrid and Toledo


My English friend Chloe came to visit the first week of March. We met a couple years ago at the California Wolf Center, where she did an internship and I was an employee.

I enjoy showing visitors around, as it allows me to play tourist and enjoy the things that the city has to offer. It’s also nice to see friends and family members that I haven’t seen in a long time. Despite my inability to get anywhere without a GPS, we survived the week exploring together (and even enjoyed it)!

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El oso y el madroño, Puerta del Sol

We started out with the obligatory trip to the center of the city, Puerta del Sol, where you can see this statue of the symbol of Madrid, the bear and the strawberry tree. We also walked along Gran Vía and then over to la Mallorquina, a famous pastry shop. Chloe tried torrija (a Spanish version of french toast) which unfortunately she didn’t like, but the shop is fun to see nonetheless. I warned her that usually it’s super busy and the employees don’t exactly give the best customer service (especially to tourists who don’t speak Spanish), but it turned out that she got really great service and the lady even spoke English. My new theory is that I need to stop being an American to get better service. Ha, just kidding (kinda?).

I had to take Chloe to one of my favorite bars downtown, El Rocío, which specializes in mussels. And man are they good, every single time I go. My favorites are the steamed mussles in red sauce, and the ‘tigres’, which are stuffed and fried. We got the steamed ones and got full on mussels and beer. 10/10 recommend.

We also checked out the Plaza de España, the Plaza Mayor, the Mercado de San Miguel, and the Royal Palace.

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The opera in the background
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The royal palace

One morning, Chloe decided to make us a pancake breakfast, which is always welcome! They were really good, only slightly different than what I’d consider typical American style. They were thinner and bigger, like crepes. I put out all the toppings we had–bananas, strawberries, agave syrup, chocolate chips, jelly, and nutella. Chloe and Diego both told me to make sure their faces weren’t in the photo (does anyone really like a photo when they first wake up?)

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Chloe’s pancake breakfast

Chloe and I headed downtown to check out the Temple of Debod, only to find out that it’s closed for renovations. I told Chloe that it’s ok, that is true to the Spanish experience. You will find at least one thing you want to see closed inconveniently (right, Lisa?) I asked the security guard when it would reopen, and he wasn’t sure, although he guessed around summer time. Ha!

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Closed, come back…we don’t know when?

To cheer us up a bit we headed over to “el bar de siempre,” as Diego calls it (the bar we always go to). I wasn’t expecting any favors but the bartender recognized me and gave us a bunch of free tapas and drinks. I couldn’t complain, and I definitely recommend being friends with a bartender.

There is nothing in the world like a real Spanish bar

Chloe being a true Brit had to have her tea every day, which I failed to provide, so I took her to the grocery store that was most likely to have international items: El Corte Ingles. And they did! They had a whole selection of things from Great Britain, including the exact kind of tea that she wanted. Win!

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International products at El Corte Ingles

Since the day was cold and rainy, we decided to go to the movie theater and saw Hidden Figures (in the original English version). I really liked the movie, and highly recommend it. Afterwards I took Chloe to the Prado Museum, which is a must see for anyone coming to Madrid. Entrance is free on weekdays from 6 to 8 pm, which is just enough time run through the museum seeing only a few of the masterpieces. The Prado is huge.

The next day we slept in a bit, then went for a late breakfast at a famous churrería here, San Ginés. Since I hate not having enough churros, I ordered 18. In my defense, they came in demoninations of 6. Wait, you mean 12 should have been enough? Yeah you’re right.


Next, we headed up to Moncloa to see the faro (a tall structure that you can go to the top of to see cool views).

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The door to the city at Moncloa with the faro in the background
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At the bottom of the Faro
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First view from the top!
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Moncloa with the Spanish Air Force building to the right and the Plaza de Esaña in the background

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We then headed over to the cable car for a ride across the Casa de Campo. I think by that point we had worked up a hunger, so we went to a local bar in the area that I had not tried. We both ordered fast and simple things so that we could get to the Monastery on time for a tour. And at the end of our lunch, the waiter offered us free shots (only in Spain?!). I was going to say no, but Chloe talked me into it and I was glad, because it was really good! And what better way to start off a monastery tour, than a shot of alcohol?!

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El Real Monasterio de la Encarnación

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The tour was only available in Spanish, so I offered to translate for Chloe. It isn’t exactly the best situation, as the tour guide doesn’t pause to give me a chance to translate, and this particular one spoke very quickly and seemed nervous. Between that and my lack of knowledge of art history (a big theme in monasteries here), the translation probably left much to be desired. However, I did feel good about it in the end because there was an American couple on the tour who overheard me translating for Chloe and I ended up with my own following of English speakers.

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That night, we went out for drinks at a local bar in my new neighborhood

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The next day, we went to the Zoo/Aquarium of Madrid. I tried to maximize our time there by looking at the schedule of shows and photo ops. We got to see the sea lion show, the dolphin show, raptor show, and get photos with the giraffes and sea lions. I actually ran into a girl working at the zoo that I volunteered for a while back. And we were lucky enough to see the baby panda up close, as well as a baby orangutan and an extremely active tapir that frolicked through his exhibit and swam in the water.

Who doesn’t love giraffes?!
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I laughed so hard at the English translation of its name: the Jackass penguin
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The baby panda was sleeping on the window ledge. I couldn’t handle it!

On Monday, we went to Toledo by car. I may have gotten us lost and taken the wrong exit a couple times, but we made it. Since Toledo is well known for its history of cohabitation of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, we checked out all three different types of religious buildings and their neighborhoods.

We also went down to the river, where Chloe decided to get on the zipline to the other side. I personally didn’t have the guts to do it, so I got a video of Chloe flying across.

We enjoyed an amazing lunch at a tiny hole in the wall place across the river. Considering that I chose the place based on Tripadvisor reviews, I was expecting something touristy. It was the exact opposit–no frills, nothing fancy, and nothing in English. There was one single old man working there with 4 tables of people. He had a lunch menu (2 main plates of food plus dessert) for 11 euros and it was delicious and very authentic. I tried carcamusas, a typical dish from Toledo.

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First plates and 80 cent beers
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The bridge over the river

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Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca
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Ermita del Cristo de la Luz. One of the oldest mosques in Toledo. The Christians decided to rename it and put a Jesus figure in it…of course
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Sitting on the edge of the wall playing with the fisheye lens

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On Chloe’s last day here, we went to Retiro Park to see the crystal palace and the lake. Then we took two electric bikes to the plaza mayor to get the famous calamari sandwich.

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The crystal palace
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Inside the waterfall cave
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The crystal palace

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The lake in Retiro Park
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Chloe pointed out that the statue looks like he’s taking a selfie, so we followed suit
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Calamari sandwiches in the Plaza Mayor!

Every once in a while you should stop and enjoy the place you live in. You never know what new things you’ll discover and enjoy. Thanks for visiting, Chloe!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Lisa Wieman says:

    Brings back such great memories, Heidi! So glad that we go to see DeBod while we were there – even though it took more than one try! So glad that you are making the most of your stay in Spain!


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