Recently, a press trip to Mallorca and Ibiza included a stopover for a few days in Madrid - a city that I love and haven't been back to since 2009. I love Madrid not only because it's full of history, talent and fantastic eats but especially because it reunites me with my former roommates from that one summer many moons ago in London. The summer of 2003 was a big one for me - I had just finished my second year of RTA at Ryerson and had learned that I won a scholarship that was going to cover my university tuition. As a kid, summer vacations meant short road trips up north (if we were lucky) but being a huge Britpop nerd, I always dreamed about going to England one day with notes that I frantically jotted down while listening to Alan Cross' British music tours on The Ongoing History of New Music under my arm. I know what you're thinking, "But what does this have to do with Madrid?" - I'll get there, I promise. So, with a year's tuition at my disposal, I gained a heavy dose of bravery (and some means) to finally live my dream of re-living Camden Town's punk spots, the mod days of Carnaby Street and basically everywhere Liam and Noel Gallagher step foot in (I was a massive Oasis fan from Definitely Maybe to Standing on the Shoulder of Giants - yes, I made it that far) and booked a ticket to Heathrow via Pearson with no apartment and no job set-up. It was the scariest and most exciting thing I had done in my life at that point and when I did finally find a place to live, that place led to a lifelong friendship with Sandra, Sergio and Vanessa - my London roomies from Madrid who were just as broke as I was, unsure of everything, but ready for anything. Oh, to be 20 again.
12 years later. Haven't aged a single day, right? This is where you nod, YES. Even though Sandra lives in Madrid and I'm a returning visitor, these Madrid City Tour double-deckers are such a great way to see the city's best sites and not have to worry about how to get there. Plus, being a tourist is one of the funnest things you can do in life and if you don't agree with me, we can't be friends.
With the whole gang in 2003. Vanessa, Sergio, Sandra and I at our flat in Manor House by Finsbury Park. This was shot on my Minolta SLR, ON FILM and the only picture I have of the four of us from that time. I didn't know until I got back home to Canada if it had turned out and wasn't able to take a back-up pic because I had run out of film. These were real problems, kids.
Plaza Mayor, an easy central starting point.
About a 3-minute walk from Plaza Mayor is an essential stop at La Campana, which means bell in Spanish and makes the best deep-fried calamari sandwich.
Perfectly light and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, calamari on a bun, straight-up. No sauce, no bullshit. So delicious. You know a spot is good when it's packed with 80 year old men.
All roads lead to hot chocolate and churros. A few minutes walk from La Campana, at the end of a very long and very charming alley, is Chocolateria San Gines.
Betcha can't have just one.
How convenient - there's a bar and comfy beach loungers on the rooftop terrace at Bellas Artes. SIESTA.
Templo Debod is a sight to see, best at sunset.
As you know, I have a personal fascination with eating and learning about Chinese food around the world and Madrid has some top spots including DiverXO and Tse Yang. The lovely team at Villa Magna hosted me at the latter where I got to meet Chef Kam Hoi and his impeccable staff while being treated to a tasting of their carefully prepared menu. Above, you can see the Peking duck wraps being plated.
The dim sum sampler of crab sui mai, boletus shroom sui mai, duck and foie gras dumplings, and shiitake and white truffle dumplings. Also consumed: lobster mushi, spring and autumn rolls and Singapore vermicelli noodles.
Mercado de San Miguel. Come hungry.
Jamòn Ibérico for all. I'm still in jamon withdrawal in spite of what WHO says.
Delicious gildas (olives, peppers and anchovies).
Mercado San Ildefonso. Another really delicious market that also serves up great drinks and is always fun and packed in the night.
Time for tapas and vermouth at Bodega de la Ardosa.
Bodega de la Ardosa's famous tortilla de patatas. Heaven.
Bar Galleta in Malasaña is a beautiful spot to have a sit-down dinner with friends.
Nearby is Casa Julio. One word: croquetas.
Also close-by in Malasaña is La Bicicletta. Really chill, no fuss vibe. Awesome crowd.
Theme of the trip? Betcha can't have just one :) Mojitos just taste better here.
Another night, in Lavapiés.
Artists at work. Galeria Liebre gallery, studio and shop in Lavapiés.