Madrid week two: Holy Toledo

Erin Alexander/Staff

The heat in Madrid will not subside. I’ve seen over a dozen Miami Heat jerseys since arriving, which forcefully remind me of its inescapability. But despite the temperature, Spain’s delicious and inexpensive cafe con leche has become a vital part of my daily routine. After a short siesta — which has also become vital to adjusting to the Madrid’s schedule, meaning eating dinner at 9:00 p.m. and not even starting to go out for drinks or clubs until 1:00 a.m. — I like to head over to one of the many adorable cafes in the trendy Chueca district where I am staying.

My favorite so far has been the Café de la Luz, a small but cozy cafe and bar. Its friendly service and an eclectic style of comfortable armchairs, vintage tables and lamps, and an assorted art and book collection make it feel homey. Their cafe con leche is rich, creamy and cheap at only 1.50 euros. They also have a reasonably priced menu of assorted sandwiches, salads and drinks. My other go-to spots in the area are La Bicicleta Cafe, a great day or night spot with a funky, hipster-oriented aesthetic, and Toma Cafe, which serves a life-saving iced cold brew and happens to be right across the street from my residence.

madrid coffee shop

But siestas aside, this week has been packed full of adventure and my best meal in Madrid to date. My class and I took a day trip to Toledo, a medieval hilltop city located just over an hour outside of central Madrid. The mixture of Islamic, Jewish and Christian influences can be seen in the breathtaking architecture and the narrow charming streets that seem to endlessly wind throughout the city.

toledo 1

The highlight of the day, though, was zip-lining over the Tagus River, which allowed for incredible views of the medieval Puente de San Martín, the 15th-century Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes and the entire landscape of one of the oldest sections of the city.

toledo 2

A few days before the excursion to Toledo, however, I was lucky enough to be treated to some of the best food in Madrid. A friend I’d made while studying abroad named Bert’s aunt was kind enough to take a group of us out to dinner at the Restaurante Ana La Santa, situated inside the contemporary and luxurious ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel in the heart of the city. The food offerings are traditionally Spanish with a gourmet touch.

chopitos

Bert’s aunt, Alice, ordered the table a number of items off the tapas menu so that we could try a nice mix of dishes. We devoured the plates of crispy chopitos (battered and fried tiny squid) with a spicy green sauce, a light and fluffy Spanish tortilla of potatoes and egg, refreshing gazpacho, buttery langostinos (a shellfish somewhere between a lobster and a shrimp) served in the half shell and a tasting of the highest-quality hand-cut jamon iberico, aged for 48 months. I was especially excited by the jamon iberico, as it’s one of Spain’s most famed dishes.

jamon iberico

The five-course platter — which, thankfully, was explained to us with great detail — was a specially crafted progression of slices from different parts of the pig, which allowed us to appreciate subtle changes in texture and flavor. The most incredible was the third course, passionately described to us as an almost sensual experience, where I could feel the perfectly cured fat slowly melt away in my mouth and taste delicate hints of the pig’s acorn diet.

We finished off the night at the hotel’s rooftop bar, aptly named the Roof, happily sipping mojitos and taking in the beautiful nighttime view of Madrid’s Plaza de Santa Ana.

 

 

Contact Erin Alexander [email protected].

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