Madrid: Full of Bears and Mulberries

When you have a very early morning train you have two options for the night before: Be smart, go to bed early and try to muster as much sleep as possible. Or you can choose the second option and just stay up until you have to leave. Guess which option we took? Well, we did want to take advantage of our time here and that included every last minute.

We took the fast newly constructed 3 hour morning train and immediately fell asleep. We got to Madrid, met up with our great friend Rachel and started a free walking tour a couple hours later.  We were zombies on that 2 and a half hour tour but it was completely worth it. We learned about the oso y madroño, the bear and a mulberry fruit. Back in the day, people thought this certain fruit had magical powers. Turns out, if you leave the fruit on the tree too long, it will ferment and it’s possible that those alcoholic properties contributed to a bit of this “magic.” You can see the bear eating off of the fruit tree everywhere around Madrid: on sides of buildings, on the sidewalks, on manhole covers, etc. Another interesting fact from that tour: food is required to be served with every alcoholic drink you order: aka tapas. Apparently, oh so long ago, workers had a short break in the middle of the day. They were hungry but didn’t have enough money for food AND alcohol so the obvious choice was to spend it on alcohol.  Employers were not the happiest because their workers would come back, post siesta, a bit drunk with only alcohol in their stomachs. So the king passed the tapas law and it still exists today. Only in Madrid unfortunately.

We walked by the oldest restaurant in the world, as verified by Guinness World Records. Dating back to 1725, El Botín still cooks one of its original recipes, suckling pig. The famous painter Goya once worked there as a dishwasher and Ernest Hemingway frequented it. He actually frequented almost every restaurant in Madrid, but apparently this one was his favs. He even mentioned it in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”

That night, a friend brought us to a Moroccan restaurant. Best thing ever: pastera de pollo, translated to chicken cake. Topped with nuts, powdered sugar and cinnamon. Sound strange? Yep. Was it delicious? Absolutely.

Jamón (ham) es MUYYY importante in spain. If you haven’t seen a picture of the large ham legs you’ll think they look quite disgusting but they are sooooo good. I will certainly miss that when I go home.  One of the reasons it became so popular was during the Spanish Inquisition, one way to prove you were a Christian was to eat ham in public.  This was better proof than a piece of paper and you had a nice little snack!

Convent cookies! The Convento de Corpus has nuns that NEVER leave the convent. Ever. They are hermit nuns. BUT they apparently cook fabulous cookies. So you go, ring the doorbell, they judge you through quite obvious camera situated in corner of door, and if you are acceptable, they will buzz you in. You stand there anxiously awaiting the cookies that are made by nuns who have quite a lot of time on their hands i.e. we expected gold in the form of cookies. There’s a menu inside and you put the money on a lazy susan type deal and they return with the cookies in a rotary door. You never hear or make contact with the nuns. After talking about the nun cookies all day long ready to experience this magic for ourselves, we walked up to the door to find they were in fact very busy on friday, saturday, and sunday, and therefore cookies would be unavailable until Monday.

There’s many churches in Spain, and Europe for that matter, but not so many with a crocodile. The story goes: There was once a large croc about to eat a small helpless child and sailors were about to witness this horrible event. The cowardly sailors thought it a better idea to pray that the virgin Mary would use her heavenly powers to save this innocent baby. Low and behold, the virgin Mary came through for them. A very large conveniently placed tree fell due to unbeknownst powers and killed the croc instantly, saving said child. The face of the virgin mary was etched onto the trunk and so to prove to the people back home that this was indeed the story, they brought back a large dead crocodile instead of the tree. Hence, theres a large croc muy grande and muy dead in the church. The etched tree is still floating around somewhere.

The great things about tours is they give you plenty of suggestions for things to do whilst in the city. Therefore things on our list included, eat churros at one of the most famous churros restaurants in Spain and take a mulberry shot out of a chocolate shot glass.

Next we would leave for San Sebastian to try our luck at surfing.

Faith Lindsay was a participant in the CE Au Pair in Spain program.

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Flashback to our Fall API student's first days in Spain. Madrid orientation with our friends from api_granada, Salamanca guided tour, and lunch tapas (+first days of classes!)

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📷 by @api_salamanca
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