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Road Trip: Madrid

Two days ago, I boarded the jam-packed Easy Jet plane at Charles de Gaulle hopeful, with nothing more than t-shirts and a couple of cotton scarves in my little black Samsonite. The weather report promised sun and 60-degree temperatures. That, along with the familiar Spanish, would be almost like going to Texas, I told myself.

Except we don’t have tapas bars.

Once I arrived in Madrid, I went straight to the flea market, El Rastro, but got so caught up in the crowds – it was nearly 1 p.m., after all – that I quickly gave up on shopping and decided to tuck into one of the dozens of tapas bars in the same neighborhood.

Lucky for me, I stumbled up on the city’s best tapas street, Cava Baja, where Madrillenos had already started nibbling tortillas and croquettas and drinking little beers called canas.

I decided to join them. I walked down the street and tried to size up the crowds, and the places themselves – not so easy when they’re all standing-room-only at the bar, which is where the grub’s handed out – but I wanted my first tapas experience of this trip to be a good one. With its red-and-black painted façade, and what appeared to be a small gathering of locals inside and out – the menu was in Spanish only — Taberna Salamanca looked perfect.

I stepped inside, walked down the steps, and smooshed myself up to the bar, between a snuggly young couple on my right and a trio of 30-something women on my left. It was also dark, but the bartender was pouring beers two at a time, and smiling and laughing as he did so. I liked this place. I ordered a beer, which came with these kind of greasy — and yummy — bits of fried ham.

I stabbed my ham with a toothpick and nibbled along with the rest, and I drank my little Mahou beer, too.

Then my tortilla came – I’d forgotten that it wasn’t the potato-version, but a zucchini tortilla – and it was light, perfect and delicious.

It was also so big that I couldn’t eat it all. So I paid the 5.50 euros (!), and strolled towards Plaza Major, the main square.

After two blocks of walking Madrid’s streets, though, I found myself in front of Freddo Freddo, a little ice cream shop that had the word on the sign that I always look for, “artesanal.”

I’ll just go inside and look, I told myself. I asked her if they had a specialty, and she let me taste the homemade vanilla with chocolate chips – and cinnamon and rum – and I couldn’t resist.

It was just a tiny little cone, after all, I convinced myself, and I wouldn’t have dinner for hours and hours…

Taberna Salamanca
Cava Baja 31
Madrid
+34 91 366 31 10

Freddo Freddo
Calle Major, 53
Madrid
+34 91 458 20 56

Metro: La Latina