I’ve given myself (and you) a break, and now it’s time to resume Madrid Top 10! Here goes nothin’.

6) The Natural History Museum. I’m a sucker for natural history museums, and animals in general, but Madrid’s Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales is really, really good. Their temporary displays were pretty cool, but the museum just went on and on (which I loved). They had all kinds of old scientific instruments that I didn’t understand, but that looked very cool and important, and an amazing–and I do mean that–collection of animals. Now, taxidermy is something that I don’t reeeally understand, but being able to see specimens of animals from all over the world in one place IS pretty cool. The best part was this room in the basement filled with vitrines that were PACKED with specimens the Spanish government had been collecting for who knows how long. It was kind of overwhelming. But really cool. These pelicans were one of our favorites–they’re enormous! The other thing we really got a kick out of were the weird dioramas the taxidermist had put together (complete with fake blood and everything!):

Hawk one, rabbit zero.

5) The food. Phillip keeps insisting that Spanish food seems to consist of pork products and fried potatoes. Which is not entirely off the mark. And not to denigrate Spain’s distinguished history of pork-loving and pork-curing and sausage-making, but we did have a few other special things along the way.

Subsection 5.1: Tortilla. If you’ve never had Spanish tortilla before, you should fix that ASAP. It’s a sort of fat egg omelet loaded with potatoes, onions and garlic. I’m pretty sure that we found the best tortilla in all of Spain. It’s at this little bar/cafetería called La Esmeralda, between Argüelles and Moncloa metro stations. We ate it often, usually at breakfast. When you get a “pincho” (portion or slice), they give you a hunk of this really crusty, delicious bread, and it’s a pretty awesome way to start the day. Along with…..

Subsection 5.2: Café con leche. Spanish for “coffee with milk,” café con leche is sooo much more. It is, literally, the best tasting coffee I have ever had in my life, and nothing else compares. Not café au lait, not caffe latte…though they may translate into “coffee with milk” in their respective languages, they are truly different from the Spanish version. I don’t know what kind of beans they use, but I’m telling you, once you have Spanish café con leche, you’ll never be the same again. And neither will your caffeine headaches…Which is something we’ve learned firsthand. Coming back to the US and our own home-brewed coffee, our caffeine intake just didn’t measure up.

Subsection 5.3: Everything at La Casa del Abuelo. There’s this really amazing restaurant that’s been around Madrid for 100+ years, with their claim to fame being gambas al ajillo, which are these tiny little shrimps cooked in tons of olive oil and chiles and, I tell you, words cannot do their deliciousness justice.

At La Casa del Abuelo's flagship location, eating those perfect little shrimps with a caña of Mahou.

At the other locations, they have a fuller menu, and we went there after enjoying the gambas to celebrate Phillip’s 28th birthday with patatas mixtas (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and ali-oli garlic sauce), pimientos de padrón (little green peppers grilled with sea salt), asparagus with ali-oli, olives, bread, chorizo frito (fried spicy pork sausage with tons of paprika), and of course sangría.

Subsection 5.4: Döner Kebaps. One of my top five favorite foods of all time are the delightful little Turkish meat sandwiches that have invaded Spain. They are sort of (but only in the loosest sense) similar to gyros. My favorite way to eat them is “mixto” (with both lamb and chicken meat) and con queso (with a big, fat slab of feta cheese). I practically lived off of these things when I studied in Madrid, and after much research with my friend Ilene, we found the single greatest kebap stand in all the world, which was coincidentally only a few blocks from where I lived. Oh, Efes, how I missed you. No exaggeration–I have nightmares that consist of me being in Madrid, and my time is running out, and I haven’t eaten at Efes yet, and it is the most (only) important thing I have to do in life to get a kebap from Efes before I have to board my plane. That is no lie. It’s the only recurring nightmare I’ve ever had.

Five years ago, enjoying my last kebap with Ilene and her boyfriend Ryan.

Me about to dig into my first kebap in five years.

4) The characters in the Plaza Mayor. We spent a lot of time either sitting in the Plaza Mayor (the main plaza in Madrid, built by the Bourbon monarchs and used in inquisitorial proceedings…it’s got a checkered history, to say the least), drinking café con leche and peoplewatching, or walking through it on our way to somewhere else. Of all the times we were in the Plaza, there was only once that we did not see Fat Spiderman. Fat Spiderman is exactly what he sounds like–a chubby guy dressed in a Spiderman suit. He would strike less-than-impressive poses and allow people to pay him to take pictures with them. And his mask had deteriorated so that he had a swath of stretchy red fabric that he tied around his mouth, which he would only remove when he took his cigarette breaks. We spent a lot of time watching this guy, and we even saw him verbally attack someone who took a picture of him without paying. We, however, were stealthier than that poor sap:

Hard at work.

Another day, we spied someone you might recognize:

Look closely, just past my head.

Although it appears that ol’ Al has been keeping up with the times and experiencing the world of modern technology.

And, as an honorable mention in the “Plaza Mayor characters” category, I present the most poorly named café on the Plaza:

Not appetizing.

And that’s it for part two! Stay tuned for the top three!!

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