Our first full day in Madrid started early and began with some excitement. We had a day trip planned to Toledo for which we had to be at the meeting point at 7:45 am. We decided to walk to the metro station and take the train instead of spending 20 Euros on a cab. #budgetminimalists. We were doing well until I realized I had entered Barrio de La Latina instead of La Latina train station on my phone. So we had to walk an extra 10 minutes to get to the station. At this point we were already running late. We purchased the tickets, figured out the platform and the train only to realize we picked the wrong side, got on the bridge and ran to the other side. Thankfully the train was on time and we got to our station at 7:46 am. We still had to take the right exit out of the station and meet the bus driver and our guide. It sucks when you don’t speak the language but a helpful dude drew for us where we needed to be. We got there at 7:49 am and most of you know this, I hate being late. At the back of my mind I was thinking that this is Spain so we won’t leave before 8 am. Not true. Everyone was on the bus and it was a 60 seater bus. We were the last ones on. I felt bad because we always make fun of people who get on the plane or train or bus last. Oh well this time it was us.

The drive to Toledo is about 50 minutes. As we were driving, we saw the sun rise to our left at 8:25 am. Did I mention when we were walking to the train station, it was pitch dark and you could see the stars? Supposedly, Spain has been in the wrong time zone for over 7 decades. During WWII, Hitler approached General Franco for support. Franco couldn’t offer much because Spain was pretty torn due to the civil war. But he did offer to synchronize clocks with Germany. And there is a 1 hour time difference between Portugal and Spain now. Imagine the sun rising at 8:25 am. It did feel weird.

There is so much history in Toledo. And it sure is beautiful. It was settled by Arabs and Jews until Christians expelled the Muslims and later the Jews. They repurposed Mosques and Synagogues as Churches. Toledo is known for three things – Mazapan (Marzipan), swords & knives and Damasquino (art of using silver and gold to make ornate things). The swords and knives in Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings were ordered from Toledo. Our guide Sara was great – she gave us a history lesson as she walked us thru 3 of the monuments. We had lunch at a local place followed by mazapan and some exploration of the old Toledo. I wonder how the locals feel about all the tourists taking over their beautiful town during the day. I bet some restaurant and shops benefit from this but I do recall getting some squinty eyed looks when we wandered around with our maps.

Once we got back to Madrid we rested for an hour at our cosy, rustic and charming (cramped and old) Airbnb. We began our evening exploration at Taberna Angel Sierra, an old vermouth bar. The place definitely has character, we opted to stay inside instead of sitting outside on the plaza. Once we ordered our vermouths in broken Spanglish, we started enjoying our drinks in the corner. A few minutes later Ivanna stopped me mid-sentence “Did you hear that?” – They are speaking Russian. Sure enough, the manager and the waitress were Russian. Needless to say, it was much easier to order subsequent rounds. Our next stop was La Venencia, a must for every Sherry lover. The owner is pretty stern and unfriendly (no-nonsense) and no pictures allowed. He keeps his two dogs behind the bar. We enjoyed Palo Cartado, Amontillado, Manzanilla and Fino sherry along with some lomo tapas. That’s when it hit us, we had been in Madrid for over 24 hours and had not tasted Iberico ham yet. We decided to remedy the situation immediately by getting one at the next ham shop. Last stop was the world-famous San Gines Chocolateria for Churros and hot chocolate. Open 24 hours a day, the place reminded me of Café Du Monde (New Orleans). Churros were great but we don’t have anything to compare it to. We might need to undertake a churro tasting around Madrid to crown the winner. Time to head back to our “rustic” studio.