Three Weeks in Europe - Madrid through Food

If you’re looking for a good place to stretch your budget a bit further, Madrid is a great option, even when it comes to food. If you’re not super picky you can just get a traditional Spanish breakfast of bread and tomato with some coffee for just a couple Euro (or churros and chocolate…), a jamón sandwich or some cheap paella for lunch/dinner in small spots on almost any street. You can also get extremely inexpensive beer (I’m talking about you, Mahou), and drink it by itself or have it mixed with a lemon drink - they call this “clara” and it’s incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and feels nice when you’re hungover… Just saying.

If you’re looking for something more specific, or you’d rather not just wander until you find something you like, though, here are a handful of places we’d definitely recommend!

Tostas and tapas at Alimentación Quiroga

After our flight and taking the Metro to find our Airbnb, we were STARVING! Luckily, my sister-in-law knew of a great place nearby called Alimentación Quiroga, where they have great tostas, which is basically bread with stuff on top. If I’m remembering right, we got two tostas (smoked salmon and brie, and foie gras with truffle honey), a plate of meat and cheese which included jamón, and some delicious melted provolone with bread to dip. And also wine, because of course!

Later that evening, we wanted to watch the soccer championship between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid at a bar or restaurant somewhere - we happened upon a gathering of food trucks outside the Nuevos Ministerios Metro stop, and they had a ton of options including burgers, fries, lobster rolls, coffee and more! They had a TV set up outdoors for us to watch the game, so this worked out perfectly for us. Eventually it started raining and we found a bar nearby with TVs.

One of our absolute favorite places to stop by while in Madrid is Mercado de San Miguel. It’s an indoor food market with great food options for any meal. We typically find some paella, croquettas (fried balls that often have meat and/or cheese in them), and jamón that melts in your mouth (Iberian cured ham that has a nutty flavor because they feed the pigs acorns). They’ve also got wine, beer, sangria, coffee, and more, plus a good amount of dessert offerings.

If you’re into markets, another one to hit is Matadero, which is an open air market in the square of what used to be a slaughterhouse. There we also got croquettas (I found one with squid ink!), jamón and sangria, none of which disappointed. 😛

We’re lucky enough to also know a super hospitable family (they hosted my sister-in-law when she studied there a few years ago), and they always welcome us into their home for a delicious dinner. We were served jamón (no such thing as too much, I promise), gazpacho (other times our hostess has made salmorejo, another delicious chilled soup), and hamburgers! We brought a bottle of wine which we got at a grocery store nearby - one great thing about wine in Europe is that you can buy a bottle that would be crazy expensive in the US (because of import taxes) for a fraction of the price. We are partial to Tempranillos.

I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, because my Google search for a link showed that they’re currently closed… but their website seems to think they might be able to re-open, since they were closed for just being noisy, so I’m going to include it in hopes that you may get to go there someday! We went to Gau Café, which has a great rooftop. I ordered a seaweed and crab salad, risotto with peas, and Nathaniel got an empanada and meat with potatoes. We also got delicious brownies for dessert. I ordered a Tinto de verano to drink - it’s a cold beverage usually made from red wine and a carbonated soda. In addition to the great view and food, the building the restaurant is in is worth a look as well - it was a school founded in the 1700s, and has been restored and now also houses a library. The building itself is worth checking out in the Lavapies neighborhood, and hopefully the restaurant will reopen!

The best reason I can give to you to go to Bellas Artes is the view from their rooftop bar. We went at sunset and the sight was unbelievable. The service wasn’t particularly good the evening we went there - perhaps it’s because they were extra crowded because half the tables were reserved for a private party, but the couple Euro cover charge and having to grab a drink at the bar are worth the view for sure 😍

One evening we went to Nathaniel’s sister’s favorite bar to hang out with friends. I got a 6€ mojito that was enormous! Many European bars seem to bring you something to munch on even if you only order drinks (a really good thing, too, in my opinion), but El Tigre goes above and beyond. They bring plates full of bread, jamon, sausage, chicken, croquettas… I’m sure I’m forgetting something they brought, but my point is that you get A LOT of food brought to you when you order drinks. The food might not be quite as gourmet as other establishments in the city, but it tastes good, and there’s no shortage 😜

I’m a little ashamed to say I stopped at a Starbucks one morning… but also, it was exactly what I was craving, and it’s consistent, even overseas. BUT if you’re looking for a good brunch spot, I would totally recommend Carmencita Bar. I think the owner is half-American and half-Spanish, so it’s a cool mashup of cuisines. I ordered La Grace, an eggs benedict with salmon and avocado, while Nathaniel had a burger with arugula, tomato, manchego and bacon. Also, they have 1€ mimosas (or 8€ for a pitcher), which you definitely can’t go wrong with!

Trying to be artsy with a tilt-shift lens 😜

If you’re looking for a sweet snack near Buen Retiro Park, look no further than Moulin Chocolat - we typicially grab a half dozen (or a dozen…) macarons to share while we sit under a shady tree and people-watch. Nathaniel’s favorite is the salted caramel macaron!

Another one of our friends from high school also happened to be in the city doing the same program as my sister-in-law, so we met up with her at Macera for drinks. She recommended this place because they have homemade liquor, and they have some pretty delicious takes on a gin and tonic (which are very popular in Madrid with hipsters these days). We went in the evening, before it got busy, and really liked the atmosphere there. 

If you’re looking to combine dinner and a show, Cardamomo has some really fun flamenco, and they serve dinner. We only got drinks (I love sangria!), because we had dinner plans with another friend after, but this would be a great option to eat and enjoy the music and dancing.

For dinner on our last evening in Madrid, we went to La Chalana. It is a very busy restaurant, and if you’re looking to sit down, you might have to wait a while. However, if you’re willing to be a bit pushy and don’t mind standing while you eat, you can squeeze in and belly up to their bar. You might have to wait a little bit for a spot (and be a bit of a jerk), but the menu is full service and I’d hazard a guess that it’s a bit more exciting (it was great having a Spanish-speaker to talk to the bartenders. I can understand a bit, but I can hardly speak it). You can order wine, but we stuck with La Sidra, their Asturian cider, which they pour in shots that you’re supposed to drink quickly because the bubbles and flavors are the best when freshly poured. The taps for the sidra pour it out in a fast thin stream from a spout that looks like a hand holding a bottle, from at least a foot above the glass. It’s pretty spectacular. Each shot is less than 1€, but be careful - they add up, and our waiter kept pouring them even when we didn’t specifically ask… They keep track by stacking chips on a peg, and we ended up needing two pegs because there were four of us and we had quite a bit… 😉 The restaurant serves mainly seafood, and we had prawns, shrimp, pulpo (octopus), squid, bread and olives. Even though we had quite a bit to eat, and it was one of the “fancier” places we went, we only averaged about 20€ per person for a LOT of food and drink!

Luckily for us, we didn’t have to do much research at all and we just took recommendations from Nathaniel’s sister and our friend from high school, along with going to a couple places we already knew we loved. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them, too!

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Three Weeks in Europe - Madrid Sights and Attractions

We’ve both been to Madrid a couple times before, but it never gets boring for us. It was also nice to be in a place that is familiar to us after so many other stops. My sister-in-law happened to be living there at the time, too, so we wanted to make sure to visit with her (plus she’s great at Spanish). There are a few places we always manage to hit while we're there, like Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Buen Retiro Park (Madrid's Central Park), and Mercado de San Miguel, all of which I would recommend visiting! Also, Atocha, the train station, is beautiful, and be sure to check out the wall of plants nearby!

Outside Real Madrid's Stadium

After landing at the airport, we got onto the Metro (best way to get around) and met up with my sister-in-law and our friend who we visited in the UK - he came to Madrid to spend the weekend with us! We originally had wanted to arrive a day or two later, and spend a couple extra days in London and Paris, but there happened to be a HUGE soccer championship between Real Madrid (winner) and Atlético Madrid, so we arrived the day of the game. Even though the game took place in Milan, Italy, the entire city was alive and partying. We went to Real Madrid’s stadium, drank some cheap Spanish beer, and walked around the area. Some streets were so crowded we could hardly move! Who would have thunk the most crowded part of our trip would be something Nathaniel wanted to do and NOT a Disney park?!? 😂

The game was being broadcast inside the stadium, but we decided to find a bar/restaurant where we could sit and watch the game on TV. This was such a crazy fun experience. It was like the Super Bowl, but the fans are even more excited. Even though I didn’t have any investment in the game, this was a very cool cultural experience (better than the terrible cultural experience from my trip four years ago - a bullfight - I do NOT recommend that).

Matadero Market

A Hoopoe!

The next day we visited a couple markets - San Miguel and a new one we’d never been to before called Matadero (also an art center), that my sister-in-law introduced us to. Both had lots of food, but the experiences are completely different. San Miguel is indoors, while Matadero has booths set up outside an old converted slaughterhouse. After eating a bit, we rented bikes from a shop at Matadero, and biked along Río Manzanares, where we saw some cool bridges, beautiful flowers, and a really odd bird.

Awesome bridge along Rio Manzanares

Later than evening we visited with the family who hosted my sister-in-law while she did a semester abroad four years ago, and enjoyed a lovely dinner with them.

Plaza de España

Taste of America

On our third day, Nathaniel's sister took us to Plaza de España and Temple of Debod, which has a beautiful view of the city. We grabbed lunch, and Sandra Oh (Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy) ended up sitting at the table next to us! We let her finish her meal in peace, but as she was leaving we asked for a photo with her, which she politely declined. We also went by a shop called Taste of America where they sell things like Lucky Charms and Crisco - basically all the American brands we take for granted are sold here at crazy prices. 😜

Temple of Debod

Our next stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid. I couldn’t believe how room after room was so ornately detailed, or that it actually housed royalty at one point! It’s almost overwhelming going from room to room, because of all the intricate details, but I would definitely recommend going! There were also horses and guards outside when we arrived, and the guards were chatting, using their cell phones and goofing off a bit - I thought about the guards at Buckingham Palace who can’t even move, and it’s funny how relaxed the Spanish are in comparison! Right next to the Palace is Almudena Cathedral, which is decorated in a modern Neo-Gothic style. Plus it's free 😉

We took a two day trip to Lisbon (which I will write about soon), and returned to Madrid for another couple days. Once we got back from Portugal, we were staying in Malasaña, a more newly gentrified area in Madrid. Before my sister-in-law finished work, we walked around that neighborhood a bit, and then we were able to get into our Airbnb. While in Portugal, I got the idea that I wanted to find a new purse, so I Googled some leather shops, found a few to explore, but first we decided to go to Mercado de San Miguel for a bite to eat again. Taller Puntera, the first leather shop we decided to visit, was right around the corner from the market, and it ended up being the only stop we had to make! This shop is gorgeous and has lots of purses, messenger bags, wallets, belts, etc. lined up along the walls. All of them are handmade (I had to interrupt someone who was currently making a purse in order to pay!), and very reasonably priced. I paid just €95 for my beautiful bag, which is a good size, and made of beautiful supple leather. If you are into this sort of thing or in the market for a new wallet/purse/belt, I highly recommend this shop!

Plaza de Cibeles, where Real Madrid comes to celebrate - near Bellas Artes

Afterwards we met up with Nathaniel's sister and walked to Bellas Artes, which has a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the city. They do charge a couple Euro to go up, but the view was well worth it. After this stop, Nathaniel decided to go back to the Airbnb because he was feeling really sick and wanted to try sleeping off the cold he had. I went with my sister-in-law to El Tigre and met a lot of her friends and had a great time! This bar is a super fun one to go to with a group of people, and the drinks are HUGE! That’s where I ended my evening, but I think the rest of them stayed out. I guess I’m getting old and I’m not used to the late night lifestyle that the Spanish lead - they do everything late!

Sunset at Bellas Artes

Going for a stroll in Retiro 😍 (Thanks for the picture, Nathaniel, you make a great Instagram Husband!)

The next morning, Nathaniel was feeling a LOT better! Sometimes you just need to sleep and recover, even if you are on vacation. Once we got going after breakfast, we walked around Plaza del 2 de Mayo, then decided to take the Metro to Retiro and ate some macarons while we relaxed. We looked for an older man who makes big bubbles at the park, mostly for kids, but I really like it too. When we were there in 2012 we unfortunately missed out on an opportunity to take pictures with him, and we were hoping to get lucky this time around, but he was nowhere to be found! We knew that someone with a similar setup hung out at Plaza Mayor sometimes, too, so we decided to go there next. We saw his supplies, but he was missing, so, after waiting for him to return while drinking a beer, we decided to just play with them ourselves!

Celebrating my inner 5-year-old in Plaza Mayor

I had never seen a flamenco show, so, because plans to see The Lion King didn’t work out, we went to Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco. There were two guitarists, two singers, and four dancers (if I’m not mistaken). I had so much fun listening to the intricate rhythms. Flamenco music has different time signatures, interesting vocal style, and gorgeous dancing. I don’t even understand how they can stay on track with each other! If you go to Spain, definitely try to make time for a flamenco show - I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.

Wall art at Maderfaker

Afterwards we went to dinner with one of Nathaniel's sister's friends at a really good seafood restaurant (don't worry, I'll detail the food soon! Sorry I keep mentioning it in this entry!), and then to a Funk and Soul club called Maderfaker to dance. It had a 70s theme and some really strange paintings on the wall, and we had a great time!

The next morning, we had to pack up and go! We had one last breakfast with my sister-in-law in Plaza del 2 de Mayo, and then caught the Metro to the airport for the last little part of our trip in Amsterdam.

Three Weeks in Europe - Chamonix, Les Houches and Aosta through Food

Once again, here I am making myself hungry. While Boulder and our surrounding towns have a great array of delicious food to offer, there’s just something exciting about being someplace completely different, where you don’t know anything about the restaurants around you and can just be adventurous.

The view from the café in Saulieu

On our drive from Paris to the Alps, we had some “road trip snacks” of a fresh baguette, coffee and pastries from a shop near our hotel in Paris (which I mentioned here). This got us pretty far, but by mid-afternoon, we needed something more, and we needed to stretch our legs a bit! We ended up stopping in a town called Saulieu (which I only know because, even in airplane mode, somehow my phone was able to tell me!). Because it was off-season, we sat down at the first place we found, Café Parisien. The chalkboard folding sign out front made it seem like they had a full menu, but they ended up having one option for us (maybe because it was too early for dinner?). So we ordered the Croque Monsieur with a side salad and some coffee, ate, and got back on the road.

Since we opted to take the non-toll country roads, we ended up getting to our Airbnb in Les Houches around midnight, so we just finished the bread, made some tea (thanks to our Airbnb hosts!), ate some of our airplane/train snacks we brought, and went to bed.

The next morning, we made tea once we woke up, and then headed into Chamonix. We walked around for a bit, exploring the cute little town, grabbed a coffee (I’m an addict, I know), and ended up going to Le Bistrot, a Michelin star restaurant. I think that’s the first one I’ve ever been to! Nathaniel had done some Googling before we went, and he thought it sounded fun. We ended up each getting the lunch pre-fixe special and a glass of wine. Our lunch special started with delicious bread and butter, which was quickly followed by the first course of a pork biscuit, a peanut marshmallow, and watermelon gazpacho. The main course was perfectly cooked beef with cheesy crepes and mushrooms. Neither of us are big mushroom fans, but we figured if anyone knows how to cook them, a French Michelin Star chef does, and they were actually pretty good for mushrooms! We each got to choose a dessert, too! Nathaniel got a salted caramel chocolate cake with ice cream, and I got pistachio olive oil cake with frozen yogurt, white chocolate, fresh raspberries and vanilla bean. We let the sommelier pair the wine with our meal, and it was perfect.😋 Because it was lunchtime and we opted for the lunch special, the price was actually quite reasonable and the food was phenomenal. I’d imagine you could rack up quite the bill there, especially for a fancy dinner, but lunchtime worked perfectly for us!

Gorgeous view from La Terrasse😍

After lunch, we bummed around a bit more, and ended up grabbing drinks at La Terrasse, which had a lovely patio upstairs, with a great view of a little town square and the nearby mountains. After, we went to Chamonix’s main grocery store, Super U, to get wine and food for two nights’ worth of dinner, then headed back to Les Houches. And of course no meal is truly complete without dessert, so before dinner we found a little bakery called Jacquier Eric in Les Houches where we each got three macarons. Cooking and eating in was a pleasant, relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the big cities we’d been in so far (and a little easier on the wallet). The kitchen in our Airbnb was quite well equipped, and we were very comfortable eating our pasta, red sauce and zucchini there.

Quick breakfast... I forgot the name of the shop, but it was very close to the post office in Chamonix!

The next morning, after going up L'Aiguille du Midi, we stopped for pastries and coffee (breakfast, since we wanted to get up the mountain as quickly as possible to beat crowds), then it was time to drive to Italy! If you drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, you end up first in Courmayeur, where we thought about getting a bite, but driving through showed us it was deserted (again, off season in a small ski town), so we kept driving and made it into Aosta. We parked and started wandering, and eventually settled on lunch at Cafe Nazionale in the main piazza. We got a pizza, gnocchi, bread and beer, and my ego took a hit as I found my Italian to be unbearably rusty. 🙄 The food really hit the spot, and we even had a little birdie guest visit with us while we ate! And, of course, no stop in Italy is complete without gelato! We found a shop called Gelaty, where I got lavender and chocolate, and Nathaniel really enjoyed his balsamic peach flavor!

That evening was the same food as the night before, cooked at our Airbnb again, and the next morning we got up bright and early to drive to the airport in Lyon, which meant airport coffee and pastries for breakfast, and next stop…Madrid!


Three Weeks in Europe - Chamonix, Les Houches and Aosta Sights and Attractions

Napoleon planted trees for his troops who traveled across the country

Because we’re crazy, we decided to drive from Paris down to the Alps. When looking at other options, like trains, stops and layovers seemed to eat up more time than we’d like to spend just sitting in stations, and renting a car was about as expensive as train tickets would be, plus we’d get to look at the French countryside as we went on our way. We also knew we wanted to have a car while in the Alps, so this plan just sort of fell into place.

We decided to take the non-toll roads, which added a couple hours onto our drive, but we think was probably more picturesque. We did get a photo radar speeding ticket, though, which was a bummer (30 euro processing from the rental company + 45 euro for the actual ticket 🙄), but we quickly learned how to spot them when they were coming up.


We stopped for lunch in Saulieu. This little town felt practically dead - it must have been an off season for them (imagine going to a tiny ski town in the summer). It was cute, and we were able to eat and go along our way pretty quickly.

While going through the mountains, we hit some pretty intense fog on some crazy windy roads, but I think Nathaniel had fun whipping around those corners in that tiny French car 😉

We got to our destination in Les Houches SUPER late - around midnight. We had trouble finding the front door of our Airbnb since it was dark and Google Maps brought us to the back of the house, but once we found it, we got in easily, and munched on the rest of our baguette and went to bed.

When I woke up, the first thing I needed to do was see the mountains - we ended up having a lovely view of the town below as well. After taking it slow that morning, we drove into Chamonix - it’s a bigger ski town, and the home of the tallest Alp, Mont Blanc.

The view from our Airbnb 😍

We drove into Chamonix for lunch, and to explore the town a bit. Since it’s a ski town, it kind of felt like Vail here in Colorado. We were going to go up the cable car that day, but decided to put it off for (hopefully) clearer weather the next day. I was amazed at the color of the water running in the river! It's this whitish color because it's "Glacial Milk" - basically because of the minerals in glaciers and the erosion they cause, the melt from the glaciers makes the river this crazy color! 

After exploring for a bit, we decided to hit a grocery store so we could take it easy, be a little bit budget conscious, and cook dinner at our Airbnb. We drove back to Les Houches, put away the groceries, then decided to see this town on foot. There is a super cute little church square, and there were tulips blooming. We also followed the sound of cowbells and hung out with a herd in a field for some photos (I love cows!). We stopped at a bakery for some macarons, and walked back home to cook dinner, drink wine, and watch movies on Nathaniel’s iPad. 

Stepping into the Void!

The next morning we got an earlier start so we could go up to the top of Aiguille du Midi in a cable car! This was pricy, but worth it. It was also pretty cold, so I’m happy I brought my sweater, coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I would’ve been FREEZING otherwise. Even early there was already a pretty long line, but it moved relatively steadily, and we started ascending the snow-covered mountain. You stop halfway up to switch cars, and once you get to the top, there are walkways and an elevator as well! The views were spectacular, but due to a couple well placed clouds, we could not see the top of Mont Blanc. The Alps are a beautiful mountain range, though. They’re much younger than the Rockies (which I’m used to seeing) so they’re pointy and jagged. At the top of Aiguille du Midi, there is also something they call “Stepping into the void”, which is basically a strong plexiglass box that lets you stand above NOTHING. They make you wear slippers so you don’t scuff up the glass. It’s a really weird feeling, stepping out over nothing, even though you know you’re safe. There was a long line to this, but we figured we wouldn’t have the opportunity to go out there again any time soon, so we waited and had a great time! There was even a great staff member who took pictures for us with my phone (you’re not allowed to take your phone/camera, or any of your belongings) in with you, probably because they want to make sure nothing gets dropped or scratched against the glass. She was great, though, and took SO MANY pictures! We decided to start wrapping up, but stopped quickly in a glacier tunnel. I think that there were people there preparing to snowshoe down - but I just needed a selfie 😉 On our way down, we rode with a bunch of French schoolchildren, who squealed anytime the cable car went over a little dip or drop. It was pretty cute. 

Ruins in the modern world

Our next stop was ITALY! You can drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel for a hefty toll (just under 55 euro there and back) - It’s the longest tunnel under the tallest mountain, so they have strict rules on how fast you can drive and how far you must drive behind the person in front of you. Nathaniel said there was a pretty bad accident a few years ago, and they put a lot of restrictions (and a lot of photo radar) on the tunnel traffic to avoid it ever happening again. The people in front of us had their photo taken several times because they were following too closely behind the person in front of them. Their journey through the tunnel probably cost five times as much as ours did!

Once out of the tunnel, we tried to find a something in the small ski town on the other side, but since it was the off season, nearly everything was closed. We instead continued driving all the way to Aosta, which is a fairly big town. It used to be a walled city, and it was amazing driving through the ruins which have just been incorporated into the modern streets and structures of the city.

Castles on the side of the road!

We parked and started to explore, eventually coming to a piazza, where we sat down for lunch. We explored for a bit longer (just walking around, window shopping), then decided to drive back to France. One fun thing about this drive was how many castles there were along the road! Since we’re not used to seeing anything old in Boulder, it was wonderful to see remnants of old civilizations!

The next morning we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to Lyon for a flight to Spain. We made it in plenty of time (we took the toll roads this time, just in case, and it ended up being close to 20 euro total). The two full days in the Alps were probably the most relaxing we had of the whole trip. We got to take it slow and cook for ourselves, and still be honeymooning tourists. Everywhere else we went on our trip was a big capital city, so this was a lovely change of pace, and having it placed in the middle was perfect. 👌🏼

Our Airbnb, and our trusty steed - a Renault Twingo