Our second day in Madrid, after coming back from a day-trip in Toledo, happened to fall on Easter Sunday. We expected the city to be bustling with activity and couldn’t wait to see what Madrid would be doing as the culmination of its Semana Santa events. There was still plenty of time before the main event, so we spent the morning at a local flea market called El Rastro. El Rastro means “the trail” in Spanish, a fitting name because the market has thousands of stalls along multiple streets. The market is open every Sunday from 9am to 3 pm.
It might have been Easter Sunday, but for the vendors at El Rastro, it was business as usual. They chatted with friends and advertised their goods to curious people passing by. Unlike the Encants Market in Barcelona, most of the vendors at El Rastro specialized in selling only one thing, whether it was clothing, bags, or comics. One of the few vendors I saw selling random items had carefully laid out all of his wares, pictured above. I was almost afraid to pick anything up and mess up his carefully-constructed formation, and I definitely realized why interior decorators love flea markets.
The selection in Barcelona was better for odd and ends, but the clothing stands were quite popular in Madrid. The shop owners were also more obstinate than in Barcelona. My friend had bought a lighter in Barcelona for €5, but a vendor at El Rastro refused to go lower than €20 for a similar lighter. We left El Rastro empty handed but had managed to see the whole market before the larger crowds of tourists arrived.
Leaving El Rastro, we headed over to Plaza Mayor for Madrid’s Easter Sunday event: a drum ceremony. Plaza Mayor is huge, and during the Spanish Inquisition, it was a main arena for bullfights and public executions. Today, the square is a prime real estate location. Someone told us that to own, not rent, an apartment overlooking the square costs at least one million euros.
The ceremony was supposed to start at 12 PM, but in typical Spanish fashion, the event actually began around 12:30 PM. Two of the city’s churches sent out their percussion groups as delegations for the drum ceremony. The first to arrive was a group clad in red and white; their capes made them look very legitimate. The red team had a boy around four or five on a larger drum, but the poor boy ended up crying because of all the noise and was taken away.
The second group was dressed in green and white, and this delegation had twice as many members as the red group. They also allowed some of the local politicians to play some of their drums. I’m not sure whether it was pre-planned, but those Spanish politicians had some percussion talent.
The two groups had a beat down and switched off playing songs, most of which sounded the same, and at the end they played together. The drum ceremony was interesting, but not exactly the grand finale for Semana Santa that I had expected.
After watching the drum-off, we went to Parrilla Alhambra for lunch. Even before ordering, the waiter gave us chicken wings and bread. It seemed like a good start.
When we first ordered, the waiter was nice and told us that the four dishes we picked were going to be too much for just two girls. We had thought that the dishes were all tapa-sized, but luckily he warned us. In the end, we chose two dishes: huevos rotos and salmarejo.
Huevos rotos is a traditional food in Spain. It consists of fries with sunny-side up eggs and thin slices of ham on top. The fries were not very crisp, so the combination of the potatoes with the runny egg just tasted mushy. The texture was not very appealing. The ham, though, was really good and just salty enough.
Apparently, we didn’t study the names of Spanish foods enough because when the salmarejo arrived we realized that it was actually tomato gazpacho. The horror from the gazpacho in Granada flashed in our minds, and I wanted to do a face-palm. Luckily, the taste of the soup was much better than the one in Granada, but the both of us still thought that it was just OK. The olive oil drizzled on top and the chunks of ham did add some depth that the Granada gazpacho lacked, though.
The waiter was right to say that four dishes were way too much for us to order. In fact, we thought that the portions at Parilla Alhambra were much too big, and we left a lot of food on the plates when we left. Two dishes there could easily feed three people. The service was good, but the food was not very memorable. My friend thought the best part of the meal was the free chicken wings, making Parilla Alhambra’s score even lower on the scale.
Calle de la Victoria, 9
28012 Madrid, Spain