Have you ever traveled to a place that made you feel as if you had somehow gone back in time? My first true taste of what it feels like to be wholly engulfed in history happened in Madrid. This massive and maze-like city initially had me slightly overwhelmed and intimidated. I was completely out of my element, but I chose to dive in and enjoy the moment regardless. Once we continued on our journey, I learned to love the immense wealth of history and embrace the culture that was all around us.
Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.Jonathan Safran Foer
Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am a huge nerd for historic buildings and architecture. You could imagine how I was absolutely in awe of every sight Madrid has to offer. I felt like a child all over again on Christmas morning. We simply do not have cities like this anywhere in the United States — nothing with such impressive historic profoundness. This was truly a feast for the eyes, and little did I know it was only the beginning.
It was an early morning to rise for our guided tour of the Royal Palace of Madrid, but the lack of sleep was definitely worth this incredible experience. The sheer detail put into every square inch of this Palace was absolutely mind-blowing. As if the massive imposing enormity of the largest palace in Europe (135,000 square meters and 3,418 fully-furnished rooms) wasn’t enough, believe it or not — there was more. There were countless priceless tapestries, sculptures, and artwork that seemed to adorn every surface you could imagine. Walls, ceilings, floors, everywhere! You name it, they had it.
Some rooms were so ornately decorated with juxtaposed patterns and fabrics it was like being on sensory overload. (Far from my minimalistic style preference.) I’m not sure how the royal families actually enjoyed living among such lavish and opulent decadence. One thing is certain — no expense was spared. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to take any photographs of the interior. But you could never forget such an impressive residence.
Common theories suggest that you learn through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods. I would argue that the best way to learn about a different culture is by tasting their food. Regardless of your background, everyone can agree when something is delicious.
One of the most memorable experiences for me personally was the tapas tasting tour that our gracious host had scheduled. There is nothing better than ordering drinks with friends while receiving complimentary tapas to snack on. Our guide led us on an informative and flavorsome tour around Madrid. Some of the highlights were Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham), Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), and of course copious amounts of wine.
Several tapas bars we visited had been operating for over 100 years, awarding those businesses a centennial plaque — which is a great honor. As a tourist, it was incredible to learn how much history and culture is connecting the past and the present. You can taste the love and tradition in every bite. The next time you travel somewhere, I challenge you to try something different than what you are familiar with. Ask about the local ingredients and history of the cuisine. You may be pleasantly surprised to become immersed in a new culture as we were in Madrid.