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  Other Monuments  


  Hop-on, Hop-off Sights Bus Tour  

Calle Arenal, Madrid

Arenal Street, Madrid

Continued from Part 1 ...

Long, crisp sticks of fried dough glistening with sugar; hot, creamy chocolate, thick and rich as pudding—the famous Spanish dish, “chocolate con churros,” goes as well with late-night revelry as it does with the chill of early morning. Calle Arenal, a particular ancient stretch of pedestrianized road in the heart of old Madrid, plays host to Chocolateria San Gines, perhaps the most famous (and many would say the most delicious) joint for churros and hot chocolate in all of Madrid. And the café, full of old-style white tiling and green accents, is only the beginning of what the street has to offer.

Stretching from Opera square to Sol, the street is typically Madrileño, featuring six-story buildings with wrought-iron balconies and elaborate plasterwork. Small, promising trees line the street, shading a jumble of pharmacies, clothing boutiques, upmarket shoe stores, and souvenir shops. It’s an area equally pleasurable for passing through or exploring in depth.

At the beginning of its life during Spain’s period of Arab domination, Calle Arenal was part of a largely Christian neighborhood; later in the 16th century it was a rich area where the upper class built mansions. The street became infamous in 1872 after an attempted assasination of the nobleman Luigy Amadeo of Savoy and was later known as home to the famous bullfighter Frascuelo. Among children, however, it will always be known as the home of the Spanish Tooth Fairy, Ratoncito Perez. In 1894, Queen Maria Cristina of Hapsburg-Lorraine asked the author Luis Coloma to write a story for her eight-year-old son, who had just lost a tooth. Coloma set the story of an adorable tooth-collecting rat at Calle Arenal, number 8, fixing the street forever in the imaginations young Spaniards.

A walk down Calle Arenal yields many interesting sights and even more opportunities for exploring:

-The extravagant building at number nine is Palacio de Gaviria, a nineteenth century confection that lay empty for decades until its restoration in 1991. These days, visitors can enjoy its historic atmosphere and many works of art—occasionally even with live music to accompany their visits. Not far down the street, Calle San Martin leads to the famous Barefoot Royal’s Monastery.

-Nearby sits the jewel of the street, the San Ginés Church. The highlight of this seventeenth-century reproduction of a thirteenth-century church (a strange phenomenon in a city where everything has such ancient roots) is undoubtedly its resident El Greco painting, a piece of art with many names that is often known as "Purification.” It’s possible to visit this painting—which is considered by many to be among the artist’s best—on Mondays at 12:30… so long as it’s not currently being lent to the National Gallery in London or the Metropolitan Museum in New York, as has happened in the past.

-The Libreria San Gines is the street’s hidden treasure, a second-hand book stand tucked up under the dark wooden eaves of the ancient church. The shop (which is more like a permanent stand) is said to date back to the seventeenth century, quietly selling its antique and second-hand books to passersby through the centuries. Just around the corner sits the famous chocolateria of the same name. On a warm, sunny day, what could be better than a new book and a steaming cup of chocolate in the shade?

-For another potential mid-afternoon snack or delicious souvenir, try El Paraiso de Jamon—they offer sandwiches (bocadillos) for 1.70, platters of good cheese for 9, Galician octopus for 15 (a steal this far from the sea), and as much Iberian ham as you’d like to fit in your suitcase, packaged to go.

Calle Arenal offers a number of options for evenings as well, with small restaurants running the gamut from Italian to Thai (Gino’s has a daily menu for 12.95; Bangkok Thai offers affordable curries and spring rolls.) Pair those with a show at the Joy Comedy club --well known for its cabaret shows-- and you’ve got yourself a Madrid night out to remember.

(Don’t forget to finish it off with more chocolate con churros.)

Calle Arenal is easily accessed from the Sol and Opera metro stations.

Part 2 of this article written by Alissa Greenberg.


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