Adventures in Madrid

Visiting Spain was in my bucket list for years, so the idea to travel to Madrid came naturally. Even if it was my first time ever in Spain, I always felt I knew the country. After all, we share similar cultural habits, like food and siestas, but we also appreciate a good glass of wine and a sunny terrace! So, I wanted to experience firsthand what Madrid had to offer.

The trip didn’t start so promising for me; I got my period while traveling to Madrid, which in a way brought some distance between the city and my general perception (hormones we oh-so-hate). The weather welcomed us with a beautiful sunshine and a clear blue sky, which was a great start, but also a chance to forget those horrible days of the month.

After meeting my best friends at the airport, we headed to our apartment. It was the moment we stepped out the metro, that my inner Bilbo Baggins started screaming: “I’m going on an adventure!”.


Dinner, lunch and breakfast

In Madrid, as in the rest of Spain, what you need to try is the tapas. Tapas are types of savory dishes that are served in bars; they are usually accompanied by drinks and are the core of the touristic Spanish cuisine. Tapas can be small portions (tapas) of food or bigger ones (raciones). They can be for free or you need to pay for them. Tapas are known all around the world, however, the quality in which we normally find them is far inferior to the real thing – trust me. In Madrid, the tradition is that you are offered a small tapa for free with every drink you order, typically, a small bowl of olives. So, you will eat a delicious tapa either way!

Tapas are not just about the food, it’s also about the way you eat them. It is the whole eating culture that comes with them. You go out with your friends, you find a tapas bar, you sit at the bar and you start eating. You typically order a drink and a couple of tapas plates, and then you order another drink and a couple of more plates. Exactly like eating meze in Greece. I get it now. And you never sit at the same bar all night; you go bar-hopping, visiting several tapas places in one evening.

Seeing for the first time a tapas menu can be challenging, especially if you have no idea what to order – like me. Asking for help and recommendations from the waiter is always a nice solution. Some of the famous tapas are the classic tortilla de patatas, the croquetas and the patatas bravas, but you can also choose from a variety of salad, pasta, fish and meat dishes! There is literally food for all tastes.

During our stay we visited several tapas places; the ones that stood out were the Ojala close to the Tribunal metro station area and the Juana La Loca in the La Latina area. Ojala attracts many young people, mostly due to its hipster interior design. They offer many small tapas, mostly Mexican based dishes. Juana La Loca is modern but it’s also a more typical tapas bar. It attracts people of all ages and the service is quite good. We tried a selection of cold and warm tapas with some Rioja red wine on the side. It was delicious!

A must-go place is certainly the famous open market of Mercado de San Miguel. There are many open markets you can visit in Madrid, but this one is close to the city center and it has a very nice atmosphere and of course, great food options! It has dozens of counters with all types of tapas and drinks. I am telling you, it is a paradise. In the middle of the market there is room where you can sit with your friends while you enjoy the amazing food and drinks! This was for sure my favorite place!

If you feel like visiting a different restaurant, go to the Sobrino de Botin. It is the oldest restaurant in da world (also part of the Guinness World Records), and it is also wordwide famous. You need to book beforehand though, because it is always very busy. I would call their food traditional comfort food and certainly not gourmet. It is typical Spanish food based on very old recipes. It is quite expensive (overpriced I would say), compared with the rest of the restaurants in the area, but its atmosphere is certainly unique. One thing is certain, you will meet people from all around the world there and you will eat a lot! {Check the pictures of their menu in the gallery below to get a glimpse of its food and prices}

While you are in Madrid, don’t forget to try the famous churros with chocolate. We visited the famous Chocolatería San Ginés in central Madrid (in a passageway close to San Ginés church, west of the Puerta del Sol). This chocolatery serves the famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894. They are basically churros served with enough hot chocolate to keep you up all night. They say it’s prefect after dinner, I say it’s perfect ALL-DAY LONG.

La Mallorquina cafe is the best place to grab a quick snack and coffee. It is part of a chain that you can find throughout Spain and they have loads of pastry, savory and sweet snacks to choose from. Pick your coffee, choose your treat and enjoy a quick bite before you start the day. My only problem was the communication, since almost none of the café’s workers understood English. However, they were very kind and helpful with everything we wanted.

Another good breakfast restaurant is the Federal Café, a very modern place (close to the center) which tends to get very busy. We had to wait 20 minutes to get a table, but it was worth it. Their breakfast and lunch options were endless, and their pastry was super delicious. I had a salmon toast with a poached egg and salad and later an amazing chocolate cheesecake (which I unfortunately had to share).

Drinks & Nightlife

Now let’s talk about where to drink in Madrid. That was perhaps the most challenging part for us since we discovered many bars that were not really our taste. But don’t get discouraged! There are countless bars for all tastes to enjoy your drinks. For great cocktails visit the Lamucca de Prado, close to the National del Prado Museum. Other great options for cocktails are the Del Diego Cocktail Bar and the Salmon Guru. If you are not impressed, then check the roof of El Corte Inglés that has an amazing view or go to La Negra Tomasa. To be honest, in every restaurant or bar I visited, they had amazing Rioja (my favorite) red wine. So, even if you crave only a glass of wine, you will find many bars that you can just chill and chat with your friends.

Places to visit/Museums/Art

When it comes to museums and culture, you certainly need to visit the Prado Museum. It has a huge collection of European art, with loads of Goya paintings. On the ground floor you will find Spanish, German, Flemish and Italian paintings from the 15th and 16th century, while on the first floor you will find European artwork from the 17th and 18th century. You must see the fantastically creepy Garden of Earthly Delights by the Dutch painter Jeronimus Bosch, the Raphaels and Titians, but also don’t miss out the Black Paintings from Goya, they are amazing. The Prado is enormous, which means you will have to keep in mind that you will spend at least 2 hours there. There is a lot of art and it is always busy, so plan ahead and enjoy this wonderful museum.

Another must-see museum is the Reina Sofia. Its collection is certainly more modern; it has four full floors filled with art! On the ground and first floor you will find collections on postmodernity with themes such as decolonization, the uprisings of ’68, feminist movements, the economic crisis, the expansion of popular culture and the emergence of other peripheral modernisms, but you can also find several temporary exhibitions. The second floor is dedicated to modernity, with Dali’s surrealist work and Picasso’s famous Guernica, while on the fourth floor you will find post-war works that focus on the antagonism between United States and the Soviet Union. The third floor is always reserved for bigger temporary exhibitions, such as the one I visited, William Kentridge’s multi-layered work, which I had seen before in Amsterdam. The museum currently has an exhibition dedicated to Fernando Pessoa, my favorite Portuguese poet and writer, so if you get the chance, please visit it and I will be eternally jealous!

For a better way to explore the city, you should definitely follow one of the many free tours in Madrid. How it works is very simple: you book online the date you want to join and then you meet up with the group at a central point. After the tour, you are free to give the guides any amount of money you think their work deserved. From my experience, I have to say that their work and insight was great. From those tours you get a general historical and architectural overview of the city, plus you learn the central spots. If you follow or not those free tours, don’t forget to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Retiro park; the latter we didn’t visit because the rainy weather didn’t allow us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go shopping in the city, so I don’t have any shopping advice for you! We were busy walking, visiting museums and eating. On out last day the weather was very rainy which didn’t allow us to walk and explore the shopping area. I spotted many nice stores though, that I will certainly revisit in the future!

Practical tips

For accommodation, you can find online small apartments close to the city center, so you don’t have to walk much from one place to the other. We chose an excellent location, close to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid, so that we could have everything at close range. The truth is you will need to use the metro either way, but staying in a central place is always handy.

So, for using the inner-city metro, you need to buy a red card that you then recharge. That was challenging for us, since the English language mode of the ticket machines didn’t actually work. Thankfully my friend knew some Spanish and we could print our card and tickets.

It might get a bit confusing getting the metro and trying to figure out the stops and the lines you need, however, checking the boards they have there and asking the employees of the metro will make your travel easier. Do not use Google maps in any case, because it only confused us (sorry Google).

Useful tip: to reach the airport you will have to use the C1 blue line. If you live in the center, taking the metro towards the Chamartin stop is the easiest option; from there, you wait for the line that takes you to the airport (I took the T4 for European flights).

For more information visit their website.


Click on the links to check the places online.

This post is not a promotion for any of the businesses mentioned above.

(Photos: Canon EOS 1000D, edited via Lightroom with VscoCam & Samsung A5 2016.)


Ο Ταξιδιωτης

Ίσως ο κόσμος να είναι μικρός

για τον πόνο του,


και σήκωσε τα μανίκια του

για να κλάψει.


Πόσο ακόμη ν’ αναβάλλει

την αναχώρησή του;

Προς τα εμπρός

ή προς τα πίσω

η ψυχή του καίγεται

στην εξορία

και ο πόνος τρυπά

κάθε ζωή

που θέλησε να χτίσει

από αγάπη και άμμο.


Κοίτα τον πως σέρνεται,

σαν ερπετό την ώρα του θανάτου

που κατάπιε το ίδιο του το δηλητήριο

και τώρα,

– και τώρα τί; –

τί θ’ απογίνει,


ο κόσμος χωρίς αγάπη;

Χωρίς τον εαυτό του

και την λευκή του αντανάκλαση;


Σιωπή έπεσε,

πίσω από τ’ άστρα,

και το φως που ζωγράφιζε σκιές

πίσω από τον ορίζοντα

έλιωσε τα ροζιασμένα χέρια του.

«Είμαι έτοιμος» ξεστόμισε,

και χάθηκε ξανά μέσα στη νύχτα.



(Photo taken with Canon EOS 1000D, edited with VscoCam. Check the rest of this photo series here.)

Varosha, Famagusta: “The Ghost City”

Nicosia, October 2014

Our trip starts early. We pack our bags with food and bathing suits and we head down the road to cross the other side; we are heading to Famagusta. We are driving the road of free Cyprus now, close to the city. To our left there is a line drawn by dry grass, the buffer zone, the dead zone, the Green Line. Beyond this line we see the Turkish side. To our right we see British military bases and United Nations outposts. Towards Famagusta, close to the Sovereign Base Areas, photographs are forbidden. We cross endless dry fields where nothing seems to exist. Even nature looks remotely dead here.

At the checkpoint to enter the Turkish side we feel watched, exposed. The sign with the flag mocks us as we enter back to our car and slowly ride towards the city. Our passports are checked, the car is checked. Moments later we are crossing the streets of Famagusta. A weird statue stands in a roundabout, new and polished, trying to say something I assume, to prove something to the visitors. To me it sounds as breathless sounds with no meaning. Emptiness.

After we park our car, we head towards the famous beach in Varosha (Βαρώσια). My first steps echo strangely in the atmosphere. The air is suddenly heavier here. I notice the plastic fences cover many parts of the area we walk. I stumble. I look at the red sign and then I stop. Not so further beyond the artificial barricades and meters of black plastic fences, tens of ruined buildings stand silently in front of me. The corner of one of them is completely destroyed. It is the closest to where I stand and it looks strange, stopped in time. I ask and quickly learn it is bombed. It looks to me like an elevator shaft. The elevator itself is scattered on the ground floor in pieces. Wild nature blooms around it. This building stands here in this exact same condition for 40 whole years. Untouched and barricaded.

We take the small path and we enter the golden sandy beach. I think they call it Palm Beach. Some tourists sunbathe and some others swim inside a peaceful sea. It is a cloudy day. I look behind the beach and then I see it: lines of buildings, deserted from the war and again those ugly black plastic fences around them. Photos are forbidden. But who is checking either way? Except the tourists around me, nobody seems to be there to reassure it. The ghosts of the past drift around here sometimes at day, they do not care about photos. They care only about what they lost. They are grieving for a lost home, a lost relative, a lost store, a lost life. I don’t see those ghosts here today. But I do see something.

Not even a hundred meters by where we stand, to our right side, we discover more barricades blocking our way through the endless beach side. The rusty, dangerous nets scream silently “do not pass”. A guard appears from the other side. He walks slowly out of his small observatory, like a puma ready to attack. He comes to reassure no pictures are taken beyond this point and I know why. What looks at first glance as a coastline full of hotels and buildings, is actually a ghost town next to the sea. And it extends till the eye can see. Further in the horizon.


The forbidden side.


The touristic side.

A group of Turkish students come close and start a conversation with the guard in Turkish. They probably protest why they can’t take pictures of this disturbing view. He slowly moves his tail and comes to a proud position. It is time for him to explain to these youngsters all those things he has so eagerly rehearsed in his lair. He responds with a long explanation that sounds like preaching. We can’t stop wondering what he is saying. I am doubting whether I should ask an English translation. Those students probably know English. But I stop and think: do I really want to know what he is saying?

After what seems like a thousand years, we decide not to swim there. How can we either way? I’ve been told that since 2004, when the line opened, hundreds of people who lost their properties, their families and lives, come here often and swim in the waters and they feel good about it. Because they can have at least that. A swim next to the old stolen life.

We are heading towards the car. Somehow we feel we need to witness more of this. I know we will never come back here again during the course of our lives, so the necessity to see more is evident. I can’t stop feeling this deep burden on my chest the whole afternoon. And the weather is really not helping today. All those menacing clouds above us. We ride around the barricaded city to see more of the protected ruins. A destroyed orthodox church here, an old deserted bar there. The sign of it still stands silent. The rest of it – probably the owner’s name – is painted with dark red color. Like the color of blood.

Next to the fenced ghost city, I can’t help but notice that life here keeps going on. Why wouldn’t it either way? It always does. Small houses, old and new, are inhabited with people brought by the government in order to occupy the city as proper as possible. Every morning they wake up and they look at this.

A few blocks down we see an old deserted church. This is in the village area, so we can enter. There is no door. There is actually no roof. Only some remains stand there, yellowed by time. The pictures on the walls seem scratched, like someone tried to erase history. It seems to be a very very old church. So old that its historical importance and need for restoration shout out at our bewildered faces. And absolutely nothing can be done.

We take a small alley and we reach the center. Some touristic shops, an old catholic church turned into a mosque and tens of people sitting and talking. Suddenly I feel observed. I feel the eyes of the people on me. Strange feeling. I decide to ignore it. We take a small break and we reach out to our car to head to the mountains. The city is too much for us to bear.

After an hour and a half of driving, we reach the castle we were planning to visit: the Buffavento castle. We think we are alone here, but we soon realize there are more crazy people like us who drove in the middle of nowhere for an old forgotten castle. We look up and we see it. It must be quite high, but to our ignorant eyes it looks like we can easily reach it. It takes us 40 minutes to climb the endless stone stairs in order to finally enjoy the view. It is breathless.

The ruins of the castle reflect a mystery. How many wars those stones have seen? We are ecstatic and our camera’s can’t stop capturing moments. Tons of fresh air enter our tired heavy lungs and it is time to descend. On the way back with the car I notice how neglected the area is. The excitement of the adventure didn’t allow me to see this before. Garbage is everywhere, a sign of complete neglect.

As we ride down towards the main road, next to Pentadaktylos Mountain range, we see the “biggest flag on the world”. All made out of stones. White and red. Down the street two white beautiful dogs stare at us like guards who are staring at intruders. We drive and we drive towards the Ayios Dhometios (Άγιος Δομέτιος)/Metehan gate, in order to escape from all the feelings, all the burden, all the pain this land carries. The words of my beloved friend echo in my head again and again: “Who cries for these buildings, these streets, these trees? Who weeps for all this?”.

Famagusta, Cyprus, October 2014

All Rights Reserved © Vicky Griva Photography

(Repost from the Archive.)

A Day in The Hague

Visiting The Hague is probably one of my favorite things to do.

As a multinational city, it is sometimes rare even to find people speaking Dutch. There are many international companies that employ foreigners, and since all embassies are located there, you will find people from all around the world walking the streets of the city.

You will hear French, Italian, Asian languages and so much Spanish that you will wonder where exactly on the planet you are. Well, this is The Hague and this is why we love it!

Every time I visit The Hague, I enjoy this diversity. You might wonder, what is the difference with Amsterdam then? Well, Amsterdam consists of mostly tourists and the people living in the Hague always inspire a different vibe to me. The Hague has more class, – if I can say that – and is definitely less busy. Perhaps this vibe and this class I am talking about comes from the fact that all government facilities are there, plus the King’s Palace and the International Court of Justice. Don’t get me wrong! I love Amsterdam and its atmosphere. The Hague is just different.

I had the opportunity to visit the city since a friend of mine lives there. Every time I go there, I wish I could stay more than just a weekend. Hopefully I can explore more of the city in the future!


Fountain at Buitenhof

The center of the city is in walking distance from the central train station and you have a great choice between trams and buses if you don’t want to walk or the weather is bad. Also, the OV fiets is a great option for people who want to explore this city the typical Dutch way, by biking through it!

The Hague offers great shopping options. Almost all famous brands and chain stores are located at a walking distance and you can visit shopping malls or even better, explore the local shops for house design, clothing and more. Check here for some extra information for shopping in The Hague.

You can also visit the Nordeinde Palace of the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander. It is the King’s working place, but also where the Dutch Royal family lives. From there, you can visit the Palace Garden which is open to the public every day. The Palace itself is not open for visits, but if you walk a little bit further, you will explore a fantastic little neighborhood with art galleries, small cafes and restaurants, fashion boutiques, jewelry and antique dealers. It is probably the only place I have visited so far that has Dutch flags hanging everywhere in its small streets! It is absolutely beautiful.

When it comes to food, there is always a great restaurant or lunch cafe that you can visit in every neighborhood. I had the pleasure of going to De Bakkerswinkel (Torenstraat 142), a great lunch cafe, where I enjoyed the great weather from their terrace, along with some bio jasmine tea and a fresh courgette soup. Very friendly personnel, decent food prices and a great atmosphere.

As a city, it is great for walking, even if in many parts of it there are constructions happening lately. This made the city a little unattractive to me, but it definitely did not ruin the walking experience.

Stay tuned for my next visit to this fascinating city, where I would like to discover more art, pubs and the famous seaside, Scheveningen!


(Photos: taken with my Samsung Galaxy A5, 2016)

Featured image: Willem Van Oranje statue at Buitenhof.