Madrid, Spain Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Madrid, Spain

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A meal of suckling pig and Rioja wine

Madrid - sure, there are bull fights, siestas, and a weather system that would make mad dogs and Englishmen positively radiant, but top of the pile of the city's assets has to be the restaurant from Ernest Hemingway's delightful novel Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. The restaurant, Botin's, is the oldest in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and was immortalised by Hemingway in the following passage:

'We lunched upstairs at Botin's. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drunk riojo alta: Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drunk three bottles of rioja alta.'

The 'very big meal' which Hemingway ate, and which is still on the menu today, consists of three courses and is really quite excellent. You start with the chilled gazpacho soup which, in the hot Madrid summer sun, is always a relief, and it comes with some rather neat little croutons (with a choice of sprinklings for the soup). Next up is the suckling pig, which is just superb, as long as you're not thinking about your arteries too much. Lastly there's a choice of dessert.

The restaurant looks as old as it ought to be. After passing by the old woodburning stoves, there's an option of eating on the ground floor or down in the old converted (and air-conditioned) wine cellar. This part looks particularly ancient, made as it is out of small bricks formed into arches. Don't forget to pick up a postcard of the place on the way out, and if you can make sure you get chatting to the cooks. They're always up for some tale-telling and bit of a laugh, as you probably will be after eating a huge pig and drinking a few bottles of rioja alta.

If your visit happens to coincide with New Year's Eve, then make sure you head out to the Puerta del Sol (or just Sol) with a bag of grapes. The Plaza is the Times Square of Madrid, and is not only the centre of the city, but it's where everyone gathers on New Year's Eve. Be careful, though. Things can get a little bit crazy - fireworks and champagne bottles get thrown into the crowd, for example, and there's a fair few pickpockets around. It can be a blast, though, and everyone will be eating grapes.

Grapes? Well, apparently as the clock strikes midnight, you must eat one grape for each chime of the clock, so 12 grapes in total. This is a little harder than it sounds, as grapes in Spain tend to have seeds, but if it's midnight on New Year's Eve it's unlikely you'll be in any fit state to worry about how difficult the local drinking games are...

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