The hostel isn't in the best of neighborhoods, but is only a short walk to everything. The area reminded me of New York's lower east side from awhile back. Still, I never felt unsafe and actually found the area possessed charm and character. In addition, the city had converted the square in front of the hostel as a temporary winter playground, complete with an ice skating rink and a wimpy fake snow sled hill.
Sure, I did a double take when I realized that the area had a bunch of homosexual fantasy clubs and "working girls" on the corner. But I figured if the police didn't mind, who was I to complain.
I unpacked and then walked outside for a late lunch. I found a very local sandwich shop around the corner, Cochifrito. The friendly bartender pushed the fried squid sandwich plate, so I accepted. It was simple enough and tasted fine.
I decided to go exploring to the south. The neighborhood noticeably improved after crossing the Gran Via just two blocks away. Perhaps because it was Friday, every street was absolutely crowded with people. I felt as if I was back in Tokyo during a rush hour commute, except in this case, people were out mostly to have a good time. I did a short loop through the various squares, and even caught the very popular Christmas puppet show in front of the El Corte Ingles department store. Spaniards were regaling in the holiday spirit everywhere.
I eventually made it to the Plaza Mayor square. The city had converted the entire square into a holiday carnival, and families, couples, tourists, and everyone else was out celebrating. I people watched for awhile, and witnessed some good (and some quite pathetic) street performances, before moving on.
I next stopped off at the market Medcado de San Miguel, which is more upscale than the ones I saw in the other cities. The prepared food actually looked so tempting that I thought briefly about having dinner here. However, I had finally adjusted to Spanish eating times, and it was still too early.
The evening weather was getting downright frigid. I shook my head recalling how I had been walking around in shorts in Barcelona only a few days earlier. I decided to do a final loop to the Royal Palace and get some night pics before heading back towards my hostel. I found the palace and the church across from it very photogenic in the evening shadows.
I crossed Gran Via back into the "sketchy" neighborhood near my hostel. I did a little bar hopping, mingling with the locals before settling on dinner at Obbatala, a Cuban restaurant. The sandwiches were yummy, but the drinks were even better.
I had a lot of fun trying to speak with the owner and his bartender. I'm not sure we how much we fully understood each other, but after a bunch of mojitos, I'm not sure that I minded. The other patrons were equally friendly. Eventually, I called it a night and stumbled back to my hostel and fell asleep.