Sunday, October 28, 2012

Little Deuce Coupe

A few more thoughts. First - it is cold here in Madrid. At 2000 feet winter is approaching and only in the low 50's today. Good thing I brought a knitted scarf and lots of layers.

This entire country is very trusting of drivers. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks and traffic stops as soon as you intend to cross. Of course, all bets are off if there is a traffic signal. You really have to be careful when you are driving.

One Day More

This morning started out with our breakfast which was a traditional chocolate and churros. Really thick hot chocolate and you dip the fried dough. Very yummy!

Next we walked through some old areas and returned to the mercado and saw the oldest doorway in Spain. Then we came upon the parade which is on a separate entry. After that we continued to the royal palace.

What an amazing and beautiful place! Rick Steves calls it the third best palace in Europe after Versailles and one in Austria. I think it was great. We took the audio tour and saw 24 rooms. The walls and ceilings were decorated with great art and there were frescoes and statues and twinkly crystal chandeliers. The current king and queen still use the palace.

The dining room can seat up to 140 for a meal. I loved seeing the Stradivarius room with five instruments of only 300 that exist. There are two violins, a viola and two cellos. When musicians entertain at the palace, they use these instruments. Wow!

After our tour we had lunch at a classy cafe and then got on the hop on bus to go across town.

We arrived at the Reina Sofia museum and proceeded to room 206 to see Guernica. This is Picasso's masterpiece and so important artistically and politically. I had seen it years ago at MOMA and it is now back where it belongs in Spain. Saw a few other works and the Dali room and then left. We took another bus route and saw some other neighborhoods including the US Embassy and the Realmadrid football (soccer) stadium.

We rested and then went out for a paella dinner at a nearby restaurant. We are being picked up at 7:00 am for our flight home.

A Comedy Tonight

Something peculiar happened this morning. As we started to the Royal Palace we came upon a parade of sorts. In the old days the livestock were driven through the city streets. Today we saw a commemoration with people and animals from all over the region marching down the Main Street of Madrid.

First we saw some sheep, oxen and then bulls. Thought we were in Pamplona for a while as they were running loose. Then came hundreds of people on horseback. After that bagpipe bands and tambourine groups and a whole village playing castanets. Many were in traditional costumes.

Our favorites were folks with wooden shoes that were on stilts. At the end was a huge herd of sheep completely clogging the street. One of the shepherds told me there were 2000. Wonder how they transported them here and home? The real end was a brigade of street sweeping machines to clean up the mess.

We always say Glazer's law when these things occur. "No amount of planning can compete with dumb luck."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Spanish Panic

This song title is from Once Upon A Mattress and suggested by Jeff.

Tonight we had a true Spanish experience as we enjoyed Tablao Flamenco. We had bought tickets for the show last night along with dinner and were not sure what to expect. Turned out to be a delightful experience and a great memory of our trip.

We went to a tiny venue and were seated at a tiny table. The room was about 20 feet wide and we were in the second row of tables. The meal was served at 7:00 and the show followed at 8:00.

First came the drinks and we were each entitled to four. We chose the Sangria and it was sweet and refreshing. First course was cheese, jambon ( cured ham thinly sliced) served with Melba toast. Then came gazpacho followed by paella. The main course arrived and was ox tail which Jeff said tasted like ossu bucco. Good thing he liked it because he ate mine also along with the mashed potatoes. Dessert was flan and then they served some type of tart, slushy drink. A very typical meal and good.

I was busy talking with an American gal who was sitting behind us. She had been a student at Boston U. when Jeff was there and very interesting. Made for a more enjoyable evening.

The show started with two guitar players and two male singers seated on the tiny stage. Then came three dancers who did an opening number together. Then each of them did a long solo number. All of this was accompanied by the singing and lots of clapping. No castanets were used. We were impressed by the emotion and talent. A very different style then I had ever seen.

The dancing is lots of small and very intricate steps. The two ladies each held up their dress so we could see their leg work. The male dancer wore a suit with a dress shirt and boy was he sweating. Lots of turns and arm motions made it interesting.

Not going to say I loved it, but glad to have this experience. I'll attach photos, but they are dark.

Pretty Women

One of my favorite Sweeney Todd songs with the line, "Pretty as a picture?"

Photos at the Prado before I found out that no photos are allowed. Even without flash! Oops!

Up on the Roof

A beautiful sunny morning in Madrid and a bit chilly. We bought tickets for the hop on, hop off double decker bus and took a ride around the city for an hour and a half. We sat up top and all my photos are rooftops. Now this is not a bad thing as the buildings have magnificent roofs and decorations. Madrid is really pretty and so many parks and trees and boulevards. So much to see in a few short days.

As we drove we saw many churches and gorgeous apartment buildings and hotels. Lots of commercial structures with beautiful details. An abundance
of fountains and statues too.

One area we passed was hosting a demonstration and people clogged the streets and were setting off fireworks. Lots of smoke and commotion. We had also seen these planned scenes in Barcelona and they also have scheduled bus strikes where they bring the city to a halt. There is something going on tonight as I write. There were police everywhere when we went out earlier and a helicopter hanging around overhead. More about that in the next blog.

After our city tour we got off and found a cute place for lunch. I had an open face toast with Brie and olive tapenade which was delicious. Also some fresh orange juice which I have come to love and drink often. We then walked to the Prado and spent the afternoon admiring some of the world's greatest art.

My favorite was Bosch's Garden of Delights. I remember it from Art 101 and loved seeing it in person. Jeff liked it best also. It was amazing to see Titian, Rubens, Goya, Velasquez and Fra Angelico all under one roof. And let's not forget El Greco, alas not one of my favorites.

After the Prado we got back on the bus and took it home where we rested before our evening activity in the next blog.

Photos are city scenes.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lady of Spain

I am thinking of every song that mentions Spain and good thing our vacation is drawing to a close. We arrived in Madrid and the crowds and noise is unbelievable and fun. We got to the beautiful train station and took a cab to our hotel. Talk about a great location. We are on Puerto de Sol, the hottest spot in town. Our windows look down on all the action and there is plenty.

We unpacked and found the room very modern and large for Europe. As I said we look down on the plaza and have two large double windows with French balconies so we can step outside. Luckily the windows are well insulated so not too much noise.

Our first venture was to take a Rick Steves' walking tour that started in our plaza. Once downstairs we found street musicians, crowds and lots to see. There are fountains and statues and three metro stops and more. We tried to see everything mentioned here and then walked down the street. First stop was a famous pastry shop and the cakes, Danish, candy and other sugary items were tantalizing. We decided to share a cream filled long doughnut type of thing. Very sweet and delicious. We walked on and got to Plaza Mayor where the tourist office is located. Got some information and saw some amazing living statues.

This plaza is ringed with cafes and bars and the buildings are neat. We walked out the other end and entered a high end enclosed food market. Oh did they have goodies there. I had a huge green olive stuffed with cheese and Jeff and I sampled some stuffed mushrooms with different fillings. A wonder for the eyes and palate.

We were getting tired so we headed back to our hotel stopping for Jeff to get a quick dinner and I had a yogurt with toppings at an outdoor place where we sat for a while and watched the world go by. Also saw some amazing street musicians. A trio from
Hungary with two of them playing instruments we had never seen before. They looked like harpsichords and played with a hammer. The third played a guitar and all were good musicians. They played a long rendition of Hava Nagila which made me smile.

Now we are in our room and relaxing. We hope to get up early and see some of the city and then visit the Prado. It is pretty cold and I wore a knit scarf to keep warm. At least it is not raining.

Photos: the view from our room, street scenes, a plaque marking the geographic center of Spain.


Some thoughts on Spain. Right now we are traveling to Madrid by train. Jeff splurged on first class seats and we are going in style. We returned our rental car at the train station in Malaga which involved parking in the regular lot and turning in the parking ticket and the keys. We sat in the first class lounge while waiting for the train. They had food, drinks and comfy couches. Now we are in reclining leather seats with tray tables. Our waiter served us drinks and papas frites and will soon serve lunch. They have music and a movie and gave us free headsets. I am listening to the Three Tenors on my iPad and really enjoying the ride.

Driving has been easy with lots of highway signage. Roads and local streets are good with lots of roundabouts to make u turns easy and also a chance to decide which way to go. We call it National Lampoon Vacation when Chevy Chase drove past Big Ben 20 or so times. The country has lots of mountains and there are many tunnels on the roadways.

Food is good and portions are large in restaurants. Tapas is fun and fast. Lots of choices and some places have two or thee sizes to choose from if you want to share. Bread is good, you have to order it in most places and they always charge for it.

Every area is dotted with outdoor cafes where you can eat and people watch. It is perfectly acceptable to just get a water or drink or gelato and then sit as long as you like. Most places charge more for food if sitting outside rather than their inside area.

Water is usually sold in glass or plastic bottles. In a restaurant we ask for it without gas and we request ice. They may have liters or half liters and always give you glasses. Diet Coke or Pepsi is readily available and just today I found artificial sweetener for my tea. A nice touch is that food and even snacks are served on china and coffee/tea in a real cup. I've seen very little paper goods. Recycling is very big here with most trash cans having separate sections for waste, paper and plastic. Every town has large recycling containers placed along the streets and walkways.

Olive trees are everywhere. We were told there are 300 million in Spain and olive oil is used for salads, dipping bread and cooking. So good! Also lots of Orange trees and beautiful Eucalyptus with their colorful, smooth bark.

The countryside is beautiful, although little water. We have seen few rivers or lakes. Lots of fountains bring water to cities and towns. Every small village has a display or statue as you enter and rolling hills make it pleasant to view.

Barber of Seville

Today our title is an entire opera, but just had to be. We took another tour and remembered why we usually hate tours and being herded around. It took about four hours to reach Sevilla as we picked up other tourists and it was rainy all day. Jeff had a great quip as we arrived. He said, I think I'll get a haircut." Pretty funny!

Upon arrival we drove around some modern parts of this large city and then visited buildings that were part of the 1929 World Exposition. Obviously that year turned out poorly and the exposition was a flop, but the buildings and gardens are lovely. Then we visited the Spain Plaza and saw their beautiful building. In the large courtyard were tiled displays for each area of the country. Would have like to have spent more time here.

On to the old city where we went to Santa Cruz which was the Jewish Quarter before 1492. Lovely narrow streets with shops and cafes.

We were rushed to the cathedral where we got a quickie tour. The main altar is being refurbished so we did not get to see it. It is the most famous part of this church which is the third largest in Europe. The rest of the church does not disappoint as we saw the tomb of Columbus and also his second son and a Goya hanging in one chapel. There are 28 small chapels surrounding the main areas, but we did not get time to see more than two. We did visit the Sacristy and that was beautiful.

We left the cathedral without climbing the famous Giraldi Tower and then had some free time. We chose a tiny bar and had good tapas for lunch. We wanted to visit the Alcazar, the royal palace, but again not enough time. So we strolled around and found a tiny pastry shop that Rick Steves mentions in his guidebook. It is run by cloistered nuns and they send your purchases to you on a lazy susan from behind a wall so you won't see them. Alas they were closed for siesta so we peeked in the window.

Back on the bus we finally got home about 8:00 pm after getting on the bus at 6:40 in the morning. At least we got to see Sevilla and did not have to drive. We had a very good Italian dinner at one of the restaurants in our complex and then headed home to pack and sleep.