Category Archives: Spain

Exploring Chueca neighborhood in Madrid

Another 21,000-steps day, according to our iPhone. And another beautiful weather day, high 40s/low 50s, sun, blue skies. The whole city of Madrid seemed to be out strolling. This time we walked west a little further north, along Vias Goya and Acacala, stopping for coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice (my energy booster of choice) at Viena capellanes Goya. It took a few hours to get to Chueca because the route is not exactly clear. But who cares? Lots of interesting scenery and sights, grand plazas and busy traffic circles and monumental buildings with statues and other striking architectural details.

Paella at last.

We landed in Chueca at 2 pm just as the shops were closing for siesta so it seemed the day for a traditional restaurant serving paella. Restaurant Las meigas fit the bill, with tables filled with Spanish people. We appeared to be the only tourists and stuck out a bit. We had to wait 45 minutes for the paella to cook, which seemed a good sign and it was. It was delicious, packed with seafood and chicken and vegetables. We could eat only half of it (it was for two people supposedly) so lugged the rest back to give to our friends/hosts.

Lots of sales in shops this time of year and dirck picked up two really nice buttoned down shirts (60 percent off, but still not cheap) from Loreak mendian, which is based in San Sebastián.

We ended up wandering some more in Malasana, since it is right next to Chueca and on our trek back, we stopped for more coffee and oj at Cafeteria dcandel in the Letras neighborhood, served by a young hipster guy wearing a Red Wings hockey shirt. He seemed impressed that I was from Detroit. By the time we made it back to our friends’ place, with another walk through lovely Retiro Park, we felt like we kind of knew our way around this lovely city that I hope to visit again some time.

A Malasana street shot, with blinding sunlight.

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Exploring Retiro Park and Letras and Malasana neighborhoods — Madrid

Amazing day. The sky cleared, going from gray to blue. the fog lifted, the sun came out, all of which we witnessed from on high through the windows of our friends’ 13th floor apartment. Suddenly we could see the mountains in the distance beyond the brick, stucco, concrete and tile building rooftops.

Best tapas bar

Our day of wandering around Madrid was greatly enhanced by the kindness of strangers, one of whom insisted on paying for our lunch. Our friends too were a huge help. Merida and one of her two big white dogs walked us through Retiro Park, through formal gardens, along dirt paths lined with large trees, past the shimmering glass of the Crystal Palace, grand plaza with sculpture and a big pond where the ducks stole bread bits that merida was throwing to the huge carp. People were out and about enjoying the 50 degree temps on a Monday at the end of a holiday weekend.

Inside best tapas bar. The two women in the top photo, right side, are the Noels who insisted on paying our tab.

Merida pointed us the direction of the Prado Museum and we were off, stopping first at Vincens, a candy maker since 1775, (where we picked up gifts for friends after sampling several cut up soft chunks of what tasted like nougat, fudgy bits, toffee.

San Antonio de Los Alemanes and the storybook facade of a bookstore/printer

And then we dove into the old Letras neighborhood narrow lanes lined with elegant apartment buildings, cafes, tapas bars and the occasional fun little boutiques. We found a cheerful shop called Santacana that has made gloves (1 de las Huertas) since 1896. We bought gorgeous handcrafted knit, leather and felt gloves as gifts. I then asked the stylish shopkeeper if she knew of a good place for lunch.

She sent us to Bodega il Ardoso, in the bohemian Malasana neighborhood, around since the late 1800s. It turned out to be a somewhat famous local secret, a small dark tapas bar, lined with old bottles, photos, paintings. It was filled with people at 2 pm, the start of siesta when shops close and people eat, but the waiter rather brusquely nodded at us and said something in rapid Spanish that seemed to mean “See this opening underneath the bar counter? Duck under it.” And so we did, finding ourselves in a smaller room, slightly less packed with people. We found a spot to stand along a narrow wood counter and got to talking with two women who were eating a gorgeous plate of grilled artichoke. They recommended this and another tapa, the famous potato tortilla, which turned out to be a delicous omelette with egg and potatoes. I later learned the place is famous for Czech beer, which dirck drank.

The women turned out to be mother and daughter locals, both named Noel. They spoke English well, were well-traveled art lovers who knew Chicago and Detroit and even Rochester Minnesota, and operate Airbnbs in Madrid and Pamplona. They were astonished we’d found the bar, which is off the tourist track. We shared a table after another party left and the elder Noel insisted first on buying us drinks and then paying for our meal, which included another delicious dish they recommended, a bowl of crispy curlicues of potato topped with fried eggs. We exchanged email addresses and Airbnb links and they recommended several places to go nearby. Their kindness made our day!

We tried to visit a nearby church with art treasures (San Antonio de Los Alemanes) and cafe (cafe Ruiz) that they recommended but both were closed. The good part was the cool neighborhood around them, with shops like El Moderno concept store on and near corredera Baja de San Pablo. We had coffee at an outdoor cafe in a sunny little plaza. Our new friends also recommended visiting San Antonio de le Florida church for more art.

Dinner in our friends’ Retiro neighborhood was at Taberna La castela, which also turned out to be superb (thank you WaPo for your travel story I chanced upon). We had delicious seafood…grilled sole, tuna, a risotto of sorts with black squid ink, calamari/octopus. Grilled tiny sardine-like fish called whitebait arrived as a free appetizer along with excellent bread. The croquettes had a delicious fishy flavor inside.

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Madrid, Escorial, and Segovia

Very nice of our old friends M & C to up and move from New York to Madrid, where they first met as young children living here with their respective families. Decades later, they are living for several months in the lovely Retiro neighborhood in a 1970’s-era apartment building on the 13th floor with superb views of the city.

Escorial, with dogs, mountains and rainbow

We had an uneventful trip here on Aer Lingus with a brief layover in Dublin, delayed slightly by fog that has hung over the city. Yesterday we had time to stroll along a ramblas, of sorts, a brick pedestrian strip lined with a street with cars on either side. Families, couples, singles, young, old people all strolling on a Saturday afternoon. Very civilized. m &C eat one big meal a day, a late lunch at around 3 p.m. Yesterday we went to a traditional local place, La Hoja (La Fueya) aka The Leaf that was packed with families. We shared big plates of sliced jamon, sliced cheese, grilled artichokes, and then entrees that were big plates of meat, game or fish (wild boar, pork) and then cider served through some ceramic contraption.


Today we packed up the two white dogs (one who looks like our lab mix Millie ) and hit the road for a scenic drive to the lovely town of Escorial, famous for its 17th century monastery/palace, an imposing pile of stone at the edge of a wide plaza. IN the distance the fog rose from the mountains and the sun finally appeared, along with a rainbow lining the mountains like a dandy’s scarf. We strolled into the old city, with narrow lanes lined with lovely old buildings and small plazas, past whimsical Christmas decorations – large paper mache animals, including a cow giving birth and a donkey perched on a stone staircase , as if in mid step. We stopped at a little cafe for tapas – little plates of marinated anchovies, olives, cheese, sausage, an omelette/hash browns concoction.

Cider-serving contraption at La Hoya restaurant in Madrid, sucking cider out of the bottle and carbonizing it.

On to Segovia, a hilltop town with a spectacular Roman aqueduct, cathedral and castle. Isabella, the queen of Castille, was crowned in the cathedral in the 1400s. She dispatched Columbus on his expedition to the new world.) Lunch was at a famous old world place called mason de Candido, around since 1884, in a rambling old building with lots of carved wood, casement windows, painted murals and photos of local and world dignitaries. I didn’t realize until we finished lunch that I was sitting under a photo featuring Jimmy Carter. This seemed like the right place for sangria, grilled baby lamb (crispy on outside, succulent inside), potatoes.

Lunch in Madrid

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Bon voyage to my brother – off to Spain and France

Have a great trip M and H! Here’s a few parting words of advice – most fairly obvious but just in case….

In Barcelona, see any and all things Gaudi – the half-done church/temple (Sagrada Familia);  the really cool park (Park Guell, it’s out of the way but worth the trip). We also visited another house in the city that I can’t remember the name of – both Casa Batllo and Casa Mila look incredibly cool. (We got the Gaudi bug in Barcelona and everywhere else we visited in Spain, we searched out nearby Gaudi buildings.)

In the Dordogne, remember to check out the “art way” (“chemin des arts” billed as “a funny way” to experience Sarlat. I think they meant “a fun way”)  and one of our favorites, Sophie Noellet’s studio at 4-6 rue Alberic Cahuet.. And of course the outdoor market (I bought foie gras there for dad…) And here’s a long-shot request: We bought Lily her favorite all time necklace in Sarlat – which she  lost last summer in the Dominican Republic.  We found it  at a little unimpressive-looking  postcard-gift shop  just off the artist’s studio walk. It was a horseshoe nail  bent into the shape of a heart on a string of rawhide. Nothing fancy or expensive – but if by some remote chance you find something like it, please buy and I’ll reimburse you.

In Talloires, I’d love to know if the Hotel Beau Site is still there. And the Annecy market of course. And the Gorge du Fier.

Have a wonderful time! x0x,b

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Barcelona stylish budget hotels

Last I heard my brother was looking for a hotel to stay at in Barcelona. We were there in 1989 but don’t remember our hotel being anything special.  So here are four listed in a recent story in Budget Travel. They look like sets from a Pedro Almodovar movie:

– Chic & Basic Born – $118 a night no website address given

– 987 Barcelona – $106 a night

– Hotel Constanza – $119

– Room Mate Emma – $154

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