Spain and other wonderful locales Pt. 1

We got back from our trip to Spain about a month ago, and I finally sorted all the pictures, and am now ready to tell you about our wonderful vacation. Arriving home is not nearly as much fun as arriving at our destination. First off, there is the time change, that is, Europe is ahead by 6 hours. So in Toronto we found ourselves falling asleep at 5:00 pm and waking at 2:00 am Even though we tried to fool our internal clocks by having a wee nap, and then staying up until midnight, we still woke up at 3:00am. But after about four or five days things settled. The excitement of the impending holiday seems to erase the problems of time change going to Europe.

It is a luxury to travel Business class. If you are a planner as I am, you can find good ‘lowest business class fares for multi-city trips’ so it is about half what you would pay if you booked last minute. We do like Air Canada as they offer their business class international destination guests, the pleasure of the Signature Suites. This is a stunning lounge that has a private dining area as well as a sumptuous buffet. You really need an hour for dinner, and it is very good, with premium champagnes and wines, and excellent service. All this is part of the ticket. We then opted not to eat dinner when we got on the plane, just to have dessert and drinks, snuggle down in the duvet provided for the full-length beds. I think we both read our books, but the private in seat entertainment has all sorts of films. I like to put up the flight map so I know what is what, and I try to go to sleep. We travel with our Kindles so that we can download lots of reading material, a big change from carting many books in our luggage.


in the Signature Suite enjoying dinner before the flight

Our arrival in Madrid was early in the morning and we were met by a car and driver sent by the hotel. I like organizing this because we are usually very dopey after the overnight flight. The Hotel Urban that I had chosen because it looked fun, trendy, central and also had a pool. The pool is a priority for me and although it pictured a pool online and in their promo material, in actuality it would have been good for a 5 year old as it was not deep enough for me to swim, but it was good for a dip in the heat. Our room was not ready, but we settled down in the very unusual and comfy lobby that was encased in glass walls in a sort of atrium. We both soon fell asleep sitting up.




atrium in the lobby of Hotel Urban and Charles almost asleep

We were awoken about an hour later, and taken in a glass elevator to our wonderful very large very ultra modern room. It reminded us of the Royalton Hotel many years ago which thrived on form rather than function. The large bed was extremely comfortable, and we had a wee nap. We woke and took showers in the separate shower stall beside the modular tub, and then headed up to the roof terrace /pool area and found a delightful bar also surrounded by glass. A light snack and drinks and we were entertained by the gorgeous people lounging outside by the pool. The women were extraordinary as were the men, all tanned and buff and unabashedly showing off their perfect bodies. Hmm. Even the children were movie star perfect.


the trendy room and bath behind


great design everywhere in the Urban


a square in Madrid

Then we took a much-needed walk, stopped for cava and cappuccino, then home for a dip in the silly pool. The concierge booked us into a restaurant called Quintin, in an area called Salamanca. Normally I pre-book the restaurants before we arrive in a city, but thought I would be flexible here what with our time change and all. The concierge was superb. Her name is Candela and there wasn’t enough that she could do for us, very impressive. At any rate we headed to this restaurant and were delightfully surprised with the market atmosphere, and wonderful selections on the menu. We even enjoyed a conversation with our neighbours at the next table who were curious about us after hearing our English. They were from Venezuela and fascinating as they had an apartment in Madrid and were world travelers somewhat like ourselves. I am always a bit stunned when I realize we are indeed world travelers. When did that happen? Hmm.


outside and inside at Quintin

Back to the food. We were offered a small strawberry gazpacho in a little liqueur glass and it was simply divine. We both think it was one of the best taste treats of our entire trip. Wish I had that recipe. I had crawfish with artichokes (I am a sucker for artichokes especially cooked from scratch) and Charles had steak tartare with bone marrow, very unusual but delicious, as well as squid grilled to perfection. Then we went across the street to a jazz bar and watched the vivid nightlife on a Friday evening in Madrid and soon headed back to the hotel and crashed. Felt as though we had been in the vibrant city for days.


the beautiful strawberry gazpacho and happy diner

I had booked a private walking tour through trip advisor, for our second morning, and we were to meet at our hotel at 9:00. After a light buffet breakfast that was delicious and unusual, we met Enrique who was our guide. He was an art historian and perfect for our tour of the ‘arts’ area of Madrid. He reminded me of Rogelio, a character on Jane and the Virgin, a silly novella that we watch on Netflix. His accent and pitch of his voice were exactly the same. Enrique, as you can see in the photos, bears no resemblance to the actor, but he turned out to be a brilliant and fun tour guide and we spent four hours walking with him, and then another hour finding our way back to the hotel. We learned about Cervantes, who authored the famous Don Quixote, visited a puppet museum, noted plaques on the ground commemorating 100 years of a building, plaques on the walls, history of Madrid, and the many kings. We were told about the Sephardic Jews who were saved from murder by the angel of Budapest. We saw the palace of the king, the Gothic style chapel, the market with its history of squabbles among shopkeepers, masses of gorgeous seafood, stopped for a cold drink, learned the real meaning of tapas. I have always thought of them as small plates of delicious goodies that you pay for, but in fact they were free offerings from the bar owners like chips or nuts to help absorb the alcohol. That was the original meaning apparently.


Enrique with me and Charles, the Rogelio of Netflix fame and the jamon


Then we learned about Iberian ham. You could spend a long time becoming familiar with this ham. Iberian refers to a peninsula incorporating both Spain and Portugal. As I understand it these special black pigs eat only acorns and their meat is spectacular and very expensive. The best is called jamón ibérico de bellota. Bellota is the word for acorn. Exercise and diet have a significant effect on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months. This grade is divided into black-label jamón 100% ibérico de bellota, produced from purebred Iberian pigs, and red-label jamón ibérico de bellota from free-range pigs that are not purebred. Since 2014, the percentage of Iberian ancestry in the animal must be specified on the label. I have included the link( see above) and you can read more if you are interested. When the pigs go to market they must have a black band, and be eaten within a month of when the meat is hand cut. We tasted this extraordinary delicacy in Barcelona, and although I will write about our meal in my next blog, I can say it is exquisite and really tasted nothing like ham, as we know it. It is indeed expensive.


Sephardic Jews from Sarajevo 

After that experience we went to the king’s place and heard the stories about Napoleon and his brother, Joseph, who was crowned King of Spain in Madrid. It was the highest honor that Napoleon secured for a family member. Another two of Napoleon’s brothers also became kings, but of smaller countries, Westphalia and Holland. We were steeped in history, art, and food when we parted ways with Enrique. He was a very special delight.


cute poster in a window

Back at the hotel we were peckish and ate a light lunch in the glassy restaurant, called Glass Mar, where we enjoyed lobster and squid siam, a type of Thai dish, and an unusual soup with plankton and seaweed in it. The concierge, Candela, came over to talk to us about pleasurable food and restaurants.

Then a bath, and we were ready for our special dinner at Cebo, the Michelin Star restaurant in the hotel. The menu was exquisite, but we chose the wine pairings, had a drink before dinner, and the wines were just too rich for me although interesting. The food as befitting a one star resto was beautifully served and presented. A rough night ensued for Charles who coughed and coughed, and I had a bit of turista. It was definitely difficult to wake up in time for another private tour, this time to The Prado.


in the market and on the streets of Madrid


dinner at Cebo


We had a bit of trouble finding our guide near the museum, but once we connected with Marietta, all was excellent. She took us to the highlights. One could wander the museum for hours, but she had it nailed. We saw Spanish painters like El Greco, Goya, and Velasquez. Marietta was well informed. She talked about things like Goya’s period of depression when he painted graffiti on the walls of his house that were later removed, and transferred to canvass, as well as the incestuous kings of Spain in the 1600’s and the severe problems this caused from their inbreeding. If you wish to learn more, and it is fascinating, go to the link for Charles 2 of Spain . There was a picture of the Mona Lisa done by an artist in the Leonardo da Vinci studio, so similar to the original da Vinci. We saw Hieronumous Bosch with his complex and intriguing paintings, such as The Garden of earthly Delights. It was quite a whirlwind tour, but so very impressive.


The Prado and some of the art highlights






After that we stumbled back to the hotel. It was hot outside, but not humid, which was a saving grace. For some reason on the entire trip I craved coca cola with lime. It just seemed the drink that quenched my thirst. I never drink coke normally, but I just loved the taste of the original, and all the street cafés had it cold, as I didn’t want to have it served with ice, always careful. After a stop for a coke and Charles’ rosé, we had a nap. It was Sunday and quiet, but we thought we would head back to the Salamanca area and explore there. when we woke from our siesta. Talk about quiet. No one was about and everything was closed. Back to the hotel to people watch at the pool bar. Always, compelling.


crazy fun sculpture near the pool at Urban Hotel

Not many restaurants were open on a Sunday, but one within walking distance proved to be enchanting. It was a casual place called El Barril de las Letras that served paella and grilled squid. We were happy and talked to our neighbours, a delightful couple who spoke English. Both men were good looking and charming, and it was fun to share experiences. The paella was delicious although later on during our trip to Barcelona, we were told we should have sampled it in Catalan. So be it.


We also discovered a brandy called Carlos Primeros or Carlos 1, almost as good as my favourite cognac.



iced cappuccino Spanish style, cappuccino and a glass of ice, and an ubiquitous scooter


a stunning building and squatters tents- hmm

I will never forget the many electric scooters in the streets of Madrid with people racing in and out of traffic, rental ones at the side of the road, and even one that was available by Uber. Of course I keep notes as we go, but reading them again brings it all back even the special quality of the light, and the smells of the city, as well as the delicious flavours of the food. It is great to have a record of our journeys and it is equally satisfying to share them with you.

I will write soon about our time in Barcelona. I hope you will join me.

Love your comments,

Riki– olé