My personal guide to Madrid- part III

Okay, I left you on our walk at the Puerta de Alcalá and the entrance to the Retiro Park. Let’s start from there ( but you are welcome to start at any point on this tour and spend as much or as little time in each sit site as your personal itinerary or preference allows).

You will notice that there are many beautiful sidewalk cafes around the circle of the Puerta de Alcalá. For our tour, find the Calle Serrano, head north. This is the barrio de Salamanca which today hosts the best high end shopping and real estate in Madrid. It is a wonderful neighborhood to people watch. Continue up Serrano until you get to the Arqueológico museum. IF YOU ONLY HAVE ONE DAY TO SPEND IN MADRID, PLEASE SPEND IT HERE!

I hope I have made myself clear. I have spend many days in Madrid and in this recent trip there are three places that I visited that I had not visited before, the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, the Theissen Museum of Modern Art, and the Arqueológico Museum. I was so deprived of cultural depth. Here you will see presentations on the history and changing cultures, arquitectura, and art of Spain that it serves as a tutorial for anything else you may do in Madrid of Spain.

Upon finishing at the Museum, exit and turn left to the block which is the Plaza de descubrimiento. Turn left at the block and you will return to the Paseo de la Castellana and the Plaza de Colon. Turn left down the Paseo back to Cibeles and then turn right up Alcalá, passing between the Banco de España and the Army headquarters. When the road splits keep right to stay on la Gran Vía.

Do not miss the amazing buildings as you walk. One has a tendency to look up at the amazing capitals and rooftops but remember that Spain is all cobble stones and tripping is easy. Wear comfortable shoes.

As you walk up La Gran Vía, you will see fabulous restaurants and theaters as well as shopping and the hustle and bustle of life in a capital city. The road crests at Callao metro station and plaza and then vears right down to the Plaza de España. This plaza is dedicated to Spanish writers and the statue in the center shows Don Quijote and Sancho Panza.

Once at the Plaza de España, turn left onto Bailen and walk a few hundred meters back to the National Palace. You have completed the loop of my favorite places in Madrid.

The past recommend walking tour in Phase I, II, and III is not intended to be completed in a day. You should pick and choose what is important for you based upon your time and interests. I have strongly recommended a couple of places but please, make your own itinerary, take your time, and savor the rhythm of life and flavors of Madrid. I think the minimum time recommended is five days to see and appreciate all that I have recommended but time being our most precious commodity, do what you can and have a copa and tapa for me.

Restaurants of particular note:

I maintain that there is no bad food in Madrid. You can have tapas and/or snack your way through Madrid T little cost. That said, for those who desire a particularly amazing culinary experience, here are my recommendations:

La Barraca, Calle de la Reina 29

34 915 327 154

Absolutely the best paella and all its variations I have ever know ( and I pride myself as making a damn good paella)

La Taberna del Alabardero, Felipe V 6 (adjacent to the National Opera House). 34 915 47 2577

Amazing high end restaurant you would expect in any capital city. Frequented by those who attend the Opers and those of distinguished taste.

El Paraguas-Calle Jorge Juan 16

Rated by many the finest in Madrid

El Buey – Plaza de la Marina Española 1

My personal favorite and that if my wife. Less high end but tenderloin served with hot plates to cook to your liking and the best mushroom sauce ever

El Pimiento Verde, near the Plaza Mayor. Highly recommend for its food and portions but I never had a chance to try it.

I hope this guide will serve you well. I wish I had it 40 years ago when I was first here. These are my personal observations and tastes. I hope you like them and if you decide to try them, I may see you there. Let me know what you think.

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My personal guide to Madrid -Part II

From the Plaza Mayor, using the statue of Felipe II in the center, notice the apartments all around you. These are still occupied and some are even for rent as B and Bs. On Felipe’s left side you will see that the painting is much more elaborate. This was the side where royals would occupy during bull fights long ago when the Plaza was used for that purpose. Of course Felipe wasn’t there.

There are several portals or sally ports out of the Plaza. We have discussed the Arco de Cuchilleros down to the knife makers street to Felipe’s right rear. The exit to the Plaza de San Miguel is to his left rear. On his left there are exits to the Calle Mayor and there are three exits to his front. The one in the left front takes you diagonally to the Calle Mayor and the one on the right front is the Arco de Atocha. We will walk out of that one into Atocha.

This busy city street is wide and bustling and terminates about a mile ahead in a huge intersection with many things of interest. One block in to your right you will find the museum of Reina Sofia where many modern paintings are displayed including Picasso’s Guernica. To your right front is the Atocha train station which can take you anywhere you want to go. It is an impressive building which houses its own botanical gardens. Across the intersection is an imposing building with chariots atop which is the Ministry of Agricultural. And to your left is the Paseo del Prado.

This wide street and park extends north through the city. It was the vision of Charles III, the first Bourbon king who modernized and cleaned up Madrid. He was the urban planner that gave us the Prado Museum and many other features we enjoy today.

Turn left on the Paseo del Prado. As you walk north you will first come to the southern most portion of the Retiro Park. Notice the book sellers booths that line the street. Next in the right you will see the Royal Botanical Garden followed by the Prado Museum. As you continue north you will see the Neptune statue in the intersection. In your left across the intersection is the Thyssen-B. Museum. Another must see while in Madrid. I highly recommend the audio tour as it is an art history class in 90 minutes.

Continuing north on the Paseo the name of the road changes to Recoletos but it’s nature does not. Note the cafes along the center and many park benches to rest. The next major intersection you come to is the Plaza de Cibeles. This is the goddess of agriculture riding in a chariot pulled by lions (of course).

A major busy city intersection it has many iconic buildings that surround it. Facing north you have the Bank of Spain in one corner and the Army headquarters on your left from across from the bank. To your right the imposing building built by Charles III as the Post Office now serves as the City Hall. It is said that when constitution was under way, the public called it “Our Lady of the Mail” as it looked more like a cathedral than a public building.

The major cross street at Cibeles is Alcalá, turn right into Alcalá and head up hill to the Puerta de Alcalá. This road will take you to the town if Alcalá de Henares where another palace sits but we will not walk there. Walk to the top of the hill and you will find the impressive gate in a traffic circle and just to the south of it, the entrance to the Retiro Park.

More if Madrid in Part III

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My personal guide to Madrid

This may take a while so I may have to break it up into more than one blog. Let’s start with walking tours.

Okay, I like to walk and as I have said this is a wonderful walking city. In fact I have averaged over a thousand miles a year for the past five years. But don’t let that scare you. Madrid metro has celebrated its 100th anniversary and it is clean efficient and inexpensive. In fact, this disciplined population will give their seat to you if there are grey hair showing or any sign of difficulty walking. One reason to walk Madrid is that Madrileños are out walking and it is fun to see the pulse of the city all around you.

I like to start people off at the national palace. Madrid was founded by Felipe II in the early 1500s. He moved the capital to the center of Spain to give it room to grow and because it was the center. There was almost nothing here before he made that decision.

When his wife first entered the palace she looked at the view across the Manzanares river and said “Do not build anything on that side of the river “. She liked the views. This explains why Madrid, unlike most all capitals, grew in all directions but West and to this day we have the forests to look at.

While at the palace, note the gardens of Sabatini, the Parque del Oeste, the National Opera House, and the plaque dedicated to the heroes that rise up against the French in 2 May 1802. It was the start of the first guerilla warfare where the people resisted the presence of Napoleon and his troops. More later on that topic during our walk.

From the palace continue walking down Bailen past the National Cathedral and Calle Mayor ( we will return to Calle Mayor later) to visit the Basilica of San Francisco. If you only visit one church in Madrid, visit this one. Basílicas are important to the history of Christianity as it was the first architectural structure used in the 4th century by Christians in the Roman Empire. Originally used as a building to house legal proceedings, it is two intersecting naves roughly in the form of the cross. From that architecture developed today’s modern churches by elongating one of the naves to better form a cross. The statues and paintings in the chapels of SanFrancisco are absolutely amazing. One chapel, that of San Sebastián is painted by Goya.

From the Basilica, retrace your steps on Bailen back to Calle Mayor. Turn right on Calle Mayor and walk up towards the Plaza Mayor. Just before you get there you will see a small plaza with the statue of Cardinal Cisneros. A key figure in Spanish history as he served as regent in Spain until the arrival of Charles I in the late 1400s. Charles was also king of the Holy Roman Empire and was seated in Flandes (Denmark). He was 17 when he came to visit Spain and never left.

In that small plaza without fanfare are three buildings from three different centuries. The 17th, 16th, and 15th from right to left. To your left in the plaza you will find and old mudejar (brick) building with a Moorish horseshoe arch. This is the Calle del Codo. Pay attention to the road signs in this area. This is elbow street. The signs are as they were hundreds of years ago when few could read so they are pictured.

Follow the street through the elbow until you come to a small square. Turn left at the square and cross through to the street on the right. About 50 yards down that street you will see street signs above you on the right, one is an alleyway called Pacedizo del Panecillo. This is where the monks would hand out bread to to poor. 90 degrees from that sign you will see a street sign for Calle de la Pasa. Note the picture. It has grapes but also it shows couples lining up at a doorway.

It is on this street and at that door where the people of Madrid lined up to get their marriage licenses. There is an old saying that “El que no pasa por la Calle de la Pasa no se casa.” He who does not pass by Raisin Street does not get married.

Now turn about and walk up hill on Calle de Cuchilleros. The street of the knife makers. There is almost too much to see here. Pass the restaurant Botín where Hemingway ate and wrote. It boasts the oldest oven, note the Arco de Cuchilleros that would take you up the staircase to the Plaza Mayor and continue past the Cuevas, there are restaurants built into the base of the plaza mayor. Many are called Mesón (I particularly like the Mesón del Champiñón for roasted mushrooms). Passing the Arco de Cuchilleros you come to the Mercado de San Miguel in the Plaza de San Miguel. It was an ild open air market for those who lived in that neighborhood that has been beautifully renovated and now one of the premier places to go to eat tapas. You must walk through and sample the tapas and beverages. If you are tired of walk, there will not likely be seating in San Miguel so continue into the Plaza Mayor and sit at any of the restaurants there.

More tour in another blog.

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Gringo Suelto

Long ago in a previous live I was an Army Officer charged with escorting two Peruvian Generals to visit major training and military educational facilities in the USA. We were at West Point and took in a parade and football game which was very difficult to explain to them. On Sunday we had a free day before I returned them home to Lima. I asked them what they would like to do for the day. Their answer was “New York City!” I was the worst possible guide for them but we jumped in the rental car, all in civilian cloths and headed south to the big apple. We started at Ellis Island, went to the Twin Towers and Empire State Building and Grand Central. One of the Peruvians was particularly fond of hot dogs so we stopped many times to sample. I can still see his smile as he said “Somos tres Gringos Sueltos en New York”.

For them, a poor country under terrible threats of terrorism and a price on their heads, it was hard for me to imagine the shear pleasure in simply walking down the street with no security detail and your only care was the next hot dog. Since then, I have lived the phrase gringo suelto or loose gringo (gringo on the loose) and with my Camino Reunion guests gone, that is what I am tonight in Madrid.

National Palace at Sunset when the people come out.

Tonight I pretended to be a real Madrileño by walking about many of the favorite night spots. Had to stop for a wine and a tapa at Plaza Santa Ana. I was lucky to get a seat as there were thousands of people snacking and walking about.

Did not need much dinner as I took myself to the Buey restaurant for lunch. It was Jean’s favorite. It has not changed a bit and the hot plate where you warm/cook your own tenderloin and the mushroom sauce are still spectacular.

I do love this town.

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Upon Reflection

I know that this is not currently a Camino blog but there is something about the Camino which will not let you go. The four days I have spent in the company of dear Camino friends has brought to me deep memories and reactions of what the Camino has given me. I was reminded in one of our discussions of the profound saying about the Camino. “The Camino does not give you what you are looking for, it gives you what you need.”

We had a deep discussion about what the Camino gave each of us. Some gifts were physical, some spiritual, others intellectual but through all the stories we accepted that we are still realizing its effects on us. We accept that there may still be lessons we have not yet realized There are many experiences in life where the most important lessons do not immediately identify themselves.

My first Camino in 2015 was an adventure that I was drawn to over many years. I was interested in the physical challenge of course. I was also fascinated by how the act of walking along a 500 mile trail with thousands of pilgrims from hundreds of cultures over a millennium changed the world. I imagined the effects on a German, an Irishman, and a Swede and how they were effected by each other’s vastly different cultures, dress, food, and appearance as they walked through Arab controlled Spain. They absorbed those observations and returned home unable to unsee them.

I was also personally curious about how I would do being alone. As one of a family of 9 who grew up with one bathroom, who entered West Point immediately after high school and had multiple room mates for four years and then married right out of college I was curious how I would handle long walks alone. I knew no one and even though I was meeting people, I was alone most of the time with my thoughts. Since that time, the gift that the Camino gave me has become clear.

I my very personal case, the loss that I suffered over a year ago has had me in a long search for myself, after being one of a couple, a piece of something wonderful, I found myself unsure of who I am, what I want and need. Wondering how can I go on without her advice and counsel. Her approval.

I have come to the realization that the gift I was given by walking the Camino in 2015 was the knowledge and confidence that I will be okay alone, that I can do this. Of course it will still be hard and I will always miss her but I know I can do it.

The gift I got from the Camino was me.

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Personal chef

Part of today’s adventure was to maximize our reunion time together, I arranged for a personal chef to come to the apartment and prepare the six of us a Spanish meal. I wanted to do this not just for the culinary adventure but to be able to spend as much time with friends as possible. It was a howling success.

I learned of an organization called MiumMium (look them up on the net) who have a brilliant business model. They have contacted personal chefs from around the world and tied them to VRBO and HomeAway web sites for people like me, renting an apartment in a foreign country. I was able to coordinate the menu and the date and time months ago on line. Tonight Julio César showed up on time with all the food and took over her kitchen. He prepared all courses, served all six courses to six people cleaned up and departed for 40€ per person. This was cheaper that we could have had in a restaurant and we did it without leaving the apartment, dressed as we chose to and most of us bare footed.

I highly recommend the site to you all and I wish them success.

Julio César

Gambas ajillo (shrimp and garlic)

Beef tenderloin with roasted pepper and mushroom potato purée

Apple puff pastry with iced cream

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Reunion

To become one again with those of the past. I do not know why it should bring such joy. After several arrivals, last night all of the dear friends of last year’s Camino Portuguese assembled in the apartment. There was much hugging and back slapping with generous smiles. There was much talk of the meaning of the Camino and the unexplainable phenomenon of a depth of friendship little known.

One of my favorite quotes about the Camino is, “One who has not walked the Camino cannot explain it, one who has not walked, cannot understand it”. This my friends is so very true. Last night over gazpacho, salad, bread and wine many stories were told to an appreciative audience until nearly 2:00 AM. It was grand. Mostly because there seem to be no memories of the heat, the discomfort, the effort involved in accomplishing such a task of walking 500 miles over a month. Oh there is mention of some of those things but most often with great humor – and a deep pride. This is an accomplishment that cannot be taken away. The pleasure in sharing it with those who truly understand is sublime.

I will not attempt to tell any of the stories here although Some have been told on earlier pages of this blog from my two Camino adventures. But please know that I am deeply pleased to be in the company of this group.

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Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess

I missed a day. I had three days to get ready for the arrival of friends at this apartment in Madrid which is more that enough time. Two old expressions come to mind. The first “If you want something done, give it to a busy man”. The other is “If you have all day to do something, it will take all day to do it”.

Yesterday I slept in and took a walk around noon. When I returned I decided to start reading a book I downloaded before I left on my trip. I sat around the apartment and read until I finished the book at 2:15 this morning. I have never done that before with any book. One of my goals in my new life is to read more but there has to be a reading/life balance somewhere. Moderation has never been my strength. In fact I often joke that my motto should be “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess “.

Guests arriving today, must clean apartment and get to the store.

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Street noise

Okay. I understand that I have a decidedly American internal clock and getting into bed when most Spaniards are going out to dinner means I have to tolerate a little street noise. This apartment is on the 7th floor above the Plaza de España. It sits on the Gran Vía. Madrid’s Wall Street for major events.

Tonight as I settled into my routine of Sudoku puzzles and a sleep shirt I found the ruckus outside unusually loud. I arose from my slumber and went to the window and threw open the sash. And what to my wondering eyes did apear but an open air bus with the Spanish National Basketball team returning from China where they win the World Cup. It seems they were having their version of a ticket tape parade. With a live band following and thousands of proud fans cheering and honking.

Yay!

Now good night.

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Reading the signs

Today was another day of preparation for the arrival of my Camino Friends for our one year reunion. I am very excited to see them and get caught up on their lives. One in particular since she is currently walking the Camino Inglés which I plan to do next year with a new knee, two brothers, and friends.

I walked to the train station today to buy my ticket for Barcelona. I am going there 25 Sep to spend some time before my cruise home. On my way I participated in one of my favorite pastimes by watching people and just noticing the humor in life.

I have mentioned the old street signs in Madrid which date back to a time when there was illiteracy among the common folk. This necessitated the placement of pictures on the signs for those who could not read. Of course it required other knowledge of the populace so that you could distinguish between your saints and your monarchs. Here are some examples:

One famous street sign points out the street where all residents of Madrid who wished to marry had to line up to apply for a marriage license. It is on the Calle de la Pasa and the saying then was, “El que no pasa por la calle de la pasa no se casa”. In English it looses a lot to say He who does not pass by Raisin Street doesn’t get married. I like it in Spanish.

Years ago Chevrolet had a hard time selling the Chevy Nova in South American countries. In Spanish it means Chevy doesn’t work. I wonder what was up with this doctor?

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