Madrid: Breakfast with the Locals

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Our first morning in Madrid, jet lagged and so very tired, we slept through the breakfast offered by our hotel. When we finally emerged from the bliss of sleep after a long day of traveling, we ventured out to find some food. Tucked away on a small side street several blocks from our hotel was a small cafe. We decided to give it a shot.

It was a Saturday morning, and customers were leisurely eating their food and reading the morning paper. I love how customers brought their dogs into the cafe! There was one woman who sat at a table by the window drinking her coffee and reading the paper the entire time we were there. Her little beagle was curled up contentedly at her feet. They made such a picturesque site with the morning light streaming in through the window!

It came time to order our food. My children were smart and went with the “classico”, which turned out to be toast with jam, a pretty safe choice. I was feeling a little adventurous, and decided to try the “espagnol”. I also tried to use what little Spanish I know to order orange juice as well. My husband amusedly smiled at my attempts. When I asked him what was so funny, I learned that in Spain juice is zumo, not jugo like in some other Spanish speaking countries. At least my orange juice came without any problems, so the waiter still understood me, even if I used the incorrect version of “juice”.

And then the “espagnol” came. This culinary concoction was toast with diced tomatoes and jamon on it. Jamon is a Spanish ham that is cured, or cooked with chemicals instead of with heat. I was optimistic. I like ham and tomatoes. It turns out however, that jamon on a jet lagged and slightly queasy stomach is not a really good idea. I bravely took about three bites before deciding that to continue to eat my “espagnol” was a very bad idea. I ended up eating a croissant; a buttery, flaky, and completely safe croissant. Indeed, from that morning on, a croissant became a staple in my breakfast for our entire trip.

So, my first experience with Spanish food wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. But the cafe was quaint. Everyone was energized for a day of site seeing. And that first foreign taste of Spain just made us more excited for the travel adventures to come.

Spain: Modern and Medieval

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Our family recently returned from an amazing two and a half week adventure in Spain. Reading the guidebook prior to our trip, I was amused that many of the smaller towns were described as “medieval”. My husband had visited Spain before, while it was the first time for the rest of us. I mentioned to him that many towns in Spain are described as medieval, and asked him if that was true. My experience in Spain taught me that yes, many towns are gorgeous remnants of medieval art and architecture. Yet, the larger cities had a distinctly modern and cosmopolitan feel.

This is the route we took on our journey through Spain. We flew into the capitol city of Madrid. From there we journeyed north to a small town called Santillana del Mar, about a 30 minute bus ride from Santander. If you want medieval, Santillana del Mar is a beautiful village protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We then spent a few beach days in the coastal city of Santander. From Santander, we journeyed to Bilbao. Bilbao was once an industrial city, but is now a more modern and updated city, with the Guggenheim Museum showcasing modern art. From Bilbao, we took the train to Segovia. Isabella and Ferdinand reigned over a unified Spain and much of the new world from Segovia, before moving their capitol to Toledo. From Segovia, we headed back to Madrid for a day or two before flying home.

I will be sharing our trip with you in more detail, but here are some general impressions that I had while in Spain.

The Spanish people are friendly and inviting. Traveling with four children can be a bit stressful and difficult at times. People were always volunteering to help carry strollers in and out of the metro, hold open doors, and helping in any way they saw possible. Madrid was especially refreshing. We lived in New York City and then the surrounding area for quite a few years. I love New York, but it is not especially friendly to children. Madrid had many of the qualities that I love about New York; the wide boulevards, the museums, the parks, great restaurants, but was welcoming to children everywhere we went. In Spain, children are included in all aspects of daily life. That aspect of Spanish culture mirrors closely how my husband and I raise our children, which made for a very comfortable atmosphere. Madrid is also relatively inexpensive and has better weather than New York. We plan on spending more time there in the future.

If traveling in Spain, it is a very good idea to speak some Spanish. My husband warned me before we went, but I was still surprised that many people did not speak any English. Even in Madrid, there was very little English spoken. My husband speaks Spanish, which made our trip go a lot more smoothly. At the very least, bring a good phrasebook with you to use during your trip.

Spanish food can be quite amazing. It can also be quite different than what you might be used to. I admit, I do not have a very adventurous palate. I only recently in the past few years started eating any seafood at all. And I like my meat to be well cooked. Some of the areas of Spain were challenging for me. If you order a hamburger, there’s a good chance that it will still be bleeding in the center. If you order seafood, it will be easily recognizable as fish (most likely the head will be attached) or as octopus (the tentacles will still have suction cups on it). If you follow a vegetarian diet, there are very few options for you at most restaurants. If you follow a vegan diet, you might have to subsist on bread the entire time you are in Spain. My general impression of Spanish food is that Spaniards like meat. They like it raw, with maybe a few vegetables in tow. Our children survived by eating a lot of cereal and ice cream. And churros con chocolate.

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Still, with all the challenges of guiding our family across the ocean and through a new country, we had an amazing experience learning about modern Spain and its medieval past. It felt at times that we had taken a time machine back 600 years. We saw Roman ruins more impressive than those we saw in Rome itself. We saw amazing works of art that spanned thousands of years. History came alive for our children. And the warm welcome we received is sure to lure us back to Spain again.

The Golden Key, a Chance in a Lifetime

Whenever we are trying to decide on a destination for our next big trip, we like to do some research to see what can see and experience while there. This year, we are planning a trip to northern Spain. Reading the history of Spain, I was reminded of the caves of Altamira which contain some of the oldest cave paintings ever discovered. I first learned of them in an art history course. Something you should know about me, I took several extra courses in history and anthropology while in college. So much so that my advisor kept saying to me, “You don’t have to take that class.” To which I replied, “I know”, and promptly signed up for it. To protect the ancient artists’ renderings, the caves are closed to the everyday traveler. Only those who can prove an academic need to study the paintings are allowed inside to view them. So today, my golden key would give me access to the Caves of Altamira. How amazing would it be to see in person some of the oldest visual art made by our ancestors on the planet?

http://en.museodealtamira.mcu.es/index.html

Golden Key