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Vacations: This vacation (Permalink):

Spain over Thanksgiving week, 2010
From Thursday, Nov. 18th, 2010 till Monday, Nov. 29th, 2010
Comment by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Monday, Dec. 6th, 2010 at 5:52 AM
Click on the city names in the calendar to see our blog for the day.

Thursday, Nov. 18th, 2010 — Travel (Red Eye)
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Monday, Dec. 6th, 2010 at 5:55 AM


N: We were picked up promptly by Dan, our limo driver, and despite a few snarls on the road, arrived at JFK with just the right amount of time to get checked in, have a quick bite, and get settled on the plane.

Oops! The pilot announced that the plane had a technical problem so serious that it couldn't fly. So, we trundled off, and waited for "new equipment" to arrive, be prepped, and loaded with food. We were on our way, packed like sardines, and hoping our luggage was with us this time.

B: Why Spain? Our son Nicholas has been telling us for years that we would really like Spain. We've visited Italy many times in part because we have relatives there, so visiting a country in which we knew no one would be new for us. I needn't have been concerned... more later. Also, I didn't want to go somewhere and not be able to communicate, so before our first trip to Italy we attended Italian classes for a year. I hadn't spoken Spanish since college. I thought I'd remember it, but would I? We would find out!
Friday, Nov. 19th, 2010 — Barcelona
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:11 AM
N: The rest of the trip was much more efficient. We a had smooth flight arriving at 12:30 PM in Barcelona. We caught the Aerobus, which took us to within 3 blocks of our hotel. We found Hotel Nouvel right away and got checked in in a jiff as it was prepaid. The room was attractive with a beautifully tiled floor, and overlooking a central courtyard. We discovered that despite the ancient building, the walls seemed paper thin as we could hear every cough, sneeze, toilet flush and conversation in a variety of languages around us.

We spent the afternoon getting oriented. We had a quick ham & cheese croissant from a shop across the street from the hotel, then went in search of a cellphone Sim card at two giant department stores nearby, both named El Corte Ingles—unnecessary, as it turned out our Italian Sim card from the spring worked in Spain.

We wandered down the pedestrian street to the east of the hotel. We wondered why Rick Steves’ description of the famous Ramblas did not match our experience. Wrong street! A sign along the way pointed us in the right direction.

We were struck by how many people were on the streets, of all nationalities, since we thought November was not tourist season.

We headed down the Ramblas to the seaport. We stopped at La Boqueria market, with its stalls of produce, meat and fish of all kinds, and said hello to a bar owner, Juan, shown in the Rick Steves’ video of Barcelona. He autographed our tour book. Hunger was setting in, so we went is search of a tapas restaurant mentioned in the TV series On the Road Again. It was not that nearby, but we found it where the GPS said it would be. But it was 5 PM, they open at 7, and it was tiny and noisy, so we gave up on it.

I had spotted a place near the Ramblas earlier where the food looked inviting. So we headed back to Bar Lobo where we had our first taste of really excellent tapas. An Australian at the next table said Bar Lobo was highly recommended.

We had traveled six time zones, and it was way too early for dinner in Spain, so we headed back for a nap. At 10 PM we went out in search of dinner. We just wandered around the narrow alleys, checking out restaurants. A sophisticated group was just leaving one place so we dove in not knowing what to expect. Restaurant Culleretes turned out to be a fun find. Founded in 1786, it was 224 years old. The food was great and cheap, the mementos on the tiled walls were fascinating and the clientele varied from the humble to the movie stars whose portraits were arrayed on the walls.

B: In addition to Spanish, the Barcelonans have their own language. Nevertheless, I could read all the signs and I could understand almost everyone easily, and they could understand me as well. What fun!

Transportation is so easy in Barcelona!

I had read in advance that we'd see few vegetables or salads, so I ordered artichoke and asparagus tapas at Bar Lobo. They were delicious. I don't remember what we ate at Restaurant Culleretes, but we were the only English speakers there. I do remember that we ordered one flan for dessert with two spoons, but as they were about to close, our waitress brought us two desserts.
Saturday, Nov. 20th, 2010 — Barcelona
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:19 AM
N: The next morning, it was off to Café Granja Viader, in Rick Steves’ book and adjacent to Bar Lobo, for breakfast. Their specialty was their whipped cream which for 124 years has topped everything they serve. How bad could it be if the elderly gentleman next to us was having a plate of just that. Photos of their favorite cows on the wall added to the atmosphere.

This day, we explored the Gothic Quarter with its most ancient cathedral, and a Museu d'HistÚria del la Ciutat (city history museum), in which you go underground to see the excavated ruins of the Roman town beneath Barcelona.

In the evening we went to a fabulous fish place on the waterfront, La Gavina, recommended by the hotel clerk who got us reservations. Super trendy, a fur and jewelry bedecked (probably former) super model sat at the table next to us and ordered about six courses. Barbara had our only paella of our trip, so good that she didn't want to spoil it with lesser versions later on. I had a sea bream, a delicious white fish.

At the hotel on the Ramblas and parallel street, hordes of locals were about. What’s it like when it is warm and in tourist season? We were struck by how Europeans seem to know how to enjoy life much more than people from the U.S.

B: Gwyneth Paltrow was a high school exchange student in Spain. In On the Road Again, she said she wanted churros con chocolate every day for breakfast when she was a student there. Churros are like doughnuts, and I haven't eaten a doughnut in years, but when in Spain... Churros are actually more like pizza fritta (fried pizza dough) than doughnuts. In the Americas, they are rolled in cinnamon sugar after they are fried, but not so in Spain. The freshly fried dough is dipped into hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is more like chocolate pudding that has been thinned out a bit rather than a drink. I wanted it for breakfast every day, too.

I think we also went to the Picasso Museum that day. This museum focuses on the artist's early works. They were having an exhibit that compared the works of Degas to the works of Picasso. I loved the museum and told Nick that his father, an artist, would have adored being there.

By the way, it was our 34th anniversary. We couldn't have imagined when we were married that we'd be spending our anniversary in Spain 34 year later.
Sunday, Nov. 21st, 2010 — Barcelona
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:21 AM
N: Sunday seemed an appropriate day to visit the Sagrada Familia, the masterpiece cathedral still under construction, designed by modernista architect Antoni Gaudi. The project was started over a century ago, and predates the modern art movement, but in many ways Gaudi defines it—being way ahead of his time. The cathedral is all color and shape and light and still has 30 years to go before its expected completion. Gaudi had to have had a mind that competes with other historical geniuses, to have conceived of it all at the time when the horse and buggy was still the major form of transportation.

In the evening we went to Mikel Etxea, whose tapas in the window caught our eye two nights before. Another fun place, full of good food and character (though it gets a lot of bad reviews on the Internet). It specialized in Basque cuisine. We chatted with some Germans at the table next to us, who were globe trotting on business.

B: Sagrada Familia is magnificent! A contemporary, spacious, light-filled cathedral! What a concept. We went to the top and looked down on the gorgeous city. We had Spanish pizza for an early lunch that day. The national food of Spain seems to be ham; our pizza had ham on top. The ham is similar to prosciutto, but less salty.

We were getting into a pattern of exploring a little, eating a little, and then going back to our hotel for a siesta. Nick, who has taken a nap every day of his life, absolutely adored this!

If we had one more day in Barcelona, Nick would have liked to see more of Gaudi's works. I would have loved a side trip to Montserrat, a monastery in the mountains an hour away.
Monday, Nov. 22nd, 2010 — Sevilla
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:25 AM
N: We decided to fly to Seville, our next stop, as it is too far to schlep by train, but the flight was not until the early evening. Seville is actually the same distance as Paris from Barcelona. We decided to explore the Barcelona seaport by daylight. This included taking the elevator to the top of the Columbus Monument at the base of the Ramblas—an odd memorial since Columbus' discovery led to a long hibernation of the city. We had a few tapas at a restaurant on the shopping pier and wander slowly back up the Ramblas to take the bus to the airport.

Flying RyanAir was not a pleasant experience. While the flight itself was simple enough, check-in was fraught with anxiety caused by silly baggage restrictions and ridiculous overweight charges. While we escaped with no penalties, ìescape” describes it. That, Nick's unprecedented nosebleed on the boarding line, and the attendants trying to sell things to the passengers from water to future flights further declined the flight experience.

In Seville, the airport shuttle bus oddly left us a full 3/4 mile from the city center and the GPS planted us on a side street next to the hotel. Not realizing we were standing right next to it, we called them. They thought we were in the next town instead of next door, to add to the confusion. But that was resolved quickly.

The four star hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia, has to rate as one of the most fascinating hotel experiences in all our travels. Its 170 rooms consisted of the former apartments of a dozen or more buildings in the old and historic Jewish Quarter of Seville. They are connected by a bewildering array of paths and tunnels over several acres, all like an ancient walled city. A three or four minute convoluted walk led from Reception to our room—9 rights, 7 lefts and an elevator. We had to be led in twice and we took photos along the route until we could find our breathtaking room unaided. The path led though open courtyards exposed to sun, moon and rain, millstones imbedded in the walls, and ancient columns and fountains lining the walkways. Our medieval room was decorated with taste and love. The hotel is an ongoing project as they acquire new apartments to the complex and expand the labyrinth to accommodate them.

That evening, very tired, we ate in Taberna la Sal, a restaurant that specialized in tuna recipes, recommended by the hotel. It was the only meal of the trip that we rated as mediocre.

B: Outside the airport, there was a sign saying "BUS," so we got on the line to wait for it. In a few minutes we were on a bus in a strange city hoping it would take us to our hotel. How we would know when the bus had reached our stop? When there were just a few of us left on the bus and it stopped moving, one of the other passengers said we were at the last stop.

The hotel was unforgettable. I recommend it. The restaurant Taberna la Sal was forgettable. We ordered cava, a Spanish sparkling wine with our meal, but like our meal, it had very little sparkle.
Tuesday, Nov. 23rd, 2010 — Sevilla
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:29 AM
N: The old part of Seville where we stayed is very medieval in character with squares or plazas, connected by very narrow streets and passageways, some so narrow you can touch buildings on both sides at once by just stretching your arms out.

We went on Rick Steves’ walk of old Seville. We spotted a nice plate as a souvenir of our trip. We had lunch at a local old restaurant along the route.

The Alcàzar is one of the two really big sights in Seville. Constructed by the Moors in the 10th century, it was rebuilt in the 14th by Pedro the Cruel. While not quite as vast as the Alhambra, that we would see in two days, it is still quite extensive. The vast and beautiful gardens that went on for acres and acres behind one of three palaces that compose the complex was a big surprise. This is not to say that the palaces themselves were not beautiful and exotic.

Our son, Nicholas, has a former schoolmate living in Seville. While Kevin wasn't able to meet up with us, he had sent us a long e-mail of recommendations. At the top of his list was La Azotea, #5 in TripAdvisor’s list of Seville restaurants and rated as the best tapas bar there. We were advised to get there early if we wanted a seat so we taxied over there at 8 PM, a half hour before it opened. Juan, the super friendly owner, who has spent time in L.A, greeted us and personally escorted us to a little wine bar and gourmet shop down the street from the restaurant where we could wait. We bought some estate bottled olive oil there.

Azotea's tapas were spectacular and we rate it the best food we had on the trip. While most of the clientele was Spanish, the owners were fans of the U.S. so we were treated as special.

B: I saw a spinach and chickpea tapa on the lunch menu and ordered that. Delicious!

Seville is just beautiful. There are orange trees full of fruit everywhere. The oranges are used to make Seville orange marmalade, which is very bitter, definitely an acquired taste. It was a drizzly day, but we didn't mind. I was truly impressed by knowing that in the Alcàzar, I was standing in the room in which Queen Isabella gave birth. We wondered if J.K. Rowling had ever been in the gardens, because they had a maze that seemed fitting for Harry Potter.

The tapas at dinner... Kevin had made suggestions of some of his favorite things to order, but they were only available in summer. I asked the waiter to bring a variety. I know we had something filled with cheese, We also had seafood. There were pork cheeks, and some part of an ox, I know not what. The cava was absolutely delicious, and after the wine before dinner, we were very happy. Nick said, "Now let's order dessert." He was really disappointed to hear that there was no dessert at tapas bars.

We had ice cream only once; it was just too cold to walk down the street eating an ice cream cone most of the time. I realized that the Spanish word helado is the same word as the Italian gelato. Our lemon ice cream/helado/gelato had bits of lemon peel in it. So good.
Wednesday, Nov. 24th, 2010 — Sevilla
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:31 AM
N: The Seville Cathedral is the third largest in Europe and the very largest Gothic cathedral. Immense, beautiful, and different from the Italian ones we've seen, we were awed by it. Among the gold and silver alter pieces paid for by New World gold, was the current tomb of Columbus, whose bones have resided in many towns over the years. His son is also entombed here.

Perhaps the most amazing part was the adjoining tower which we climbed. The tower, which predates the cathedral back to Moorish times, is large enough to contain a spiraling ramp allowing a rider to ascend the tower on horseback! Of course the views were breathtaking and the sound of a bell chiming rattled our vertebrae.

That evening we trucked over to another part of town, a pretty park on Alameda de Hércules, that was near another tapas bar on Kevin's list. Casa Paco was a small casual place frequented by locals, except for the exchange student at the next table showing off his mediocre Spanish to his visiting parents. This was a scene we encountered several times on our trip.

B: Another drizzly day in Sevilla. Unfortunately, Kevin was not able to meet with us while we were there. He recommended a flamenco show that advertised that it was open every day. For some reason, they were closed and would reopen after we had left town.

Rick Steves recommended a restaurant for breakfast on Plaza Santa Maria Blanca (across the street from our hotel) called Café Bar Carmela. The owner was very excited when I showed her the recommendation in Rick's book. She said she had not known about it before.

Again, at Casa Paco l asked the waiter to bring us a variety of tapas. They were much more homey in style than at La Azotea the night before, yet they were also delicious. We were the first patrons to arrive at 9:45 p.m. and 15 minutes later, there were no empty seats.
Thursday, Nov. 25th, 2010 — Granada
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:36 AM
N: We woke up in the wee hours to check out of the hotel and catch the 7:00 AM train to Granada. Since trains go from city center to city center and don't have the boarding and disembarking complications of air travel, they make a lot more sense for short trips. We got to see the Spanish countryside, often parched, often with millions of olive trees—a pleasant ride.

The train got in around 10 AM and we took a taxi to the Hotel Casa Morisca at the base of the large hill the Alhambra is located on—ìright near the entrance” the website claims. Casa Morisca is a boutique hotel located in a building built in the 15th century—very charming. The hotel clerk was very helpful.

Wanting to walk, we visited Granada’s cathedral, another giant, yet different from the rest. Then a few tapas at the local tapas bar, Bodega CasteÒeda, recommended by the hotel and Rick Steves, very authentic.

The Alhambra palace, gardens and fortress was the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain and a highpoint in Moorish architecture. It covers the top of one of the two hills that make up the landscape of old Granada. (The other hill is the AlbayzÌn, the old Moorish quarter that contains one of Bill Clinton’s favorite European landmarks, Mirador de San Nicolàs.) It consists of a palace, built later by Carlos V, gardens, a fortress, Generalife—the gardens and the Moorish Palace of the Nazarines for which we got a reservation in advance.

But first we had to get to the entrance. It was bit of a stretch of the hotel to say it was right at the entrance—the back entrance road, straight up the steep hill was more like it. The tower climb in Sevilla was probably shallower, but up we went. The grounds, the palace and the fortress, what we had energy for, were well worth the side trip from Seville. Washington Irving camped out in the Alhambra in 1829 when it was a ruin and wrote a "best seller”—Tales of the Alhambra about his adventures there. It put Granada back on the map.

The visit took us into the early evening, so we headed down the hill for a nap until Spanish dinnertime. Our visit to the recommended restaurant was cut a little short, but the remaining Spanish cold cut appetizer we took home lasted for two or three more meals.

B: In 1492, three things of significance happened in Spain: The Moors were given the choice of leaving or converting to Christianity; the Jews were given the same choices; and Columbus discovered America. I have no memory of learning about # 1 or # 2 when I was a child. Moriscas were Moors who opted to convert and to remain in Spain. Pork played a significant role in Spain's history. Neither Jews nor Muslims ate pork. If anyone's house did not smell of pork cooking, they were suspected of not being true converts to Christianity and faced being reported to the Inquisition. This story was told to us by Ibrahim, with whom we would meet in Madrid.

Rick Steves' book says there are three choices of ways to get to the Alhambra: a taxi, a bus, or walking uphill for half an hour. I told Nick I'd prefer option 1 or 2. Nick said he chose the hotel because it was right at the entrance to the Alhambra. I asked the manager to show us the entrance, and he told us to cross the street and follow the signs. We did. After walking uphill for half an hour, there we were at the entrance. When we were half way up the hill, we encountered a bike club consisting mainly of teenagers who were riding down the hill enjoying the speed and the turns in the hill.

The Moors did not use representations of people or animals, so the art consisted of various geometric shapes in different colors. The tile walls served to keep the building cool in the summer heat.

We asked our hotel for a dinner recommendation. We walked to town and found the restaurant easily. Unfortunately, Nick did not feel well after our first tapa arrived, so we had them wrap it and took it with us.

If we had another day in Granada, we would have gone to the Royal Chapel, the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella. They spent 1/4 of their wealth on it. We would also have gone up to Bill Clinton's favorite spot, the Mirador de San Nicolàs, but there was simply not enough time to walk straight up any more hills.
Friday, Nov. 26th, 2010 — Madrid
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Tuesday, Feb. 7th, 2012 at 2:45 PM
N: The train to Madrid was later in the morning than the one the day before, a more leisurely four hour trip and first class, a fun extravagance on a high speed train. We napped, watched more parched land and olive trees and were wined and dined by the staff on the train. A mountain in the shape of a reclining George Washington went by. It was good to have a semi-lay day after our full day in Granada.

So, we got into Madrid about two in the afternoon. The taxi driver grumbled in Spanish about the short taxi ride to Puerta del Sol, the Times Square of Madrid and where the Hotel Europa, our next accommodation, was located.

What struck us about Madrid in addition to its big city character but still with lots of little medieval neighborhoods, is that it is clean, clean, clean. It is perhaps the cleanest city we’ve ever visited. One gets the feeling that elves come out every night and scrub everything down. Barcelona, in contrast, always seemed a little dusty, like an old chandelier.

We spent the afternoon doing the Rick Steves’ walking tour around Puerta Del Sol and stopping in a favorite sweet shop. We also visited a cathedral across from the palace, just finished in 1996. Then the standard late afternoon nap.

At 9 PM we met with Ibrahim, the good friend of Salin, one of our Turkish relatives. Ibrahim is a professor of communications at a Madrid university. He, unfortunately, had another dinner arrangement, but he escorted us to the only flamenco bar for locals in Madrid. Even at 10 PM the small place was empty and we were ushered to a front row table. At 12:30 AM the place was packed and the first set of flamenco began with a female dancer and a male guitarist from CÛrdoba, and a male singer from Seville. We were struck by the skill and intensity of the dancer and the virtuosity of the guitarist. We managed to stay for the second set, during which the three performers were joined by a couple from the audience, also skilled in flamenco. It was quite exciting. We were the only non-locals and twice the age of everyone else, but it mattered not. We rolled back to the hotel at about 2:30 AM.

B: If I ever dreamed of staying in a hotel on Times Square on New Year's Eve, I wouldn't have to do it because we did it in Spain. Our hotel was on Puerta Del Sol, the Times Square of Madrid. The plaza is for pedestrians only. It is filled with people at all hours of the night and day. There were street performers, many people on lines to buy lottery tickets, and groups singing "Cielito Lindo" with its refrain, "Ay ay ay ay, canta, no llores." I heard this many times while Nick was taking his afternoon siesta. Our balcony opened onto the plaza, and I told Nick I would try the room for one night, but if I couldn't sleep because of the noise, we'd have to change to an inside room. As it happened, the crowd thinned out by bedtime (never before midnight), so we never had to change rooms.

I didn't think it would matter if we didn't get to see flamenco, but I am very glad we did. It is a very high energy dance with rapid twists and turns. The female dancer's performance was the epitome of sex standing up. The male dancer seemed to be about to devour her. I can't adequately describe how exciting it was.

We were advised not to try to take the metro (subway) back to our hotel at 2:30 a.m. Fortunately, we found a cab a few steps from the restaurant.
Saturday, Nov. 27th, 2010 — Madrid
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 2:50 AM
N: Prado Museum day. The Prado art museum is considered by many to be the best museum in the world, even exceeding the Louvre and the Met with more famous art per square meter than any other museum, much of it bought with American gold. It was an inspiration to see so much art in real life that one only sees in books. Reproductions do not really capture the life in these paintings that are six or more feet high in reality. At the Prado, they are not too paranoid about getting close to the art. You could stand inches away from Valàzquez’s Las Meninas considered the masterpiece of the museum, or step way back to take it all in. Astounding too, were eight or so rooms of Francisco de Goya, whose range of art rivaled Picasso’s. I saw the original Naked Maja whose print has been hanging in our bedroom for 35 years, its colors and modeling radiating.

But the dense crowds left Barbara with a bit of agita so went into Retiro Park, a peaceful respite, recommended by Ibrahim. Once a royal park, it is much like New York’s Central Park with trees and plazas.

Ibrahim had to duck out of dinner again with unexpected plans, so we went on to Colonia Del Sacramento, a grill restaurant, without him. The grilled food, done in a barbecue right in the room was moist and delicious, especially the chicken, but our clothes got ìsmoked” by the grill. The tango demonstration and gratis after dinner Dolce de Leche made up for it. Just 100 meters off the tourist trail and we were the only non locals.

The restaurant was near Plaza Mayor, a major square in the area. The square had a ceiling of colored lights up and lit, making a colorful display, which we photographed.

B: Nick really loved the Prado, perhaps more than the Louvre. Nick really enjoys seeing every single piece of art in a museum, while I find going around in circles in crowded rooms trying to read the tour book and then focus on the art makes me nauseous. We had to compromise, because he really would have loved to see everything in the museum while I was turning green.

After the museum, we walked through Retiro Park, a 300 acre escape from the city. I found the park very calming. We found a pizza restaurant for lunch on the way back to our hotel.

I loved my dinner at Colonia del Sacramento that night: grilled chicken with the bones removed, grilled vegetables, and flan for dessert. Wonderful tastes and textures. As we were about to leave, the owner told me (in Spanish) that a tango performance would start in 15 minutes, and he offered us an after dinner drink on the house while we waited. Nick was served something alcoholic and apple flavored, while I was served dulce de leche. Now, from Guys and Dolls, I thought dulce de leche was a cocktail one would drink before dinner. I can truly understand why Sarah Brown would be ringing if she were a bell, after drinking a few of these. I don't know what was in it, but it was absolutely delicious... sweet, warm, and perhaps chocolaty, with a kick.

The tango was much different from the one Jack Lemmon did with Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot. The movements of the feet and legs are very rapid and intricate. Yes, our clothes smelled like a campfire, but it was worth it.
Sunday, Nov. 28th, 2010 — Madrid
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Thursday, Feb. 23rd, 2012 at 3:40 AM
N: In the morning we wandered down to the Royal Palace—Palacio Real, Europe’s third largest, and unlike Versailles, it has never been ransacked. The rooms were magnificently decorated and furnished. On the way there, we notice ice had skinned over the fountains, so it was a bit colder in Madrid than the other cities we visited.

In addition to the palace itself, we saw the armory of medieval armor, including those for children, and the royal pharmacy, full of apothecary jars of all shapes and sizes.

On the way back to the hotel at lunchtime the streets had filled with Sunday strollers, almost shoulder to shoulder. We found a café, Café del Principe, on a plaza towards the Prado, serving locals, that served us a nice lunch.

At the hotel, we packed and got organized for the trip home.

That evening we finally got to go out with Ibrahim, at a Italian/Spanish restaurant nearby. Ibrahim is a college professor, so even though he and Barbara were at opposite ends of the education age group, we had much to talk about.

B: Ibrahim is fascinating and brilliant! We so enjoyed having dinner with him. He grew up in California and is fluent in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, English, and Spanish. He met a relative, while he was teaching in Istanbul, and became a good friend of the entire family. On a previous visit, he and I spoke of the Arabic influence in Sicily. My surname, Nucatola, comes from the Arabic word naqar, meaning dried fruit.

As this was an Italian/Spanish restaurant, I ordered ravioli filled with ham in a cream sauce. Delicious. The portions are not "supersized." They are fairly small, and with all the walking we did every day, weight gain was not a concern. We knew we'd be back to our salads before long.
Monday, Nov. 29th, 2010 — NYC
Comment by Nicholas & Barbara Pisarro on Dec. 4th, 2010, modified Sunday, Dec. 5th, 2010 at 1:43 AM
N: We took public transportation to the airport. A Renfe train runs under the city to the start of the airport metro line. Cheap and fast, it took 1/2 the time the hotel said it would to get there. So we waited for the coffee shops to open. Then we navigated the vast distance between the terminal hub and the actual gate. On the other side, our plane arrived quite early. Passport entry was really slow. Agents kept disappearing, leading off people seeking entry, so we had to change lines several times. We had no idea what that was about. The ride home was quick.

We found each city in Spain to be a different and enjoyable experience. They each had very different personalities—Barcelona, had its cosmopolitan atmosphere and its architecture, Seville its medieval flavor, Granada its Moorish roots, Madrid its cleanliness and being both big and small at the same time. Everywhere we went we found everyone not just tolerating us as tourists, but actively enjoying our company. That made for an upbeat and stimulating journey.

B: Madrid was hoping to get the 2012 Olympics, but they did not. They are continuing to build, modernize, clean and improve their city in the hopes of getting the 2016 Olympics. Their efforts are evident.

Wherever we went, we were told to be careful of pickpockets. Nick is a pickpocket's dream, tapping his back pocket every few minutes to be sure his wallet is there. I did convince him to keep his wallet in the pocket of his sweater. That was a big relief for me. I actually beat pickpockets off Nick in Paris in 1983, and the memory lingers.

On the trip out, I had the aisle seat (my preference) while Nick sat in the middle, complaining that he was too big for such a small space. On the return trip, he had the window seat (his preference) and I was in the middle between Nick and a a somewhat heavy gentleman. At mealtime, their elbows were poking my ribs!

The bottom line, though, is that it was a wonderful trip. Nick makes all the arrangements and I speak the language once we get there. I wonder what language I can learn next.