Saturday, February 2, 2008

El Ultimo Dia

We ate breakfast at the apartment and took off for our morning coffee, tried Spanish churros this time with our cafés con leche…less sweet than in Mexico, but still plenty greasy and good.

After coffee, we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum across the street from the Prado. The collection of a certain baronness and what a collection! We were able to see rooms of impressionist paintings, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Monet and also a Van Gogh sketch of a dutch woman, absolutely beautiful and a Goya sketch…so close up and detailed you feel like you could feel his pencil scratching the paper. We saw more Miro, Picasso, Dali (those Catalonian painters were so prolific…we’ve seen their stuff almost everywhere in Spain) Chagal, Warhol, Rothko…paintings that most of us would recognize because they’re iconic, which makes it kind of breath-taking to see the originals…A highlight for me, viewing Charing Crossing, one of those watery blue/white Claude Monet pieces. I sat and looked at it for a long time, knowing I might not see an original Monet for a while.

We forged on and went to a tapas bar this evening. We felt clueless at different points, but all of the wait staff were friendly and helped us order our food. We ate potatoes (not called “papas” like they are in Mexico…but “patatas”). We enjoyed the meat on skewers (bbqued while we waited), olives and bread. Though we frequently miss vegetables in the Spanish cuisine we’ve eaten, we keep plenty on stock in our refrigerator and for lunch today we ate at a vegetarian restaurant. This strategy usually makes up for the heavy protein intake our restaurant meals often provide.

Tomorrow, we wake early, eat breakfast and head to the airport. This trip has been absolutely wonderful. We’re excited to rejoin our families, but will remember this experience for many years to come. Thank you all for my 40th birthday gift (just in case I don’t get to thank you in person on the sooner side).

Friday, February 1, 2008

On Our Feet

Another day on our feet. In fact, we ran through Retiro Park this morning…4 miles or so…Retiro Park is the equivalent of Madrid’s Central Park, next to the Prado.

After our run, we applied ourselves to aggressive sight-seeing, stopping by the Palacio Real, the Cathedral near the palace and a church where Goya is buried, called Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. Goya also painted the fresco on the ceiling…an enactment of San Antonio’s ministry of healing and preaching. We ate at Mingo’s near the Goya sight.

Mingo’s is famous for its roasted chicken and hard cider. We ate a chicken between us and shared a salad and a bottle of cider. The place was full of locals and we felt very savvy to have found the place. Oh yes, and the food, especially the chicken, was delicious. Mingo’s was written up in the Lonely Planet guide…right down to what you should order when you walk in the restaurant. We have abandoned the Rick Steve’s guide when it comes to food and taken up the Lonely Planet for all things culinary. This has helped us.

Case and point, I ate ice cream at another place from the guide…Giangrossi’s, with great coffees and homemade ice-cream (Sharon passed on the ice cream, but enjoyed her coffee). I ate three scoops of ice cream...flavors...Baileys, Vanilla and Cappuccino. Yummy! We haven't been majoring on sweets, so this was a great treat for me.

In the end, it felt like we ran and then walked all over town today, so despite our best intentions of doing a “tapas tour” tonight, we collapsed in the apartment, ate cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, Wasa wheat crackers and shared stories from our past. This trip has been great for our friendship and tonight was one of those nights that brought us deeper. Not that we haven’t had our hard moments and conflict, but overall, what a blessing to be with Sharon, who is now saying evening prayers while I type out this entry.

The photo…one of the best parts of the day, was our breakfast. Sharon cooked up our 5 chorizo sausages in eggs. We bought the chorizo at our local butcher’s. They were so great, we bought 5 more tonight, so we can make those same eggs and eat them the morning after tomorrow. That marks the end of our trip. We’ll fix a large breakfast before our flight out of Madrid at noon on Sunday. We arrive home Sunday night. One more full day…not sure what we’ll do, but looking forward to the adventure.

Oh...worth mentioning to Alex...Sharon got her boots shined today. They look fabulous and to the rest of you all, the first droplets of rain fell on us this morning...a very negligible amount, but enough to remind us of the great weather we've had while traveling. We are so thankful.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Guernica, no...Flamenco, yes

Well, unfortunately, Guernica was not on display at the Reina Sofia. We are crushed, but the Flamenco show we went to tonight, Zambra 5.1, made up for it. We happen to be visiting Madrid during the 26th annual Flamenco Festival. That's good because I may be getting my fill of paintings and sculpture, not sure, but today I seemed to hit overload and went home after lunch to read. Sharon went back to the Sofia and saw some pieces she liked, mostly moderns and sculptures.

One wonderful side bonus of the Sofia was an exhibit featuring Flamenco art and film. We got a taste of the Flamenco tradition before our theater show. An item that caught my eye was a few 1932 reviews of the Flamenco dancer, Vicente Escudero. He did a tour of the major US cities in that year to rave reviews. Here's what the New York Times wrote about his performance to a sold-out crowd in the city.

His dancing is a thing of amazing skill. There is an electric energy to it that transforms his body from the motionlessness of stone in an instant to a veritable dynamo of nervous activity...he moves with the easy grace of a fine animal, his chest held high and his feet picking their way with the daintiness of a cat...

Leave it to the New York Times to capture the artistic moment on paper, even the newspaper. The show we saw tonight featured two exceptional flamenco guitarists, a singer with an incredible tenor voice and a female dancer. We had a great evening, loving the music and the much energy in the theater. We're back in the apartment, eating our evening meal and planning our day tomorrow to the palace.

If you're into Flamenco music at all, check out Zambra 5.1. The guitar music in particular is stunning.

Click on: for more info on Flamenco music...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

El Prado

We slept late, ate breakfast at our apartment, grabbed a coffee at a café near the Prado (see photo…I am determined to post multiple photos of me holding a coffee cup) and entered the museum at 11:30 AM. We spent all day there (except for a 2 hour lunch at a place called “Finca” Susana…Susana’s lodge or estate) and left at closing, which is 8 PM. We still didn’t see everything. The art was wonderful, everything we had hoped for. I appreciated having Sharon with me to give me periodic art history lessons. Basically, we walked through the history of art (from 1300s until 1900s) in Spain. Much of the influence comes from France and the Netherlands during those years, but there is a distinct Spanish style of which the Prado is very proud. As off season patrons of the museum, we had few crowds and saw two special exhibitions, including an exceptional exhibition of Velasquez and his development as an artist, as well as a Goya sketch room (a room that included sketches from his personal sketch book…very weird). As an aside, we were in the room with about two people when we stepped back and saw Las Meninas, the painting that some feel is the most important painting in the world…Of course the Spanish feel that!

There is much religious art in the Prado and we absorbed all of that with joy. Plus, the El Greco paintings have a certain icon style to them that we both appreciated. All in all, a great day. Tomorrow we head to the Reina Sophia to see Picasso’s Guernica. The other photo is Sharon in our beloved apartment. Here is our evening meal. Manchego cheese (semi-curado…semi-cured), French herbed cream cheese, jamon (ham) de Iberia, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, vino, water and Wasa crackers, our tribute to my Swedish ancestry and a helpful addition of fiber for beautiful, but diabetic Sharon. We continue to love every minute of our travels. Both of us are healthy now. Even Sharon’s cough has dissipated.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


(will post a photo later today)

We have landed in our little apartment, a great space, a few blocks from Plaza Mayor. Laundry was first on the agenda and then menu of the day. We hit a joint down the street that looked crowded with locals (so far we haven’t eaten at one place recommended by our travel books). Menu of the day included a “Primero”, “Segundo”, drink, bread and dessert. We both ordered salads and I ordered red wine, Sharon ordered mineral water. My Segundo was fresh fish and Sharon’s was roasted chicken. Both came with homemade french fries, both were delicious. Our waiter was hilarious, reminded me of that actor who stars in the King of Queens (anyone remember his name?). He would give us no recommendations, but was humored by our questions about the food and poured wine into our glasses, seeming determined to empty the entire bottle on us. We’ve come to the conclusion that wine is cheaper than water here. In fact, at the dorm in Avila (yes it was a dorm with plenty of older teens residing there…not to mention monks…) served wine to all its inhabitants lunch and dinner (not breakfast, thankfully).

Teresa of Jesus

We’re in Madrid now, but I need to write about our second day in Ávila.

We visited the convent that is built about a century after Teresa died, on the site of the house where she grew up and also spent time in the cathedral that honors her. The visit was worthwhile and spiritually inspirational. Teresa was an incredible soul with a passion for loving God, maybe unparalleled in her century. While at the convent, we saw various relics…including Teresa’s finger with an emerald ring on it (gross)…and bone fragments from St. John of the Cross (less gross). Despite my initial gut reaction, I did a bit of research on the finger, since looking at the decaying body part of someone famous/spiritual left me wondering...Why? I would have taken a photo of the finger, but you’re not allowed to snap one of that relic.

As a Protestant, I was trying to have an open mind as I researched…finding out that Teresa’s body after being buried did not rot like most bodies…legend or truth…not sure? Her devotees found that her gravesite was giving off a beautiful rose odor, even months after her death, so her body was exhumed and was discovered to not have decayed. Three doctors studied her corpse and indicated this truth (says the website).

I immediately thought of the Exodus story and how when it was time for Moses to die, God had him wander off and allowed no one to find his body, perhaps because his followers would have been tempted to take the body and try to extend his influence.

It truly is amazing the influence Teresa had within the church, esp. here in Spain and she was well loved by those in her convents. Was it too difficult for them to let her go? Teresa's life spanned a time in Catholic Spain that was difficult and violent (The Inquisition). Maybe her followers needed the body, the finger as a reminder of the vision that Teresa imparted to them.

But, I suppose, I fall into the Moses camp, thinking, it’s better to leave the body in the earth…remember the life, respect the memory by living out that person’s vision. This is how true influence is extended. Is that very Protestant of me? I suppose it is.

In addition to the Teresa sites, we saw a couple of beautiful cathedrals, one is the oldest gothic cathedral in Spain. The architecture takes your breath away…it is so enormous and beautifully designed. We saw an El Greco in that cathedral and illuminated manuscripts, among other various sculptures and paintings and even antique priests’ robes. Avila is a charming town and Sharon and I loved it.

Aside from this prayer retreat, we have realized that our trip is evolving into mostly an art trip. We pretty much sacrifice all for the art…going without food, sleep, drink and I even held my pee until I was near to bursting yesterday because there was no baño in the cathedral and I didn’t want to leave without seeing all. So, I begin to see the metaphor. Sacrifices must be made for art. In reality, I should be living that every day. At least…I am in Spain.

Monday, January 28, 2008


by Sharon

Onward. We are enjoying our time in Avila immensely. A nice and historic city. We are staying at a pension that is attached to the church, Santo Tomas, an old and beautiful church. I feel that God is blessing this part of our trip with lots of little mercies. Our flight to Madrid went without a hitch. We happened to get onto the express train to Avila right after we landed and a jaunt on the metro. I got money with seemingly no service charge on this end. We got to our pension on foot not knowing the directions to our place and with no workable map. We got in and basically ran a good distance to catch some time on the wall surrounding the old town of Avila which we loved. A lot of history and the best preserved defensive wall in all of Europe. Today also happens to be the feast day of St. Thomas, the patron saint of this parish. So, there will be a special mass and celebration. What a treat! This place is very inexpensive, I think 38 Euros for room and board. The food is OK so far we'll see today. There are some student teachers here, Chinese young people, and a smattering of others. Probably a third full. We eat on these long tables spanning the length of the dining hall. I look forward to sight-seeing and retreating today.