Tag: Plaza Mayor

Confessions of a Tapa Crawl

Confessions of a Tapa Crawl

Madrid, Spain – May 18, 2012

Last night Leslie, Tyler, and I went on a “tapa crawl.” Some friends from Colorado; Cole and Carol were passing through Madrid, so we met them at Plaza Mayor.

The San Miguel Market near Plaza Mayor.
An entrance to the market.
The view south on Cava de San Miguel.
The northwest entry arch to Plaza Mayor.

I must confess, this was our first tapa crawl!! I know that sounds crazy, especially after living in Madrid for nearly three years. I had not wanted to go previously for two reasons. First, I am usually in REM sleep no later than 21:00. Secondly, when I thought of a tapa crawl, all I could picture was Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisana. That type of debauchery is not quite my speed…anymore. So, I was very hesitant to try a tapa crawl.

Now for my second confession; not going on a tapa crawl sooner was a big mistake. It was nothing like a drunken-crowd-fest like what I witnessed on Bourbon Street. Instead, it was clean, comfortable, not too crowded, and an absolute blast! I highly recommend a crawl for anyone visiting Madrid.

We began our crawl at about 19:15 on the north side of Plaza Mayor at the Torre do Oro (Golden Tower) bar. It is a very well-known bar in Madrid. There is almost too much to see in the bar, with multiple items and photographs relating to bullfighting adorning the walls. There are several mounted heads of famous bulls on the walls. Also, on display are items of clothing from famous bullfighters. Lastly, covering the walls are photographs of bullfighters. The catch with the pictures is that the subject bullfighter had to have been either gored or killed by a bull. Each photograph caught the specific moment of pain for posterity. Some of them are rather gruesome. For example, one very unlucky bullfighter had his photo taken during a goring; with one of the bull’s horns running up under the bullfighter’s chin and out through his mouth. OUCH!!

Another interesting fact about this bar is its size. I guess it is no more than 10 feet (three meters) wide by about 30 feet (nine meters) deep. Toward the rear, there are a few barstools. Other than that, one stands at the bar.

We had our first vino and our first tapa there. The bartender gave us some potato salad to share. We were surprised by how good it was.

La Torre de Oro bar on the north side of Plaza Mayor, the starting point for the tapa crawl.

Some rather gruesome photographs. One only gets a photo on the wall if one has been gored or killed during a bullfight.
Catching up with our Colorado friends, Carol and Cole.
Heads of famous bulls hang alongside the jamón ibérico.
Sharing and reliving memories.
Stairs leading to the toilets on the lower level.
Cole and Tyler in a deep discussion.

Departing Torre de Oro, we walked south from Plaza Mayor along Calle de Cuchilleros. Within about 200 meters we found the beginning of Calle Cava Baja, our main objective for the evening’s tapa crawl. I must give credit to one of my colleagues at the embassy, Aurora. She is the one that guided me by providing precise directions before I left the office.

A street sign for Cava Baja, one of two streets on which we would “crawl.”
A typical fruit and vegetable store in Madrid.
We were not the only pedestrians out that evening.
The beautiful tile sign for La Chata Restaurante (The Flat Restaurant).

The first establishment at which we stopped on Cava Baja was la Peonza Taberna (The Spinning Top Tavern). The tapas we had there were jamón ibérico on toast and some shrimp with garlic on toast. I thought they both tasted perfect, especially the jamón ibérico.

Our server at la Peonza Taberna (The Spinning Top Tavern).

After we left la Peonza Taberna, we began looking for a specific tapa bar. Aurora told me we had to stop at Taberna los de Lucio (I think it translates as the Pike Tavern). We inadvertently walked past the tavern, but we did not see it the first time. I stopped at a pharmacy to ask directions. We did our back-tracking and found the bar.

We entered and ordered our drinks. As a tapa, they gave us some almonds warmed in olive oil. They were very hot to the touch, but they were delicious. Monica was our server from behind the bar. As we sat there, we decided to have something else to eat. I ordered a plate of Manchego cheese and a plate of jamón ibérico. Sampling jamón ibérico several times in Spain, I thought the serving at the tavern was by far the best. We polished off those plates and headed out the door.

The entry to Taberna los de Lucio.

Our server, Monica, pouring drinks at Taberna los de Lucio.
Monica carving a serving of jamón ibérico.

Tyler saw a bar at which he wanted to stop, the 47 Cocktail Bar because he wished to have a daiquiri to relive his experience in Marbella, Spain. So, we went in and ordered him a daiquiri. He hoped it would be as good as the one Puerto Banus, Spain near Marbella. It was not good at all; he had about two sips and gave up. We finished our vino tinto and left the bar.

Servers at the 47 Cocktail Bar.
Tyler and his very own daiquiri at 47 Cocktail Bar.

Leaving the 47 Cocktail Bar, we ended up at a sidewalk café, el Viajero. It was enjoyable to sit outside and watch all the people pass. We ordered some croquetas and some filet mignon. The filet just about melted in one’s mouth; however, it was very rare — very typical for Spain. When I ordered, I forgot to tell the server, “muy hecho.” That helpful phrase signifies “well done.” In the United States, I never order anything well done. In Spain, muy hecho comes out as the equivalent of medium. Regardless, we did not leave anything behind!

When we finished those tapas, we all walked back to Plaza Mayor. We bade our friends goodbye, hailed a taxi, and went home. We arrived home at about 23:45. For those readers keeping track, that is nearly three hours beyond my normal REM sleep!

The dome of St. Andrew’s Church.
Conversation at the aptly named el Viajero (The Traveler).
We had a lot of conversations that evening.
Where there’s a Baja there has to be an Alta…the sign for Upper Cava.
An offering for a photography course.  I might have been interested if I had not seen that one of the courses is “desnudo,” naked!
Downtown Madrid

Downtown Madrid

Madrid, Spain – April 2, 2010

Today is Good Friday, a beautiful spring day.  It is a holiday in Spain, so virtually everything is closed.  Because of that, mom, Claude, Leslie, Tyler and I decided it was a good day to take the Madrid Vision bus tour.

We headed toward the city center of Madrid in a quest to find one of the buses.  The red vehicles are double-decker buses with the top deck open-air.  There are two routes; one is old Madrid and the other is modern Madrid.  Each tour takes about 75-minutes.  We ended up taking each tour.  While riding the bus, one can listen to the audio of the tour in several different languages.  One can get off and on the bus all day on the day for which the ticket was purchased.  All in all, we thought it was not worth the 17€ (US$21.08) per person that we paid.  As it ended up, it was really just transportation.

Enjoying the ride on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
The view north on Paseo de la Castellana toward the Obelisco de la Caja u Obelisco de Calatrava (Obelisk of the Box or Obelisk of Calatrava).
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu the home of the Real Madrid Football Club.
The Fuente de los Delfines (Dolphin Fountain) at the north end of Calle de Serrano.
A building on Calle de Serrano with multiple flags.
The Metropolis Building on Gran Via.

We got off our old Madrid tour bus at the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).  Unfortunately, we could not tour the palace because it was closed due to the holiday.  So, we took a few photos of the outside of the palace and the East Plaza.  That plaza is notable because of all of the statues of former Kings of Spain.

The Prince’s Gate at the Royal Palace.
The Palacio Real in Madrid.
Two of Los Reyes Españoles de la Plaza de Oriente (The Spanish Kings of the East Plaza).
Two more of the Spanish Kings.
Another pair of Spanish Kings.
Yet another pair of Spanish Kings.
Y dos mas!
The monument to King Felipe IV near the Royal Palace. He reigned from 1621 to 1665.

From the East Plaza, we walked to the Plaza Mayor.  One of the must-see business at Plaza Mayor is the Torre del Oro Bar.  The business caters to those that love the sport of bullfighting and to curious tourists.  Inside are several heads of famous bulls.  Additionally, there are photos on most of the walls of matadors that were severely injured or killed while fighting bulls.

Inside the Torre del Oro Bar at Plaza Mayor.
Tyler and his new invisible friend at Plaza Mayor.
The monument of King Felipe III at Plaza Mayor. He reigned from 1598 to 1621.
Detail of the monument.
Refrigerator magnets galor near Plaza Mayor.

After some more shopping and a tapa at Plaza Mayor, we walked to the Plaza del Sol.  Across the street from the plaza is the Kilómetro Cero (Kilometer Zero) marker.  That is the point from which all distances in Spain are measured.  While we were in the plaza, I was able to get a photo of Madrid’s signature bear and the strawberry tree statue, El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Madroño) and the iconic Tío Pepe sign.  A madroño is sometimes referred to as a strawberry tree.  It is actually a small tree or bush that produces a red fruit with a yellowish center.  They are said to be sweet.

The Kilómetro Cero (Kilometer Zero) at Puerto del Sol (Sun Gate).
The monument to King Carlos III at Plaza del Sol. He reigned from 1759 to 1788.
The iconic Tío Pepe (Uncle Pepe) sign at Plaza del Sol.
This is El Oso y el Madroño (the Bear and the Madroño), the symbol of Madrid at Plaza del Sol.
Another view of El Oso y el Madroño.

Leaving Plaza del Sol, we walked to Retiro Park.  On the way, we passed by the Fuente de Cibeles and the Puerta de Alcalá.  Once at Retiro Park, we found a small cafe at which we had a light lunch.  After lunch, I took some additional photos in the park and then we all headed home.  We were all tired after walking some three kilometers (1.86 miles).

Spanish and European Union flags flying at the
Fuente de Cibeles (Cibeles Fountain). Cibeles is a mythological Greek goddess of nature and fertility.
Detail of the Fuente de Cibeles.
The Puerta de Alcalá (Alcalá Gate).
Happy to be sitting down at Parque de El Retiro (Retirement Park).
The large pond at El Retiro. In the background is the monument to Monument to King Alfonso XII. He reigned from 1874 to 1885.
One of the major paths in the park.

The following day we took a quick trip to shop at El Rastro.  A weekly flea market that begins near Plaza Mayor.

Spring has sprung at our home in Pozuelo.
Riding the metro to Madrid’s city center.
Shopping at El Rastro.
1st Trip to Segovia

1st Trip to Segovia

Segovia, Spain – December 8, 2009

Today was a national holiday in Spain, so we all had the day off.  We took advantage of that fact and drove to Segovia for the day.  It is only about 83 kilometers (52 miles) from our home.  When we left our home, it was a cloudy, cold day.  When we turned off the main road to go north on M-601, we found ourselves climbing into the mountains.  We started at about 1,000 meters (3,609 feet).  We ended up climbing to 1,880 meters (6,168 feet).

At the summit is a small ski area, Puerto de Navacerrada.  The town sort of had a Bavarian feel to it.  There was a little bit of snow; however, it was nowhere near enough on which to ski.

The forest on both sides of the pass looked an awful lot like the forests in Colorado.  The Segovia side of the pass was loaded with switchback turns.  When we got to the bottom of the pass we were only about 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from Segovia.

We drove on into Segovia and found a parking space.  The garage was very interesting.  Above each parking space was an LED light.  If the space was vacant the light was green.  If a car was in the space the light was red.

We walked up the stairs, out of the garage, and walked around the corner.  As soon as we came around the corner we saw the ancient Roman aqueduct for which Segovia is famous.  It is an impressive and imposing sight.  At nearly 29 meters (95 feet) at its tallest, it is equivalent to a five or six-story building.  This Roman aqueduct dates from the latter part of the first century!  It is considered the most important Roman artifact in Spain.  The remains of the aqueduct are approximately one-half mile in length.  Up until 1884, the aqueduct carried water from the nearby Sierra de Riofrio.

We emerged from the parking garage to this amazing cityscape!
The roundabout at the aqueduct.
Leslie, Hillary, and Tyler at the base of the amazing engineering feat.

We walked into the main square beneath the aqueduct, the Plaza del Azoguejo.  That is where the main tourist information shop is located.  There were very few people.  As has become our tradition, we found a little place to have some coffee and a pastry.  When we finished, we walked over to the tourist office which was now open.  From there we began our hike through the old city.

We climbed up many stairs to get near the top of the aqueduct.  From there we walked down one of the main streets inside the walls of the city.  As we walked along, we noticed one of the things for which Segovia is renown, its unique building façades.  There seems to be an unending number of patterns used on the fronts of each building.  In the tourist information shop, they even sell books documenting the various patterns.  During our walk, I continued my study of Spanish doors, photographing many along the way.  They are so different from anything we have seen in the U.S.

A portion of Segovia seen through the aqueduct.
The view along the east side of the aqueduct.
Under the aqueduct to reack old-town Segovia.
Various plants growing in a rock wall.
A carved double-door.
Beautiful decoration on the side of a building.
Door number 3.

As we continued our walk, we came across the Torreón de los Arias Dávila (Arias Dávila Tower).  This is located at the Plaza los Huertas.  In the 15th century, the Arias Dávila family built a palace.  The tower is all that is left of that structure.  A unique façade pattern is visible in the tower as well.

The Torreón de los Arias Dávila (Arias Dávila Tower).
Door number 7.

From the tower, we made our way to the Plaza Mayor and our first view of the Cathedral of Segovia.  We went inside the Cathedral.  It was huge.  The ceiling was 15 or 20 meters (49 or 66 feet) tall, maybe even higher.  The construction of this wonderful cathedral began in 1136.  Completion did not occur until the late 16th century.  Four to five hundred years of construction is just unheard of in our world today.  Regardless, like so many of the churches and cathedrals in Europe, it is worth a visit just to see the works of art and the intricate decorations.

Departing the cathedral, we continued down one of the main shopping streets, Calle del Arco.  We chose that direction because it ultimately led to the Alcázar, one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Segovia.  Calle del Arco has numerous gift shops.  In addition, there are quite a few artisan shops.

Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral of Segovia.
A rather jaundiced-looking Santa…
Door number 6.
The intricate detail on a building.
A small passageway leading to Calle Marqués del Arco.
Door number 20.
Door number 5. The Official School of Architects of Segovia.
Door number 34.
The Regalos Manuel (Manuel Gifts) on Calle Marqués del Arco.
Door number 9.
Door number 10.
Door number 2.
Door with a brick arch.
Door number 18.
Door number 19.
Door number 23.
Door number 2. The attorneys’ office.

Soon we found ourselves at the Alcázar.  It is a fortified castle that is rumored to have inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.  I was not able to confirm that.  This is the first castle in Europe that we have toured as a family.  This castle is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  It is easy to see why.  The castle was really spectacular.  One of the first sights we encountered was the moat and drawbridge.  The moat was really just a deep, deep pit.  The castle itself is built on a point of cliffs.  After walking around it was easy to see just how impossible it would have been to attack and capture the castle.

The entrance to the Alcázar.
Detail of the entrance gate to the Alcázar.
A view of Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (Church of the True Cross) to the north of the Alcázar.
A partial view of the Alcázar.
The tower of the Alcázar..
A tiled map of Spain in the ticket office.

In the first room of the tour (self-guided), there are several suits of armor on display.  Included in the display are a few of the suits of armor worn by the horses.  From there, one makes their way to the Throne Room.  This is a reproduction of the throne room used by the Catholic Monarchs.  It was used for royal audiences.  Immediately after the Throne Room is the Kings’ Room.  The ceiling and the paintings in this room are incredible.

The armory has several suits of armor, cannon, swords and other weapons on display.  It opens up onto the Patio del Reloj, the Watch Patio.  That is so named because of the sundial on the side of the castle.

Moving from there to the Patio de Armas, one can easily see the Juan II tower.  We did not tour the tower.

Leaving the Alcázar, we wound our way back through town, to the car and home.

Segovia is rich in heritage and well worth the visit.

Posing near a suit of armor.
Reproductions of the thrones.
Detail of the Kings’ Room.
Posing at a tower.
Even yours truly got in on the act!
The armory.
An interior courtyard of the Alcázar. Note the sundial in between the two windows.
The opposite side of the courtyard.
The dry moat near the main entrance to the Alcázar.
The tower looms over the entrance.
San Andres Church on the left. The Cathedral of Segovia at the center and right.
Door number 16.
The Cathedral of Segovia and part of the old wall.
The inner side of Puerta de San Andrés (St. Andrew Gate).
The outer side of Puerta de San Andrés.
One has to wonder just how far back in time the construction dates on top of the wall.
Maybe a fixer-upper for those interested in relocating to Segovia…
The sidewalk descends from Paseo del Salón de Isabel II beside the wall.
A partial view of the aqueduct from Calle Carmen.
The niche on the aqueduct is not always occupied.
A sculpture of Mary and Jesus in the niche. The colorful fabric is a Spanish flag.
El Rastro

El Rastro

Madrid, Spain – September 13, 2009

Today was our very first trip within the country of Spain.  We went with several people to El Rastro.  That is a huge open-air market in the heart of Madrid.  It was packed with people.  We had to be constantly aware of pickpockets.  We did not get victimized, that may be because we were so aware.

A portion of my daily walk to the embassy on Paseo de la Castellana.
Apartments above a small portion of the Rastro.
El Rastro – This goes many blocks down the hill.
Posters along our route.
Looking back up the hill at El Rastro.

Leslie bought a small coin purse for 2€ (US$2.48) and a small leather purse for 10€ (US$12.40). Hillary bought a pair of pants and some earrings.

After we had walked through some of El Rastro, we stopped for lunch.  One of the people we were with bought us some bocadillos.  They are a small sandwich on a small roll.  It was very tasty chased with a beer.

We had tapas at this restaurant.
Hillary and Les…In two weeks the drinks will be reversed!

We left that restaurant and walked into the Plaza Mayor.  It was a unique feeling to be standing in a place I had heard and read so much about.  From there we walked to the Puerta del Sol.  It is the center of Spain.  All of the roads emanate from there and are measured from there.

Hillary, Tyler, and Les on the way to one of the gates to Plaza Mayor.
Inside Plaza Mayor.
Detail of the monument to King Philip III. Note the apartments in the background.
Hillary and Charlie!
A very famous sign at Plaza del Sol.
The absolute center of Spain. All road distances are measured from here, Plaza del Sol.

From Sol, we took a bus back to the embassy and then we took a taxi home.  I think today was really the first day we felt like we were in Spain.

Beginning the journey home on Autobus 51.