Saturday (February 22) began with a trip to the beautiful Parque de el Retiro that was alive with locals and tourists. Over 300 acres in the center of the city, the park is filled with pavilions, fountains, art exhibits, a manmade pond with boat rentals, and all variety of flora. At one point we ran into a group of swing dancers enjoying the fresh air and music. After a quick lunch, we trekked over to the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens, but it was clear looking through the fence that it was too soon in the season to be worth the price of admission.
Next stop was Museo Sorolla - thanks to Nancy's friend Christine for the great recommendation. The Museum was the artist Joaquin Sorrolla's home from 1911-1923 and retains its original decor, art objects that the artist collected, and over 1200 of his paintings and drawings. Many of his paintings are bright and colorful, often depicting his family at the beach or in the garden. His style is reminiscent of his friend and contemporary, John Singer Sargent. This is also one of the lesser mentioned attractions of Madrid that should be high on the list of must-see sites.
Sunday we awoke to tornado warnings on the weather app, which quickly were replaced with sunshine and blue skies for the rest of the day. We were off to explore our apartment's suburban Madrid neighborhood. We find art in the strangest places...curious what's lurking behind this warehouse's walls? An artist has given us a clue.
We stopped for a coffee & tea break at a modest bakery. Some other patrons nibbling on tomato bread got us thinking of lunch, so we grabbed a baguette and then found a green grocer for some vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh garlic, and "pimientos de padron" - small green peppers that are fun to blister in a sauté pan and sprinkle with salt for a delicious tapa snack. Back at the apartment we made our Sunday brunch - a "plank" of baked sweet potato covered with cheese, chopped Iberian ham, and sautéed onions, asparagus, and spinach (all left over from last night's dinner), and then topped with a pair of poached eggs - yum.
We headed back into town for the afternoon and evening - we've found two musical events back-to-back. The first was at the Cafe Berlin - the "temple" of live music in Madrid. Turned out to be a concert by students of El Molina de Santa Isabel - a school of music and dance in central Madrid. A bit like an amateur recital, but it had its moments. There was time after that for a quick dinner. When the "vibe" of the first place we found was off, we split before ordering and moved to another cafe that we'd passed along the way. We were really glad we did. We had an indulgent meal of loaded nachos at Matilda Cafe Bar and had a chance to connect with one very hard-working, gracious, and fun proprietor - Belén - who named the café after her beloved "abuela" (grandmother). Great people are everywhere doing what they love to do. She treated us to a complimentary shot of her signature tequila with fresh strawberry puree.
Tokyo and DC have their cherry blossoms...well Madrid has its almond blossoms. A 30 minute walk took us to the Quinta de los Molinos park where the almond trees were starting to bloom. Even though we were a couple of weeks before the peak display, the blossoms were everywhere, a sweet fragrance filled the air, and bees were gathering their pollen on this bright February day.
On our final night in Madrid we set out for a "tapas crawl" on the Calle de Ponzano - reputedly the street to find the best tapas. Our first stop - Enano Rumbon - served a decent Rioja but not so great tapas - why waste our time and calories. Off to Bar #2 - La Machina de Chamberi - that was crowded and lively. We sat at the bar and had great steak, brie, and pepper tapas, and a fresh salad, but the disappointing meatballs arrived late and were served over soggy fries. We decided to end our crawl there - pretty full and tired, even though Richard realized he'd not tried Spanish Vermouth yet. Oh well...we will wait for our next stop - Valencia - for that.
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Nancy McCabe &