Tag Archives: Madrid

Make Mine a Double

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

After hitting the gift shop at the Prado and loading up on Hieronymus Bosch refrigerator magnets, bookmarks, and postcards, we crossed the roundabout toward the Thyssen Bornemisa Museum.

But first, some lunch.  We walked into the first restaurant we saw and followed the hostess down some stairs, through a hallway, up more stairs, and into a back dining room.  It was probably early for lunch in Spain—only 1:00—so we had the room to ourselves.

I don’t remember anything about the food.  I know we laughed over some of the Spanish to English translations on the menu, and at the fat German couple seated near us who ordered strudel and beer.  I vaguely noticed the place fill with people, then empty again while we ate and drank a bottle of house wine and talked and talked.

This may be the number one thing I love about traveling with a friend.  Leisurely meals.  At home I gulp down my food while reading a magazine or watching TV.  I’m usually in a hurry to get on to the next thing.  I barely notice what I’m shoveling in my mouth.

Suddenly we realized it was almost 4:00 so we hurried across the street to try to see everything in the museum in one hour.  What a relief—it was open until 7:00.

The main art museum in Minneapolis, the MIA, has collections—like Decorative Art, Textiles, and Sculpture; or Japanese and Korean Art.  The Thyssen Bornemisa reminded me of the Reina Sofia Museum, with one or a few pieces from lots of different artists scattered seemingly at random throughout a somewhat shabbier building.  It had one masterpiece each by van Gogh, Chagall, Degas, Cezanne, El Greco, Caravaggio, Monet, Picasso, Gauguin.  It reminded me of the “Greatest Hits” compilations music companies used to publish when people still bought CDs.

There was a variation on this famous painting by Holbein of Henry VIII; the original had been destroyed:


We bought the obligatory postcards, bookmarks, and refrigerator magnets.  These make nice small gifts, or I think they do.  Maybe people hate them.

We went back to the hotel to freshen up, then back to the square where there were supposed to be loads of tapas restaurants.  This time we were determined to find an “authentic” tapas place, as if we knew what that would look like.  We found one that looked a little run down, and were soon being served, if you can use that term, by the crabbiest waiter ever.

The tables were covered with old linoleum.  Ours had some squeeze bottles of unknown contents and a pile of three thin, miniscule, nonabsorbent paper napkins.

“D’ya want something?” our waiter demanded brusquely in Spanish.  His clothes were rumpled and stained.

Lynn, always cheerful to servers, asked for red wine in English.  The waiter scowled and I repeated in Spanish, “vino tinto, por favor.”  He walked away without a word and returned with two smeary glasses of red wine, which he slammed down before us.  This place was authentic, alight.

“Para comer?” he demanded next.  To eat?  Lynn pointed to menu items and again he walked off without speaking, returned, and threw down some plates.  The food was basic but good.

I watched over Lynn’s shoulder as our waiter poured a half pint of beer, dumped in two very large shots of tequila, and poured it all down his throat.  Within minutes he was relatively cheerful, even coming to our table to ask if we liked our food.  I felt moved, imagining he got by like this hour by hour, night after night.

As I write this, I’m about to leave for Belize and Guatemala.  I’ve front loaded the blog to post throughout this trip, but I never know what kind of condition I’ll be in when I return so no promises about when the next post will be.

I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but I’ve been on enough trips where I come home sick, or to some crazy family or work situation, so I’m cautious about committing to anything too soon after I get back.

The Art of War and of Tapas

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Lynn and I walked the two blocks to the Reina Sofia museum and were inside, for free, in a few minutes. Even with a floor plan, we couldn’t find Guernica, but we saw a lot of great stuff along the way.  Basquiat, Dali, Gris, Leger, Oldenberg, Ono, Rivera, Sutherland, Twombley, and Warhol.  The collection seemed to be a basket of one or two pieces each of mostly 20th Century artists from all over the world.  There also seemed to be a heavy emphasis on war.

Here is an image of Picasso’s Guernica on the museum’s website; I’m fairly certain I don’t have the rights to cut and paste it.  It’s an enormous mural—25 by 12 feet, and there was a crowd of people standing in front of it, mostly silent.  For once, they weren’t taking selfies or holding up their iPads to video record a great work of art.  Maybe that’s because the subject matter is so grim—the bombing of the Spanish village of Guernica by the Nazis and Spanish fascists in 1937—complete with women and babies and horses being blown to bits.

Sobered by Guernica and the other war-related pieces, it was time for more wine.

I’ve written about all the research I did for the Italy and Malta legs of my trip.  I give Lynn all the credit for Spain.  She found the hotels and figured out how we would get from Madrid to Grenada to Toledo and back to Madrid.  Thank You, Lynn!  She had also scoped out a square near our hotel that was supposed to have wall-to-wall tapas bars.

In case you don’t know what tapas are, they’re basically the Spanish version of hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, whatever you want to call them.  They are typically slices of baguette topped with ham and cheese, salmon, and other tasty things.  The idea is to go from one tapas bar to another, having a couple tapas and a glass of wine in each place until it adds up to a meal.  We walked toward the area Lynn had in mind, but when we reached what we thought was the right square, almost everything was closed.

“We must be too early,” Lynn said.

“Yeah, and it’s 8:30!” I replied.  Back home, I was usually in bed by 9:00, but I had made a vow to stay up late in Spain—the alternative would to go from lunch to breakfast without eating.

We found one place that was open and ordered the tapas selection from our waiter, whose name was Duong.  I think it’s safe to say he was of Vietnamese background.  I wondered if they hyphenated mixed nationalities in Spain, like we do in the US.  When the census came around, did Duong say he was “Asian-Spanish,” or just Spanish, or what?  The important thing was that, between his limited English, my rusty Spanish, and Lynn pointing at the menu, we managed to make known what we wanted. He brought the platter, which was mostly cheese and crackers and olives, not technically tapas.  It was a ton of good food and clearly we wouldn’t need to bar hop to fill up. I was starving by now so no complaints from me.

We ordered the house white wine, which was delicious.  Why can’t we have that in the US?  I think I’ve complained before about how, at least in Minnesota, the house wine or happy hour-featured wines are always like Manischewitz.  Or, as my mother calls it, Jewish cough syrup.

We sat and talked for an hour or more.  Unlike in Minnesota, the waiter didn’t come back to the table every five minutes to ask how our food was or ask if we wanted anything more, or otherwise interrupt our conversation.  He didn’t hover nearby waiting for us to put the last bite in our mouths, then close in to whisk away our plates and hand us the bill so he could turn the table and thus make more in tips.  This is one advantage of no or very limited tipping in Europe—there’s no incentive to hurry you out the door.