Posts filed under ‘Madrid’

My year in pictures…

Here are some of the highlights of 2006 for me.

In January and February I was in Exam Hell so I would rather forget those…


March 22nd we left Toronto to Montreal, where we spent a week relaxing and visiting family and friends. On the 29th we left for Paris were we spent 4 days before heading down, by train, to Barcelona…

Our beighbourhoodAlan's brother's farmBenjamin Angus


We arrived in Barcelona on April 3rd, and after settling into our apartment, we took a bus tour of the city to get our bearings… The first thing I noticed were the wonderful balconies in the modernist buildings… And the beach of course! And our first Catalan festival – Sant Jordi!

WindowsSant Jordiand more windowsBeach


Our first visitors arrived! Pearl and Al came from Toronto to spend two weeks in Salou, just south of Tarragona. We spent the weekend with them and visited Tarragona and they came to spend a few days with us in Barcelona. At the end of the month, Melissa, a Brazilian friend who was spending some time in Porto, came for a weekend.

TarragonaPearl, Al & MeMelissa at Hospital Sant PauCathedral in Tarragona


This month I had a conference in Madrid. After the conference we spent a few days in Toledo, and it was really worth it! Despite being early June, the area of Madrid was hit was a heatwave that brought temperatures up to 40! Our retreat in Madrid became the park El Retiro. Loved Toledo!

RetiroGran ViaPlaza MayorWindowsToo hot in Madrid, off to Toledo

Toledo train stationJewish pastToledo's Alcazarwonderful foodwonderful people


Summertime! We discovered St Pol de Mar and our friends Gordon, Jean, and Jen came to visit from Montreal.

Sant Pol de MarGordon, Jean, Al & Francesca in SitgesFriends in Sant Pol de Mar


The highlight of this month was a weekend in Delta del Ebre with our friends Jackie, Sebastian, Naomi, and Francisca. The month ended with the Diada Castellera de Vilafranca del Penedes, the best castellers event in Catalunya.

Cycling through the rice fieldsRice fieldsBoatsDeltaDiada Castellera


Our friends Norbert and Carole came for a visit and we had a great time showing them our new city. Norbert and Carole had been to Barcelona before, but that was back in the 1960s… Barcelona celebrated its patron saint in the week-long festival of La Mercè…

La MerceGetting ready to performLittle Catalan feetNorbert & Carole


My parents came for a visit and my little nephew proved to be quite the little trooper 😉

Beach in octoberMatheusMatheus in Paris


We visited Vic and our friend Christine visited from Montreal. Together we explored Girona. Ahh, the wonderful autumn colours

The narrow streets of GironaGironaVic MarketVic


Lisboa!! what can I say? you’ve read it all before… I’ll end with table setting for a wonderful Chinese meal we had at Jackie’s & Sebastian’s

Lotus leaf

PS: I’ll be touching up the layout and the links during the next couple of days. I wanted this to come out today…

December 31, 2006 at 8:16 pm 4 comments

Beer city vs wine city

Some cities are beer cities while others are wine cities.

In Canada this is represented by Toronto and Montreal. When we moved to Toronto a few years ago, Alan was surprised when he couldn’t find Tornados and Boomerangs in any bar. Popular in Quebec, these were fruit-flavoured beers sold nation-wide but somehow absent in Toronto. I wondered about that for a while but the more I went to Toronto bars, I realized a basic difference between the two cities – Toronto had a beer culture whereas Montreal, as any French city worthy of the name, was a wine city. Torontonians liked their beer and patronized bars that prided themselves in serving a variety of beers from local microbreweries. They wouldn’t dream of tainting their beer with fruit juices. I soon took a taste to ales and dark lagers and used to love going to Cafe Volo on Yonge Street where the knowleadgeable staff would guide me through their interesting beer menu. Just as I learned to enjoy dry red wine in Montreal, I learned to appreciate a nice dark ale in Toronto.

Here in Spain I can see the same dynamics between Madrid and Barcelona. The old rivals also belong to distinct drinking cultures, the former priding itself on pouring the perfect draught while the latter understands more about wine. Yesterday’s edition of El Periódico, the regional newspaper, had a feature on the quality of beer in Barcelona. The reporter went to ten bars across the city and ordered the same thing in all of them: “una caña, por favor.” He got ten different drinks, at different price ranges. A caña is traditionally a small draught beer that shouldn’t cost more than 2 euros but in the Ramblas this translates into a half liter mug  for almost 5 euros. Quality also varied: from a beer served at 0 C with 1,7 cm of foam to one at 8 C with 0.4 cm. The lowest price was in Gracia at 1.70 euros for a 330 ml vs 6.15 euros at the bar of an expensive hotel for 250 ml (by the way, in the latter case, the pump wasn’t working properly so the barman had to top it off with bottled beer!). The main point of the feature was that the art of pouring a proper draught – never a main feature in this wine city – is disappearing in Barcelona. And, like in Montreal, the beer mixed with fruit juices (aka clara) predominates.
Madrid, on the other hand, has always prided itself for serving a proper draught. I noticed when we were there how barmen took their time in pouring a draught. They would fill the cup, let it sit for a while, fill a bit more, wait some more, fill again until about 5 min had gone by and the beer had reached its optimum temperature and thickness of foam. It was very nice.  We saw very few people drinking claras. I certainly couldn’t think of spoiling my perfectly-poured draught with lemon pop.

Lesson learned: for nice beer, go to Madrid. In Barcelona, have some cava. Or a clara.
Disclaimer: all this talk of beer city vs. wine city does is not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t mean there’s no wine or wine-lovers in Toronto or beer in Montreal. The Niagara region, just outside of Toronto, is a well-known wine region and Toronto was the place where Alan and I attended a wine appreciation course. And Belgian immigrants have founded very interesting breweries in the province of Quebec. I went to a bar here that had about 10 bottled beers, one of which was a microbrew from Quebec!!

August 6, 2006 at 6:24 am 3 comments

Impresiones madrileñas

We arrived in Madrid in the middle of a heat wave that had temperatures soaring to 40C. Unusual for early june, it was nonetheless a killer for those of us recently out of a Canadian winter.

The heat no doubt coloured a bit our perception of Madrid, which Alan and I define as a much “harder” city than Barcelona. It just seems a little less relaxed. And despite its grand 17th and 18th-century architecture, it’s also not as pretty. But let’s not fall in the trap – too late it seems – of comparing two unique cities.

Madrid at 8 AM

Madrid seems to be a city of contrasts. Its streets wind up and down hills, without the benefit of shady trees under the inclement sun, forcing the city hall to ingeniously stretch panels across the top of the buildings in the old city to ease the effects of the sun. I guess the sight of tourists collapsing could undermine its popularity abroad. 😉 I don’t have a picture of it but according to the news, they do the same in Seville.

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of its streets, the parque del retiro is indeed a haven. Some of its paths have the smell and feel of the deep woods. Indeed, a welcome retreat and where we took refuge from the heat in our first day. To see how it went and more pictures of the park, check Alan’s blog. He spent a lot of time exploring the park while I was at the conference.

Windows near Plaza Mayor

Our time in Madrid was short – I was there for a conference – so we didn’t spend much time visiting the sights. The only tourist spot, properly speaking, that we visited was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Plaza Mayor. The rest of the time was spent lining up for tickets to Toledo at Atocha train station (buy it in advance!) and sipping beer and eating tapas.

Beer bar in Madrid

Now, here is one area where Castilians excell – their tapas and cool drinks! Don’t get me wrong, one can find good tapas in Barcelona (particularly basque tapas) but it isn’t part of the culture as it is in central Castile and parts of Andalusia.

The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar”, meaning to cover, and initially it referred to a piece of bread, often topped with some cheese or sausage, that was given free of charge when one ordered a drink. It has now become a plate of finger food (slices of jamon serrano, chorizo, potatoes, etc) and, as everything now, it is far from being free. Or at least that’s what we were told and what we experienced in Barcelona.

In Madrid and Toledo the tradition seems to be quite alive.

Every cerveceria we went to gave us a little saucer of chips, canapes or whatever they felt like it. Sitting at the bar was great fun. The barmen were incredibly friendly in both cities and in our last night in Madrid we were even given a free drink (whisky with galliano) after we paid our bill. In Toledo we walked into what seemed like the most popular bar among locals. La Tabernita is a tiny little place with a restaurant downstairs and amazing food. We made friends with Desiree, Manolo and Esteban, who introduced us to “tinto de verano” and amazing castilian specialties such as cierdo a la plancha, morcilla manchega, and stuffed mushrooms from Murcia. Here are some pictures of the mushrooms and Desiree, our more than friendly waiter:

hmmm, stuffed mushrooms

Desiree and tinto de verano

Some Madrid tshirts:

Stay tuned for more info on Toledo, the city of the three cultures!

June 13, 2006 at 4:05 pm 1 comment

The Trip – Part 2 Still the Park

Well, I’m back at the park. Haven’t found the Palacio de Cristal yet but I just came across the same grove I found yesterday. This time I sit and start sketching the trees in my moleskine. I spent a few hours drawing and then I notice there were three people meditating. I could feel this was a special place and obviously, there were others who felt the same. The energy here was very positive and very tangible. It bordered on spooky. I finally left and found the Palacio de Cristal. It was weird coming across it in the mood I was in, the thing shimmers and glows in the sun. It reflects light in reds, greens, purples and all hues in between, like the inside of a shell.

Inside, the floors are mirrors and it’s very bright. You must remove your shoes so they give you special socks to wear and only allow 25 people in at any time. There was music playing but the sound was almost random. It was rather soothing. I found out later that the music was an artistic installation and was only there for a short time. I tell you, I was starting to go a bit weird with all the sensations I was feeling.

I had to get going to meet Alex. Even that was a very strange experience. I went to P. del Prado and sat on a park bench off the main path. I’m people watching and suddenly feel a tug on my pocket. I look down and here is this black and white bird, pecking at the label. I sort of jumped a bit and it hops onto my lap and stares at me. Ok, this day is getting too strange. People have stopped at the intersection and are now pointing at me. I’m trying to get rid of this bird but it won’t leave. A crowd is starting to gather and a woman comes over. Haven’t got a clue what she said but I gather this is an adolescent bird trying to get food and the mother is over in the grass.. I pick the bird up and carry it over to the grass where mother is having a fit. She’s pretty nervous so as soon as I step on the grass it flies into a tree. I put the junior down and go back to the bench. The mother comes down and starts screaching and pecking at junior, really giving him shit. Junior flies back to me and lands on my lap. Now I really don’t know what to do so I pick him up again and throw him up into a tree. Mom flies down and lands on the end of the bench I’m sitting at, cocks her head, gives me a look and flies off. Meanwhile, quite a crowd has gathered to watch all this and I’m feeling really self concious, especially when junior flies back down again. I have to get rid of this bird so I totally ignore it. It’s trying to get on my lap but I keep my arms in the way. Finally, Alex arrives and we head off to Centro de arte Reina Sofia to see the Picasso and Dali exhibit. Hopefully junior is ok. I guess he somehow imprinted on a human and now thinks he’s one of us.

No photos allowed at Centro de arte Reina Sofia but we took the back stairs out and took these photos. Figure the first one out.

Back Stairs

Tomorrow I’ll continue Toledo which to me was the best part.

June 12, 2006 at 9:01 pm 2 comments

The Trip

Wow, where do I start ??? So many things to share. Ok, I’ll start with our flight. We flew Iberia to Madrid and arrived at the new Terminal 4. It’s HUGE. We had no problem finding public transportation into the city and to our hotel. Our hotel was right in the old district so Alex and I changed into cooler clothes and headed out the door. It was HOT, 39 C but I didn’t find it too bad. It’s very dry so I think that had something to do with it. We walked around the old town and found some squares with massive gates to enter and exit them.

Gate to Plaza Mayor

I didn’t find the city all that interesting but I found the people of Madrid the friendliest I have ever met. The city had the ambience of most capitals that I’ve been to. Alex will explain the city and talk about the many people we met in her blog. I did find some interesting graffiti on the side of a building somewhere in the old town.


This actually graffiti

Personally, I found haven in Parque del Retiro. This park is absolutely amazing. Right in the centre of a country’s capital is a park with so many moods that I could not even begin to describe them. I walked through one part and felt that I was in the deep woods of northern Quebec.Dark and quiet, e ven the musky smell was there. I must have been smiling from ear to ear. I was looking for the Palacio de Cristal but before I could find it I came across a small grove of cedars and pines. The morning sun was still low enough to generate a glow on the trees. I felt completely relaxed. As a matter of fact, behind me are three people who are sitting in meditation. I’ve been here for 45 minutes and they haven’t moved a muscle. It’s almost like a dream.


It took a lot to take this picture because I felt like I’d break the spell. I was right, after taking the picture the serenity was gone. Maybe I was ready to move on when I took the picture. Who knows. I’m off to findthe Palacio de Cristal but here are some more photos of the park.

June 12, 2006 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Que calor!!!!

Just a quick note – we´ve arrived in Madrid today to be greeted by a 39 C heat wave!!! eeeeeeeek

Luckily the hotel has air conditioning…

June 6, 2006 at 1:58 pm 2 comments

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