Cafe Cortado: two words to make a coffee lover’s heart leap. Clay and I discovered this perfect, perfect little espresso drink for ourselves many years ago in a hotel on the coast of Spain. It was love at first encounter. We had the room service waiter bring us a second round, and then a third! (And then we ran caffeine-induced laps around the marble lobby… no, not really).
November 28 marked a milestone wedding anniversary for us. The age-old question has a little twist in our family: Instead of “What do you get for the man who has everything?” it’s “Where do you take the guy who travels everywhere?” Somewhere with good coffee, of course! But, hmmm. Italy has good coffee. So does France, and Spain, as I’ve just said. And Scandinavia and Belgium and Turkey– and Ireland, if you count Irish Coffee. So maybe coffee isn’t such a good way to decide. Just a thought. Though I do much of the actual travel planning for us, I never decide all on my own where we are staying, much less where we are going.
Here’s how it normally works. We talk about three or four places we might go on the next break, then I jump online and start looking for places to stay and deals to be had in each. I look and look. And I look. And then, when I’ve narrowed it down to a list of something like forty-three possible accommodations in half a dozen different cities, I start asking Clay (or anyone else who will listen) for their opinions. I do this for as long as they will listen, and then when they walk away, I start looking at new ones. By this time, they are all blending together anyway. Now, Clay hates dithering, and I’m pretty sure he also hates looking at lodgings online– though it could just be that, with me, looking at anything online tends to turn into dithering. Maybe I am sort of obsessive about reading the reviews. But, we always get to a decision. Eventually.
This time I was on my own, though. It was relatively easy to settle on Madrid, because– well, cafe cortado! No, not really. Actually, it was one place Clay hadn’t been yet in all his work travels. Also, I wanted to surprise him with tickets to a Real Madrid football (soccer) game. At the time I booked, tickets weren’t available yet, nor was the time of the game definite– in fact, they had not yet determined if the game would be Saturday or Sunday that weekend! And it’s not like I was planning months in advance– haven’t I already conveyed that I’m not that organized? But I think those La Liga people are even worse: three weeks ahead of time, they don’t even know what day the game will be played! I booked our return flight for as late as possible on Sunday, hoping I would be able to pull off the surprise– but in the end the game was set for Sunday night and we weren’t able to make it.
Never mind. We consoled ourselves quite well with food and drink. Oh, the tapas! Fried artichokes to die for… and the Iberico ham!… and manchego… and I can’t even remember it all! I wish I had taken pictures of the food, as Will likes to do (before and after pics, in his case!). We were given a lovely room with two balconies looking out over the Gran Via. We could just cross the street and be instantly in the warren of little streets that make up part of the centro and huertas barrios– which is where people go for everything from protest marches (some big one about hospital workers was going on while we were there) to live music at night (the jazz kind more than the dance kind). We spent a lot of time walking those streets, soaking up the vibe, trying restaurants and tapas bars, and simply crossing through on our way to the museums and the royal palace.
One moment you could be in a pretty, peaceful looking street with lots of old world character, and the next moment you stepped out into a Plaza, where vendors were hawking their cheap souvenirs and street performers– the kind who try to get you to pay to take your picture with them– were using their little voice changing toy to make themselves sound like crying babies. Yes, it could be an assault on the senses! The most famous plaza, the Plaza Mayor, was half taken over by a Christmas market. This was disappointing, as the #1 must-do in the Madrid book we bought was to “watch the passing parade in Plaza Mayor.” The accompanying picture in the book shows cafe seating all around the Plaza and people strolling along in the sun. Oh well, next time! This time we got to see market stalls full of crazy hats and cheap toys– which I suppose is just another part of the parade, right? And there wasn’t a lot of sun, but then it didn’t rain too terribly much either.
Sometimes we saw things we didn’t really understand– small wonder, I guess, since neither of us really speaks Spanish. We were walking along a pedestrian street one morning when this band of singers and strummers in their Zorro-esque dress came by. By the time I fished my phone out for the picture, there was no time to film the musical part– I could only snap a photo. It seems like there is always a procession of one sort or another going through the streets in Spain. I really ought to learn Spanish…
Along these same lines of misunderstanding, we found ourselves speaking French with a palace security guard who was trying to explain to us that our ticket did not allow us to be in the rooms we were walking through. She was very kind and all, it was just a little surreal to find that we could communicate in French, though she didn’t speak English and we didn’t have enough Spanish.
This conversation with the security guard came about because we had skipped by the ‘weird’ miniature grotto or nativity that people were queuing to see in an anteroom to the Palace tour. It was enormous, and people seemed to think it was wonderful– but we skated by so we could see the Palace rooms we’d queued to view. Ironic then, that the free ticket the lady had handed us as we filed in the palace after patiently waiting in line for some time, was really only for the grotto! How surprised was I to later read in the in-flight magazine on our way home that this grotto was an amazing, not-to-be-missed Madrid at Christmas experience. Oops.
We did go to Museo del Prado to see the Goya and Velazquez paintings and a host of others. El Greco blew us away, though. Room after room of stiff, subdued, medieval and renaissance religious art, and you walk into a room filled with El Greco, and it’s so vibrant and different you think you’ve hit the modern wing of the museum, and then you look at the inscriptions and realize that he, too, painted in the 16th century! And you wonder how some people can be so visionary that they see beyond, and dare beyond, all conventions of their time. What must that be like? Could you walk around in a cloud of inspiration, or would it just become incredibly frustrating to deal with a world that can’t see what you see?
On that note of high culture, I’m going to segue to haute couture. How could I NOT take a picture of the Manolo Blahnik shop– for Chloe if nothing else!
And I’ll close with just a few more shots from the streets of Madrid…
Lest I forget to say it, we had a wonderful weekend exploring Madrid together.
The cafe cortados were marvelous, but the company was even better!