The Food Tour of Madrid

We met the tour guide in the Plaza Mayor, a few steps from our apartment. Of course, we got up with only enough time to spare for caffeine and a pastry. Thankfully, the tour was a small group, a total of four people, all English-speaking led by Laurel, who migrated to Spain from Boston. This lead to a very productive and informative tour. We likely stopped at a dozen places, learning history and Spanish traditions along the way.

  • Pastry shop was first on the list: La Mallorquina. Tasted both the chocolate and the cream Napoleon. So many pastries and sweets to choose from. Yes, we will be back.
  • Next: A candy shop: Vicens. This Barcelona-based company featured a selection of holiday candy traditions that it is now bringing to market year-round. Lots of nougat – hard and soft confections.
  • After stopping in the original town square/city hall plaza, we wove through a building to arrive at a convent of sequestered, baking nuns. We rang the bell, ventured down to the kitchen and choose cookies through a window equipped with a lazy susan.
  • On to the Mercado de San Miguel, one of the must see places from our research. Here we snacked on amazing marcona almonds (we will be trying to recreate these at home), olive kabobs with anchovies and quail eggs, and drank a glass of vermouth.
  • Then we headed to a bar next door for cider and tortilla. Not tortilla chips. A delicious egg and potato dish (which became a daily part of our diet and another recipe to recreate at home). We also learned to pour cider correctly to create the right amount of fizz. Bill was a master.
  • Next we headed to Carmen’s, a shop where people go to pick up their mid-day meal and eat at home (or in the park, on a nice day, I would imagine). Here was tasted delicious, warm, melty tuna empanadas.
  • We took a little walk past the Opera house to the Bola Tavern and learned about stews. Perfect for a cold winters day as we warmed our hands on a bowl of spicy broth and noodles.
  • Somewhere along the route, we heard a unique whistle/song. It was the knife sharpener calling that he was available to work as he walked along the streets.
  • Lambuzo – southern style family bar meaning glutton, piggy provided a lesson in olive oil, sherry and crochettes.
  • Finally we toured the bars and taverns that were next to the toro stadium (before a new one was built). We learned about the culture, buying tickets and the food enjoyed by spectators. And finished our tour feasting on tapas: sautéed peppers, chirizo, fried anchovies, and mushrooms. Washed down with beer.

After all that walking and eating, it was time to embrace the Spanish siesta culture. Plus my stomach was rolling with the combination of ingredients I had introduced it to today.

Once we felt rested (I admit, I woke Bill from a deep sleep as I was afraid we would miss the opportunity to visit the Prado museum for free. We scurried in the cold to the Prado and enjoyed many of the Goya, Ribera and Velazquz paintings. After a few hours of wandering, we decided we were maxed out on paintings and didn’t see much in the way of other artwork mediums on the map. Time to head out.

As we ventured about, we came across the Lauren’s best place for drinking chocolate, El Riojano. And before we knew it, we were by the Royal Palace. So we took our own self-guided tour. Still somewhat full from the morning tour, we decided a few tapas would be all we need before we slumber. To the San Miguel market!

Luckily, the market was busy, but not crazy. We ate another round of olives to start. I found a cup of tea. And we finished the night with a plate of potatoes and ham and eggs. (Even though Bill seemed to be interested in the octopus and potatoes, he knew my stomach was unhappy. He can be so thoughtful.)

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Arriving in Madrid

We were escorted to our Madrid apartment by an English chauffer in a black Mercedes. Living in Spain for 23 years, he was super knowledgeable about the area, had advice on key places to go as well as eat. He thought our apartment selection was brilliant as the location was perfect. We didn’t really understand that until the next day when we began exploring. We only knew this point that we were close to Plaza Mayor.

Although it was midnight as we arrived at our new place, Madrid was a city that was up late – and it was time for a drink. Finding a nap cap first lead us to understand our apartment was on the other side of the Plaza Mayor. And then, to find that limited bars were open at midnight. We found a round of drinks at an Irish-looking pub with soccer matches on the TV, and two euro Spanish wines on tap. Perfect!

Side note: When he asked about our occupations, he was eager to share that in late February, he would be in Barcelona as Steve Ballmer’s driver.

The Island Holiday: TENERIFE

It look us a few hours to get motivated between the weariness from traveling, the steady drizzle and the prospect of reenacting the path from the previous night. We found pen and paper to take notes as we were afraid the birds would devour a breadcrumb trail. And my nerves did not love the drive down. Road the brake and tried to keep it under 20 km/hour the whole way. And missed the last few turns so we dropped down a steeper hill at the end. We did find the Shell station again to determine the right path. The best part was the discovery of a little café – and my first taste of chocolate and churros.

Today, we headed north east (north would put us in the Atlantic) to Orotava and Puerta de la Cruz. Orotava was a village that I had come across in my research. Puerto had looked full of activity the night before – and had beaches.

Spain Nikon 2013-01-18 026Orotava was our first stop, just about the time the sun started to shine (a little bit). We meandered about town going from paved streets to cobblestone, picking up pieces of knowledge along the way. The town has a festival where streets are closed and artists use chalks to paint the plaza and surrounding streets with beautiful murals. Although it was Sunday and many shops were closed we enjoyed the views over the rooftops to the blue of the ocean. We found a ham shop where the staff spoke little English, yet we were able to get ham, cheese and wine to fill our bellies.

Puerto de la Cruz was just down the hill and was so bustling with tourists now that the sun was out, we had to circle around to park. We quickly found the waves. First crashing into the stone walls, then a spot of charcoal black sand beaches were a few brave souls laid out exposing their winter-white skin and other attempted to surf. Shops ranged from food stands and souvenir shops to cafes and restaurants – all geared to tourists. We found amazing ice cream – Bill was foolishly worried before the trip I would go through withdrawals. At times, this stop reminded me of being in Puket. We also found a larger grocery store to plan our evening meal. We needed to use the outdoor kitchen! That night, we feasted on filter, grilled onion, potatoes and an arugula, goat cheese and pear salad. The meal was completed with a bottle of Dusted Valley Syrah.

Our second morning, we were surprised to rise after noon (on my phone). Sometime during the day, we discovered that my phone was an hour ahead of local time. We did motivate faster today as we felt it was late. We had watched el Tiende, the mountain behind our house while preparing to for our day. I had that we would drive the windy roads to the national park and hike a bit to capture amazing views. I wasn’t up for the drive if we would not experience the views.

Spain Canon Jan 2014 2014-01-20 077Today would not be the day. Instead, we turned the car to Garachico, another “must see” on my list. A town build on the seashore, a shore filled with lava flows. And it was in the direction of our evening dinner reservation at Rincon de Juan Carlos. Our afternoon in Garachico hit the spot. First, it was warm enough for a sun dress and sweater, second the sun was great for photos of the water, the lava, and the quaint white-washed coastal town. We took a tour of the town castle, make for people much shorter than Bill, and tried to understand a bit of the history from our limited Spanish. Bottom line, settlers came to Garachico during the time Christopher Columbus was discovering the Americas.

We also had our first real tapas experience in Garachico. We came across a little spot that was honored with the area most creative tapas in 2013. Yet, the menu listed many of the tapas that we had researched as native to the Canary Islands. We enjoyed:

  • Tomato Salad with smoked cheese
  • Canarian potatoes with green and red sauce
  • Fish Croquettes
  • Fried cheese

With white wine, of course. What better way to enjoy the al fresco dining experience?

As the afternoon sun waned, we headed up over the pass to get to the southern side of the island for our date-night dinner in Los Gigantes.

Spain Nikon 2013-01-20 010There is only one easy way to describe our final full day on the island: etcetera. Knowing that our research showed the south is a very different climate from the north, we headed out on the main highway to venture ‘round to the south side. Expecting warmer skies and lots of tourists. And we were right. It was exciting to watch the car temperature gauge climb to 20C. We had to get the converter app out to confirm we would get out of the car to 70F!

When we headed off the highway at Los Christianos, we ended up staying more to the left and on the beaches of La Playa de Americas. But first, we needed lunch – at another tapas place where we combined Canarian salad, more Canarian potatoes, more Iberian ham and cheese and garlic shrimp with a local bottle of white wine.  Bellies full, next stop, feet in the sand! We walked along the sandy beach making sure our feet felt the coolness of the Atlantic Ocean. We saw, first-hand, more women in bikinis and men in speedo-type suits than ever before. Luckily it is low tourist season now! Many women sunbath without tops, which Bill quickly reminded me was the European culture. Made me feel young and youthful! On our trek along the beach, I again spotted the best ice cream shop. Before heading back to the north, we decided to adventure to Adeje. We ended up at the beach there to enjoy a beverage and watch the waves as the sun dropped before heading on our two-hour drive back. This time the drive was so boring Bill got in nap to wake up in Santa Cruz, a little off our intended path.

We stopped in Orotava hoping to find dinner. After wandering a bit around town, we sauntered into a tapas bar. And had the best tapas experience! Not only was it fun to watch a table of locals, but the food was amazing and the price unbelievable! We started like always, two glasses of vino tinto. Then we began ordering:

  • Onion marmalade and foie gras on toast
  • Cheese and bread
  • A stuffed zucchini filled with meat and cheeses (likely a ground pork)
  • Pork medallions in a spicy cheese sauce

And we finished with homemade cookies (copied from the “locals” table). Which were served with a taste of dessert wine.

Each morsel was amazing. First, we joyfully watched the chef prepare each plate. And then later poke his head over the counter for our feedback. And the flavors…the foie gras delicious and portion generous. The stuffed zucchini still crunchy. The pork medallions melted in your mouth. The cookies and wine, a great finish. And to our surprise, the bill totaled right at 30 euros.

Icod de los Vinos

Spain Nikon 2013-01-21 013On our final island day, we actually got up before 10. And we ate breakfast, packed and headed out before our final descend (Bill recorded the adventure for those who will not believe the story).

Our goal was to see if there was more to Icod de los Vinos than we imagined. And we found it! First, there was the famous Drago tree, and the beautiful plaza. And shops and cafes. And there were more people than we had imagined! We wondered through the streets, found an outdoor café, and then pastries and chocolate. We heard Opera singing from a few men in a tavern as we passed on the street. We found there really was life in what we had previously assumed was a sleepy little town at the end of the major highway.

Then to Playa San Marcos, our original thought for the day. So glad we wrapped ourselves up in the charm of Icod, as this sleepy old resort town was just that. We did get a few great photos of the black sand beach, all 50 yards of it before hitting the road to the airport.

Goodbye Tenerife!

Date Night: El Rincon de Juan Carlos

In approximately 30 km, we never had a straight stretch of road for more than two football fields with the exception of a few of the towns. The good news was that most of the road was wider than our drive up the hill at home. We arrived in Los Gigantes about an hour and a half before our reservation. As we wandered about town, we found that most of the tourists were older than my parents. The amount of canes and walking aids was amazing!

Of course, this was date night. So we always change in the car and refresh ourselves for date night when we are on the road. However, I had prime parking spot in front of a busy tavern with a porch full of people. Bill found us a changing room on the patios across the street, protected by the local vegetation. We soon strolled arm-in-arm into El Rincon de Juan Carlos and took our seats at a little well-lit table for two. We enjoyed a delicious three-course meal that started with a round of sherry and was accompanied by a bottle of Temperanillo from the Rioja region:

Un:

His :: Black truffle chips shaved over a bed of thinly sliced pork neck and eggs

Hers :: Canarian black pudding stuffed ravoli with cream foam and local honey

Dos:

His :: Slow-cooked pork ribs with sautéed vegetables

Hers :: Roasted lamb, melting in mouth, with local vegetables with a side of buttery, smooth mashed potatoes

Tres:

His :: Rum ice cream over a vanilla cake

Hers :: Rose ice cream with orange cake and a sweet, but tangy form

A perfect meal to prepare us for the drive back to the north. Luckily, Bill was content to stay awake and talk to me through the drive.

Four Days to Prepare; 28 Hours to Fly

The last minute rush. The lists and notes to make sure all items were packed. The lack of sleep trying to make sure work was in order, the house was in order, Bailie’s schedule was accounted for, our reservations were all made (the train tickets provided the most tricky as the site was only partially in English). The organized chaos. Made me wonder why we ever planned a two week trip.

And then we arrived at the airport. Picked up our traditional breakfast tacos at Anthony’s Homeport before heading to our gate. Shuffled down the jetway onto the first leg of our flight. And the idea of two weeks away sounded more plausible. Then we arrived at O’Hare. And identified the “best” place to eat our final American meal of the month. Settling on Wolfgang Puck, we enjoyed a bottle of red wine with our pasta and Asian salad. We were entertained by the lack of enthusiasm from our waiter. And amazed that he was even able to remove the cork from the bottle of Joel Gott Cab. Obviously, he hasn’t opened many bottles.

Shortly after, we boarded our flight to Madrid. The flight crew took one look at Bill and went in search of an open row for us to stretch out. They found us a spot and we relaxed to gear up for a long flight. We decided a movie was in order, but first we spent an hour on the ground. We realized this may affect our ability to catch our next flight. So we watched The Butler, and I took a very broken siesta. Bill claimed he slept for a half hour. Shortly after 8AM, we arrived in Madrid (and our bodies didn’t even think it was midnight). The Madrid airport is rather large. We walked, found the train to our next terminal, made it through the easiest custom check ever, and missed our connection. An agent quickly rebooked our flight to Tenerife. With a NINE hour layover. Whose idea was this again?

Time to make lemonade. We looked at each other, and said “let’s get out of this place”. A little research at the informacion desk and we were on our way to the ATM and bus stop for the express ride to downtown Madrid. It was good to get out in the fresh, damp air. We wandered the streets and found our first “coffee shop”, a cafeteria named “Iowa”. Yes, we laughed out loud when we later came across another called Nebraska. We enjoyed our first meal on Spanish soil: jamon y queso cabrillo for Bill, a chocolate croissant for me. Accidentally, Bill ordered us both coffee; he had wanted a coffee with two shots of espresso. So I sucked it up and drank most of my first cup of coffee (yes, ever).

When we headed back to the airport, it was really about the time we should have been checking into our house in Tenerife. So much for 28 hours of travel. The rest of the afternoon at the airport is a blur. The time dragged. Paint dried. Eyelids grew heavy. We discovered processes are different in Spain. Few announcements are made. People just get in line. And when our plane left the ground, we were both sound asleep. And really didn’t come to until the flight was descending.

Next stop: Icod de los Vinos, in our little VW Polo. I know it sounds like our travel day(s) are coming to an end. However, you are mistaken. The real adventure just begins. As we left the airport, we again called host, Julio, who spoke very little English, to let him know we finally arrived. He again confirmed to meet at the Shell station. About exactly an hour later, we pulled into the station. No sign of him and after waiting five minutes, we called again. He seemed surprised that we were there and started a conversation in the background while hanging up (we weren’t sure if that hang up was on purpose). So we waited and tried to check out the area…like 50 feet in either direction hoping each car that came by stopped to provide keys. Bill even helped another couple figure out something under the hood of their car. We called again. He would be there in 20 minutes. Seriously tired, we decided to head to the grocery story down the street. We picked up the important things like eggs, ice cream, ham and orange juice. Luckily, he was there when we returned to the Shell. After quick introductions with his wife and one of their mother’s, he beckons follow me up the hill, about 10 minutes. So we take off. And hang a right. Then at the top of the hill, a left. But it’s not the top of the hill. And we climb. And wind. And climb some more. Then the street narrows, cars parking on either side into the driving lanes. And we weave. And climb. And climb. After two rounds abouts, a hang left at the Y, a tunnel, and a few more curves, we enter a one lane road with rock walls on either side. Oh, and only first gear is an option by the point as the climb continues to be that steep. The rock wall turns into a few houses. Somewhere between a two lane road and one lane road, we realized we were only driving this once a day. By now, we are not sure we will leave the house. Finally we veer to the left onto a stone and grass road and turn the corner into our driveway. Taking a deep breath, we have finally arrived at our destination just about 9:30.

In the end, it would be close to 38 hours from when we left home until we sat in our home for the next five days. I would have imagined we would go straight to bed, however we instead opened our first bottle of wine. Then proceeded to sleep until after noon.

Shelton-ism: Contracts

One of our teenagers favorite shows is the Big Bang Theory. She has watches so many episodes that the four scientists wit has woven into her own. I really need to write some of the exchanges we have down as I can’t remember them all. So here it goes…

During the post-holiday recap driving home from swim practice one day, Bailie commented that Bill is grumpy lately. I didn’t really commiserate with her. Instead I prompts her to explain. What is boils down to is that Bill is no longer as attentive to her needs as he once was. He doesn’t jump every time she says “I’m hungry” or unload the dishwasher when it is on her chore list. She was quiet for about 30 seconds and flatly stated:

“I should have had him sign a roommate contract.”