Caroli and Mike in Spain 2016 travel blog

Palacio de Ciebeles

At the top of Cibeles

A view of Madrid from Cibeles

National Library of Spain

Caroli with Cervantes, sans his head, National Library of Spain

Parque de Santander fountain

Thousand Cups

Dining at Vips

Pretty glass wall in our kitchen

14 Junio, Martes

Everyday things take us a little longer in this beautiful country. The appliances are a little different, and sometimes the operation manuals have a section written in English, and sometimes they don’t. We’ve got the microwave, cooktop and washing machine down, but the oven…not so much. I tried to broil something last night. The oven made quite a bit of noise and got hot (hot enough, anyway), but I don’t think it was on broil. This is an appliance that has operation instructions in Spanish and German, but not English. We enter many things into Google Translate, but cannot always be sure that we’re getting accurate translations back. More about that in a bit….

Grocery shopping is always fun, and you know how we love mercados! Unfortunately, we occasionally dash out to the market without our little language books. Who knew that celery is called apio? And basil...albahaca? Also, we found that some stores have staff who “guard” the fruit and vegetables: you aren’t supposed to touch the peaches or tomatoes to see if they’re ripe. You tell the staff person how many you want, they select and weigh, put a price sticker on a bag containing the produce, and hand it to you. I used the word guard because once, not knowing the system in that particular store, I picked up a tomato and a young woman became very upset with me. After that, we were careful to look around to see if the mercado we were in had a produce person. Mike and I now mostly go to our favorite mercado nearby, where you select your own produce, weigh it on an electronic scale which then spits out a sticker after you enter a number that corresponds with the item. There are big lists above the scales: the peaches we like are melocoton rojas # 47.

On this day, Tuesday, we walked a mile and a half over to Palacio de Cibeles. Cybele was an Anatolian mother goddess, according to Wikipedia. We are not sure why this structure is called a palace, since it hasn’t been used as a residence. Anyway, it’s a colossal, Gothic Revival building, built in 1909 for the Spanish Post Office and Telegraph Company. Later, it became known as Palacio de Comunicaciones. Finally, in 2011, it became a cultural center. What impressed us most, when we first arrived in Madrid and walked by this building on our way to the Prado Museum, was a big sign hanging on the front of this beautiful edifice, proclaiming REFUGEES WELCOME. Wow! It gave me goose bumps and I wanted to know more. Today, we wanted to find out about the sign, wander through the exhibits, and go up to the observation deck to see the views of Madrid. Mike, who is quite fluent, helped me practice in Spanish what I wanted to ask, and then I went up to the information desk and began. There is always a worry that the person will not speak any English, in which case I would have difficulty understanding their response, especially if they speak too quickly. But so far, people seem to have enough English and we have enough Spanish so that communication has been fairly easy. The young man at the information desk was very fluent in English and told me about the sign. He said the mayor of Madrid is on the left….liberal, and influenced Spain’s agreement within the E.U. to accept 20 thousand refugees, but only a very small number have actually been taken in. He said the government pays money to Turkey to keep the refugees there. I don’t know how accurate this young man’s information is, but I felt deflated after this interaction. Mike and I then went up a few floors to see an exhibit about the war refugees, created by an advocacy group…..the photos and video clips said it all. I felt pretty choked up by this point…. It was good that our allotted time to go up to the observation deck on the 8th floor was nigh.

It was a sunny, breezy day and the views were lovely. It was helpful to study the signs posted in each direction that pointed out structures near and far.

We wandered through a photography exhibit on a lower floor before heading to Spain's national library, Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, established in 1712. It is one of the largest libraries in the world. We were not allowed to go into the library area unless on a guided tour, but we did go through the excellent library museum. The purpose of the exhibits is to show the importance of books throughout history.

Around 8 p.m. we were tired and hungry. We stopped at a little restaurant near our apartment and Mike ordered a burger. I had a dish called Bienmesabe con Aioli. I looked up bienmesabe, which literally translates to “it tastes good to me”, and two different sources described it as a dessert. But the waiter said no, it was fish (pescado). It turned out to be delicious pieces of fried white fish, (maybe grouper....not sure), and the aioli was very good.

15 junio, miercoles

Mike just mentioned to me that days of the week and months of the year and names of languages are not capitalized in Spanish. I must have learned this in high school and college Spanish but I had completely forgotten!

We had walked about 6 miles yesterday so today we took it easy, and only walked about half as much. Around 2 p.m., we walked a little north in the Chamberi barrio where we live to visit Parque de Santander. This park was constructed in 2007 upon a reservoir. The plants in it have been specially selected to minimize water use. There are tennis courts, a three-quarter mile running track, two golf driving areas, a soccer (futbol) field, cafe/restaurant, restrooms, and a beautiful fountain. There is a city on the north coast of Spain named Santander, and it is also the name of an international chain of banks.

Next, we walked south to the more familiar part of our barrio where we stopped and had a tea/coffee/dessert break at a place called Thousand Cups. The young waiter was charming, spoke English very well, and encouraged us to keep practicing Spanish as much as possible, even when we make mistakes. He recommended that we try a slice of heavenly-looking chocolate tart drizzled with rich chocolate sauce. Mike agreed but I, thinking of calories, chose a tiny little poof of air-pastry with a nearly invisible bit of chocolate in it. I won’t say more about my dessert because it was like eating an idea of confection rather than an actual confection. But Mike’s was divine! Rich and moist and chocolatey. The waiter came over to ask what we thought of the tart, and of course we raved about it. He smiled knowingly as if to say “I told you so”. Then he said these wise words: “Sometimes you have to forget about calories and enjoy your life”. Next time, I’m getting the chocolate tart.

We struck up a conversation, partly in Spanish and mostly in English, with a young woman sitting next to us. She told us that she’s a photovoltaic engineer from Germany who is working on a project at the University of Madrid. It seemed like the staff knew her and perhaps we’ll see her again, when I go back to have my slice of tart.

Next week, Mike and I are going to visit a place about 30 miles northwest of Madrid called Monesterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. We looked up the word escorial on Google Translate and in our vocabulary books and they said “dump” or “slag heap”. That just didn’t seem right. We asked our waiter, and he emphatically waved his hand and said “No, no!” Apparently, escorial means area or region. So we need to be cautious with translations!

16 junio, jueves

After hanging out some laundry, we walked a mile east to a bookstore in the Salamanca barrio, which borders Chamberi. We bought two small books about Lisbon. There were some rain showers off and on, but we walked along through this upscale area, past the U.S. Embassy and through a small outdoor sculpture museum that had a long name: Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de la Castellana. There were 17 modern art sculptures and we weren’t quite sure what to make of them, but it was free and had some benches and a water feature. On the way home, we ate at a chain restaurant called Vips, which we had been curious about. It reminded us of Denny’s, but the food was better.

It must not have rained in Chamberi because the clothesline things were dry!

Buenas noches!

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