Madre Mia! A Spanish Adventure with Mike’s Family Part 1: Madrid (Mike)
On August 30th, my Mom landed in Madrid for her very first trip to Spain. Considering the flight from SF is like 16 hours, she hit the ground running – hard. After saying excited “holas” to everyone (Mom did a great job of dusting off her high-school Spanish and using it as much as possible) and touring the family house in Chamartin, we took a walk on a beautiful day to nearby Parque Berlin where we caught up on the last few months over a glass of Tinto de Verano (basically red wine with Fanta added for some sweetness).
We then headed back to the house where a truly massive welcome feast was awaiting. We stuffed ourselves with the works: gazpacho, melon with ham, garlic chicken, bread, salad, and pudding for desert. I was starting to wonder how Mom was not more tired because up until this point she had shown no signs of jet-lag – but the giant meal ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. After desert you could tell she was literally shutting down at the table and we sent her off for a much-needed siesta without further ado. Still, it was an impressive first showing. We rounded out the rest of the rest of the evening with an outdoor, 8-person game of Farkle (which has since become a family fave) with Little Jimmy handily winning both games.
The next morning we treated Mom to the delights of a Spanish breakfast laden with churros y chocolate – a delicious and incredibly unhealthy start to any day. We then packed everyone into two cars and headed out to the medieval village of Pedraza. This tiny town is almost perfectly preserved in its ancient condition and you feel like you’ve traveled through time as you stroll the narrow alleys lined with beautiful iron-work and potted plants. After wondering the town for a while, we sat down at an asador (a restaurant specializing in slow-cooked meats) to enjoy the trifecta of meat consumption bliss: baby goat (cabrito), baby sheep (cordero), and baby pig (cochinillo). Good luck being a vegetarian in the country. It was a massacre, no question about it – but a delicious one. We had a table with an amazing view of the golden-brown valley below us and we were entertained by the sounds of a wedding party going on in the garden directly below us.
We then made our way to Segovia with the girls in one car and the guys in the other. While the women discussed the finer points of feminism, the men rocked out to Bohemian Rhapsody turned up at full volume and tried to see how fast we could get Jimmy’s Jaguar to go. At one point we forced the caravan to pull over, turned the music up even louder, and danced around the girl’s car. What a great illustration of the differences between the male and female brain.
In Segovia we took pictures beside the absolutely impressive Roman Aqueduct, which is still perfectly intact after more than 1,500 years. It’s crazy to contemplate this building project being completed without the assistance of computers or advanced machinery. We also toured the Alcazar (fort/castle) which is surrounded by a large moat and looks like something out of Game of Thrones. When we finally made it back home, we said our goodbyes to the Manning’s as they were headed out to the beach the next morning for a much-deserved vacation at the beach. While saying out goodbyes, Marie Jose pulled out all the charm and hugged my Mom with her 4 foot 0 inch frame while saying “I luv joo,” which was more than enough to get some crocodile tears out Mom. When the MJ love train comes at you – you had better watch out!
The next day the amazing weather continued to hold (Mom’s timing was impeccable – we had not seen such perfect weather in Madrid the entire summer) and we headed out to the Rastro, which is the weekly flea market of enormous proportions. We strolled the streets and bought some knick-knacks and then went to our favorite Rastro snack spot which only serves open face sandwiches with options like shrimp, chicken, octopus, and other seafood topping. There’s always an enormous crowd, but it’s the perfect way to top off the Rastro, especially along with a cold glass of sangria.
We then made our way to the Prado, which is Madrid’s premier art museum. We saw some fantastic works by El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, and Bosche. Of course, being the low-brow person I am, all of their works are trumped by this one painting of a saint kneeling before the Virgin Mary as she carries the baby Jesus with one arm and literally uses the other hand to shoot holy milk from her holy breast into the open mouth of the grateful saint. What were some of those Renaissance painters thinking – I mean, seriously. But there’s seriously great stuff and I find the Prado to be one of the best museums I’ve ever seen, with a great collection but not overwhelming like the Louvre.
Later that afternoon we walked over to Plaza Sol to meet up with my Aunt Lisa, Uncle Paul, and my cousin Danielle, along with Paul’s sister, Beth, and her son, Max. Team Hammon had rented an awesome apartment in the very center of Madrid, quirkily decorated with its own tiki bar and zebra stripe blanket hanging from one wall. We hung out in the apartment and got acquainted with Beth and Max and then headed out to explore downtown Madrid. We walked to Mercado San Miguel to enjoy some mojitos and enormous oysters and other assorted tapas. Then it was off to La Calle Cuchilleros for the now famous (within our family at least) Ruta de Tapas. This is a street that is filled with little places that specialize in a single, awesome dish, including the Meson de la Tortilla and the Meson de Champinones (Mushrooms and Peppers – this was a crowd favorite).
We ended the route at a little bar which has live flamenco shows every night and we had front row seats for what was an awesome show. At one point, Beth was pulled up on stage with the professional flamenco dancer and did a great job of improvising in front of a packed bar. What a good sport! Flamenco guitar is awesome, and I particularly like how the performers yell out certain words at random times when the spirit moves them. Words like “Agua!” (water!), “Azucar” (sugar!), “Eso es!” (That’s it!) “Pedro!” (Pedro!), which I guess are meant to encourage whoever happens to be dancing or signing at the time. Considering the tiny venue, the quality of the performance was extremely high and I’m sure we’ll be going back to La Taverna de Mister Pinkleton (just who this “Mister Pinkleton” is, we’re not quite sure), many times in the coming months.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which we’ll wrap up our trip in Madrid and head to Barcelona and – yes – Ibiza…the party capital of the world!