After a long, delayed flight back to Spain, I figured what better way to get back into the swing of things than a mini-road trip to Ávila!? So, I arrived in Madrid at about 9am Monday morning, dropped off my bags, freshened up, and headed downtown to pick up a friend’s mother and father-in-law who happened to be in town and eager to see some place new. I am no stranger to Ávila at this point, but as with most of Spain’s charming cities, there’s always more to be discovered and appreciated.
After my GPS mistakenly took us to a deserted looking pueblo (except for a dog laying in the middle of the street that refused to budge at the site of my apparently nonthreatening looking car), we finally ended up in front of the famous walled city. We wandered the city streets, stopping first for yemas de Ávila (the city’s specialty sweet, which is made of sugar and egg yolk and mostly just tastes like….well, sugar).
Ávila is known for its impressive 900+ year old medieval wall which you are actually able to walk on. As we arrived at the entrance to the wall, we realized we had left our treasured yemas at the restaurant. So since I´d walked the wall a time or two I offered to head back to the restaurant and meet my travel companions across town at the opposite end of the wall. Walking the city streets by myself I was able to inconspicuously (I like to pretend I can be inconspicuous with my blond hair and pale white skin!) observe the world of Ávila go by me. Grandma with her groceries, a father enjoying the afternoon with his sons, a grandpa showing his grandson how to paint a watercolor of the wall – or at least these are the stories I made up in my mind, but wouldn’t you too?
The sun was fighting the thinning clouds like I was fighting my heavy eyelids, and with the chilly breeze it could remind me nothing more of San Francisco (but really, a slight incline in a street will remind me of San Francisco…it is where I left my heart, after all). I found my way to the other side of the city as the sun managed to peek through the clouds – my, my that little spot in the sun looked like a great place to take a nap…but before I knew it I spied my guests on top of the wall ready to meet me.
After dropping them off at the train station to head to their next stop, I got back in the car for the long drive home, made especially longer by the fact that I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. Lucky for me though, there was a mix CD full of very nostalgic, fast-paced songs which kept me rocking out and lucid the whole way home (and probably entertaining a lot of my neighbors on the freeway as well). ♫ Video killed the radio star ♪………
Last week, I was lucky enough to have yet another friend visit Madrid. This time it was Iris – a friend whom I’ve know since I was in 5th grade. She and her fiance were traveling through Spain, leaving Madrid as their final stop.
She arrived on Thursday, so we decided to meet up in Plaza de Santa Ana where we would start our tour of tapas – always a crowd favorite. We began at Lateral where we started the evening summer-style with gazpacho and tinto de veranos (a summer drink made of red wine, flavored sparkling water and ice). From there we headed to several other spots where we knew they would be able to try yummy tapas. During these stops we learned that neither of them had been at all impressed with the cuisine in Spain, but that during this tapas tour they had completely changed their perspective. The thing about Spanish food is that it can be rather confusing if you don’t understand it – if you get a menu translated into English, the food sounds horrible, or if you try to translate it yourself, it will sound equally as horrible. It’s all about understanding the dishes and knowing what to order, and then you will rarely be disappointed, and in fact become obsessed (like me).
After several stops for tapas we decided to head to the top of the Urban hotel for drinks, where we actually met up with another group of Americans traveling through Madrid – friends of an old colleague of mine. We stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying drinks, the amazing view, the fantastic night temperature, and just chatting it up about everything.
The next day, after a long day at work, we picked up Iris and Brian to take them to one of our favorite spots – the small town of El Molar. I’ve always taken my guests there because it is incredibly rural, hidden, has the most amazing meat, and is very charming with it’s cool caves where you can have dinner! We started with drinks at one of the restaurants at which time the camarero offered to let us walk in their caves that weave underneath the mountain and connect with other restaurants. This was really special because we hadn’t ever had the chance to walk deep into the caves. It was so super cool – they gave each of us a candle and we were able to just get lost in the caves that curved and split in various places…watching our heads as we ducked into tight spaces. Dinner was of course amazing as usual. I’m not a big meat eater, but this meat is just plain out of this world.
The next day, we had very big day planned – on the itinerary was Segovia (again, I know), La Granja and Avila. See, Iris and Brian were such enthusiastic and grateful guests that we were eager to make sure that they had the most amazing time possible. So, being the energetic group that we are, we pushed full speed ahead hitting the as many stops as possible.
The next morning brought another important occasion – they were lucky enough to be visiting during the fiestas for our town, San Sebastian de los Reyes, which, if you remember, includes a running of the bulls each morning of the week. What’s so cool about this running of the bulls is that it is the second largest in Spain behind Pamplona, but rather than being full of foreigners, it’s all Spaniards – the real deal. And in fact, it’s been happening in our town since 1525!
It was a crazy mess of people. Usually it hadn’t been quite so busy, but since we were going on the weekend, the crowds were much larger. We ended up watching the run and then entering the Plaza de Toros afterward to watch the usual taunting of the teen-aged bull by equally energetic teen-aged boys.
We drove Iris and Brian straight to the airport after that, at which point we returned home for an hour, packed our suitcases, showered, and headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Florence, Italy!!
Ahhh, the adventure never ends .
As if Spain isn’t already great enough, sharing it with friends makes it just that much better. This last week I was able to share my love of Spain with my dear friend Robin. We tried to mix it up a little so that her itinerary wasn’t a carbon copy of Kim’s, but of course even though there was some overlap, I couldn’t complain. I am officially an expert on giving the walking tour of Madrid, and I will gladly do it many, many more times.
Her trip began with a return to the last day of the running of the bulls here in San Sebastian de los Reyes. While exciting, I must say this time around was a bit more intense than my previous experiences. Several people were trampled during the run, and then in the actual Plaza de Toros it was a similar outcome. I learned quickly that bulls and people together are only fun to watch when nobody gets hurt. I think I will pass on the actual bull fights….
During Robin’s trip we made the journey down to Sevilla for a night. It had been over a year for me since I had last visited the South, so I was super excited since it is my favorite part of Spain. Sevilla was as beautiful as ever and boy did we ever luck out with the weather! Usually during this time of year Sevilla is scorching hot, but lucky for us it was relatively mild with a refreshing breeze. In fact we’ve had impeccable weather during Robin’s entire trip.
After our trip to Sevilla we took Robin out to Avila, a city I visited earlier this year and fell in love with. We really wanted to share the charming city surrounded by its famous walls, along with a fabulous restaurant that I had discovered via one of my English students. Robin loved it, so our mission was accomplished!
Upon our return to Madrid we took Robin to a Flamenco show, as well as dinner at one of our favorite restaurants – La Favorita. The restaurant is owned by the opera school here in Madrid and the waiters are actually students who do various operatic performances throughout the evening. For Robin this was especially close to her heart since she sings opera.
In addition to Flamenco and our night of opera, we also had the chance to have dinner at our friends Carolina and Jose’s house. Then last night we took Robin to the same restaurant we took Kim – a restaurant that is nestled in the caves of a local town – each table having its own little cave. A very special way to sum up a fabulous trip.
So now it’s back to reality for me – well almost. I have one last excursion before I really return to work. This weekend Jacob and I will be heading out to Ibiza for a friend’s birthday. After that, I will officially end my hiatus from work and begin my new job here in Madrid. I hope to keep the weekends filled with new adventures though as there are so many more to be had here! More to come very soon….
This week brought many new adventures – most of which included me getting drenched in more rain. Yep, it’s still raining here. I simply don’t get it! Having to walk everywhere in the rain after having my own car since learning how to drive has been a hard pill to swallow for sure. So I spent my week trekking from class to class getting to know new students and learning which shoes I should and shouldn’t wear when I have to walk for miles (eh hem, kilometers) in the rain. On Thursday we had the opportunity to go to another cata de vinos (wine tasting) which of course was amazing! I still can’t get over the fact that we are able to try six fabulous wines every two weeks for free (with aperitivos too!). Then last night we went to a concert of a friend of Jacob’s in Madrid which was followed by a delicious impromptu dinner at Carolina and Jose’s house.
Today brought the biggest excursion of the week. I have been lucky enough to have visited most of the charming cities within an hour’s drive of Madrid, but Ávila was one that I had not yet had the opportunity to see. Despite the bad weather, Jacob and I headed out to Ávila this morning. The first thing we saw when we arrived was la muralla (the wall) that surrounds the city. With its many towers you can’t help but imagine what kind of fortress the city must have been hundreds of years ago. Once inside the city we walked around a bit, visiting the cathedral, the charming balcony lined streets, and we even had the chance to see a small parade (something religious – not sure exactly what the specific celebration was though).
After a quick walk around the city we headed to lunch at a restaurant, El Molino de la Losa, which one of my students actually recommended. This was definitely the highlight of the trip! The restaurant was in an old mill from the 15th century – once inside the restaurant we were actually able to see the water running underneath. One of the speciality dishes of Ávila is the chuletón (basically steak….more meat, what a shocker!). Obviously a bit much for me, so Jacob took the “bull by the horns” and ordered it. Quite delicious! I opted for a salad…
A couple of chocolate desserts later, we left the restaurant and headed back inside the city walls. This time we actually walked on top of the wall that surrounds the city, which provided stunning views in every direction.
On our way home we made a quick stop to drop off the chuletón bone to Mateo, Jose and Carolina’s dog (it’s Mateo’s third birthday today!). Now we are back in Madrid where of course the sun has been conveniently shining and mocking us after a day of walking in the rain!
Please send some sun and warmth my way! Missing you all from Madrid!