Spain – Madrid!

After several months of staying home in Maine, I am traveling again!  Yay!  Funny, when I arrived home last May from my last trip, I was so happy not to be traveling for awhile.  Little did I know that “awhile” would turn out to be 7 months.  Traveling is in my husband’s and my blood.  After months at home, I was ready to pack my bags and fly off.

Madrid was a great choice!  We really enjoyed all the city had to offer.  Great architecture, history, art, sangria, food and beautiful green spaces.  Our apartment, which we rented through Airbnb, turned out to be in a great location.

The center of Madrid is considered to be Plaza de la Puerta del Sol.  It was about a 15-minute walk from our apartment.  There was a fountain in the center of the plaza that offered a place to sit if you wanted to take a break or do some people watching.  There are some interesting characters in Madrid!!!

I took this picture at night of Puerta del Sol.  The statue is of King Charles III (1716-1788) who is known for improvements to urban policies by beautifying squares with fountains, established a public school system, authorized underground sewers, built the Prado Museum and opened the royal’s private Retiro Park to the public.

The building is the Governor’s Office. On New Year’s Eve, it is where revelers come to ring in the new year.  We took a “free walking tour” around Madrid one day and our guide told us that they do a “dress rehearsal” on December 30th, to make certain the clock will strike midnight at the proper time.  Also, it is a tradition to eat 12 grapes, one for each strike of the clock at midnight, to have 12 lucky months in the new year!

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This statue, located in Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, is the “Bear and the Strawberry Tree” (El Oso y El Madrono).  It is the official symbol for Madrid.  The strawberry tree bears a fruit of red, round berries which are not like the strawberries that we are familiar with.

People watching is very entertaining in this plaza.  There are several “human statues.”  Some were quite creative.  Cartoon characters entice children for a photo with them so they get a “tip” from mom and dad.  Always, there were gypsies walking around begging.

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Gypsies on a 15-minute break from their “work.”

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This lady was getting quite the attention from male tourist.  There were actually two women dressed like this, but I could only get a picture of just one!

Madrid Art Museums

Our apartment was close to the art museums and El Retiro Park.  We were a 5-minute walk from the Prado Museum (El Museo del Prado).  IMG_1401

This is the entrance to the Prado.  No photos, of the artwork on display, were allowed.  I visited the museum twice and still didn’t make a dent in the 1500 pieces, from the collection of 7,000, on display.  There were some great European masters on display – Titian, Velazques, Murrillo.  I remember the first time I saw a Murrillo painting.  It was on my first trip to Europe back in 1977!!!!  I love Murrillo’s style of using light to accent the children in his composition.  Of course, they had some art by El Greco and Goya.  It was very exciting to visit the Prado museum after years of hearing about it and how amazing it is.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

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El Centro De Arte Reina Sofia

Another 5-minute walk south of our apartment was the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the modern art museum that displays Picasso’s La Guernica.  Ever since I learned about this mural that was created by Picasso as a protest against Franco’s fascist regime, I have wanted to see it.  The subject is very disturbing.  It is about the bombing of innocent women, children and elderly in the village of Guernica, April 27, 1937.  Franco gave permission to Hitler to test out his new air force.  They dropped bombs on these innocent people.  Picasso was in Paris and had just been commissioned by the Republican government – Franco’s opposition in the Spanish civil war, to paint a picture.  He decided to abandon his original plans and bring the bombing atrocities to the world’s attention.  La Guernica showed the world the destruction and cruelty of the fascist movement.  The mural went on tour to help raise money for the Republican cause.   Until Franco’s death, the mural was displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Although photos were allowed throughout other parts of the modern art museum, no photos were allowed for La Guernica.  I was going to try to attach a photo from the internet of Picasso’s creation but they all said that they may be subject to copyrights.  So, if you are interested in learning more about La Guernica or viewing the painting, I encourage you to google “La Guernica by Picasso.”

At the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, I saw some other works by Picasso, Miro and Dalí.

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Woman in Blue by Pablo Picasso

Time and again, I have confessed that I am not a huge fan of modern art.  This time was no different.  I do like Miró…I visited his museum in Barcelona.  I like the simplicity of his lines.  I don’t care for Dalí’s art.

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Pastoral by Joan Miró

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Inner courtyard at El Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

In my opinion, the absolute BEST museum in Madrid is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – the locals simply call it “the Thyssen.”  To think that I almost didn’t go to this museum!!!  This AMAZING museum was a 10-minute walk north of our apartment.  All these museums are relatively close to each other.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza is the private collection that Baron Thyssen (of German descent) and his wife (a former Miss Spain) sold to Spain for $350 million.  The best way to view this museum is to start on the top floor and work your way down.  The way the art is displayed, it is a visual walk through art history.  The display begins with Italian Primitives and as you wander through the various galleries, you will eventually end in the last gallery that displays “pop art.”

My favorite art period is the Impressionist and this museum offered beautiful paintings from this period.  Evidently, it was Baron Thyssen’s specialty which is very evident! I am just sharing a very few of the many photos that I took.

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Les Vessenot in Auvers by Van Gogh.  I visited Auvers four years ago when I was staying in Paris and have fond memories of my visit there.

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Evening by Edvard Munch.  This is by the Norwegian artist who is most famous for his painting “The Scream.”  I learned of Munch when I visited his museum in Oslo, Norway on my first trip to Europe in 1977.

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Christ with the Cross by El Greco.  This is similar to one that was on display at the Prado Museum, that I really loved, by El Greco.

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The Martha McKeen of Wellfleet by Edward Hopper.  I like Hopper’s clean lines.

Finally, near our apartment was the Caixa Forum….what a gem of a find!  This exhibit hall was a 5-minute walk from our apartment.  I feel as though we hit the jackpot with the location of this apartment and the art museums!  We were walking by Caixa Forum and I noticed that there was an Andy Warhol exhibit.  Wow!! I grew up in the 60s and Warhol’s pop art!  I love Andy Warhol!  Plus, as a bonus, David my husband; who rarely goes to art museums with me, said that he would go to this exhibit with me!!!!

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Caixa Forum.  The wall on the right has live plants growing on it.

This exhibit offered 350 pieces of Warhol’s art and the tickets only cost 4 Euro which is about $5.00!!  What a deal!  The exhibit was everything that I associated with Warhol’s art….bright colors from the 60s.  Here are some of my favorite pieces that were displayed.

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Andy Warhol once said, “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about.”  Who remembers S&H Green stamps?  The hours pasting them into the little booklets and then pouring over the catalog to decide how you were going to spend them?

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Campbell Soup is another common object that people recognized.  Warhol had warm memories of soup that his mom prepared for lunch every day for him.

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When you think of Warhol, you think of Marilyn Monroe!

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This piece was part of the Christmas cards that he designed for Tiffany and Co.

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I love the bold flowers and colors…this dress just “screams” the 60s!

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This is from Warhol’s Oxidation series.  This series was developed by spreading canvases on the floor in his studio, spreading them with copper painting and inviting people to urinate on them.  The uric acid from the urine would create a variety of colors on the copper paint.

Parks of Madrid

David and I agreed that El Parque del Buen Retiro is one of the prettiest parks we have ever visited.  This 350-acre piece of land was developed by King Felipe IV in the 1600s.  It was a nature reserve for kings, queens and their guest.  In 1868, it was opened to the public.

As you walk through the Puerta de Felipe IV (Felipe IV Gate) and look to your left, you will see the oldest tree of Madrid.

Puerta Felipe IV

Puerta de Felipe IV

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Madrid’s oldest tree.  It was planted in 1633. During the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, it was used as a cannon mount by the French soldiers.

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The trunk of Madrid’s oldest tree which is a Mexican Conifer.

Walk straight along the path and you will come to the man-made lake. fullsizeoutput_28ac

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Rowboats are available for rent.

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Close-up of the monument at the lake.

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This entrance is behind the large monument at the lake.

Some of the wonderful features of the park.

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I had to take a picture of this fountain surrounded by the sweet, colorful pansies.  Pansies always remind me of the Grammie Elsie, who I am named after!

IMG_1406Since being open to the public, many international exhibitions have taken place.  This building, the Mining building, was used for one of the exhibits.

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Today, it is known as the Velazquez Palace and houses art exhibits.

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This piano was part of the modern art exhibit on display in the Valazquez Palace.  It was a tourist playing.  Her playing made it all worth visiting another modern art exhibit.

The “pièce de résistance” at the park was the Crystal Palace.  It was glorious! It was built in 1887 for the Philippine Islands Exhibition and was first used to display flower species indigenous to that area.

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Today, the Crystal Palace is used for art exhibits.  Doris Salcedo’s “Palimpsest” was on exhibit.  It is a work of art to honor the lives of the hundreds of men and women who drowned while trying to reach Europe pursuing a better life.  Drops of water emerged from the floor and as they joined, created the name of a person who had lost their life.

Just a couple of parting shots that I took in the park…….

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I cannot believe that I was able to capture this bird drinking from the iguana fountain with my iPhone!

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I honestly think this might be the first time, in my life, that I have seen black swans.  I think they are elegant.

Parque Del Campo Del Moro

This park is near the Royal Palace at the other end of the city from Retiro Park.  It was much quieter here as there were fewer people.  It was almost like having our own private park.

Royal Palace from Campo del Moro

A view from the park’s entrance looking onto the Royal Palace.

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Campo Moro

The wide walkways in the park.

Pétanque

As David and I left this park to head back to our apartment, we passed another smaller park where the men were playing a game.  It turns out that it was called Pétanque (pronounced more or less: petanka).  I must say that this was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip.  We must have sat there for a half-hour watching the neighborhood men enjoy this game, which I would dare to guess is a daily ritual.

Playing Petanka

There is a small, yellow, wooden ball close to the curb in this picture.  The goal is to toss or roll the hollow, steel balls as close as you can to the wooden ball.

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The man scooching, in the left of this picture, is taking his turn.  He has to keep both feet in a circle so not to be disqualified.

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This was serious business!!  The man in the grey sweater is measuring the distance between the balls.

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Almost all the men had the device of a cord with a magnet at the end.  With this device, they didn’t have to bend over to pick up their balls for the next round.  Pretty clever.

It was fun to experience some of the local culture. I imagine that the game ends and they all make their way to the local pub for some tapas and a glass of wine before heading home.

Buildings of Madrid

The skyline of Madrid was beautiful.  There were these wonderful “gems” of architecture everywhere.  Here are some of my favorite photos that I took as we wandered around the city.

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Walking towards Plaza Puerta del Sol

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The Ministry of Agriculture building near Atocha Train Station

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More interesting architecture.

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This building is in the Plaza de la Villa, which is the original town square for Madrid.  This building was the town hall until 2007.  It is unique in design because it was built in the Austrian style.  Note the steeple at the top of the building.  The Hapsburgs of Austria ruled Spain from 1516 to 1700.

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This is another building of Austrian influence.  It is located in Plaza Mayor.

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Near the Prado is this lovely church – the Parrish of St Geronimo

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Combining old with new.  I don’t believe that the tower and the modern building were connected.  This is view is from behind the Palacio de Cibeles, which was under renovations so I could not get a front picture of the Palacio.  The tower is part of the Palacio de Cibeles building and can be visited to get a grand view of the city skyline.

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These photos are from the inside of the Palacio de Cibeles.

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Near the Retiro Park, is the Independence Plaza with the Puerta de Alcalá (Citadel Gate).

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One view of the Royal Palace.  There are 3,400 rooms in the palace!

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The Royal Palace and square.

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Across from the Royal Palace square is this cathedral – Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena.  This is the front of the cathedral……

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this is the back.  It looks like a totally different building, no?  That is because the front was started 100 years before the back part was finished.  The cathedral didn’t open until 1993!!!

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This view captures the whole building!

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We didn’t go in the cathedral but we did visit the crypt.  It has more than 400 columns.

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This is one of the treasures of the crypt.  It is a painting of “Our Lady of the Flor de Lis.”  Research suggests that it was commissioned by King Alfonso VI in 1083 AD.  This makes it one of the oldest images in Madrid.

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One of the twenty chapels.  Each chapel is decorated differently.

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This building was unique because it has a mural painted on it.  Can you tell where the real building ended and the mural begins?

Madrid at Night

Part of the local tradition is for people of Madrid to take a nightly stroll.  We stepped out a couple of nights and the streets were very crowded with friends, couples, and families wandering along the pedestrian-only streets as well as the sidewalks.

These evening strolls are part of the culture, especially during the summer; when the stifling daytime heat curtails any activity.  It is in the cooler evening hours that people will come outside to enjoy socializing with neighbors, visiting the local bar or allowing the children to run off some pent-up energy.

The glorious buildings of Madrid were enhanced with lights.  Everywhere you looked was a “Kodak moment!”  Here are some of my favorite photos:IMG_1153fullsizeoutput_28cefullsizeoutput_28d7

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The Ritz Hotel

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Neptune’s Fountain

 

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Plaza de Cibeles with the Cibeles (City Hall) Place in the background.

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A popular nightspot is Santa Ana Plaza.  This elegant building adds the charm of the area.

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Plaza Mayor, a popular plaza in Madrid

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Alcala Gate at Independence Plaza.

Plazas

One of my all-time favorite plays is “Man of LaMancha” so it was a great surprise and joy when we wandered past Plaza de España our first day out exploring.  It was just a small plaza tucked among giant buildings, close to the Royal Palace area.  IMG_1103

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Don Quixote and Sancho

Plaza Mayor in earlier days was Madrid’s main plaza.  It has worn many “hats.”  It was a marketplace and later, in the 17th century an open-air theater where bullfights, royal pageantry and executions from the days of the Spanish Inquisition – a dark time in Spain’s history where people were executed for their religious beliefs.

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Plaza Mayor

Today, many of the buildings surrounding the plaza are private apartments that cost a small fortune!!  A small attic, studio apartment runs close to $500,000.  A 2,500 sq ft apartment can cost over $2 million and up!!!  Honestly, I cannot imagine spending that amount of money to live in an area that is full of noisy tourist day and night!!  fullsizeoutput_28a0The drapery over the statue was a temporary decoration.  It was removed a few days before we left Madrid.  There was an interesting story that our tour guide shared with us regarding the statue.  It honors Philip III who converted this square from a marketplace to the Baroque plaza it is today.  For a long time, there was a horrible odor emitting from the statue.  No one could figure out the source of the odor.   During the early years of the dictator Franco’s reign, many objects relating to the earlier government was destroyed.  Philip’s statue was one of the casualties.  When the statue came tumbling down, it broke and out fell hundreds of small bird bones.  It seems that the birds entered the statue through a small opening but was unable to escape once inside.  So, they died and the smell was the bird decomposing.  When the statue was restored, they made certain that all openings were closed.

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These majestic statues are in the Plaza de Oriente which is close to the Royal Palace.   They are of the Visigothic kings who ruled from the 5th to the 8th century.  The size of the statues was impressive.

Sundays in Madrid

If you are in Madrid on a Sunday you need to visit El Rastro, which is believed to be Europe’s largest flea market.  IMG_1201At this flea market, you can find everything from clothing to tacky souvenirs to antiques. The guidebook said that there are many pick-pockets so be very aware.  I didn’t seem to have a problem.  I guess that it was mainly because I never carry a purse with me.  I wear a Scottevest that has pockets on the inside of the vest so I keep all of my money, passports and credit cards on the inside.  There is no way that anyone could pick my pockets!  If you are an avid traveler, I recommend that you seriously consider getting a Scottevest.  I have had mine for 5 years now and LOVE it!  Here is the link to their website:  www.scottevest.com

There is a little something for everyone.   It is a great place to spend the morning.

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This lady offered musical entertainment.

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RED SHOES!!!!  Just couldn’t resist this picture.  I have always loved red shoes.  These are for young girls aspiring to be flamenco dancers!  I just might take up flamenco dancing if it means that I get to wear red shoes!  🙂

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We spent our Sunday visiting El Rastro with Kyle!  We met Kyle hiking on the Annapurna Trails when we were in Nepal last March.  He only lives a couple of hours from our home in the states and we have tried to have a visit.  It just hadn’t happened with our schedules.  I posted on FB that we were in Madrid.  Kyle saw it and sent us a message that he was in Madrid the same time we were.  We were so happy to see him again.  Hopefully, our paths will cross again soon in the states!

Another unique event for Sundays in Madrid is that the major road, in front of the Prado Museum, was closed for most of the day.  It seemed strange to see people strolling, jogging or biking along this major street and no traffic.  It made for such a relaxed atmosphere not having to worry about dodging cars!fullsizeoutput_297b

Food and Drink

There is a lively bar and restaurant scene in Madrid.  I think I read that for every 10 people there are 6 restaurants.  It is amazing that they are all able to stay open!   Compared to us Americans, the Spaniards eats very late.  Breakfast (between 7 and 9 AM) is the lightest meal of the day with a small roll, churro, and coffee or hot chocolate.  Mid-morning snack is from 10:30 to 11:00, which is more like the US coffee break. Lunch, the largest meal,  is between 2:00 and 4:00 PM….many Spaniards still observe “siesta time,” especially in the smaller villages.  Mid-afternoon snack is from 5:30 to 7:30 and is more of a social time for friends to visit.  People often lean towards a small sweet at a cafe.  8:30 to 10:00 is the final meal and time when the popular tapas bars open.  If you are like us and eat more around 6:00 PM, you won’t have much luck finding a restaurant open for dinner.

In all honesty, I found the tapas/bar scene very intimidating.  The bars/restaurants always appeared very crowded and I really didn’t understand how to order.  In some places, the tapas are displayed like a buffet.  You serve yourself and pay by the number of toothpicks left on your plate; while other places you can order from the menu.  I am sorry to say that we didn’t have the tapas experience in Madrid but we did enjoy tapas in Barcelona.

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This building is Mercado de San Miguel.  It is a large food court inside and would have been the perfect place to try tapas.  However, when we were there, I just wasn’t hungry.

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There were various vendors offering all kinds of food and beverages.  It was an interesting place and not quite so intimidating as the local bars/restaurants.

We did enjoy another popular dish, tortilla de papas (potato omelet) for lunch.  It is good comfort food.

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Tortilla de papas

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Taverna de la Daniela is where we enjoyed our potato omelet.  I loved the border on the molding and the tiles on the wall and column.

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These are churros which are popular for breakfast or as a snack.  It is fried dough that is often dipped in the cup of thick, hot chocolate.

 

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What better place to try churros than Chocolateria San Gines where they have been serving them since 1894?

 

 

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Of course, when in Spain, you must have Sangria!

 

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This quaint cafe is named “La Mejor Tarta de Chocolate Del Mundo,” (The Best Chocolate Cake in the World Cafe!”  It is located near Retiro Park at Calle de Alcala 89, 28009 Madrid, Spain!

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They are not kidding by saying they have the best chocolate cake in the world!  I have never tasted anything so decadent!  You must put this on your “to do” list when visiting Madrid!  If you have a sweet tooth, you will not regret taking the time to find this cafe!

Just cute!

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“Sitting on the corner…watching the world go by!”

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“Hey! What’s going on down there?”

Madrid is a beautiful city.  If you are planning a trip to Spain, I would recommend that you spend 5 or 6 days in Madrid, do an overnight trip to Toledo – which I have written about in a separate post.  Also, make certain you plan to visit Barcelona.  Spain has such wonderful places to visit.  I hope you get to explore this beautiful country.

Until the next time, I wish you blessings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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