Saturday, November 03, 2018

Madrid Day 6

Slept in a bit, as we had no plans until 10:00, when we were doing a winery tour, so we had breakfast at the hostel (which was free), and headed to the pickup point around the Prado Museum.

We went to a winery that is higher up in the mountains, a small one that grows both red and green grapes (hence, both red and white wines). Some of the vines they grow grapes on are over 100 years old. They don't use trellises here, but keep the plants more separated, giving each more space. They are done harvesting for the season, but there was a lot of late grapes still growing on both the red and green grape vines, so we could pick and eat grapes to our hearts content. They are so delicious, way better than the grocery store grapes. They also don't water any of their vines. It's quite dry here, but the grapes that grow here are native to this area, so get all the moisture they need from the rains that come in the spring, so very environmentally friendly. This specific vineyard doesn't use any pesticides or insecticides or anything like that either.

After walking the vineyard (with amazing views), we headed to the town, where they turn the grapes into wine. They were soft squeezing red grapes to make red wine when we were there. After squeezing them, they ferment them twice, first in oak barrels, then in aluminum vats. As this was a small winery, it's size was very similar to some of the craft breweries in Calgary.

We had three samples of wine, along with Iberian ham and cheese, then headed back to Madrid.

The whole tour was guided, with just Tracy and I, but the winery had a surprise visit from another group today, so there was a small group of us doing the tasting. The company we booked through were hilarious, it's obvious she's trying to get her wine tour business off the ground, her photographer came with us (also the driver), and they picked us up in a car sharing service car (like Car2Go, but different company). On the drive to and from the vineyard and winery, they were constantly getting lost, neither of them could read Google Maps correctly, and the photographer was taking tons of pictures of us. I'm positive we'll see ourselves in marketing material and the website of the tour company!

After we got back, we walked around, looking for a place to have supper. It's really nice again today (high teens and sunny), and so many people about. We ended up going to the place we went on the first night in Madrid, as it was very good.

We then wandered around, and ended up in Plaza Mayor, and a busker was just starting his show, and while he did it (mostly) in Spanish, he was hilarious, as he engaged the audience a lot, and had them be part of the show, doing hilarious and stupid things. It's hard to explain, but both Tracy and I were laughing, and I'm sure it would have been ever funnier if we could understand the remarks he was making to the members of the crowd helping him.

We then headed back to the hostel, and packed our things, as we have a 4:30 taxi to the airport for our trip home.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Madrid Day 5

We slept in for a bit, as we had no plans early in the day. We slept in until after 8:00 sometime. The noise was significantly less last night. There was still lots of activity outside, but no partiers, except for once in a while, we both slept pretty good.

After a quite delicious breakfast, we we headed to El Retiro Park, a really large park in the middle of town. It was really nice, but the park was kind of bipolar. Half of the park was really quiet, with lots of joggers running around, lots of greenery, pathways amongst the bushes and trees, fountains, small pounds, a few small cafes, really tranquil and quiet. The other half was the busy, touristy half, with a small lake where you could rent row boats, lots and lots of buskers doing different things, busy cafes, and generally really "in your face", less green space, and not as quiet. One of the coolest "buskers" was a costume of Predator, with a bowl out front for people to put money in. The funny part was, nobody was sure if there was anyone in the Predator costume. People were afraid to approach to get their picture with him/it, afraid it would move or jump, but it literally never moved. But good human statues are great at not moving, so people were standing around for a long time, just waiting for some movement, and nothing, except for a bit of swaying in the breeze. We decided there was actually nobody in the costume...which makes it that much more amazing. Somebody setup the costume, then went off to the pub, and would come back later in the day to a hat full of money!

We had a snack at a cafe in the park, then headed over to the Royal Palace, which we had tickets for at 1:30pm. We skipped the main line, because we had purchased tickets in advance, which is a good thing, as the line was looooong for non-ticket holders. The palace is really spectacular, maybe not on par with the Palace of Versailles in France (which was amazing), but still incredibly spectacular. It really makes you think (along with the churches), how much royalty and religions spent on such opulence, to put on a show that they are somehow better than the commoner....when really they poop just like everyone else. Regardless, it was still pretty cool to see.
After that, we walked around various shops for a while, along all the small alleyways littering the city, with so many shops. Tracy can't get enough of the shopping (thanks Mom, since you made her buy stuff, she can't stop). She's got lots of cool clothes. We went for an early (by Spanish standards) supper (around 4:30-5:00) to a pasta place called Nina's Pasta Bar, which was rated 4.9/5 on Google, and a bit out of the tourist area. When we went in, it was busy, and she (Nina) apologized for not having any English menus, she didn't imagine that she's have so many English speakers coming in, so she was working on getting English menus. She explained all the menu items, and we choose what we wanted, and it was amazing. She's from Italy, and they specialize in Italian good. When we were done, she asked us how we heard about her place, and we told her she came up in Google when I searched for pasta, with a rating of 4.9/5. Well, she was sooooo happy to hear that! She did a little dance, and offered us a shot of liqueur on the house, she was so ecstatic! She's was so friendly, really enjoyed going there.

We then headed to the Temple of Debod, an temple gifted to Spain by Egypt back in the 1970's for something that I can't remember right now. They say to go at sunset, which we did. Along with everyone else in the city! The sunset was very nice, it was cool to see an Egyptian temple in Madrid. As I understand, this was an actual temple in Egypt, and it was dismantled and moved to Madrid and constructed again. Anyway, very cool.

After that we walked and shopped and stopped here and there for a drink or snack until we finally made our way back to the hostel. Beautiful weather today, the evening was nice. So many buskers all over the place with the nice weather.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Madrid Day 4

Last night was noisy. There were partiers out until like 4:00am. Hopefully this is not a regular occurrence, but halloween partiers. I slept ok, but Tracy didn't sleep at all, until all the noise died down after 4:00am, she said. I thought I set my alarm for 7:30, so we could get up in plenty of time for our day trip to Toledo. But Tracy woke me up at 7:45. That still gave us plenty of time, so it's a good thing Tracy was on the ball there. Apparently I didn't set my alarm at all.

We had breakfast and headed to the Neptune fountain for our pickup. It was about a 50 minute drive to Toledo, and we had a tour of a city with a lot of history, starting back in the year 900 or so. It has Jewish, Muslim and Christian roots, having being ruled and conquered by each at various times throughout recorded history. It's also one of the new cities in Spain that has a Jewish quarter.

We also had a wine and tapas tasting. I'm not a wine fan, but Tracy is. Unfortunately it was not at a vineyard (which is actually what we wanted), but it was still ok.

The tour lasted all day, and we got back to Madrid around 7:00, and went to a rather crappy Irish pub for supper, then back to the hostel and to bed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Madrid Day 3

I have a cold, and didn't sleep much last tired. Mom and dad left at 7:30 this morning, and they slipped their breakfast passes under our door before leaving.

We got up and had breakfast, went back to the room and just hung out, watching tv and whatever. We're moving to a hostel today, and check out at the hotel is noon, and check-in at the hostel isn't until 2:00, so we're just waiting.

At noon, we checked out and walked over the hostel and left our bags and walked down to the Royal Palace. There was a huge lineup, but if we buy tickets in advance online, we can skip the line and get right in, so we'll go another day.

The Catedral de la Almudena is right there as well, and it was not busy, so we decided to check it out. It took over 100 years to build, because of wars and lack of funds, but was finally completed in 1992.

It was pretty impressive, as are the crypts below the cathedral. The lighting in the crypts gives it a very creepy feeling, but there's lots of tourists mulling around, so not spooky, despite all the dead people you're walking on top of.

We stopped for a late lunch at Plaza Mayor on the way back to the hostel, and then got checked in, and just wandered around the twists and turns of the south side of Puerta del Sol. Madrid is such a bustling city and the whole old town is really amazing. So many restaurants, shops, little parks and plazas, squares, with so many little windy side roads (some pedestrian-only), it's really easy to get lost, but so much to explore, it's pretty awesome.

After getting checked in, we just wandered around, went to a brew pub for some craft beer, and generally didn't do too much.

The weather today was quite a bit nicer, it rained the morning, but stopped by mid-morning, and by afternoon the sun was shining off and on. The weather is only supposed to get better from here on it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Madrid Day 2

We woke up and knocked on mom and dad's door at 8:00 and we all went downstairs for breakfast.

We then walked to the Museo Nacional del Prado, one of the best museums in Madrid for old paintings and such. The lineup was ridiculous, but I had pre-purchased tickets, so we were able to skip the line and get in right away. Of course, there was a tour guide waiting at the entrance offering guided tours for an hour or more. We decided to do it, 50 euros.

It was quite interesting, and we learned some stuff about Renaissance paintings, like nymphs give birth to cupids, and foxes represent demons, and dogs represent fidelity.

We spent a couple of hours there, then went for lunch.

Downtown Madrid is very nice, the main square (Puerto del Sol) is a hub of activity, and a number of streets feed off of it, but there's a ton of little pedestrian friendly side streets, with shops and shops and shops galore, it's fun to just walk along them and explore. Very European, so many outside cafe's. Too bad it was cold raining all day. There's actually a Tim Horton's here, with a sign indicating it's Canada's favorite coffee shop.

I learned today that my mom has a rain jacket for her rain jacket.

We then went to Calle Gran Via, a main road with tons and tons of big name shops. Tracy and my mom did lots of window shopping, and Tracy did some real shopping as well.

Back to the hotel late in the afternoon and made arrangements to go out for tapas at 7:00. My parents are leaving tomorrow morning. Tracy and I also booked a day trip tour to Toledo with a winery for Friday.

At 7:00, we went for tapas, which was delicious, especially the hot dog tapas.

After that, we went to back to the hotel, and said goodbye to mom and dad, as they leave pretty early tomorrow morning.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Madrid Day 1

Tracy and I got up early and went for breakfast near the hostel, packed our bags, checked out, and hopped on the Thameslink train to Gatwick. We are meeting my parents in Madrid..

My parents are Morocco, flying back to Madrid today, after doing a two week G Adventure trip of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. While we were waiting for our flight, I got an email from my mom, apparently it was mayhem in Morocco, something about the king of Morocco decided abruptly he didn't want Morocco to roll back their clocks this weekend. Unfortunately, no one else was appraised of this decision, so everybody's phones were the wrong time, there was mayhem at the airport.

We arrived in Madrid about 3:45. We had to get our passports stamped, which I found a bit odd, since we entered the EU in London (Brexit deal isn't finished yet). We waited for my parents, who arrived at a different terminal, then they made their way to where we were waiting, around 5:00pm.

We got a cab to central Madrid and checked into Hotel Europa. We made arrangements to meet downstairs at 7:00 for supper. It ended up that my parents got a room only 2 down from us, so it's easy for us to visit. After Tracy and I showered and got clean, we visited their room, and they were having a huge issue. They had lost some of their cards, a debit card and an iTrade card. They checked everywhere, all over. So, dad's fuming and trying to figure out what cards they need to cancel, and how to do it and my mom is trying to keep him calm. Tracy and I snuck out, and went downstairs and walked around outside for a while. After 30 minutes, we went back and dad was still on hold, trying to cancel his iTrade account, and he's absolutely livid, because he couldn't figure out how to make a collect call from Spain back to Canada. He tried everything, and nothing was working, so he ended up making a regular long distance call back to Canada, and was terrified of the long distance charges he was going to see.

We snuck back out, and went for supper. I had an amazing pasta and Tracy had pizza. Tracy couldn't finish the pizza, so we got the leftovers in a box. Afterwards, we went back to my parents room, and my dad was furious, he'd been on hold for sooo long, and he's paying for it. We left them the leftover pizza and snuck out again, back to our room.

After a while, Tracy was getting ready for bed, I decided I would try and see how my parents were doing again. I was a bit terrified about how my dad would be. They did end up getting everything dealt with, and I told my dad how much his call would cost him (less than $18), I think in his brain he was imagining hundreds and hundreds of dollars on his phone bill. He was relieved, and they did end up eating the pizza we left.

We made arrangements to meet at 8:00am tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Back to London

We went to check out of our hotel and went to pay our final bill, which should have had some breakfasts and dinner from the last night. Fortunately for us, someone didn't put our dinner on our room, so we got an expensive dinner for free, including desserts! Nice.

We walked to the train station and caught the train, for an uneventful train ride back to London. Checked back into the Keystone House Hostel.

Took the Underground to Trafalgar Sqaure, where I wanted to get some pictures of the square, but there was some huge event going on, so it was absolutely packed with people. The National Gallery is right there, and free, so we went in and viewed lots of old paintings from the 1300's to the 1700's. It's so huge, we spent two hours there and still didn't see everything.

We headed back to the King's Cross, and went for supper at a less than mediocre higher-end restaurant, then walked around a bit before heading back to the hostel.