Las Aventuras De Los Gringos En Madrid

Last weekend, we met our friends, Boris and Natasha, in Madrid.  We did a walking tour from Rick Steves‘ book.
 
Boris and Natasha (names were changed to protect the not so innocent)
We started at Puerta del Sol.  The building below was Franco’s headquarters and people tried to escape from questioning by jumping.  Others claimed to have been thrown from the windows.
The square is also the place where Napoleon’s troops shot Spanish protestors that was commemorated in Goya‘s painting, The Third of May.
The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showi...

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon’s troops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days, it is a hugely popular public area where the biggest dangers were the huge lines to buy lottery tickets for the big drawing (the king won once) and the hordes of fashionistas at Topshop.
The guard’s hats are flat in the back so they can lean their head against the wall while smoking.  He says they wouldn’t catch anyone in a footchase.
Reading that page in the guidebook was so exhausting that we had to stop for sustenance…at a confiteria.
Sorry, they were so good that I we dug in before taking a picture.
We walked to Plaza Mayor,  a huge public space that was used for bullfighting, royal showboating, the Inquisition and its subsequent “bonfires”.  We saw it filled with a Christmas market.
We needed a cafe con leche, so we popped into a cafe.  They came with churros, so of course we had to eat them.  Properly fortified, we were ready to hit the market (Mercado de San Miguel).
Stuffed as we were, walking through was enough to make us hungry.  The food was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
We went to a convent and bought some cookies (we didn’t intend for it to be a food tour even though it clearly turned into one).
File:Atentado en la calle Mayor..jpg
In 1906 there was a royal wedding procession past this spot. Someone threw a bomb along with the flowers. It killed 23. The statute below memorizes the dead.
Madrid’s Cathedral
The Royal Palace
Madrid is a really beautiful city.  We whiled away the afternoon strolling public squares, grand promenades and wonderful Retiro Park.
 
Un poquito Espagnol will get you a long way in Madrid.  I was delighted to realize I learned some by osmosis in the US.
 
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Crazy Things We Saw On The Way To Madrid’s Airport at 8:00 A.M.

Last weekend, we went to Madrid and had a great time.  We weren’t the only ones.   Sunday morning, we took the subway to the airport and saw some crazy things on the way there.  Sorry.  I didn’t whip out my camera, you will have to take my word for it.  Here are the highlights:

  • Carnage in the street from the previous night (recyclable gal ores and grosser things that don’t need to be detailed)
  • Couples making out (clearly wrapping up the previous evening)
  • Groups of guys headed home together (from their state, it wasn’t surprising they were alone)
  • A guy (with his fly unbuttoned) doing the head roll for ten minutes before falling asleep on the old lady next to him.  He woke up at the airport (without luggage) and followed everyone up the escalator.  At the top it dawned on him where he was and he went back down.

Judging from the smell in the air, the receptionist’s squity eyes and his snacks when we checked out of our hostel, we should have known we would be entertained being out at that hour.

 

 

We’re Surrounded!

map

We are surrounded by France, literally. The yellow spot at the bottom of the lake is the city of Geneva. The dark green area surrounding it is the Canton of Geneva (like a state). As you can see, it is wrapped in shamrock green. That shamrock green is France!

To us, that means it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to spend money in a cheaper currency, the Euro. In other eras, it’s meant something quite different.

We met our nice neighbor who has lived in our building since 1938.  When France was occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII, Geneva was virtually surrounded by it. Germany had drawn up plans to invade Switzerland, but never acted upon them. The RAF even bombed Geneva once on accident!

 

How To You And Your Mate Can Suss Out A Good London Pub

This was touristy, but fun and full of charm

Every country has pubs, cafes, bars or restaurants.  English pubs have become part of international culture and a tourist attraction in their own right.  At their best, they are a sort of communal home away from home.

We’d been dreaming about settling into a cute place on a rainy day for a pint with fish and chips.   Some of London’s pubs look as though Disney had dressed up bad sports bars to look typically English.  Here are some of the issues:

  • Mediocre mass market beer – Why was there such a lack of variety in a country that produces so many wonderful beers?  Why put Heineken on tap?   We even saw Kronnenberg 1664 on tap!  I was even disappointed with some of his cask ales.
  • The wine is rubbish – Although to be fair, I didn’t actually taste any.  They looked so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
  • Video poker machines – They kill the ambiance.  I get that this might make the owner money, but people should not be bored enough to need them for entertainment.
  • Poor service – I always ask for advice to try to taste something new and yummy.  If I am going to have one, I want it to be something I can’t have at home and very good.  Therefore, I consider knowing what you have to offer a basic part of the job.  Often, they couldn’t give advice and didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation of any sort.  Oh yeah, and a counter was sticky.  Yuck.  I think that definitely counts as bad service (and it’s very unappetizing).
How can you tell the good ones from the bad or soulless ones?  I put on my thinking cap and here’s what I came up with:
  • If they try to make it look too historic with a giant sign out front detailing it’s history, be suspicious.
  • If there is video poker, or any other highly visible electronic game, run.
  • Ditto if no one smile at or greets you.
  • If you do not hear British accents anywhere inside, exit immediately.  You would be surprised at how many contained not a single Brit (including the staff).

Even if it was a tad bit cheesy, as a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I loved the Sherlock Holmes Pub with a “recreation” of his rooms.  There were tons of veterans there having a drink after Armistice Day festivities.

We Minded The Gap And The Rest Of How We Got Around London

The fastest way to get from Heathrow* into the city is by train (15 minutes to Paddington Station).

Of course, we then took the Underground (London’s name for its subway system) to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and had to hop into a one of these to actually find the hotel.

Had to take a picture of this taxi because it had one of the guys from Top Gear on it.

London’s Underground is famous and a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right.  London limits where cars can go, so it is also the fastest way to get around the city.

This is the gap.  We minded it.

Mind The Gap

One evening, we took a boat ride down the Thames.  It was a great way to see the city and on the London Transport Boat, which was surprisingly cheap.

Just about the only public transport we missed riding was one of these red double-decker busses.

*I like Swiss Airlines (especially when it is cheaper than EasyJet) because they always give you free chocolate.

You’re welcome

 

A Sunday Drive

With the exception of a visit to Evian, we’d never spent much time on the French side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  Everyone had told us that there wasn’t much there.  Last Sunday, we took a drive up that side of the lake.  It’s true, there aren’t any really large towns.  There were a few places we would like to visit again.
carte tour du lac leman a velo seminaire seminaires evian les bains
We started out in Hermance, the last town on the Swiss side of the border.  It is a cute, old town.  On a Sunday morning, it was very quiet.  They have a beach and a playground that could be very child-friendly in the summer.
Next, we went to Yvoire.  It was our favorite stop.  We walked around it’s historic walled town checked out the lakefront.  We will probably take a ferry there for a late afternoon meal, stroll around the town and take a boat back around sunset.
Yvoire was surprisingly busy.  It’s very steep and built into the hillside.  As a result, it’s a bit more difficult to navigate.  The beaches on the east side of town are rocky.  We stopped and picked up tons of beach glass.
Evian can be quickly seen in an hour or two.  We continued all the way to the Swiss border at Saint Gingolph.  During the drive, it became clear why the French side of the lake is so sparsely populated in comparison to the Swiss side.  It is bordered by steep mountains.  There is very little land that is suitable for building.
We need to clean our windshield, but you get the idea.
We joked that Switzerland (which needs as much farmland as it can get its hands on to feed its citizens) took all the farmable, buildable land around the lake and said to France “you can keep the mountains, we have enough of those.”
 

Happy Thanksgiving From Geneva

At 4:30, it didn’t yet seem quite like Thanksgiving here.  First, he had to work today.  Secondly, there are no flyers from stores advertising their Black Friday deals.  Third, we haven’t done a Turkey Trot.  Fourth, we haven’t seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or Football on TV.  Our Thanksgiving celebration doesn’t start until this evening.  Mostly though, it was because we weren’t around family and friends.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year.  So much in fact, that there’s no way we can list it all.  Topping the list is the health of our friends and families (we are also very, very, thankful for them).  We miss you lots and wish we could share today with you.  We have a pretty good idea what you are doing over there and hope you enjoying your Thanksgiving.

I am trying to make today a bit special.  Since we did not pre-order a turkey, I had difficulty finding one (or any turkey at all).  Amazingly, they are not as big fans of the turkey as we are in the US.   He had someone tell him that it is a disgusting, horrible tasting bird.
Since I could not easily find turkey, we are celebrating with….reindeer?!?  It looks really good.  We are also having potatos with cheese and a few kinds of vegetables.  For dessert, I am making Irish Creme Brownies (just like the Pilgrims).   When I went to the American store and saw the price of Libby’s canned pumpkin (the small one was about $10), I chucked the idea of pumpkin pie.  Next year I will try to plan ahead and attempt it from a real pumpkin.

The rest of our Thanksgiving celebration is due to the magic of the internet, skyping with the US and football.  Go Lions!

By the way, send us a note on one of our personal email addresses if you want to say hi (6 hour time change).


We Lost Our Heads At The Tower Of London

The Tower of London is an impressive set of buildings with a storied history.

They also have a lot of interesting stuff in there like the crown jewels (including the world’s two largest diamonds).  Here are some of the more things we found interesting…

Kings and queens put their names on everything…including drainpipes.
A catapult.  Cool.
They have a changing of the guard, in other words you can watch the shift change.

They have ravens because of a “legend” that the tower will stand as long as they are there.  Ironically, the legend appeared when the tourists did.

We were surprised that we got to see spots (plural as there was more than one) where kings were murdered.

 

We laughed because Henry VIII’s armor got progressively larger over the years.  The first set was made for a fit man.  The second set was clearly larger.  The next set was Shreck-sized.  He, um, made other parts of the armor larger too.  I know, it’s more than a little disturbing.
Deeply disturbing, no question about it

Some of the armor was tiny.  This one was made for a three-year old.   They must have been more coordinated than I was at three.

He found the loo.

Bedazzled guns.  The sign says it was ordered from a jeweler and never picked up.  The jeweler turned it in.

There was also a gold plated revolver that was used in an infamous murder and a gold plated sub machine gun.  Was the orderer killed?  Incarcerated?  Deported?

There was a dragon made from weapons.  Check out the claws… they are made from old guns with wooden handles.

In the gift shop, they had a mug that when filled with hot liquid, Henry VIII’s wives disappeared.  Creative.

This marks the spot where Henry VIII’s wives were executed (Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey).

I got into trouble with the beefeaters.
Name someone else who else has a Yeoman Gaoler these days?

I’m still not sure why this hand is in the wall.  Please send me a note if you do.