Peggy, Paul and Sigi in Madrid

It’s a long and complicated story as to how the five of us met, but Madrid will be the first time and place that we have all been together. Peggy became our neighbor in Boston in 2007 and we immediately became friends. While in London in 2018, she introduced us to Sigi and Paul by email and we got together a few times that summer and again during the summer of 2019. They were penultimate hosts, fixing great meals and letting us stay at their place in Richmond while they were away at the end of our English countryside roadtrip. They were our next to last house guests in Sevilla just as the pandemia was starting. We were planning on meeting with Paul, Sigi and Peggy in Madrid in 2020 but that never happened because of Covid. We finally pulled off a grand meeting of all five of us here in Madrid. Paul and Sigi came in by train from Cadiz on April 25 and Peggy flew overnight from Boston arriving Sunday morning the 27th. Words cannot describe what a thrill it was for us to be together with these three wonderful friends.

Sigi in the foreground and Paul at the door, arriving from Cadiz.
Out for our first stroll, Plaza Mayor. It should be noted that Sigi and Paul have been in Malaga and Cadiz with windy, cloudy and cold weather while their home in the UK is basking in sunshine. Spain is experiencing a very unusual, cloudy and cold spring.
Sigi took us to some of his prior haunts. This is a Spanish/German beer hall that Hemingway used to frequent. We came back here for a meal a few days later.
A living wall.
Atocha train station.
Sigi took us on a search for another of his old haunts, Nuevo Café Barbieri in Lavapiés. Lavapiés literally means wash feet. This barrio epitomizes the fusion of peoples and cultures that Madrid has experienced in recent years. Indian restaurants stand alongside typical Madrid taverns, and immigrants make up the social fibre that holds Lavapiés together. It now has a lovely exotic cosmopolitan flavor.
Sigi found Nuevo Café Barbieri and we had coffee and a Spanish tortilla.
This has always been a low rent district with elderly housing and utilitarian architecture but is is a very interesting area to explore.
We walked through the Mercado de San Fernando which was wild and crazy on a Saturday afternoon.
Impossible to do in this market. We could barely squeeze through the crowds of people eating and drinking.
Great Wall art in this section of town.
Jim had seen this church from afar and wanted to visit. It is Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande and it is el Grande, just stunning inside. They didn’t allow pictures inside on this visit but there will be pictures later.
This is the front of the cathedral. The door is not usually open on this side.
Sigi works two jobs, he is both an anesthesia/OR nurse at a hospital and a flight attendant for BA., needless to say he has very good people skills. He is also a very accomplished chef which makes for a wonderful houseguest. He and Sandy went grocery shopping and we are well stocked for the next two weeks.
Our first meal at home in Madrid. Sigi made a dish of sautéed mushrooms, garlic and king prawns over a pasta made of fish and squid ink. It was delicious.
Sunday morning flea market, El Rastro. Jim stayed home to wait for Peggy who is arriving this morning and he is not a fan of flea markets.
Peggy arrived after an overnight flight with no sleep and as is her usual MO refused a nap and headed out with Jim to find the others.
Meanwhile back at the flea market. Sandy, Sigi and Paul visited the wonderful antique stores on the street.
We purchased this pan for Sigi to make Paella.
We returned to Nuevo Café Barbieri for coffee and sweets. This is our first time all together but no picture of ALL of us.
Still missing the fifth person.
Retiro Park.
Turtles in the pond in front of the Crystal Palace. More on the turtles in the next blog.
And a black swan.
Still only four.
The weather was not inviting enough for us to row on the lake.
We returned to Cerveceria Alemana for lunch after Peggy joined us. There was a Hemingway lookalike in the bar also.
At Atocha train station headed to Toledo again. Still only four.
We walked from the train station to the town of Toledo. Unlike our last trip here with previous guests the weather today was warm and sunny. This may be the first view of blue sky since we arrived in Madrid. Peggy brought the good weather from Boston.
First stop in Toledo was the Museo de Santa Cruise where we enjoyed seeing some El Greco paintings.
The museum had a lovely interior courtyard.
It also had nice views over the surrounding countryside.
First picture ever of the five of us together. as we enjoyed churros with coffee. Another person at the cafe offered to take our photo as Paul was trying to do a selfie.
Our second site to see was the Cathedral. This photo shows the Portal of the clock which is the oldest entrance of the Toledo Cathedral begun in the 14th century.
The retable of the Cathedral is an extremely florid Gothic altarpiece; it is one of the last examples of this artistic style. The work began in 1497 and was finished in 1504.
Sandy took Peggy through the cathedral and helped her follow the audio-visual guide while Jim sat outside and studied his Spanish on Duolingo.
The choir stalls of this Cathedral have long been recognized as a singular masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance art.
The great Monstrance of Arfe is the most important object in the chapel of the Treasury. The Catalan jeweler, Almerique used 17 kilos of the first gold brought from America by Christopher Columbus to create the smaller hand monstrance inside the larger one which incases it.
San Eugenio, The Bell tower of Toledo Cathedral is the largest in Spain. The first time the bell was made to sound it was heard miles away and numerous windows of Toledo were broken by the vibrations. There is a deep crack in one of its sides and the clapper has fallen to the ground so the tower is now closed to the public.
The audio guide is very confusing to follow so we recommend you use a guide book to see and learn about this massive Cathedral. Sigi and Paul used a guide book the previous guests left behind for us and it worked well for them.
Fab Four line up again.
We enjoyed an al fresco lunch before heading to the train.
The present Toledo train station opened in 1919.. It was designed to echo the historic architecture of the city and is flanked by two side naves, one of which is adjacent to the clock tower, which imitates the Toledo church tower.
Each evening, weather permitting, we would have cocktails and snacks on our Airbnb upper terrace.
We enjoyed watching the movie Coda together and highly recommend it.
We took another English speaking guided tour at the Prado. We really like guided museum tours as you learn so much more about the art pieces.
We were grateful that it was not raining and could enjoy many restaurant patios for refreshments. This is another of the famous cafés of Madrid that Sigi brought us to, Gran Café de Gijón.
Aside from the many beautiful fountains Madrid has some great sculptures around the city.
One afternoon we took in the Sorolla Museum located in the Chamberi neighborhood. It was the home and studio of the renowned Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida who resided here with his family from 1911 till his death in 1923.
It is one of the best preserved house museums of an artist in Europe. The peaceful garden was designed by him.
The house and all its original belongings includes over 1200 of the artists paintings and drawings.
The tradition of rooftop cocktails continues and tonight Peggy had her first Aperol Spritz and liked it.
Sigi surprised us with these cute Easter Baskets.
and then made us a delicious Seafood Paella.
Sorry Paul is not in this picture as he was the photographer.
It tasted as good as it looks.
Morning breakfast was yummy Spanish Torrijas which is a cross between French toast and bread pudding. Sigi got these from his favorite bakery which was nearby and they were delicious.
Our accommodations are in the penthouse of this building. Peggy got to sleep in the turret’s round bed and room. She said it was comfortable.
We loved taking coffee breaks from our long walks in the great cafes that were favorites of Sigi and Paul when they were here many years ago.
We probably spent two hours in Café Comercial just enjoying the ambiance and each other.
The Thyssen Museum is known as one of the “Golden Triangle of Art” which also includes the Prado and Reina Sophia national galleries. Above is a picture of the former King Juan Carlos I and wife Sofia. He reigned as king from 1975 until his abdication in 2014. Due to improper business deals in Saudi Arabia and much hanky panky he now lives in self exile in an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi His son Felipe VI is the present reigning king of Spain.
Baron Hans Heinrich inherited his fathers private art collection which was initially housed in the family estate in Lugano Italy. In 1985, the Baron married Carmen “Tita” Cervera (a former Miss Spain) and she persuaded her husband to relocate the collection to Spain. The Thyssen Museum officially opened in 1992.
This is a part of a trompe l’ oeil display which was quite fun.
We bid farewell to Sigi and Paul who will be returning to worse weather in London. We will not let years go by again before another reunion and have already committed to a trip in 2023 to the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the Cornish coast, in southwest England. At that reunion we will be joined by the couple who introduced Peggy to Sigi and Paul. We have already met that couple also.
And then there were three.
We returned with Peggy to the Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great and were allowed to take pictures this time.
Declared a National Monument in 1990, the temple rises up, according to tradition, on the land that was offered to St Francis of Assisi, following his time in Madrid in 1214 on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The church consists of a central circular floor covered by a large dome, a main chapel and six surrounding chapels. There is also a large collection of paintings by Goya and many other Spanish artists from the 18th and 19th centuries.
We took a self guided tour to ascend the Cathedral dome and were rewarded with 360 degree views of the city and got to see at close proximity the oversized statues of saints perched on top.
The Cathedral has a north-south orientation, unlike most Christian churches which have an east-west orientation. It was constructed this way to integrate seamlessly with the Royal Place, which has the same orientation as you can see in this photo that we took from the dome of the church. There is snow on those mountains in the distance.
We love touring the heights of cathedrals, churches and basilicas.
Madrids Almudena Cathedral was consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul ll. It was built on the site of a medieval mosque destroyed in 1083.
Altar of the Virgin of Almudena, the patron saint of the city is raised and located in the transept of the right nave and accessed by a staircase.It has 18 boards with scenes of the life of Jesus.
The painted vaulted ceilings are magnificent to see.
The Crypt of the Cathedral is Neo- Romanesque in style.
Sandy took Peggy to The Royal Palace which is the second largest palace in the world (the largest being in St. Petersburg). It’s 3,418 rooms have witnessed centuries of Spanish History. Though it is not the present royal families home, it continues to be their official residence and is now used only for state ceremonies. The present King Philip and wife Letitia and their two daughters live in the Zarzuela Palace in the outskirts of Madrid. Peggy is pictured here on the grand staircase. The only place where photos are allowed.
We took many long walks exploring the city. This is one of our favorite markets, Mercado de la Paz which is in the Salamanca neighborhood. We had a delicious Spanish omelette inside the market restaurant Casa Dani.
Basilica de la Concepcion de Nuestra Señora. We came across this magnificent white century old Gothic church and popped in to see it but could not explore any further or take photos inside as a mass was going on.
A rare photo of this monument with no cars going by in a busy rotary. And look at the glorious weather.
Peggy and Sandy both loved taking care of their gardens and window boxes in Beacon Hill so a trip to Madrids Real Jardin was a must see for her. The colorful tulip beds were nearly in full bloom
The garden is located next to the Prado museum. In 1942 it was declared an Artistic Garden. Its collections include an outstanding herbarium with more than a million entries.
It was a perfect sunny, blue sky day and the garden was aglow with afternoon light especially among the fern section.
The Japanese section of Bonsai were so beautiful.
Orchids in the the green house
Another rare photo taken in front of the Prado museum and nobody else in the picture.
We always go into every church we pass and this one gave us our first glimpse of a Semana Santa Virgin who will be on a float for Madrid’s celebration of Holy Week. We were glad Peggy got to see this. People were paying to go up and touch her hand.
On Peggy’s last evening with us we went to Casa Botin, founded in 1725, it is the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Forbes magazine gave it third place in the list of the world’s top 10 classic restaurants. The two signature dishes are Segovia suckling pig and lamb roasted in the Castilian style.
This was also a famous haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
No Suckling Pig for us thank you.
Last photo of Peggy in the Plaza Mayor.
For dessert after dinner we had churros at the famous Chocolateria San Ginés.
Last climb for Peggy up the 100 stairs to our Penthouse apartment. Although the building does have an elevator all of our guests opted to do the daily stair climb with us often after walking several miles for the day. We like keeping our friends in shape.🙂
Walking Peggy to the Cab stand. Taxi’s don’t like to stop on our narrow street.
We were very sad to see her go. She is a cherished friend that we feel so blessed to have in our lives.
Hasta luego Peggy, we look forward to staying with you in Boston when we return. Safe travels.

5 responses to “Peggy, Paul and Sigi in Madrid”

  1. Better late than never . . . I only just enjoyed going through your fabulous Madrid blog for the first time, Sandy and Jim. What a lovely way to revive our cherished memories of our time there with you – you have a great talent for combining the best pictures with very readable comments/explanations, not to mention being fabulous people and the best hosts! 🎶 Thank you for being (a) friend(s)!🎵

  2. Happy you guys are having such a great time. We are still hunkered down in Naples Florida looking forward to returning home to Winchester within the next few weeks. Let us know when you’re back.

  3. What a fantastic post! I felt I was there with you all enjoying all the marvelous places in Madrid & Toledo.

  4. So happy for you guys, we are thrilled that you are filling your days with such wonderful adventures in such exciting locations and able to share with dear friends, what could be better?!

    1. Hoping to see you here in just about 4 weeks.

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