Sandy first met Audrey and Neil, both Anesthesiologists, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Lahey Clinic Peabody in the early 2000’s. They became friends and occasionally interacted socially with other friends introducing Jim into the mix. In 2016 Jim had major surgery and Sandy asked Neil to administer his anesthesia. After our retirement in 2017 we moved to Paris for four months and Neil and Audrey spent a few days with us there, really cementing our relationship as we walked at least nine miles per day with them, ate a lot of good food at spectacular restaurants and Audrey taught Sandy how to shop at high end stores. Since that time they have visited us in London and Mexico City. We are so delighted to now be able to host them in Madrid.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed after arriving in Madrid before 6am and getting to our place about 8am. A quick shower and we hit the town.
First stop was to show them the Palace and Cathedral.
When we lived in Rome we went to see the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team play Italy but got there late and missed seeing their famous pre game Haka dance which was the reason we went as we don’t follow Rugby. We heard they were in Madrid and would be performing the dance in front of the Palace so we waited for 30 mins in sizzling hot temp and blazing sun to see this☹️Actually Jim took this video while Audrey, Neil and Sandy stood in the shade. Long story short none of us saw it😩
Next stop, the Basilica but it was closed however we were not disappointed because the rose garden there was in peak bloom and so beautiful. We could smell it from the front gate.
Audrey is a master of taking selfies, no stick needed, just plop that phone up and set a timer to get in place.
This sign is along the Rio Manzanares. The river is small and has very little water and much vegetation growth due to the proximity of the M-30 highway which created noise and smog affecting the flow of the water. Despite this there are many beautiful parks, fountains, trees and playgrounds along it as well as food terraces so it is a great place to run, walk or cycle. This is where we go every other day to run.
We left the river and took them for a stroll in the Sabatini Gardens of the Royal Palace. This classical style garden was built in the 1930’s and has beautiful marble sculptures, a large rectangular pond with fountain and beautiful trees.
We walked by the Prado museum which we will give them a highlight tour of tomorrow. Their first day we walked 7.7 miles and they did not go to bed until 9pm that night and they were up and ready to go the next morning. A perfect turnaround with no jet lag.
Day 2 we took a Spanish speaking tour of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales which we had scheduled two months ago. We thought that the tour was in English. This royal monastery and museum founded by Joanna of Austria , the youngest daughter of Emperor Charles V was built in the 1500’s. We enjoyed the tapestries and art but didn’t need to listen to an hour long tour in Spanish. Two days, two busts.
We needed this light raised for the last two months as it hung so low you could not sit in the stool at the table without hitting your head.
It took a very clever anesthesiologist about 5 mins to get the job done.
Lunch today was a variety of pintxos from the food market and a refreshing drink of nonalcoholic Tanqueray gin and tonic.
They treated us to a roof top bar for drinks then an amazing gourmet dinner at El Invernadero which is a Michelin star upscale bohemian restaurant offering seasonal menus of imaginative plant-focused cuisine.
The dishes were prepared by a variety of chefs who also serve it to you
This was one of our chef servers. He trained at Johnson & Wales culinary school in Providence R.I.
Retiro Park in Madrid is a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising 125 hectares with an artificial lake that we will return to row on while they are here.
This beautiful glass pavilion in the park was built in 1887 and is one of the finest examples of cast iron architecture in Spain, it is often used as an exhibition hall by the Reina Sophia Museum.
In 2017 in honor of Gay Pride, Madrid introduced same sex pedestrian traffic signals. Officials want them to become a new symbol for the city and an acknowledgement of its diversity.
Madrid has numerous roof top bars to enjoy views of the city and its amazing architecture.
Corral de la Moreria, one of the best Flamenco venues in Madrid. Jim’s head is on the stage.
Audrey and Neil treated us to a wonderful dinner and Flamenco show. We have been to others in Seville but this was by far the best. We had a front row stage seat which allowed us to see and appreciate the incredible fast foot movements of the performers.
The roots of flamenco though somewhat mysterious seem to lie in the Roma migration from northwest India to Spain between 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments, such as tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets, and an extensive repertoire of songs and dances.
Day 4 of their visit we took the high speed train to Segovia from Chamartin station in Madrid. It was a quick 30 min ride with spectacular views of lush green Spanish countryside.
An impressive aqueduct from the days of the Roman Empire marks the entrance to this fairy-tale Castilian city.
The aqueduct has 167 arches, most in the original mortarless granite. It is 15 km in length but you can only walk on a short portion of it, but nevertheless we got some spectacular views including the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range that still had some snow caps.
Segovia is a World Heritage City, the buildings are beautiful and many are decorated with geometric and plant motifs.
Before lunch we headed for the Plaza Mayor and took a self guided tour of the Segovia Cathedral.
This massive cathedral was built between 1525 and 1577. It was the last gothic cathedral built in Europe. The original wooden spire was 25 meters high and was struck by lightening in the 17th century falling down and setting the town on fire.
The cathedral has three naves, lateral chapels and a semicircular sanctuary.
The Chapter House with magnificent tapestries.
We made a lunch reservation at Meson De Candido Restaurant which is known for cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) which we shared between us. It was sinfully delicious. We also had two very large salads.
The Aqueduct dates back from the 1st century AD and originally spanned over 10 miles carrying water from the mountains to the city. It is remarkable from the ground standing 94 feet tall at its highest point. It is mesmerizing to look at.
Meson De Candido Restaurant is an 1800 half timbered house situated beneath the Roman Aqueduct. It is pictured here in the background. We had a lovely table on the terrace.
After lunch we walked to the Alcazar of Segovia.
The Alcazar was originally a Roman fort. Over the centuries it was rebuilt, expanded and redecorated and finally became the royal residence. Rumor has it that it was the inspiration for the castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
This fairytale medieval castle rises out on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains, it is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape-like the bow of a ship.
This is a monastery down in the valley along the river.
We have been to many Palaces/Castles but this is one of our favorites as it is a quick run through and the views of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking.
Looking down on the maze garden.
Medieval Armor display.
We saw a large stork building its nest on the castle grounds.
The boys rested at a cafe while the girls went shopping.
We returned to the Cathedral for a guided tour climb up the bell tower. It was worth the mere 152 step climb up a very tight spiral staircase. We did have two rest stops. One was to see a spectacular light and sound show that lasted 10 mins and was very informative. The other rest stop was to see where the bell ringer (campanero) lived with his family for free. There is a big stone outside so when the people in town needed to reach the bell ringer they would bang on the wall to signal him.
Finally reaching the tower we had once again a completely different view of the city below and the Palace in the distance. There are several bells of various sizes, each with a different impressive history.
We did not have time to climb the Palace tower but the guide told us this was the better of the two.
Day five of their stay it finally cooled off a bit so we returned to Retiro Park lake for our traditional row boat ride together. We started this in Paris and continued in London, Mexico City and now Madrid.
Neil took the oars first,
followed by Jim
Then last and longest rower was Audrey.
Sandy was too busy taking photos to row.
A favorite evening for all of us was roof top dining and drinks. As Audrey says “its all about the food”. When we arrived at this one we were told our reservation got cancelled and they were fully booked but thanks to Audrey’s amazing negotiating skills they gave in and found us a table.
Night view from restaurant rooftop of the Fuente de Cibelis a neoclassical fountain depicting the goddess Cybele on a chariot pulled by two lions.
Last full day we took the train to Avila which is only 74 miles northwest of Madrid. This was our first experience with a slow train and it took over 90 minutes each way, almost two hours returning home.
Avila is often dubbed the “City of Saints and Stones”. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, mostly because it is one of only a few medieval cities in the world that is totally enclosed by a nearly intact city wall.
Our first stop was lunch at El Molino de la Losa Restaurant, a real charmer Neil found. It is located in a medieval mill along the Adaja river. We all got different salads as an entree and shared the Cochinillo Asado.
After lunch we walked atop of the city wall.
The wall is a fortification built between the 11th and 14th centuries. The circumference is 1.6 miles, half of which can be walked. It is 40 feet high.
The Cathedral built in the 12th century was the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. The sacristy is remarkable because it has a star shaped cupola with gold inlays.
While walking the wall you can look down into courtyards and other private buildings, some with secret gardens and sculptures.
Avila’s Cathedral is integrated into the wall, which gives you a unique, close up view of of details while walking the wall that you could never get from the ground.
Avila is the birthplace of one of the most revered Catholic saints, St Teresa. Everything in Avila is named after her.
St Teresa, born in 1515, was religiously inclined from an early age and joined the Carmelite Order at age 19. She is often depicted with an arrow through her heart as she claimed an angel threw an arrow at her which left her on fire with a deep love for God. Some 300 years after her death her body was exhumed and it was discovered that she did have a hole in her heart. HMMMM!!! not sure we buy into this report. This baroque church and convent was built in 1636 on the site of her birth home. It contains a relic of her ring finger which is pictured in the glass case below and the bed she was born in is also in the collage below.
We say El Camino de Santiago shells and arrows going through the center of Ávila.
More Stork nests in this town.
Our last treat of Avila was to sample some Gelato.
Hugs goodbye on Sunday morning. You were our last friends for us to host in Madrid and you left us with some great memories but we look forward to many more to come.