June 30 - Madrid
Driving in to Madrid was wild. It certainly is the big city. A place of five million people (the city and its periphery), we immediately got into horrible traffic. Yet slowly but surely we managed to find our way to my cousin Gys’ home.
We knocked on the door of their pink villa and were greeted by Gys and the kids (Paloma was still at work). We had a fun reunion and settled in. Later on after Paloma got home from work, she cooked up a wonderful paella.
In the morning, Diane and I took the bus into Madrid (the subway metro was having a wildcat strike, so traffic was horrific and the bus was jam-packed with people). Driving the car in to Madrid would have been nuts.
Once in Madrid, we toured the Prado Museum, a huge world-class museum with art from medieval times (lots of scenes of the crucifixion) to paintings from the present. Naturally, the museum’s focus is on Spanish painters, including Spain’s best known painters Velasquez, El Greco and Goya. It took us the better part of the day to tour the museum.
The strangest thing happened to us when we were on our way back home. We were waiting for our bus, when another bus stopped and out walked a former colleague of mine from Cal Poly. He was in Madrid with his two sons to celebrate his grandfather’s 90’s birthday. In a city of millions, we wondered what the odds were of meeting someone from tiny SLO!
The next day we took the bus back in to Madrid to visit the Thyssen Museum, a more compact but impressive art museum with more of an international flare from medieval times to modern day. Dutch renaissance, French impressionists and modern art - it‘s all there. Afterwards, we walked through the older part of Madrid and saw the palace and Plaza de Mayor.
One evening, Gys took us to a superb wine store - Lavinia. A huge, high-end store with wines from around the world and prices from Eu 5 to Eu 13,000. A young lady took us around the store, showed us their selection of Spanish wines and told us all about the various regions. Needless to say, we stocked up on a variety of Spanish wines.
By staying with Gys, Paloma and kids Julia, Diego and Marina we not only got to experience family life in Madrid, but saw first hand the interactions of a blended Dutch-Spanish family. It was common to hear three languages spoken all at once (Spanish, Dutch and English). But when a discussion heated up, they usually resorted to the fast, loud staccato of Spanish.
Also of interest, like most of Spain, the family all seemed to be a bit sleep deprived, staying up really late at night and getting up relatively early in the morning (of course, this is summer).
July 2 - Off to the family mountain home in Lozoya
About an hour north of Madrid, Gys has a beautiful home in the mountains overlooking a lake in the village of Lozoya. We spent several days there relaxing in the cool and tranquil setting. We took some short side trips to the village of Rascafria, where there is an old monastery, played “folo” tennis (it’s played on a short court with a paddle and a special ball) and went on a mountain bike ride (just Gys and I) that went straight up the mountain. We ascended from around 2800 feet to just over 6000 feet. I required frequent breaks and ended up having to walk part of it. But I made it! Going down was fast and exhilarating.
July 2 - Side Trip to Segovia
To get to Segovia we took the narrow and windy mountain road from Lozoya. It only took about forty minutes. Our first sight was of the Roman aqueduct that spans the entrance to Segovia. Built in the 1st century, it’s over a mile long, made of granite rock with no mortar and was operational until just a few years ago. That’s not bad for something to be functional for two thousand years!!! The arches are exquisite. One cannot but marvel at the engineering feat of how they constructed the massive arches.
We then wound our way through the narrow streets to Plaza Mayor, peeking in at the ancient Gothic cathedral on the way to the Alcazar Castle. The castle was quite a sight and had a majestic view of the surrounding hills. Although it looked like something out of Disneyland, one of our tour books stated that it was used in the movie Camelot (with King Arthur and Sir Lancelot).
On a Sunday afternoon, the typical Spanish family goes out to eat. The feasting can last for hours. We drove to a huge, local restaurant and did our part. We sat on the veranda and feasted on some local dishes comprised of pork, lamb, salad and yes, wine. Very tasty and filling.
A couple of things I haven’t touched on. During our stay with Gys and Paloma, she prepared some very nice Spanish dishes for us. The first evening she prepared the quintessential Spanish dish - paella, prepared with a variety of sea food. Other dishes she made included a typical Spanish omelet made with eggs and potatoes; gazpacho, a cold, soup-like dish made with tomatoes, green and red peppers, onions and garlic; a rice dish, also eaten cold, made with white and wild rice, tuna, sardines, capers, olives and tomatoes.
The other thing is that we’ve been watching a lot of soccer - football to the rest of the world. Spain and the Netherlands have been doing well. In fact, there is a chance they could be in the playoffs. It’s been a lot of fun watching all the excitement.