Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Mast Madrid

Well, if you've been reading the blog, you'll probably know that much to my distress, the travel posts have had to take a forced hiatus on account of a crashed hard drive and a distinct lack of back-up. But you can only keep a good thing (or a bad penny)down for so long, and we are back! This time with a weekend break in Madrid. And boy, did we need the break! Bucharest was getting cold, and rainy and we had just about had it with the crappy weather (okay, it was just me. The kids couldn't care either ways). So, on we hopped to a flight and 3.5 hours later, 'Hola, Madrid!'
The baa-lamb, bless his soul, booked us into a hostel in the heart of the city. Now, now, don't be misled by the 'hostel' tag. The family room was a brilliant room that was clean, quiet (which considering our location was a minor miracle), quirky and all of us, the finicky Pickwick included, loved it!
The Quirky TOC decor

Come morning, (we landed at midnight, so thank God for the city centre bit) we decided to explore the city. Our place was a two minute walk to Puerta del Sol,
It is the symbolic centre of Spain, and busy! Apart form the random comic book characters walking around, we stumbled upon a lovely little cafe that served fresh Tostadas and coffee and croissants.
Loved the giant Christmas tree!
...and looks even better when it's lit up!
See? I'm liking this city already. As with all short break, the best way to see a bit of the city is to take a walking tour.
This particular tour started at Plaza Mayor. which, when we visited was host to a bustling Christmas market.
 The place is a hubub of activity, both then and now, bearing witness to a host of events including, bullfights, public executions and football games.

 Pickwick, who is currently fascinated with history listened with rapt attention to stories of garrotting, but wasn't very enthused about the bull fights.

Plaza Mayor by night
Presently we walked to Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas - A restaurant with an interesting history.
Luis Candela was apparently a Spanish Robin hood- who robbed the rich to give to... his lovers, who may or may not have been poor. needless to say he met with a rather sticky end, leaving behind an interesting take and a restaurant that is served by bandits (or servers who are dressed as them).
While we are on the topic of restaurants, we visited another - Botin, made famous because of Visiting Royalty, Ernest Hemingway and the fact that its the oldest restaurant in the world.
The oldest restautant in the world- even have the Certificate to prove it :)
Also, apparently, it being a restaurant and stuff, the food is pretty good too. (I'll just take a local's word for it. The speciality was suckling pig, and the idea of babe-on-a-plate kind of threw me off)
The plaque outside Botin - Apparenly all establishments older than a century now carry it in Madrid
Madrid sports some interesting graffiti,
and this one in particular is meant to be especially significant.
It says: On water I was built, my walls are made of fire.
And in case you're wondering what it all means, this is why:
The Santa Maria de La Real de Almudena Cathedral with the Muralla Arabe (fortress walls) and the Star of  David

The walls that you see there are remnants of the old fortress, built on a creek,  made of flintstone by the Moors. Both the kids took immense delight in imagining the look on the enemies' faces when they rained arrows and weapons on the wall and the sparks made it look like they walls were on fire!
This image (it's got the star of David, moorish walls and a cathedral) is also a reminder of the time times in the past - before the Spanish inquisition where people were free to practice any religion of their choice without fear of persecution.
The Spanish inquisition though seems to have influenced a lot of the cultures and traditions still prevalent in the country - from children taking on the names of both parents to large shanks of ham of every kind hanging on store windows.
See? I kid you not.
After this visit, we decided to take a break. What is a Spanish holiday after all without a break for coffee and a chat? :) Suitably refreshed with a toilet break to boot, we headed out to the Almudena Cathedral and the Palacio Real de Madrid.
The Cathedral of Almudena

...and the palace opposite
The brief history of the Habsburgs were explained in to us in a wonderful roleplay where Pickwick was Philip I (the handsome), I (along with child 2) was Philip the Lazy and the husband was Philip the... nevermind (he apparently died of gout). The only good thing they had to say about him was that he was a patron of the arts! Whew!
The palace however, is still magnificent and has 1000 more rooms than the palace of versailles! Which is saying something...
Cityscapes and interesting stuff spotted along the way (ruthlessly edited version)

They seem to have a thing for art on balconies

All this history and walking made the baa-lamb very tired and irritable (did I mention he was nursing a man-flu?) and we took ourselves off to our digs to recuperate and gather energy for the evening's performance.
The evening saw us headed to Las Carboneras for the Flamenco - but not before we stopped off for a quick Paella at this fun little market.
The mercado de San Miguel

I loved the eggs- so pretty!

90s flashback!
 The flamenco - what can I say - We loved it! So much passion and speed and the powerful vocals- made for a pretty impactful performance. The little one even battled sleep (practically unheard of for her) to see it!

Their feet moved at lightning speed!

Day 2 - and we were off to see the Goyas in Prado and then head off to el Retiro. I loved the Prado (no pictures of the place, I'm afraid) - the family perhaps loved it a little less. El Retiro was more of a hit- there's something about trees that makes little kids want to climb it.

See those perfectly shaped trees in the middle? Yup, those were the ones my monkeys wanted to have a go at. 

So, much goodly fun and a goodly couple of hours enjoying the park and music. This evening we set out to look for a place called Las Cuevas the Sesamo - apparently serving the best sangrias in town. Well, the cuevas was great on the sangria, not so much on the ambience. Or maybe it was just me and people do like whitewashed caves with oddly placed paintings and writings on the wall.
Yummy Sangria

Amidst questionable art.
I'd love to tell you more about the Madrid nightlife, but unfortunately, that's possibly on another trip (did I mention the baa-lamb had the man-flu?). This trip has come to its end- but not before we sampled the Patatas Bravas from Las Bravas (clearly we weren't too sick for that) and the Churros and Chocolate ans San Gines, and the frozen yoghurt... (this might have been more of a gastronomic trip than a cultural one, perhaps - despite the absence on meat-eaters in our midst)
Churros and chocolate - our new favourite

This shop sells the most heavenly biscuits ever!

That frozen yoghurt is topped with mango sauce and nuts and mango bits *sigh* 
, and encountering a really sick teacher from the kids' School. No, people, not that kind of sick.She's a teacher! And no, children, not the sick that apparently means 'cool' in your world. I mean the really unwell kinds. Who had to be carted away in an ambulance. But, she's making a marvellous recovery from all accounts, so all's well.
So, until, next time, Madrid, you lovely thing, kisses!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

On location at the port of Dubrovnik

Our arrival in Dubrovnik was fairly swift - the last hour or so, especially smooth in the lovely motorways of Croatia.
The view on the motorways as you enter Dubrovnik
At our guest house, we were greeted by the nicest old lady I have ever met. Jele had fresh juices and water ready for our arrival, and told us about the best places to visit during our stay. If you ever get the chance to visit Dubrovnik, be sure to pay her a visit at Guest house Nikolina
An invaluable tip she gave us was about the Dubrovnik Card. It's a but like the London Pass, with options to choose from 1 day to a week. They grant you entry into quite a few places and museums along with free travel on the public transport, So, our walking tour was ditched in favour of the Dubrovnik card, which pretty much dictated the sites we'd visit.
That night, we drove up to mount Srd at the recommendation of our lovely lady at the guest house to watch the sunset. Oh my! what a spectacular view of the walled city and the surroundings. You can take the cable car up here and walk down too. Or if you fancy, there's a restaurant on top of Mount Srd where you could dine as you look at the beautiful city and the sea beyond.  The baa-lamb and me- we did none of those things. We did, however did go slightly overboard with the clicking of the walled city in the sunset, the sunset, the kids with the backdrop of the old city in the sunset, us with the backdrop of the old city in the sunset, a random couple clicking pictures of the sunset...you get the drift (you see, the Baa lamb had just discovered this wonderful thing called the selfie-stick).
Tell me you don't find that beautiful!

My mum in law though we were complete nutters. Refused to have anything to do with us, The smart woman. Of course, we chose to drive down in the dark (it had some pretty tricky moments with no lights and car coming both ways when really, its a one-vehicle road in some places).
A fabulous sunset at Sdr

The view as we drove down Sdr

Didn't have a tripod, so not the clearest of shots. 
The next morning we set off by bus to discover Stari-Grad and walk along the walls of the old city. We were instantly surrounded on all sides by avid Game-of-Throners who insisted on clicking themselves at every single spot ever shot at for 'Kings Landing' occasionally letting out an excited squeal or an 'OhmiGAwd!'. The slight more articulate ones kept throwing phrases like 'Winter is coming!' at unsuspecting tourists (who were looking rather bewildered on the hot, sunny day).
Me? I kept clicking all those spots too- But more for the jaw-dropping views it afforded, yes, yes, I know I have probably exhausted all synonyms for spectacular by now, but really... here. Look!

This is one of my favourites- a musician playing outside the church, 
Roaming around Starigrad was fun (for me) but the kids by now had had enough of 'old stuff' and 'dead people' and so off we went, to Banje beach, which was a stone's throw from the old town.

Blue seas as far as the eye could see and tiny. yelling humans occupying every square inch. The kids didn't seem to care a jot, but I was frantically trying to sit under the shadow of resting surfboards and kayaks being hauled in from the sea.
Banje- somewhere in the sea of humans is young Pickwick. 10 points if you can spot him!

This couple obviously didn't want to share the sea with screaming rugrats, so they decided to take a dip just off the fortress. 
Got myself some pretty dubious looks the way I was skulking about, so after about an hour of suffering in silence, I finally gave up the ghost of an afternoon by the sea and moved on to the restful, cool climes of the apartment, only stopping long enough to book a sun-set sea-kayaking expedidition. That got the kids (and frankly, us too) so excited, we could hardly wait. and just like most things that get us really excited, it ended up in a damp squib - no literally. We were hit by thunderstorms just around sunset. Considering there were about 1.5 swimmers amongst the 5 of us, we decided sea-kayaking would just have to wait another place, another time.
Having found ourselves at loose ends on account of the weather, and not behind able to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, we decided a few of the museums mentioned in the City Passes would be worth visiting (that being the only way to drag the baa lamb into the museum - inclement weather).

The Natural History museum in Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful buildings, housing one of the most disappointing exhibits! It was full of stuffed animals, you couldn't touch any of the exhibits and there wasn't a single dinosaur bone in sight! There were some interesting fossils in in bubbles, but again, we couldn't touch the bubbles! (have you tried telling kids you can't touch bubbles, especially ones with interesting stuff in them?)
the only interactive thing at the natural history museum!
To soften the blow, we had Pizza that night, and turned in early.
The kids wanted to know if the plane would find the pot of gold of it flew into the rainbow :)
We also caught sight of a rainbow to make up for the rain. That cheered the kids up no end! Our next leg covers 3 countries and ends back in Croatia! Stay tuned...