Thursday, March 25, 2010

Madrid trip and more

It’s been a quiet winter with unusually cold and wet weather, so we’re told. For the most part, we’ve just been hanging out on the boat with nothing much to write about. All of that changed in mid-March when our niece Jennifer and her significant other, John, came to Spain for their vacation. We rented a car and drove to Madrid to meet them, explore a little, and bring them back to Cartagena with us.

We had arranged to meet Jennifer and John at Taberna Almendro 13, which nephew Joel recommended, at 7 p.m. to begin our Saturday evening of tapas and wine tasting. When we got there and learned it didn’t open until 8 p.m., we agreed to make it our second stop. The area has lots of options, and we found a place with a table available that specialized in Canary-Islands-style tapas. There we discovered that Jennifer’s John does a great job of picking tapas, and we look forward to having the whole potatoes baked in salt that he chose again when we get to the Canary Islands.

Then it was back to Almendro 13 again where we lucked out to get a table and found that they don’t serve red wine (because we hadn’t read the above link in advance). We couldn’t figure out what the fried potatoes with ham were called but managed to order a delicious rosca to eat with our beer. We decided to try again another night for the potatoes (which we did), but to find a place with red wine next.

We had passed the stairs into the Plaza Mayor when we noticed what turned out to be my favorite stop, the Mercado de San Miguel. There we got glasses of wine and then looked for a bit of a table so that we would have somewhere to put dishes. Although we weren’t hungry by then, all the food looked wonderful, and we had to sample something. Once again we found a spot and enjoyed our wine and bite of food. It was by far our best tapas and wine evening.

The next day was Sunday and the museums were free. Jennifer and John had already been to the Prado, and we agreed to meet them at the Reina Sofia Museum, which houses Picasso’s “Guernica” among many other modern works. Some hours of art were followed by a walk through the Parque del Retiro for people watching. We were unsuccessful in our subsequent attempt to find the Mercado San Miguel again, but found sustenance somewhere else in the area around the Plaza Mayor before we split up for the evening. There are places to eat everywhere in the area. The trick is to find somewhere to sit.

Jennifer and John at the Reina Sofia Museum

Sunny afternoon at the Parque del Retiro

Monday morning John and I spent at the U.S. Embassy just a couple of blocks from our hotel because we discovered when we were packing for the trip that our passports were missing. Whether they’re lurking in some obscure corner of the boat or, more likely, were stolen at the local market, we needed to be sure that we would have valid passports when we leave the dock again. While it’s terrible to lose your passport, it happened under the best of circumstances since we were going to Madrid anyway. What a nightmare it would be to come into a strange port and not be able to find them.

In the afternoon John and I walked around on our own and saw the royal palace and the cathedral and many other beautiful buildings before trying the Mercado San Miguel again. We found it this time, but it was packed. John started feeling a bit the weather, but I went out to meet Jennifer and John again at Almandro 13 that evening.

Banco de España

Famous symbol of Madrid, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue

Royal palace

On the drive to Cartagena the next day we detoured to visit a winery, which we thought from its Web site would be open for tasting. It wasn’t. Lesson: call to be sure before you go. It isn’t like Oregon and California. The detour was interesting, though. There is a lot of empty country between Cartagena and Madrid. It was good to leave the excellent freeway system to see a bit more. When we reached Cartagena, we took a list of Jumilla area wineries to the marina office and asked them to call for us, so we had an appointment for the next time and wouldn’t be disappointed at the end of our drive.

In Cartagena I walked Jennifer and John all around town, but the highlight of that part of the visit was the getting caught up with each other and the winery visit. Julia in the marina office had made our appointment with Casa de la Ermita because she likes their wines, and it was an excellent choice. The winery has a beautiful view on a hill at the edge of a nature reserve, and the tour and tasting were informative and delicious, respectively. It’s amazing to us how rocky the soil is where they grow the grapes. It appears to be all rock and no soil. And rather than planting on the south-facing slopes as is common in Oregon, the vines are on the north slopes.

Good times aboard Solstice

Visit to winery and vineyard

A view of the countryside from the vineyard

All in all, we had a great time on our break from routine boat life. It’s always a treat to get to see a bit of the country, and we were very happy to have the family visit to give us an excuse.

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