Beautiful Puebla

Boy oh boy has this city ever changed in the 17 years since I took a day trip from my immersion school in Cuernavaca. It seems very prosperous, much larger, with a lot more going on everywhere we turn.

We are staying in Meson Sacristia de la Soledad, a lovely small inn with maybe 4 guest rooms (counting the tables set in the dining room that seems right). The owners live here as well, and are delightful, helpful, warm, welcoming. When helping us with the lost iPad I kept apologizing for the trouble, they kept telling me it was their job to help and make sure we were comfortable and happy.

I cannot recommend Meson Sacristia de la Soledad highly enough.  The location is great, the room is comfortable…the owners have several other properties, one of which has a full restaurant which we dined at one evening (delicious) but we are happy we are here instead—smaller, quieter, just lovely in every way.  I cannot wait to post reviews every place I can find.

The historical district was a Dia de Los Muertos celebration—happy friendly crowds everywhere—which continued into Sunday unabated.

Below are scenes from around the zocalo. Nice town.

Templo de Santo Domingo/Capilla del Rosario

When we were at the International Museum of the Baroque (see below) a couple urged us to visit this church, so we did. The main church is stunning, with an enormous wall of saints (?) and other people important to Christianity (we couldn’t identify a one), but when you reach the front and look to the left, the Chapel of the Rosary shines out at you and then draws you in. I have never seen such compelling faces in the decorations around the walls of this small, extremely tall, chapel. It’s a wow.

Museums Galore

We are museum lovers and Puebla has given us a slew to visit. I don’t think I can rank them so will just give you a snapshot in the order we saw them, more or less.

Museo Amparo

This is listed as a private museum, which is surprising because they had free days and also free nights at the museum. In any case the tickets are inexpensive. The audio guide is solely for the pre-Hispanic exhibits, and wow, they are great. Why great? They are arranged by aspect of life—music and musical instruments, artistic expression (first place I have encountered a discussion of the contrast between European art, which strove for realism, and pre-Hispanic art which is dominated by a more abstract representation of people and things), spiritual understanding of how the world works (rivers, for example, are the way the life forces communicate with each other)…so rather than a chronological march, everything is tied together to help you understand how they saw the world.

The special exhibits were no less impressive. An exhibit open right now features an American Jewish-African Ecuadorian woman, Karina Skvirsky, which blew us away. She works with photo collages, which were disturbing and interesting, but her short film that represents/recreates her great grandmother’s journey at age 14 from the Ecuadorian countryside to the city where she worked as a domestic was spellbinding.

The first view of the terrace through the glass walls seemed unreal.

Finally, the third floor, which we might have skipped because it’s the cafe and we weren’t hungry, opens onto a terrace that is exactly at the height of the many surrounding church domes and towers—which are so close, given the narrow streets, and of many colors, under a cloudy sky the day we were there that looked unreal. We gasped.

Museo Internacional de Barocco

This extremely modern, almost distractingly high tech museum about 20 minutes’ drive from the Centro Historico was a surprise in all ways. Puebla, founded in the 1500’s, is a baroque city with many obvious examples of the style in its churches and other buildings. The museum, though, explores everything about the baroque period—architecture, science, music, painting, etc.—around the world, using poblano examples wherever appropriate but is truly a complete picture of how the baroque period changed everything in western culture.

Bilbao-like on a huge site complete with rock lined pools.

The architecture of the museum is very modern designed by a Japanese architect, and stunning. On the inside the exhibits are arranged by subject (painting, architecture, scientific exploration, music…) and each room is filled with examples, explanations, multimedia presentations, narrations. It was wonderful and a bit exhausting. Well, well worth the Uber ride and typically low ticket fee.

In this room a narration and shifting pictures on two huge screens (you can see one here) discussed baroque buildings in Puebla, which is laid out in a scale model, lighting the building discussed in turn. Very elaborate!

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

Not strictly a museum, this is the first public library in the Americas. Bishop Juan de Palafox left his personal collection of 5,000 books to the Seminary of San Juan in 1646, with the stipulation that access not be limited to church personages but open to the public. It is small and gorgeous and the exhibit laid out in cases in the center is currently on the recording of indigenous languages by the clergy during the first several hundred years of the church’s presence in Mexico.

This beautiful poem brought tears to my eyes. The panel to the right had the Nahuatl translation. The title is When a Language Dies. Use your google translate if you do not read Spanish. Vale la pena.

Museo Casa Alfenique

This was a surprise—we expected a restored residence (it is named for a confection made of egg whites and sugar and is embellished within an inch of its life) but it is a lovely history of Puebla and its role in Mexican history (you all know that 5 de Mayo celebrates the victory over the French invaders in Puebla, right?) as well as a lovely explanation of China Poblana, the creole/criollo indigenous/Spanish culture of Puebla revered in Mexico. Well worth the visit.

Casa De Los Hermanos Serdan

This place was a little gruesome—the bullet holes from one of the revolutionary struggles in 1911 remain on the exterior and inside, including a large decorative mirror with obvious bullet damage. The exhibit is about the Mexican Revolution in general, about which we realize we are insufficiently educated, and the slaughter in and outside what was the private home of the Serdan family. I cannot begin to explain what all this was about—read some history if you are interested. But do visit the museum when you come to Puebla. These events still resonate.

Mexican Pre-Thanksgiving Sojourn and Our Event Filled Departure and Arrival

The worst part of traveling is the night before an early flight. We slept poorly as usual. With a 6am departure we had scheduled a Lyft for 4:25am, having checked and double checked that we were set for such an early ride. I looked at my phone at 4:15…”Your ride will arrive in 45 minutes.” WHAT? Checked Uber–no cars available. Called Flywheel Taxi, “Open 24 hours” to get no answer. Called the Lyft driver to confirm he was going to be that late, saying “I have a flight to catch”…his initial response was “Hey, why the attitude?” He went on, very impatiently, “They just put this on my list and I still have to drop this guy off at SFO.”

Went back to Uber, still no cars available. Then a most welcome text appears, “Your ride will arrive in 15 minutes.” They had found a new driver, who did appear in 15 minutes. We were so grateful, and it turned out so was she. She had been out in Walnut Creek where she was getting calls for rides further and further out, and “I wanted to get back to Oakland, and I took this (our) request because I had already turned down 2 and they don’t like that.” Arrived at OAK in plenty of time, boarded, relaxed, and off we went.

The airport in Mexico City is big and pretty well organized. When David turned down a hallway to the men’s room a young man walking out said it was closed, and to follow him. We did, a long and complicated route, to an open men’s room. That left us a very short hallway from the bus counter where we bought tickets for a bus leaving in 30 minutes–David prodded me to ask for a senior discount. I did, happy to remember the word for “discount” but the the ticket agent was unsure there was one, that is until he asked if we would contribute to their fund for “ninos en Puebla,” which I gladly did and then voila, the senior discount was discovered and applied and after a short wait we were on the bus to Puebla. Took a taxi to the hotel, Meson Sacristia de la Soledad, through a mass of people which the driver complained about steadily. Then a police barricade was at our block so we walked the last bit. Dia de Los Muertos, with a major parade two blocks further which we ran to watch after checking in to this lovely, warm, hospitable little inn (meson=inn).

Our room is huge, colorful, comfy. We dumped our things and headed to the parade, and then to Las Ranas for supper. The zocalo (central square) was jammed with families, many in costume, many elaborately painted faces, vendors, a stage with a band playing, balloons of course, just happy madness everywhere. Supper was great–a half kilo of a meat/pepper/onion/cheese mass, hot off the grill, and a huge supply of tortillas. We ate until we could eat no more. With David’s beer and my jamaica the bill was $8. We wandered back through the crowds intending to fall into bed, but…

David: I can’t find my iPad!

Me: Relax, I’ll find it.

Ha. No iPad. David was of course very upset as he concluded he had left it on the bus, and I, realizing that calling the bus company myself would be futile as the conversation would be way too complicated, went downstairs to ask Paco for help. He roused the owner who, in his pajamas, called the bus company and after a very long and, yes, complicated, conversation, reported the missing item. We had our ticket stub so we knew what seat, which bus, etc. He gave them his cell number to call if they located the iPad. They gave him an incident number which we would need to retrieve the item if they found it. David had calmed down, we had setup “erase” on the iPad as soon as it connected to the internet, and got ready for bed.

Knock, knock, knock at our door maybe 45 minutes later. It was Paco, to report they found the iPad and the owner would drive us to the terminal the next morning after breakfast. I think I said about five times “Es verdad?” The next morning I assured her we could go whenever it was convenient for her, but she graciously said “David will not be able to relax until he has it in his hands” which was true, and within a little while we had retrieved the iPad and everything was wonderful again.

Good Living in Scott Valley

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About 15 years ago we were offered the opportunity to become members of the Hurds Gulch community in Scott Valley.  It was an easy decision to make, and since then we’ve spent increasingly long periods of time at our home there.

Scott Valley is and has been ranch country. On the northern end of the valley is Fort Jones, and 12 miles to the south is Etna. These two frontier towns each have a Ray’s Food Place, library, and within the last few years each has several good restaurants doing lively business. The valley’s farmers’ market is summer only, tiny and vibrant, held on the edge of Etna in parking lot of Dotty’s Korner Kitchen.

So on our last visit, just a week long, we spent most of our time hanging out on the Hurds Gulch property, hiking every day (the property is 2 square miles) and visiting with Gulch neighbors (the property is owned by a co-op of sorts), baking bread, listening to New York, The Novel on Audible, and enjoying the quiet.

Saturday evening we went into town with neighbors Chris and Lynn for supper at 5 Mary’s.  I had the lamb burger–delicious with a spicy chimichurri sauce, while the men had bourbon bacon burgers and Chris the steak salad.  Great fries, too, nice and crispy, as well as a large and varied draft beer assortment.  This bar/restaurant was hopping with every table pretty much full by 6:30.  In this very small community there were many intra-table visits and we were happy to see Canada and Robin, who live part time at the Gulch, stop by.  They’d been at their place draining the pipes as overnight freezes were becoming more common, and were on their way back to their full time place in Mt. Shasta City.

If you have yearned for a slowed down life, one that has deep quiet, no background roar of the city, where it is truly dark at night with no ambient light beyond moon and stars, the closest airport is an hour drive over the mountains (compared to an hour drive through metro traffic), and the DSL service is fast, know it is still possible.  Contact me if you want to know more.

A Certain Type of Executive

I had lunch today with a long time colleague and friend in the health care tech business.  She works for a company recently acquired and had some stories about working with the new management.

This got us around to musing about executives, yes, male, and a personality trait we have both run into many, many times.  This is the trait of “must be handled carefully” and I’d call it epidemic if I weren’t pretty sure this trait has been around forever.

Why, you say, should a senior executive with lots of power (and lots of compensation) need to be “handled” by subordinates?  Gosh, you tell me.

The handling rules center around preserving his status, never making him look bad, inviting him to meetings that he routinely snubs or, worse, joins late and disrupts or sidetracks the discussion, couching all disagreements in the soft cocoon of words like “I am probably off base here, but…”  The handling includes chasing him down for decisions, but of course nicely and respectfully no matter how late, how urgent, or how many times you’ve been put off because he is “too busy” and “too important” to address the issue.

The handling includes moving meeting times because “He’s just landing” or “He’ll join later” (rarely does, and never apologizes for the commotion he’s caused).  The handling includes smiling sweetly when he lectures or rants based on his lack of understanding of basic facts.  The handling includes huddling in the hallway with colleagues to come up with “how” to present bad news or news that conflicts with his beliefs.

So what?

There are a host of ethical, political, and emotional reasons why this behavior is dumb.   But it’s the cost to the organization that is especially maddening–where are the hard-nosed cost hawks when you need them?  Calculate the difference in prep time between outlining the facts and recommendations in a few bullet points versus figuring out how and when to gently introduce the concept that the executive is or is probably wrong.  Calculate the time spent in meetings where a decision isn’t made, freezing action while the “too busy” executive tries to find time to make up his mind.  Calculate the wear and tear on subordinates who must guard against speaking the truth, or even against raising a controversial idea.

Dear executives, GROW UP.  Act like a person with a brain who is aware there are other persons in the world, also with brains.  Stop being such a baby.  Surely your ego is strong enough to take a little blunt talk and a little disagreement, and if you cannot defend your ideas, maybe they’re indefensible.

These probably go without saying…depending on how much you travel

Miscellaneous tips and traps re traveling Portugal and Spain via Airbnb and trains:

  1. The US has laws about how hot tap water can be.  Apparently the EU has not–the hot water everywhere, from the modern apartments to the 300 year old house, was extremely, shockingly hot.  And, so, ALWAYS find out how to use the shower while you have the host there.  We had both annoying and one scary experience with setting the shower temperature (this was a mysteriously designed two level shower, and in the process of turning it off I got shot with hot scalding water at my groin–no harm but yikes).  And ask if you can run any water in the edifice, e.g. to get a drink or flush a toilet, while a person is in the shower.
  2.  Do not expect WiFi on trains–there was none on the high speed train Barcelona to Sevilla; if there is WiFi it will be quirky.  However we did have electricity so have your converter handy, not buried in your bag.
  3. Drink the house wine!  It was uniformly good, and often seemed especially good as food wines.  Funny aside–in Spain the server would ask in response to a request for a glass of vino tinto or vino blanco, “Dry or sweet?  Old or young?”  Never was I asked by varietal, nor were wine lists organized by varietal.  Made it fun and different, and I didn’t have a bad glass the entire three weeks.
  4. If you travel without data service on your cell devices (we do because we are cheap and you can manage without it) and therefore are dependent on the connectivity you have in your abode, remember to download offline GPS-enabled maps (many that are on Maplets, Google, special apps) for when you are out and about.  You cannot get the step-by-step or breadcrumb directions with just GPS, but you have a totally usable map to find your way.  And it’s good practice to not be blindly following step by step instructions or maps.  Look around you and get your head out of your phone!
  5. Book trains in advance to save significant money.
  6. Whenever possible go online for event or museum tickets.  Don’t be daunted by the “must be printed out on paper” warnings…these seem to be obsolete.  The difference between having a ticket you bought the night before and buying one onsite is about a 30-person line, and that was off-season.
  7. Do get the audio tours in places of interest and museums.  Worth the money every time.
  8. If you are traveling by train, DO NOT HESITATE to get on as soon as the doors open. They are not waiting for anyone or anything.  Pay attention to the car number and find it as soon as you can.  Ask a conductor if you’re not sure which direction to head–at least then an official knows you are getting on.  But be quick about it!  We also noticed that the indication on your ticket as to seat number is often labeled mysteriously (e.g., one ticket had “Plaza” as the field label for seat number).

Madrid, museum heaven–oh, yeah, and good food, too

With only four days left and pretty darned tired we arrived in Madrid…Spain’s New York City. We had been given somewhat complicated instructions to the apartment which did not correspond to the Metro maps we had, and spent maybe 30 minutes in the airport-sized train terminal looking for a tourist information desk. It was late afternoon on Saturday and no luck until we decided to just go to the Metro and figure it out. Voila, an information booth where the young woman marked exactly where our apartment was, just four or five blocks down Calle Mayor–“look for Casa De La Villa,” so simple after all.

Our destination stop was Sol, smack in the middle of madhouse Plaza Del Sol. One of those heaven-sent ticket machine aides helped us buy the card and explained we could put two riders’ worth of trips on one (like the lovely T-10 card we used in Barcelona.  Unlike our mistaken albeit inexpensive purchase of 2 rides to the airport on one card in Porto and had to buy a second card…which, when we got to the Porto airport we found there was no turnstyle exit anyway. Whatever.)  For all the complicated instructions we’d had from our Airbnb host re looking for particular routes, it turned out there is just a single metro train running through the Madrid train terminal, and in about 8 minutes we were coming up the escalator into crazy Plaza Del Sol.

Yikes. A large and crazy plaza where several streets crisscross at acute angles, both pedestrian and not, a gazillion people, but all we had to do was make sure we remained on Calle Mayor and in 10 minutes we were at our address. Alas, we were early by about 45 minutes–Roberto would meet us outside and take us up but not until 7:30. We were so tired and hungry and thirsty…looked up the street a short block and there was a bar where people were sitting in a little enclosed patio smoking and drinking.

Yeah! We sat at a small table with luggage heaped around us but there was ample room and in a quick minute David had a large beer and I a glass of cold white wine. Relief. I got up to see if I could get a menu as we really needed a snack. The waitress was very apologetic but the kitchen was closed. All I could order was one of the salads. Poor us. We had the most delicious burratta salad with cherry tomatoes and arugula, so refreshing and ample with a ball of burratta that more than generous. With a basket of bread we couldn’t have been happier and then it was 7:30 and Roberto was there.

The apartment was just as expected; we settled in and then went looking for dinner. The rather crazy tapas bar scene was just a few blocks away, but everything looked crowded and hipster. Hungry and now hungrier, we knew enough by this time about food in Spain to drop into a narrow little bar/restaurant that was anything but hip, the front section all folks drinking and watching soccer, squeezed through to a table in the back and perused the now relatively familiar array.

I had one question-what was tripe Madrid style?  It means cooked with chorizo and blood sausage. David ate the sausage and I tried my best to finish the delicious, meltingly tender tripe but it was altogether too much…half portion of course. David, with a bit of help from me, finished a half portion which was most generous of anchovies in vinagre, what we call in the US white anchovies. So good. And a small order of patatas bravas to round out the flavors. Staggered home to bed as we had a busy Sunday planned.

I think on this trip we have eaten about 200 anchovies.  Not complaining about that.

It was an accurate introduction to Madrid. We spent the next three days walking, eating, and being dazzled by the Royal Palace (10 minute walk): the Prado (20 minute walk) and the Thyssen (across the boulevard from the Prado).  All in all, though we had some complaints about the apartment itself the location was fantastic.

David had sussed out all the information about tickets, free times, and locations of our 3 sightseeing goals.  On Sunday nights the Prado is gratis from 5 to 7. We decided a visit to check off a few boxes was worth it, and it was, because we knew Tuesday was reserved entirely to see everything there. Mondays the Thyssen is gratis 12-4 but closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Our plan was set and we filled our last 3 days thusly:

Sunday

Sunday morning, El Rastro, a rambling outdoor market where basically everything is available from antiques to socks to batteries to pots and pans.  As we started down one of the side streets of the market area, lined with a hodgepodge of junk shops and antiques we passed a corner joint advertising bocadillos de calamares.  Okay, will be back for that!

We were still on the hunt for coffee and a teeny bar, Bar de Ca’ Kiko, called to us.  If this had been our first day in Iberia we would have passed, but we knew it would be a safe and interesting experience and it was.  This place was filled with a shifting crowd of men from (probably working) the market, and there was plenty of high spirited morning commotion. Every time someone left he’d (I was the only woman in the place) slap the small counter and with a “Chicos!” and was out the door.  Behind the counter were two gruff looking men making coffee and handing food over the high counter–their specialty is tostas as shown in a long handwritten menu on the wall.  Piled on a back ledge and under plastic covers on the counter were mysterious (to us) toppings on thick slices of bread, presumably toasted.  As we drank our cafes con leche (delicious as usual, and served in small glasses as usual) I tried to puzzle out what the I was looking at paired with the list on the wall.  I knew every person I asked about food, in both Portugal and Spain, would be happy to explain in Spanish I could largely follow, and the men behind the bar were as friendly as they could be proudly explaining what was what adding “Muy rico” after each.  Every few minutes an arm with a plate of more tostas was thrust through a rough hole the size of a small window in the door to the kitchen, and one of the men took it and added it to the inventory.  I kept asking, what’s this? What’s that? They even had something listed as barbacoa, a food word that has many many definitions depending on where you are in the Latin world.  (In one city I visited in Mexico has a string of “barbacoa” stands outside of town–where barbacoa means grilled goat.)  Anyway. a strange melange on bread turned out to be that, and when I asked them what kind of meat they looked at each other and said “Ternera?” (beef) so perhaps it’s beef. It all looked so good…but we weren’t at all hungry and knew those bocadillos de calamares were waiting for us when we finished at the market.

We wandered, I bought some earrings and David bought a leather billfold, and then we started looking around for that corner joint we’d seen on the way in.  It was only 11am but hey, we’re on vacation–and with some backtracking and hey-didn’t-we-come-down-this-street’s we found it.  Joint is the word, with soccer games on one tv and a weird kind of Latin candid camera show on another, and “decor” that hasn’t changed since 1960, and people standing or perched at the counters eating bocadillos, and drinking beer.  We joined in, David having beer and I a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice that you can get anywhere, anytime, and our bocadillos de calamares, a Madrid specialty sandwich comprising a long crusty roll filled with tender fried calamari rings, on which you can squirt either mayo or aoli.  A perfect brunch!

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After I ordered a fellow called out to me “You speak English!”  He and his wife were from Toronto (that’s in Canada, he explained) and had just finished a group hike on Majorca.  They didn’t speak or understand a single word of Spanish, and seemed very surprised that I did.  We had a small dish of patatas bravas, gratis with our drinks, and the woman asked what it was.  How can you have been in Spain for more than 1/2 a day and not know that?  Anyway, I gave her a piece on a toothpick which she reluctantly ate.  Poor people.

We headed to the Royal Palace and took the audio tour.  We liked the tour very much, but it was funny/tiresome that almost every explanation came around to how this or that painting or decoration “demonstrated the legitimacy of the Spanish monarchy”.  But surprisingly interesting–it includes such amazing decor as several rooms where the walls and ceiling are entirely porcelain!  As we left we heard the music of pipes and castanets outside–it was the tail end of a demonstration/parade we had seen on the walk back from El Rastro, a Basque protest, with music, costumes, enormous oxen pulling huge wooden carts and even a Green Peace sign, all demanding an end to agribusiness destroying great food and village life.  The marchers, in costume and periodically breaking out into castenet routines, all looked somewhat grim but the crowd seemed on their side with smatterings of applause.

Free night at the Prado, 5-7pm!  We headed over and joined a two block and growing queue and at 5 the line moved and we were part of the crowds inside where we got our bearings, sort of, and readied for a quick dose of art. Wow. We couldn’t wait to get back.  It would have been immensely frustrating if we didn’t know Tuesday was Prado day.

We stopped at La Plateria for a yummy dinner of judios verdes con jamon, paella (both half portions meaning of course they were huge) and still hungry (!) we each had a plato, David the hake and green salad, me grilled beef with salad. Enjoyed a bottle of wine with dinner and strolled home through the still busy streets, I guess normal for 9pm on a Sunday in Madrid.

Monday

On the chilly and refreshing Monday morning we started with a long walk past the palace and up to Gran Via, the sort of main commercial street, very big city with huge buildings, Times Square style signs, and lots of people. We were on a quest to find a pair of shoes for Hannah which were summer style and only could find them on sale racks…hence store after store had maybe one or two, but not in her very common size 39. It was fun to have a mission and an excuse to speak Spanish about shoes…and then pretty sure we wouldn’t be successful…we found them!

We had had a late breakfast so went to the Thyssen museum for the free opening at noon.  This is a very lovely, somewhat quirky assortment as museums based on a private collection tend to be.  Unlike the Prado, the collection ranges into some 20th century art which was great to see but surprising to SFMOMA members as there was basically no modern artists that in the US we consider iconic–no Jasper Johns, no Thiebaud, no David Smith, no Diebenkorn, one Lichtenstein.  We also saw so, so many artists we had never heard of–several times I thought like “Oh, that’s Braque” but it was someone totally unfamiliar.  Even the Impressionist collection was surprising, with only two small Renoir (never saw them before).  Two Edward Hopper, neither of which I’d seen before anywhere.  So Fun!

We took a midday break for a quick lunch in the museum restaurant, a beautiful, no stunning, ultra modern setting outside with okay food, then finished up till almost closing time (4pm). We were so tired, and a bit nervous about our stamina for the following day’s plan to see everything at the Prado. But we perked up with a tapas supper at Txirimiri where we not only had great food but fun conversation with the guy behind the bar and a buddy of his, both enthusiastic about explaining some food terms and menu items to me. I had so much fun talking food in Spanish! And a few glasses of cava made me feel almost fluent.  They had a wonderful array of pintxos including one that David ordered twice, thick slice of bread with a slab of smoked salmon.

Tuesday

Tuesday, our last day, and we were happy to have a plan to carry us through. We decided to wander our way to the Prado as it doesn’t open until 10, and stopped in a panaderia for superior croissants. Gosh they were good, and as fresh a can be–this is an on-the-premises bakery and I watched as a fellow was baking them in the back. A suitable ultimo desayuno.

We hit the museum at about 10:20, skipping the line as usual due to David’s going online for tickets. With audio guides in place off we went.

I cannot begin to describe the breadth and depth of the collection. It is a marvel, a joy, a revelation room after room after room…3 floors plus a small circular room at the top holding the treasures of the dauphinois. While I could probably live without seeing any more bloody crucifixes, everything was worth seeing. They have, for example, rooms of enormous paintings of historical and mythological events. Huge rooms that hold just six canvases, other rooms with exquisite landscapes, family portraits, royal portraits. Go to Madrid and give it two full days. It did, combined with all we had seen to that point, inspire us to read or audiobook the history of Iberia.

Two artists I’d never heard of and fell in love with, Marin Rico (1833-1908) and Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949).  The scene of the Alhambra below is Rico, the charming painting of his two children in the “Japanese room” by Fortuny.

We ate at the Prado restaurant, really very good, and at around 5 we stepped outside in a daze.

 

For supper we decided to try El Sur, which was maybe a 25 minute walk away into a neighborhood we’d not visited before.  We finished off a lovely bottle of wine–“3 Tempranillos” which is a blend of, what do you know, three tempranillo grapes all from the Duero valley but from 3 different elevations.  It was delicious.  A nice, homey place, nothing at all fancy, and we ate our fill, went home, and packed.

Up at 3:15am, driver arrived to take us to the airport at 4…flight to Amsterdam at 6.  All without a hitch!

 

Dogs and sidewalks

Occasionally we walked on plain old concrete pavement, but very often the sidewalks were cobbled or paved in patterns of what appear to be smallish river stones set on edge in the sandy, hard packed soil. In Portugal the walking required constant care not to twist an ankle into a missing cobblestone or step awkwardly from a too narrow “sidewalk” into traffic. (One afternoon in Porto David commented “sure are a lot of broken arms here” and we started noticing yeah, there sure were. Hmmm.). Spain is quite a bit safer but still the pavement, sidewalk, and plaza surfaces are often very lovely and creative.

So here is a little gallery.

Dogs

I may have made my husband a bit crazy, but I just could not stop noticing and snapping pictures of dogs in Spain. A dog trotting down the street with her owner is like a little bit of sparkle in the fabric, a pinch of spice in the urban stew. It is hard not to get a lift from a dog’s clear delight at being out and about. The little white terrier with her tail wagging in the air who keeps glancing up at the guy on the other end of the leash, or the three beagles who could not wait to move on, three noses down on the pavement, the shepherd lying down as if she owns the plaza, calm as can be–got me every time. And gee, dachshunds sure are popular, but often hard to photo as they are so low slung.

And the owners’ reactions to my request “puedo tomar un photo de su perro?” which I was careful to ask if I was up close were also happy-making. One young woman was so excited to see the (adorable) picture I had of her dog burst out “Oh, I love him so much!”

So to please myself and my dog-obsessed daughter, here are some more cute doggies in Spain.