Sunday, March 22, 2015

Madrid Through Younger Eyes

Quinn takes on Cristiano Ronaldo at Bernabéu Stadium

For me, Madrid is an adult city offering art, history, remnants of an ancient past, classical guitar, flamenco, its own look and style. I worried about its appeal to my younger grandchildren when they arrived with parents in February: my son Joe, wife Shannon and the grandchildren, Campbell, Quinn, Parker and Tanner ranging in age from 17 to 10. I had so looked forward to introducing them to the city and to Spain in general. 

Having studied the habits of fellow travelers and benefiting from the experience of any and all, I try to learn a bit about the places I visit: history, architecture, art, archaeology or nature; to experience the place through sound, sight, smell, taste, touch; and to seek experiences that make the place memorable. I followed that guide to develop an itinerary for Joe and family, knowing we would substitute, rearrange, delete whether for mood, whim or weather. 
Puerta de Alcalá: Quinn,
Tanner, Campbell, Parker

Prosperidad, Prado 

We began with a sleep-deprived walk through our barrio, La Prosperidad, then lunch of tortilla, the Spanish potato and egg dish similar to frittata that we get from a neighborhood source Rich discovered. The next day, we ambled through old Madrid sites, Plaza Mayor the center of the old town and  to Puerto del Sol, which marks the center of Spain and center of the city. 

We toured the Prado with grandchildren each holding a list of recommended paintings to find. I tried an introductory short lesson on what to look for in the paintings: Does the painting look like a photo? What does it tell you about history? Does it show how people dressed? Does it show royalty or regular people working or playing? Is it a landscape with or without people? What recognizable traits might help you identify the artists? I used a guidebook from the Prado for illustration, and encouraged the kids to stop to look at anything that attracted their attention. The Prado is immense, and we have learned to limit our sessions to two hours and schedule a meeting place. When I met Quinn roaming through alone, he had just found Rubens' “The Three Graces” and others both on the list and in addition to it. Together we located Velázquez, “Las Meninas,” and looked at details that make the piece great. Then Quinn elected to go off alone in search of more art to mark off his list. 

Palacio Real

El Palacio Real, built by Felipe V (1683-1746) with 2,800 rooms,
functions for formal ceremonies. Giambattista Tiepolo's frescos
decorate the ceilings, at times spilling down over the crown molding.

El Palacio Real detail

We toured the Palacio Real, luxurious and elaborate amid elbow to elbow crowds. We waited in line for chocolate and churros at San Gines and stood at the counter to drip chocolate-coated churros from cup to mouth. We ambled through Retiro Parque where the kids seemed more interested in the food stands than in the puppeteers and musicians and magic shows and rowboats on the lake. We spent an evening of flamenco at Las Carboneras. 


Toledo's Moorish details
We traveled to Toledo on the bus. Toledo soars beautiful on its high mount, more stunning with distance than within. Busy with shoppers, it resembles old Barcelona  more than the smaller medieval villages. The Alcazar rises majestically on the wall edge, part of the town’s fortifications. 

The cathedral sits tucked into narrow streets, the top impressive from a distance, but less so closer because the structure crowded within narrow streets has no viewing place, no way to see it whole and massive. Inside, thick, multi-ribbed columns create a  forest reminiscent of the Mezquita in Cordoba.

Toledo's Cathedral built on the site of a mosque

Cloisters in the Cathedral 

 I followed the Rick Steves guide from high altar to lovely window cut through the ceiling to channel the morning sun. I treaded through the impressive gallery to see art by El Greco, Goya, Caravaggio, Velazquez and more. The cloister outside is in mid-stage of refurbishing frescos, soft and colorful under the arches.

Bernabéu, Biking and Rope Play

Joe’s family shared three obviously favorite activities in Madrid: shopping, Bernabéu Stadium and biking along the Rio Manzanares. They shopped in Corte Ingles and throughout that central shopping area; they spent a late afternoon and evening shopping in Chueca’s boutiques, and they shopped in Toledo. The prices in Madrid and the extended post-Navidad sales are definite attractions. 
Campbell, Shannon, Joe and Parker take a break
at the top of El Corte Ingles

They also enjoyed touring Bernabéu Stadium, playing ground of Real Madrid fútbol (soccer). The stadium museum is high tech with video embedded light tables where photos can be moved and changed at whim. With the tap of a finger you can watch videos of past games. Screens project life-size players with stats and bios. In addition, the self-guided tour includes visits to the turf and team box, team dressing room, VIP seats, and lots of photo opportunities. I would highly recommend this tour to soccer fans of all ages.
Real Madrid bench: Parker, Campbell,
Quinn, Tanner, Joe

Quinn at Bernabéu

Campbell and Quinn at Bernabéu

Tanner and Parker at Bernabéu
The family also enjoyed biking along the Rio Manzanares all the way to Atlético Stadium in south Madrid. All four kids elected to ride karts, four-wheel, low slung bikes that take their toll on thighs. Joe, Shannon and I selected 6-gear regular bikes with baskets. We made multiple stops for the rope play areas: high ropes to walk across with assistance, low ropes to test balance, robes to climb and ropes to swing across. It’s a marvelous playground with appeal from 10 to 50 and beyond if you don’t fear falling.

Campbell on the ropes



Tanner in the sky box
As usual, we exposed them to an array of Spanish cuisine, from paella to jamon and Manchego cheese to chuletón (steak thinly sliced) cooked at table at our neighborhood Casa Vicente, to bocadillos (Spanish ham or ham and cheese on baguettes). Food always gets attention. A busy week for all.


  1. Can I be your grandchild?
    What a great introduction to another country!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi, Happy Easter... We are going out to dinner today to celebrate. Love seeing your son and family... Amazing how KIDS of all ages can find joy and happiness and FUN wherever they are. How wonderful that they could visit you all in Spain. GREAT education for them... I know you LOVED showing them around that beautiful area...

      Much Love,