Market Day (October 1, 2023)

My planning for this trip has been relatively non-existent.  While I’m trying to be flexible, by today I was getting frustrated with my lack of planning.  The original thought was to go to Toledo on Sunday, but as mentioned above, train tickets were much harder to reserve than expected.  In addition, my lack of planning means we are getting our steps in as we criss-crossed the city many days.

Today started at El Rastro flea market, another recommendation from our tour guide.  When we first arrived, we thought it was just a block or two.  Turned out the flea market was huge!  At every intersection, there was more in all directions.  We wandered around for a good hour or two.  Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded when we arrived around 10am.  By 11:30am, it was packed with people and Ryan had had enough.  It was fun wandering around, looking at all the items, though there were definitely a lot of stalls selling the same items.

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 After expending so much energy at the flea market, we needed some sustenance.  Time for some more churros con chocolate!  We then headed to Reina Sofia, a modern art museum.  The timing was right that we were able to hit the free entrance hours again.  Like El Prado, there was a line, but it moved quickly.  After first getting lost in the museum, we visited one of the upper floors with an exhibition focused around math and computers.  There were a few pictures designed entirely with ones and zeroes on a dot matrix printer, and a display using multiple photos of people at tables, where the number of people matches the Fibonacci sequence.  They were also spaced out along the wall accurately with the number in the sequence.  Needless to say, I think the display only went up to 34 or 55.

 Slowly working our way down the floors, we saw a lot of Salvador Dali and Picasso, and of course in a modern art museum, a number of displays that Ryan and I could have made, a la ‘Red Wall’ (what is the actual name of that painting?) in the MOMA.  The free entry into Reina Sofia is only 1.5 or 2 hours, right before closing time, and they definitely rush you out, so we didn’t make it to everything we wanted to see, but got enough in.

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Madrid train station


Large traffic circle

We took a long leisurely walk around Parque Del Retiro in the afternoon.  It’s comparable to Central Park in NYC, though about half the size, it still felt very large.  The day was gorgeous and the park was filled with tourists and locals enjoying the weather.  We wandered around, looking at some of the statues and gardens, visting the Glass Palace and Monument to Alfonso XII.  There is canoeing and paddle boating in a lake, which sounded fun initially, but the lake was underwhelming in both size and water quality, and the hot weather and sun dissuaded us.  We also saw a number of people pedaling 4-whellers, which looked fun and exhausting.

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On the way back to our AirBnb, we saw a carillon clock on some building.  Later research explains that the building was originally built by a philanthropic multimillionaire in 1913 and has housed an insurance company since the 1940s.


We FaceTimed with the kids before heading out to meet co-workers for dinner.  The kids said hi and were still uninterested in talking with us.  A number of my co-workers were supposed to travel to Madrid for work.  Plans were cancelled for all except two.  So we were meeting up with those two who still traveled for work, and another co-worker who like me, had a spouse with flights so they decided to take vacation.

We all met up at Plaza Mayor, the main square in Madrid, and walked to a nearby restaurant.  The two co-workers who traveled for work are based in Rochester, so I have never met one of them, and the other I haven’t seen in probably 4 years.  It was a lot of fun seeing everyone and catching up.  They all enjoyed huge plates of paella, while Ryan and I had tomato with burrata and some garlic stuffed squid.  I loved it, but not sure Ryan was too thrilled with the squid.



Afterwards, it was only around 10pm, so the night was young in Madrid.  We walked back to the San Miguel market to wander around, ogle the delicious food, and search for dessert.  No hits on dessert, though Ryan and I definitely put the market on our list to return to at a later point for tapas.  We wandered back out towards our lodging and right past a small café selling stuffed churros to go.  Couldn’t pass that up!  It was pretty good, but not as good as churros con chocolate.  We said goodbye to my co-workers and headed back to the room to catch up with the kids again and take care of some logistics.

The plan for Monday was to go hiking.  We spent a lot of time figuring out where exactly to go hiking, and renting a car to get there.  It is surprisingly difficult and expensive to rent a non-electric automatic.  I got the International Driver’s License, originally for work, so I was going to be driving.  While I can drive a manual (around round-abouts, on the wrong side of the road, in the rain in Ireland), Madrid has lots of very narrow, alleyway-like streets and is relatively hilly, so I would prefer an automatic.  The range on the electric cars doesn’t get us to and from the hiking locations, and one of my co-workers said that his credit card wouldn’t work with the chargers.  An hour or two later, after figuring out hiking and renting the car, we found a bus that goes to the base town of the hike and decided to take the bus instead.

Lazy Morning (September 30, 2023)

Sleep is still all messed up.  We went to bed early around 8:30pm.  Both of us woke up around midnight.  Ryan made the silly decision to check his slacks and then worked for a few hours.  Both of us were up till about 3am before finally going back to sleep.  The original plan was to go to Toledo, but we called an audible to scrap that plan while enjoying a relaxing desayuno at the café down the street.  As we realized a few days later, there is no way we could have made it to Toledo anyway, as train tickets were much harder to reserve than expected.  Ryan was impressed with my flexibility in the last minute change of plans.

Breakfast was delicious, avocado toast with smoked salmon for me (really going out of my comfort zone there), and toasted bread with tomato puree, avocado, and jamon for Ryan.  And of course café con leche. Most of the cafes in Madrid seem to have alternative milks, so it has been really easy for me to get coffees with soy or almond milk.  With nothing specific on the agenda, we moseyed around the outside of the Royal Palace, through some small parks, ending up at Plaza Mayor for the free 2pm walking tour.


Ryan’s socks match an unidentified building in the distance

The tour guide was very engaging, giving us a thorough history of the Spanish monarchy.  Not having much background, I quickly got confused between the multiple King Philipes and King Carloses.  We walked through a small lovely park, Parque del Emir Mohamad, that is only open on weekends.  It had great views of the Catedral de la Amudena and was filled with myrtle bushes, rosemary, fig, and pomagranate.  I had never seen myrtle before and the leaves smelled great.

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I later learned that the wall in the garden was the oldest standing construction in Madrid, dating back to the 9thcentury, built when Madrid was an Arab enclave.  Our tour guide probably shared that info, but Ryan and I were FaceTiming the kids during that part of the tour.  The kids both said ‘Hi’ on Facetime and quickly went back to what they were doing, totally uninterested in us.  We were very relieved, because this is the first time we have both gone away from Maddie.  The kids did great with Puma and Pumpa the entire trip.

Great views of the cathedral and palace during the tour.

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After the tour, it was time for a quick lunch (Madrid time at 4:30pm) and a walk over to the Prado for free entry during evening hours.  There was a long line for free entry, but it moved very quickly.  Summary of what we saw:

  • Goya – Dark, monstrous, and disturbing
  • El Greco – All his portraits look the same
  • Lots of naked people, cherubic, and Jesus Christ
  • An out of place picture of a turtle and fish (aptly named ‘Still Life with Fish and a Turtle’) near naked people and Jesus
  • Paintings of paintings – According to Ryan, this is when artists start to think too highly of themselves

Big trees outside the Prado



I’m not a huge art museum fan.  Ryan says it’s because I’m too busy being practical to enjoy the art.  He prefers to draw and make art than look at it.  After the museum was stopped at a bar recommended by our tour guide for some wine, beer, and tapas of cheese and lomo, followed by a stop at one of the many sweet shops for some gifts to bring home.


We have enjoyed people watching.  It is extremely difficult to figure out where people are from, and sometimes even if they are tourists or locals, though usually the dogs or strollers give away the locals.  Occasionally, we can tell when people are from the U.S. or Germany.  It’s usually when there is a group of people together who all where common clothing, typically running sneakers for U.S. or hiking pants/shoes for Germans.

Impromptu Trip to Madrid (September 29, 2023)

Ryan and I planned an international trip without kids only 3-4 weeks in advance.  Unbelievable, right?  I was asked to go to Madrid for two weeks for work.  We daydreamed, hoping by some chance either my parents or his parents would be able to come watch the kids so Ryan could join me for some traveling after the work.  My parents were unavailable, but Ryan’s parents said they could do it!  So we quickly booked Ryan’s flights through American Airlines, my flights through work, coordinating so we were on the same flight home, and reserved an AirBnb.

Fast forward two weeks and the work part got cancelled.  But we already had grandparents lined up, one set of flights booked, and lodging.  No way we would pass up this vacation!

Kris and Dal arrived two days early to get settled in with the kids, and we were off!  Flights to Madrid through Dallas were very easy, no delays, all on-time.  We arrived around 9am in Madrid.  The train ride into the center of Madrid should have been easy, and would have been easy had my Spanish been better.  Unfortunately, the ‘English’ button on the ticket vending machines only translated some things to English.  After a few trials, we figured out how to buy tickets and were on our way.


Emerging from the train station into the center of Madrid

Around 11:30am, we dropped our bags in the AirBnb and asked our host for a morning snack recommendation.  She walks us out onto the balcony and points a little ways down the street to San Gines, a well known Chocolateria.  Score!  Can’t go wrong when a trip to Madrid starts with café con leche and churros con chocolate.  Not surprisingly, that was only the first time for churros and chocolate on the trip.

Picture from our balcony.  The green awnings are San Gines

View from our balcony. The green awnings are San Gines.

First churros and chocolate

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After filling our bellies with delicious snacks, we made the long, strenuous walk of about 50m back to the AirBnb for a short nap before our evening plans.  I had originally scheduled a cooking class for our second day in Madrid, but the cooking school reached out to ask if we could attend a day earlier.  Slightly tired and jet lagged, we walked to the A Punto Cooking School.

Along with students from Toronto, Zurich, Korea, and the US, we made a delicious array of tapas, including salmorejo (a cold tomato soup that is definitely not gazpacho), cod fish, lamb, calamari, focaccia, cheese crisps, and a delicious bread pudding-like dessert with horchata.  The food was all tasty, but nothing particularly knocked our socks off.  Overall, though, it was a fun experience cooking and chatting with the chef and other students.  The chef was originally from Buenos Aires, had travelled around a bit, and settled in Madrid about 4 years ago.  He loves the city and had some great recommendations for restaurants and sites.

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Post cooking/eating, we took a leisurely walk back to our AirBnb through Puerta del Sol, looking at all the statues, and through Plaza Mayor where everything was bustling.

Bear and Strawberry Tree, representing coat of arms of Madrid

Bear and Strawberry Tree, representing coat of arms of Madrid

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor