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VivreCITIES: Madrid

April 13,  2022

When you think of Madrid, some things come to mind that are stereotypical expectations. It's true, there are tapas everywhere; And yes, they do actually take siestas. I often question why I am not living there ... Flamenco, yes, they do that as well. What I didn't expect, while visiting Madrid, was the amount of modern day commercialization that is so woven into old world European cobblestoned streets, and original tiled walls of taverns along the way. The nostalgic reminders of histories past lined every street you walk in Madrid, all the while stumbling upon a Dunkin' Donut or Tim Hortons. I find that fascinating. Visiting Madrid, despite of the numerous modern food chains, I was on a quest of the real Madrid ... of course, first ... weeks ahead of time, I had to attempt to get a reservation at the only world's oldest continuously running restaurant, Boitin. My 10pm reservation gained me access to seeing the original kitchen built in 1725. Tucked into a slice of history, where slow-cooked lamb and pork are prepared in an 18th-century wood oven. It’s said that Spanish painter Goya was a pot washer here and Ernest Hemingway was a patron. Now onto tapas, but before that, a long stroll at and around Plaza Mayor was pretty awe-inspiring. Once the site of nation's public bullfights and where the government held executions, its history is long. Despite the swarms of tourists and locals, taking in the plaza's grandeur and seeing the intricacies of the old world architecture that surrounds you, simply makes you pause for a few moments wondering if you are really living in the now or centuries ago. Hidden on the side of Plaza Mayor is Meson del Champiñon. Opened in 1964, this original tavern is dark and filled with history. Serving up tapas, but the one must try is their namesake tapas, stuffed mushroom. They are famous for it, and I now know why. And when in Madrid, you can't get away with eating their iconic jamon, their version of cured meat - a prosciutto like ham. Jamón Ibérico, to be exact. Tucked away in many corners of Madrid, you will find Museo del Jamón., a multi-location cured meat shop with attached restaurant. It's no frills, so don't expect fancy tables and silverware. The menu can be confusing, but truly, at Museo del Jamon, you can't go wrong with anything. Everything is ham related. Can you ask for more?! Madrid streets are not very maze-like but I find the best way to experience Madrid is to walk and get lost. When you are lost, wandering the streets of Madrid, every corner you turn, can be amazing: striking wrought-iron balconies on historic mansions and Italianate Baroque royal residences, giant murals in the Literary quarters ... and then their colorful plazas and squares lined by frescoed buildings. I was that tourist in awe when in Madrid.  During my wanderings I find myself ringing the doorbell at CapasSeseña. A tiny boutique, the bell is there in case the cape maker is upstairs cutting fabric in the workshop. Yes, its a shop that only sells capes and they are all made on premise. The detailed craftsmanship on each cape is stunning. There is so much artistry in their every stitch. A cape from CapasSeseña is a coveted item for many a celebrity visiting Madrid. You see, shopping in Madrid is more than just buying products – you’ll come away from Madrid’s boutiques with artworks that tell a story and have a long history, no matter how new they are.  These aimless wandering can be endless, but time to cure my sweet tooth. In a small, almost fairytale-like alley, hidden in the back is none other than Chocolateria San Gaines. Opened in 1890, this has become the emblem of Madrid. Ask for a table outside, and it puts you right into some enchanted fairytale of the 1800's. Historic cobblestone street, in some magical passageway and if you are lucky, you will get to enjoy a few old world street musicians while sipping your hot chocolate.  This isn't your everyday hot chocolate as we know it. A thick, dark chocolate made by age old traditions, exactly how it was made in 1890. A must try. Order it with churros, again, not what you think they are. Oh so delicious when dipped in that ecclesiastical hot chocolate. Next stop, more Madrid eating at the expansive Mercado de San Miguel, a monumental Spanish food hall where you will find traditional paella, olives and anchovies, more jamon ... and somewhere in the middle of this modern food hall, you will find Mozheart. They specialize in both sweet and savory creations made of the freshest mozzarella you will ever taste. Trust me, you must try this whether you like mozzarella cheese or not. You wouldn't even know what you are eating. My last destination in my days of wandering and eating in Madrid was to find, yet another unsuspecting tapas locale, Casa Amedeo.  A miniscule shop, inside the only seatings are along the bar. On the old wooden walls, are photos of the family that's opened Casa Amedeo in 1942. In these photos is a little 10 year old boy, whom if you are lucky, will be the person who will be bringing you your tapas. He is the sole owner of Casa Amedeo today. I was told he has not taken a day off since he started working when his father opened this pub-like joint. Right now, in his 70's he is still serving and mingling. This charming old man speaks no word of English, but he has found a way to communicate. He won't leave you alone, unless you order their signature (I would say world famous) tapas, los caracoles - snails. They are so delicious, seeped in a broth and cooked for over 3 days ... the charming old owner, will tell you to only eat with your hands (I allowed manners to go out the window at this historic good eats.) He will further make you dip the bread that they serve with the snails into the broth. That is the proper way to eat this, his son translates to me. A great meal indeed, and note to self, Spanish Tapas are generous in portion. Order with caution.  Before we bid this sweet old man farewell, he took my phone and wanted a photo ... on his website, he writes "we sell love ... we sell life ...". Indeed he does. Indeed he does.  

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Getting Lost in the Arts ...

When in Madrid ... well anywhere in Europe for that matter, you can't ignore the arts. European art is so much part of Europe's history, and when you have famed artists like Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya ... European museums definitely take the win above American museums. While most tourists make a beeline for Museo Reina Sofia, as a lover of impressionist art, I opted to visit Museo Prado, not just once, but twice. Prado houses one of the most impressive collection of Spanish & international arts. In fact, art historian Jonathan Brown has dubbed this spot, which is truly unmissable, “the most important museum in the world for European painting.” The collection of European art ranges from the 12th to the 20th centuries. One can witness so much history just in seeing the art pieces in Prado. It was fascinating. You can also find a fine collection of Greco-Roman statuary at Prado. What always amazes me is the details that go into these larger than life size art pieces ... the gem stones on a prince's brooch to the fine strokes of a mother's hair all come to life even centuries after these masterpieces were created. Yet, what truly took my breath away was seeing my most favorite painting by Zurbaran, St. Elizabeth of Portugal. There she was, just there on the wall of Prado, I stood still staring at her and she looked back at me as if she was alive in this magnificent painting. The layout of the museum is simple but confusing. Be prepared to get lost. But getting lost in one of the greatest museums in Europe, why not?! 

The Art of Traveling, My Essentials ...

I tend to be an OCD packer, I pack by outfits and I'm a huge advocate for packing cubes. Everyone in my family has their own monogram set. They just make your life so much more organized when traveling. I never not travel without my Louis Vuitton cashmere/silk shawl, regardless if I am going somewhere warm or cold. I use it as a blanket on the plane, or I can roll it up into a pillow for my back. It is so versatile. And of course, lots of iphone charging cords. When traveling overseas, my passport is always in its own home with a passport cover. I can be quite disorganized sometimes when it comes to life, but perhaps one of the neatest travelers. My father always dressed impeccably when he traveled and has taught me that traveling in it of itself is an art. You can't be messy about it. So everything I bring with me has to have a home and nothing gets lost. That's something I also teach my son. Lastly, between altitude epidermal water loss on our skin and sometimes, extreme temperature changes, my face can become a bit dehydrated and stressed. While I pack all my skincare in a check-in suitcase, but in my carry on, is always my CBD Vita Hydratant. I had formulated for selfish reasons, it is the ultimate hydrator for the traveler where it will protect the skin from travel stressors. I also have very dry lips a lot, I've used Rosebud Salve for my lips ever since I was little, and I cannot travel without it. 

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