A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Managing in Madrid

By Muriel

semi-overcast 7 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We tucked the kids in last night, hoping for better health for them today. However, that was not to be. At 2 AM, we were visited by one who needed comfort and attention, only to discover the other was now running a fever. We spent the next three hours making tea, dispensing Tylenol, taking temperatures and providing TLC. In between, we watched Downtown Abbey together, all sharing the large couch. I am hoping Ben and I don't come down with the same virus but in such close quarters, it's hard to avoid contact. Abby suggested the night must have seemed to us like taking care of newborn babies again and we had to agree! However, neither of us has to worry about work in the morning and we have a very comfortable place to stay so there was no concern on those fronts. As the dawn started to arrive, we all attempted sleep once again.

Madrid: Stovetop Expresso

Madrid: Stovetop Expresso

Upon arising for the day (the second time), Ben immediately set to work on his espresso routine while I went out for morning pastries. There is a shop right down the street but when I entered, heard the sophisticated music playing, and surveyed their wares, I was somewhat put off by the 4,95 euro prices for the individual apple tarts. Therefore, I headed off to the mercado stall where we had bought our cake the previous day. Finding a line up of locals convinced me this was the place and they didn't disappoint. I was also pleased to be able to perform the whole transaction in (broken) Spanish, with much pointing. The first few days in Spain saw me speaking a combination of French, Spanish and English strung together so that no one had a hope of understanding me so this appears to be an improvement. I was also able to try out my linguistics at the 'farmacia,' the pharmacy where we went to get some medications for the girls. I began by asking in strong Spanish whether the pharmacist spoke Spanish. Looking surprised, she said she did but then asked whether I meant English? But, of course that's what I meant! We had a laugh and I then purchased the Tylenol and anti-nauseant. They came to the great price of less than 5 euro ($6.50) in total, much cheaper than in Canada. In addition to there being bread and fruit on every block, there is also a pharmacy every few steps -- we saw the same pattern in Brazil.

Madrid: Retiro Park

Madrid: Retiro Park

Aside from the morning outing, Ben and I went for a two hour walk to the main city park, called Parque del Buen Retiro (which means retreat). It was initially created as a royal park and belonged to the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro palace (1632). When it was created, the park was well outside the city walls, but now the city of Madrid has completely enclosed it. Since 1868, it has been open to the public. Today, we saw mainly tourista like ourselves: some snapped pictures, others rowed boats in the artificial lake, still others watched the street vendors and entertainers. We stumbled upon a colony of a few feral cats, sorry the girls were not able to see them (they miss their pet cat, Bella, whom we expect is currently enjoying the life of Riley in her upscale foster home). As we walked home, we saw more municipal employees putting up Christmas decorations. We hear that Madrid turns on the lights starting in December so we are looking forward to a night walk tomorrow. Canadians must also be getting in the decorating spirit so I hope that you all enjoy the upcoming light shows in your cities as well. We will miss seeing many of you at our annual Sinterklaas party, which would likely have been held this weekend but perhaps some of you will be partaking of tai tai and chocolate letters nonetheless.

Posted by KZFamily 20:34 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid Comments (5)

What to do when the kids are Ill in Madrid

By Ben

sunny 8 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

As I had mentioned in my previous post, Abby was not feeling that well yesterday and unfortunately today she is out for the count and has taken Hannah down with her (unintentionally of course). Both girls slept late only to both go to bed late in the morning and to sleep into the mid-afternoon.

After seeing that the kids had their tea and Tylenol and were comfortable Muriel and I went for an hour and a half stroll of our neighbourhood. We like our neighbourhood which is very close to Centro Madrid, the centre of historic Madrid. It is a well-kept area which is not in the least bit touristy. The buildings are all no higher than 6 to 8 stories high much like in Paris. The beautiful sunshine is sheer pleasure even with a frosty nip in the morning air. It is lively out on the streets but just not frenetic like Paris seemed be. People are just smiling a bit more and walking just a little slower.

There is no doubt that Madrid is a world class city. Unfortunately, we noticed globalization has had made its mark over the past 20 years (the last time Muriel and I were here). There are many Starbucks and McDonalds along with Taco Bell and Burger King. There seems to be a bit of a sushi craze here as we also noticed in Paris. In front of one sushi restaurant here I counted 13 delivery scooters. American clothing, makeup and fragrance stores abound. Fortunately they are interspersed with many Spanish stores. Beer is equal in its presence to that of wine. In the grocery store I saw cerverza for as little as .27 euros a can. I splurged and spent .55 euros on a non-generic Spanish beer.

When we came back the kids were still sleeping so we had a little lunch and followed it up with some lemon loaf we bought at year round covered market (lots of fish mongers, poultry and rabbit sellers and fruit sellers in one area and olive sellers and bakeries in another). You buy your cake by weight at 12 euros to the kilogram.

Muriel took a nap while I tried to sort through computer issues. I have subscibed to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows me to make my computer appear that it is Canada or the US. This helps us to see Canadian and US TV and Movies that would normally be blocked in Europe. I set it up on Abby's laptop as mine still isn't working and the kids need a little something to cheer them up while they are sick. We have been watching Modern Family, The Middle and started watching the Downtown Abby series on American Netflix, which we are all enjoying immensely.

While doing the dishes I came across a stovetop expresso maker so I decided to try it out. I hadn't used one but a quick YouTube video showed me that it was as straightforward as it looked. I warmed some milk and cut some lemon loaf and enjoyed a little quiet time while everyone was still sleeping.

Muriel and I went out for another couple hours of walking in the late afternoon. We went to Plaza Mayor a location we had stayed close to when we visited in the distant past. We had a hard time recognizing it since it was filled with stalls selling Christmas items. We think there must be some festivities around Christmas that involves crazy hair, masks and hats that are a bit like Halloween. Many stalls were selling these items. Many of the city work crews are out setting up large Christmas trees and lights in the plazas and squares as well as along the streets.

Signs of the hard economic times might be seen in the selling of lottery tickets. Hundreds of independent lottery ticket sellers are along the streets. It would seem hard to tell if all the tickets could be legitimate. We saw a more official lottery ticket storefront that had a line stretching for a few city blocks leading up to it. It seems lottery fever or desperation is in the air.

The kids perked up a bit in the middle of the evening but still aren't eating. We hope tomorrow will bring better news for them.

One last note to everyone who thinks we only eat cake and pastry. We have big salads and lots of fruit too! Today we bought a huge Mango for a euro and clementines can be bought for .60 euros a kilogram so we are getting our vitamin C. These items just are not as interesting to report on.

I will upload our photos in the days to come when I get my computer problems sorted, so until then you will need to use your imagination.

Posted by KZFamily 13:14 Archived in Spain Comments (5)

Logon as a Member to Comment

By Ben

We were having a good time as a family this morning reading through past comments on our blog. We were a little alarmed to discover that most of you who have signed up for accounts are not using your Travellerspoint username and passwords when commenting. If you are just putting in your name and email that is quite different than logging on as a Travellerspoint member. If you don't logon your comments will disappear after a few months.

We want all comments to be part of our permanent blog, so don't be shy about getting an account. Note that subscribing to our blog is not the same as getting an account either. I encourage you to read my blog post about how to get the most out of our blog. Click on the red links in this posting to get to some instructional videos that I made, it will hopefully help with commenting. Don't worry about making mistakes or needing to ask questions about how to use our blog--it is very new to most of us.

From what we can tell (we might be wrong about this) my Dad, Rob and Jane have been consistently using their logon ID while others may be using just your name and email account. Maybe you can tell us in your next comment whether you posted your comment by using the username and password you signed up for.

A big thank you to everyone. Just post questions in the comments area of this post if you need more help or information. I have reposted the videos below, just click on the red text. The second video is the most important.

Overview of of our Blog's Features

How to become a member and logging on when you comment

Posted by KZFamily 01:08 Comments (3)

Travelling to Madrid

By Ben

all seasons in one day 11 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today was a travel day from Bilbao to Madrid. It was pouring in Bilbao when we left. We were able to get to Madrid on a route that avoided toll roads which is a fair accomplishment in these parts. It did mean some winding roads and crossing a remote mountain pass. The difference in travel time was less than an hour and the distance was almost equivalent at 400 km.

The weather on the trip was quite wild. We had high cross winds, fog, driving rain, bright sun and more than just a little snow going through the mountains. The temperature went down to minus 3 and rose to 11 degrees in just an hour of driving. Any stereotypical images you may have of Spain just being a dry and dusty land are hopefully now thoroughly shattered.

The traffic consisted mostly of trucks and didn't get thick until we hit Madrid. It was nice to come into Madrid by mid afternoon in the sunshine and a temperature of 11 degrees. The drivers are a little more relaxed here than in Paris but there is a lot jostling just the same. We were blessed once again by the parking angel and found a place close to our hotel to get checked in. Parking is at a premium here. We will be in Madrid for 5 days and it will cost us 100 Euros for parking our Kangoo. The consolation prize is that our hotel-apartment is in a great location and is the nicest place we have stayed in so far. We will be very comfortable over the next 5 days (hopefully not spoiled).

We are in need of a little more Spanish words to help us through but were able to figure out through charades with the parking garage attendant how to get at our car after hours. This morning before we left Bilbao I had to let in the water meter reader which was another exercise in charades and lots of mention of agua, agua, agua.

Abby is feeling a little under the weather again but is putting on a brave face for us all. We hope a good night sleep will help clear things up. She hasn't been up and down for a while but keeps on soldiering on. We have had a fairly low key and relaxing evening.

I am having issues with our laptop and getting connected with the WIFI here. I am borrowing Abby's laptop to post these few words. I hope that tomorrow will bring some solutions. All our other devices can see the wireless network for our building except mine. The odd thing is that I can see dozens of other wireless networks and did see two other connections from the hotel but they have disappeared over the course of the evening. As a result of the problems I won't be posting any pictures today.

Thanks for some comments by a some more readers. We appreciated seeing comments from George, John, Marianne, Sheila, Irene and Sharon G. in the past few days for rounding out comments by our more regular contributers such as Opa and Rob.

Tomorrow we will begin some wandering in Madrid and scope out some places to get tapas and ingredients to make Paella.

My Dad asked about what the economics are like. So far we can say in Bilbao there were some people quietly looking for a donation but nothing to the scale we see in Victoria and in Madrid we have only seen some aggressive squiggie people at the stop lights.

Posted by KZFamily 13:29 Archived in Spain Tagged driving madrid Comments (3)

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