Thursday, November 22, 2012
It’s been awhile since I traveled with my family. A trip to Costa Rica seven years ago was the last time we attempted to coordinate our schedules and go on vacation together. But this week the stars aligned, and we had another chance. My brother and his wife got time off work, my mother found a dog sitter, and my shiny new UK residence permit allowed me to leave London and travel to Madrid to meet them.
It wasn’t our first family vacation in Spain. We had taken one of our only European trips there when my brother and I were in junior high, and returning together was coming full-circle. The only difference was that not being on an organized tour this time meant that we were on our own to decide what to do in Madrid.
I’m not going to lie; I was a bit worried when we all convened at our hotel on Gran Via. Why? A couple of reasons. I like to indulge in cured meats, unpasteurized cheeses, and red wine when I travel in Spain. My brother’s wife is pregnant. My mother likes to schedule every nanosecond of the day when she travels. My brother likes a more laid-back agenda. With diverse travel preferences and lifestyle needs, would we be able to create an itinerary that satisfied everyone?
The first positive sign came when I surfaced from the metro and found our hotel. My mother and sister-in-law had chosen well, with the Hotel de las Letras being a great accommodation in the heart of Madrid with a stylish lobby lounge and quotes from international writers on the walls. Comfortable, central, and chic, it made everyone happy.
The second came when everyone agreed to indulge my obsession with food. As such, our first stop in the city was the Mercado de San Miguel. The beautiful covered market’s variety of stalls and abundance of central tables meant that everyone could find a tapa or two that suited her or his dietary needs (mine being saturated fat), whether they came in the form of wedges of Manchego, sun-dried-tomato-stuffed green olives, croquetas de jamon, or creamy gazpacho with potato chips.
The same was true on our second trip to the market, when we filled the table with coffee, hot chocolate, raspberry tarts, chocolate cakes, more Manchego, additional olives, and a thick wedge of piping hot Spanish tortilla.
The positive signs continued on our first evening in Madrid when we went out for a special dinner to celebrate my mother’s 27th birthday (Yes, 27th. No, don’t try to dispute it with your “mathematics” and “logic”. If I wasn’t allowed to, you aren’t either).
A friend of mine that used to live in the city recommended a restaurant called Las Tortillas de Gabino. As the name implied, the specialty was Spanish tortilla. But the rest of the menu was equally excellent. From flavorful calamari to succulent duck, we had a feast that everyone could enjoy. We were also the only non-Spanish speakers in the restaurant, which was a nice feeling after being tourists all day.
A not-so-nice feeling was the dampness of my coat after a waiter spilled red wine on me at a cafe in the famous Plaza Mayor. Thankfully he had a remedy that removed the stain and allowed us to resume drinking Ribera de Duero, my new favorite Spanish wine, and eating patatas bravas and other tiny treats.
The third good sign of my family’s ability to travel together came when we decided to visit two of the city’s three largest museums. First we headed to the Prado, Madrid’s famous fine art museum, to take advantage of the free entry offered during the last two opening hours of every day.
The finite period of time pleased my brother, who is a self-proclaimed “45-minute-museum kind of guy”, while the fact that I had been there last year and didn’t need to spend hours re-perusing every painting kept me happy. My mother’s gnat-like attention span saw to it that she viewed everything she needed to in the allotted time, and my brother’s wife appreciated not having to stay on her feet for too long.
The same went for our viewing of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum’s permanent collection. My brother was patient with the rest of us through the Renaissance art, which wasn’t his favorite, and we paced ourselves throughout the Baroque, Impressionist, Expressionist, and other galleries so that everyone left happy.
Our last museum in Madrid was meant to be the Palacio Real, but the palace was closed for official state business the day we tried to go. Still, if we had managed to get a tour of the state rooms, I’m sure we would have done just fine.
The fourth sign that my family was able to travel well together came in the form of shopping. My brother and I aren’t big shoppers (my mom still buys us socks for Christmas every year), but my mother and sister-in-law enjoy a good dose of retail therapy. As a compromise, we hit up El Rastro, the big Sunday market in La Latina.
The outdoor location and variety of stalls kept my brother and me distracted with sensory overload while the plethora of goods on offer gave my mom and my brother’s wife a chance to pick up some new winter scarves. At the end, everyone was satisfied by a good trip to the market.
After three days in Madrid, my family had not only managed to see the sights (and eat them, too!), but also make sure that each of us had a chance to see and do what we were most interested in. With our disparate travel styles, it was no small feat. But it was a lot of fun, and proved that after all these years we can still vacation together. Which is good, because the trip didn’t end there. From Madrid, we traveled to Malaga…