Madrid, tapas y fiesta

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Reading: The Books I read and listened in 2016

Yes, I’m that person who keeps a spreadsheet of all the fiction books (and a few sprinkled non-fiction) I have read since 1991. I love reading, but ever since I became a mother 17 years ago, I realized that reading became another item on my balance scale. I had to constantly negotiate my adored sleeping time with the hours of page turning.  However, I have finally embraced the AUDIOBOOKthe one thing I was most thankful for in 2016. Of course I’m thankful for family, children, friends….but what I was excitedly most thankful for: THE AUDIOBOOK!

For a multi-tasking, curious, and easily distracted adult, I have found the cure to the boredom of the endless unloading and re-loading of the dishwasher. I have found a companion to my pathetically unyielding labour at my garden and a much needed encouragement on my walk/runs.  The audiobook has allowed me to keep up and maintain a rhythm of the pages I read before I go to bed.  The next morning I keep going where I left off.  I am a convert and most books of 2016 were read in combination with the audio.

Major shoutout goes to my wonderful friends who suggest great books to me, and of course the beloved Westbank Library that has such a wonderful collection of both versions of the book.

It was a good year of books, as I loved most of them.

Runaway Munro, Alice Lovely. One of the first books I read in conjunction with its audio version. Loved listening to these women’s stories, felt like listening to a friend on the phone.
A Little Life Yanagihara, Hanya Haunting. No audiobook for this one, but what a wonderful read. Tough material for most people, but the characters have stayed with me for a long time. One of my faves.
Of Mice and Men Steinbeck, John A classic for a reason. Read this right before watching the Austin Lyric Opera’s production. Also available on audiobook, read by Gary Sinise.  Wonderful development of characters.
The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway, Ernest Wanted to read for a while. After reading the previous ones, I just felt underwhelmed.
My Brilliant Friend Ferrante, Elena Love-Hate relationship with this one. Wanted to find out more, but I hated both main characters.
When Breath Becomes Air Kalanithi, Paul So sad.
The Son Meyer, Phillipp I think the audiobook is superb, read by three different voices. I can see why they made it into a tv miniseries.
For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway, Ernest Felt a bit slow, but interesting take on the Spanish Civil War. Had trouble with Campbell Scott’s pronunciation of Spanish words and now hear his voice every time I hear the expression “que va”.
The Nightingale Hannah, Kristin Easy and page turning read. A story of the nazi occupation in France, told from a female and french point of view.
The Story of a New Name Ferrante, Elena I started the first, needed to continue with the series.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Ferrante, Elena This one was my favorite of the series
The Story of the Lost Child Ferrante, Elena
Middlesex Eugenedis, Jeffrey If there ever was a book that was meant to be listened to is this one, if only for the scene at the car assembly line. Fantastic book. A fave.
Crazy Rich Asians Kwan, Kevin funny beach read
Crazy Rich Girlfriend Kwan, Kevin good palate cleansers after very heavy books
All The Light We Cannot See Doerr, Anthony so so. I have started and stopped this book so many times. After reading the Nightingale found this one a bit blah.
Life After Life Atkinson, Kate Loved, loved, what a surprise. Thanks to my friend Alex W. I have become a fan.
Fates and Furies Groff, Lauren Can I say hate? Just did not like either of the characters and found it so pretentious.
Luckiest Girl Alive Knoll, Jessica Perhaps I disliked this one even more.
My Name is Lucy Barton Strout, Elizabeth Loved. Again, Strout can tell fascinating stories of the mundane. So simple and so good.
The Life we Bury Eskens, Allen Ok
A confederacy of the Dunces Toole, John Kennedy Thought I was going to love it, then I thought I was going to hate it, and now I can see the humor of it. The character definitely is one to remember.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette Semple, Maria Read as a preparation to our upcoming trip to Seattle. Easy fun read from a fellow Barnard Alumn.
Today Will Be Different Semple, Maria The adult version of A Terrible, No Good, Bad Day.



This destination is the second stop of the Birthday Road Trip.

Day One-continued…

We arrived to Peñafiel in the late afternoon on a Friday, and we met up with our friends who were coming from all parts of Spain, to join us on our weekend festivities. Peñafiel is a charming town located at the heart of the wine country of Ribera del Duero in the province of Valladolid in the region Castilla y León.  Its first distinctive feature is a castle atop a giant rock “peña” mountain, with expansive views of the beautiful vineyards.


Some of the famous wineries of this area are  Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Abadia Retuerta, Alion, Mauro and Protos.  If you want to purchase or sample wines from smaller wineries you can stop at the wine shop in town, Vinos Ojosnegros.

Another distinctive site, is the “Plaza del Coso”, a bullfighting ring completely enclosed by private residences dating from the middle ages.  It is really spectacular to enter through a small opening on the housing block to find this singular space with the castle in the background.

Day Two- After breakfast some people walked around the city, visited the Plaza del Coso and then we met for our first planned activity: a tour of the Protos winery.  We chose this winery not only for the quality of the wine, but also because their modern building was designed by the British architect Richard Rogers.  You have to make reservations ahead of time for their wonderful one and a half hour tour, which takes you through their cellars built on the natural caves under the mountain. You can see from afar the multiple chimneys that ventilate these underground spaces.

After the fabulous wine tasting, we went to lunch at Asados Mauro, whose specialty is the most delicious “lechazo”, young lamb roasted on firewood.  Other delicacies of the region are Flor de Esgueva cheese, sopa castellana, the dessert Ponche Segoviano and of course all the wines.

After lunch, most went back to the hotel for a siesta, but the most active of the bunch toured the castle. We all reconvened for the official birthday dinner party that lasted until 3:30 am the next day.



Sleep: There are many wonderful lodging options ranging from small boutique hotels on specific vineyards such as Hotel AF Pesquera. We decided to stay in the heart of town in the Hotel Convento las Claras. We were hosting over 80 guests so we chose this very well equipped hotel and the lawn/pool area had great views of the castle which was lit at night.

Coming Soon: Day Three: Roa and Aranda del Duero

Ricardo’s Madrid: a detailed map of places to see and eat

by Ricardo Padrón, Guest Contributor

This is a wonderful interactive map contributed by my friend, Prof. Ricardo Padrón, of the different places he has enjoyed while on a year-long sabbatical in Madrid.  Please click on the sites on the map for more details about the place.

Day Trip: Segovia and Day One of Road Trip to Peñafiel

To celebrate my husband’s and brother’s big birthday we decided to throw a huge party in Peñafiel, home to its famed castle and the center of many wonderful Ribera del Duero wines.

Day One: We departed north from Madrid towards Peñafiel. We were traveling with a good friend who had never been to Segovia and decided to stop there for lunch at our favorite place to eat “cochinillo” (suckling pig), Mesón de Cándido.  We got a little bit lost along the way, because my husband took a wrong exit, and it was close to 4:00pm, so I called to inquire if they were still serving lunch.  The man who answered the phone decided to stay on line with us as we drove, giving us detailed directions, precisely predicting each rotonda and marker we would pass, until we would physically reach him, waiting for us, standing below the roman aqueduct. Wearing his white chef smock, he was Cándido, the grandson, of the family of Cándidos who own this famed restaurant with views to the Aqueduct.  Press the link above to read more about the history of this family and the restaurant.  I have taken various family members and friends, at different times to celebrate big birthdays. Cándido conducts a ritual of the cutting of the pig with the edge of the plate, followed by the smashing of the plate.  A video of this ritual from our 2007 visit, celebrating my niece’s 15th bday is below.


The Roman Aqueduct from the first century A.D. spans 15km of arcs formed by granite blocks. Of special note is the double archway overlooking the Azoguejo plaza.

Post lunch we stopped by the river park, Alameda de Fuencisla, to capture the views of the Alcazar de Segovia. This less visited area of Segovia has the Convent of San Juan de la Cruz and the not to be missed, romanesque Church of Vera Cruz. This church has a very interesting dodectagonal plan, and in its center, it has a small two-level “edículo” or temple.  You can read more about it on the link above.  We were able to peak inside, moments before a wedding.  My little nieces believed the “tale” that the bride was the princess who lived in the castle above.

Of course, Segovia offers much more to see, and it merits a long day trip from Madrid.  I will eventually add more sights to see. The first stop would be the Alcazar or castle which is rumored to be the source of inspiration to Disney’s Cinderella castle.  It offers great guided tours, for more info press on the link. Proceed to walk the city’s core and cathedral.

We proceeded to our final destination of day one of our weekend festivities: Peñafiel.


Click on the highlighted words to learn more about Madrid!


by Marian Camps, Guest Contributor

I have never been to Mallorca but is definitely on my list. I have asked my friend, Marian Camps to share with us her local tips. She recommends staying in Palma and renting a car to see the other sites in this very easy to tour island.


 Cultural tours:

  • Cathedral: A must. It’s the only cathedral built in front of the sea. Construction started in XII century. Gaudí and Miquel Barceló contributed in the XX century.
  • You can complete the Cathedral tour walking through the historical district. You can visit the Plaza de Cort (Town Hall), Plaza Santa Eulalia, Plaza de Montesion (this is my school, it was built on XV century) and Plaza San Francisco
  • Casa Estudio de Miró.
  • Museum El Baluard. The exhibitions are not very impressing, but the bar and the view it’s totally worthy
  • Bellver Castle – Only if you are curious about castles (there is nothing really there more than the building). You also have a very nice view from Palma (it’s the only one in the world with a circular base)

What to do:

  • Ramblas, Borne and Jaime III are the commercial area. You can have an ice cream at Can Miquel, and you must have breakfast (or an early dinner) in Can Joan de S’aigo ( ) Best ensaimadas and ‘cuartos’ from Mallorca. You can order them with hot chocolate or ice cream
  • If you want to walk across the sea line, the place is El Portixol. There are so many nice places to eat there: Hotel Portixol (expensive), Restaurante Club Naútico Es Portixol and Restaurante Club Marítmo Es Molinar (one of my favorites for fish and Paella), Cocco (modern and couzy place)
  • The most typical bar in Palma is Bar Bosch. You should ask for a “Llagosta”, it’s based between Es Born and Jaime III (shopping area)
  • Another great place to eat (breakfast, lunch or brunch) is Es Rebost, they have pretty good products from Mallorca
  • If you visit Palma on Saturday, you should go either to Mercat de S’Olivar or Mercat de Santa Catalia. These are permanent markets, and on Saturdays you can have brunch there, a really nice experience.

Where to eat:

Palma has very good restaurants, so it’s very hard to choose without knowing your taste… This will be my first recommendation:

Palma Centro:

Zona Portitxol (Frente al Mar):



Tramuntana Zone: (one of the most beautiful areas):

You can have a route among this places in 1-2 days. The views and the small villages are amazing.

  • Deià
  • Esporlas
  • Banyalbufar
  • Valldemossa
  • Soller

Zona Nord-Este:

Not as nice as the previous one, closer to the sea.

  • Alcudia
  • Pollença
  • Orient

Another really nice tour could be Cabo Formentor, it’s a very nice road heading to the sea.

What to do

Lunch and Dinner


If you feel like, this is a short list (there are dozens of them, it will depend where you are staying)

  • Playa de Es Trenc
  • Playa de Ses casetes des Capellans
  • Cala San Vicenç. Pollença
  • Cala Deià
  • Puerto de Banyalbufar
  • Illetes (very close to Palma)

Only few of them, you can find much more at



Hotels  in the Historic Center


More affordable: all of them are very well located and they are good value for money


  • Hotel Colon Cheap,comfortable and decent. Even though it is not located in the very center it is very convenient. Near the center, bus and train stations, etc.

Outside of Palma

  • -they have various hotels throughout the island and is well regarded.
  • -located in the south of the island, closed to one of the best beaches, Trenc, are some ancient thermal baths reconverted into a a hotel and spa. This place is geared more for couples rather than families.