International Travel

Europe 2015 – First Stop: Madrid

Want to eat at a restaurant whose ranking on the World’s Best is either #1 or #2 depending on the year?  No problem! Simply plan a trip to Spain, including the Barcelona area; contact the restaurant way far in advance; and then wait. That is precisely what I did in preparation for the big Post-Tax-Season annual vacation.  And, I ask you, why not?
If you consider yourself a foodie and enjoying this type of experience is on your bucket list, then why beat yourself up by waiting and failing to score?  Of course there’s a big difference between what I did and waiting until the last minute. Once I knew the approximate dates in Spain, I secured the reservations and proceeded to map out the trip in accordance with needing to be in Barcelona on that particular date. Was it worth it? Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out!   

And why Spain? A high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, plus not having been there since 1987 were both considerations. Driving in Europe is always fun and provides lots of options. And starting the trip in a major European capital is the best way to get the good flights — in this case Madrid. I could say something about having foresight into the greatly-depreciated euro, but truthfully it is just luck.

After scoring two Biz Class seats non-stop on Iberia to Madrid (50K AA miles each plus a total of $275 in fees), this year’s trip is largely a driving one. With no more than five hours of drive time between locations, there is the added benefit of flexibility if a change is desired. The itinerary is: Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona in Spain; fly to Milan to spend two days with friends from Luxembourg (more on that later); fly to Dubrovnik for various stays in Split, Zagreb and other sights along the Dalmatian Coast via rental car.   Finally, on to London for two nights prior to the return flight home. London provides larger numbers of nonstop options to LAX, plus does anyone really need a reason to go to London?? 

My seat passed the
“flatness” test —–>>>

The flight on Iberia was on time, provided fully-flat seats, and the food was quite good. The downside was an entertainment system that was outdated and functioned poorly. Otherwise, it was a seemless journey over the Atlantic, arriving mid-day. I am full of praise for Hotel Villa Magna, originally neither the first nor second choice.  Having recently read about it, the choice was perfect. Great location, beautiful and modern decor, superb service. Win/win/win. Our concierge sent us to Ars Vivdendi– italian fare with a spanish touch due to the proprietors’ dual cultures; it was walking distance and perfect for the first night .. but I needed to get adjusted prior to taking the customary food photos.

First up, we were off to the Prado Museum, likely on everyone’s list; it is first-rate.  We saw both permanent and special exhibitions of Goya, plus a small sampling of Picasso and an abundance of other great art.  There are works in this museum from before America had museums …

(Above) You might want to ditch the cell phone
to engage the folks passing by!

<—Yes, there’s a person inside there.

A real treat was exploring the Mercado de San Miguel, absolutely packed this Sunday. Perfect for grazing from stall to stall with mouth-watering treats offered by all.  We refrained as we were headed to the world’s oldest restaurant — so deemed by the Guinness Book of Records — Botin, established in 1725. From what we saw, this is well patronized by the locals and not just for the tourists.  We had both excellent service and fine regional fare, particularly the roast lamb which is their specialty.

After a brisk few hours touring the city’s highlights (a mediocre guide with a very nice car), plus doing our bit to help the local economy (aka shopping), we had the extreme pleasure of an indulgent lunch at Santceloni.  One way to look at this is when lunch doesn’t end until 4:30 or so, who needs dinner? Highlights of an exquisite meal and impeccable service below … next stop:  San Sebastian.

The first thing we actually ordered
Out of the 10 photos, we only ordered
is on the left grid, bottom right corner.
four dishes; the rest were the offered!

  <<—- The Three Amigos:
Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and 
The Hubby.