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Madrid, Spain
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By Foster Hirt, Correspondent

About Madrid // Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a walker's paradise both day and night: blue skies and nice weather, summer temperatures hovering around the 80's, winter ones dropping to 45°. Wonderful museums and art galleries abound. The public transportation system is wonderful.

Where to stay // Gran Hotel Tryp Reina Victoria This four star hotel has 201 rooms that have all the amenities one could desire. Dine in the El Ruedo Restaurant and Bar Manolete and enjoy the European breakfast. Meetings can be held in spacious lounges. Conveniently located in the heart of the city in front of the "Espanol" Theatre, one can walk to museums, the Plaza Major and the Puerta del Sol. The Reina Victoria has a deep bullfighting tradition. Stay here if you want to see some bullfighters during the season. The lobby bustles with people watching the bullfights on TV. This hotel was built on the site of the ancient Palace of The Counts of Teba.

Places to see // The Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofia/Art Center museums are all located in the El Paseo del Arte (The Art walk). The Prado, a must, is one of the best-known museums in the world. The collection ranges from the 12th to the 19th centuries. The Royal Palace of Madrid, official residence and setting for the solemn ceremonies of the Crown, displays historic times of maximum importance. More than 140 galleries are situated in the vicinity of the Calle Barquillo and the Salamanca district. View these works, or wander through prestigious shops in the Salamanca area for boutique items. Museums are closed on certain days so be sure to check before you start out. Even though the stores take a siesta, the museums do not which is a pleasure. An Art Walk voucher is available. This allows one visit per place. Some museums offer senior citizen discounts. Some allow it solely for Europeans. Inquire. The Prado is free for people over 65.

Activities // There is so much to see and do including self walking tours. Parque de Madrid is huge and lovely. Rent a rowboat; children will enjoy the playground punctuated with statues and lavish grassy areas. Nature lovers can visit the zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens. Watch a bullfight, the unique Spanish experience running from mid- March to mid-October. Flamenco dancing is another aspect of Spanish life not to be missed. Spain operates 27 casinos. Try your luck.

Where to shop // Shop in either numerous small specialty shops or very fine large department stores such as El Corte Ingles, a large chain department store with quality merchandise. Spain is known for its leather, ceramics, and handicrafts including jewelry and metal works, lace, porcelain figurines like Lladro. Cadalso glassware is produced in Madrid. There are any number of small specialty shops to explore. Enjoy the flea markets and out door markets that take place on different days. Bargaining is usually acceptable. Don't forget the fun of exploring the museums shops. Lots of treasures for a little money. Book lovers, try Happy Day Books located on Goya 55 or El Corte Ingles department store. Crisol is another great place to peruse.

Where to eat // A multitude of cafes and tapas bars are open all day long. They are a great place to give your feet a rest, enjoy some of Spain's national food and drinks and people watch, especially when you can't shop. Try a Spanish Omelet, a traditional Spanish food, different from our American rendition. One cannot ignore the number of fast food restaurants and ice cream parlors from the states. Even McDonald's had outdoor tables. Gula Gula -Calle del Infante 5 (right by Cervantes' house at Calle Leon and Calle Cervantes) Phone 91 4202919. They have a very nice buffet and menu. Vegetarians can find enough to eat here. Integral Artemista is a vegetarian restaurant with a wonderful menu and two locations. Ventura del la Vega 4 Phone 91 429 50 92 28041 Tres Cruces 4 phone 91 521 87 21 Madrid 28012. If you feel like Chinese try the Palacio de China. Vegetarians will have no problem there. Atocha 20 Phone 91 369 36 99 Casa Botin is the oldest restaurant in Madrid (since 1853) they still use same oven- wood burning ceramic oven by Plaza Major- known for its suckling pig Casa de San Miguel is right beside the Reina Victoria Hotel. Their Spanish omelet is a treat. The department store El Corte Ingles has a restaurant on its 5th floor with a smoking and nonsmoking section. The basement contains a large grocery store.

Transportation // Taxis in Madrid charge extra from the airport. There is an additional fee for each piece of luggage that isn't a carryon. Do ask what it will cost to get to your hotel. The metro is fast, inexpensive and a breeze to take since it is color coordinated. For those who don't like to travel underground, the bus is another mode of getting around. Hotel concierge can advise about tours.

Tips // The sun comes out early in the morning and is strong, take a hat, especially if you plan on using foot power. The Spaniards like their siestas, and stores do close for a few hours during the day. El Corte Ingles and other big chain stores do not close. Don't forget to get the vouchers for your VAT. (Value Added Tax) when you shop. You get back 16% of whatever you spend over 15,000 pesetas. You will need a filled out invoice from the store and your receipts. Some airports want to see the goods. You can mail in to get your refund or collect it at the airport, but it must be done before you leave Spain. If you need to conduct any business at a bank, be sure to do it between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Take some pesetas with you when you leave home just to get started. There are money-changing places in the airports. Whenever possible, make reservations. Restaurants do close for siestas and usually don't open till at least 8:30 PM- if you are lucky. Always be conscience of pickpockets. Remember smoking is permitted just about everywhere.

Madrid Side Trips // SEGOVIA, AVILA and TOLEDO
You can expand your horizons and take a number of day trips to cities nearby Madrid by bus, car, train or tour, just to have a flavor of the nearby mountains and terrain. Combine a tour of Avila with Segovia since they are neighboring cities. Avila, the highest city in Spain, is 70 miles from Madrid. Called the land of scents and stone, it is a beautiful, nine-gated walled city. Its massive walls are the best-preserved ones in the world. The small streets lead you up hill to a large square, Plaza Major. Snack or shop there or just relax. Segovia, only 50 miles from Madrid, is known for its Roman and 16th century "Comunero" insurgency fame and its 2000 year old aqueduct. Built by the Romans solely by placing one rock on top of another, no mortar, the aqueduct is still in use today. Segovia's nickname is Stone Ship because the Alcazar's profile resembles the prow of a ship and it's tower is the mast. The Corpus Christy Church /Monastery was an old synagogue in the old Jewish section, and the convent was a synagogue converted in 1410 into a church. It is by the Plaza del Corpus Square The Alcazar castle, the majestic fortress from Roman times. The Alcazar has been a palace, a prison and the Royal Artillery School. The General Military Archives are still located there. Segovia has a number of walking itineraries. Sit in one of the lovely squares. UNESCO has bestowed upon Segovia the title of a World Heritage City. La Granja in Segovia manufactures superb crystal. The Royal Palace of La Granja De San Ildefonso is about 5 miles outside Segovia. Toledo, the medieval capital of Spain, is only one hour from Madrid.

When you stand on the banks of the Tagus river, try to imagine ten centuries past into a plethora of Jewish history. Many homes in Toledo currently resemble what they were 500 years ago. There are a number of Almazars throughout Spain. Toledo is no exception. One of the gates at the city's entrance is shaped like a keyhole and is where Moor, Christian and Jewish cultures met. Toledo was once the home of Spain's largest Jewish population. There are two surviving synagogues here. The Sephardic Museum is the synagogue, El Transito, founded by Samuel Levi in the 14th century. It has been converted to a church but hasn't been altered much. Find it on Calle de Samuel Levi. Pay a visit to El Greco at his house and museum. More treasures by other artists are also on view here. If you think of Toledo you might think of the steel sword that was its trademark. Also available is damascene, metal inlaid with gold thread. For the Jewish tour to Toledo contact Trapsatur.

By Foster Hirt, Correspondent

Madrid and its environs were a delight to visit. My husband and I enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets. One could almost reach out and touch a wall. We loved walking and taking public transportation since it was a great way to get a sense of the city and its people. I found leather book covers only at one stand at the flea market. Even though English isn't spoken much, people were very helpful.


ROOMS: 70+
CLOSEST MAJOR AIRPORT: Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD)


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