When exploring a new city for the first time, I make sure to go around the block once or twice, then slowly branch out from there….making note of the parallel and perpendicular streets and landmarks. It saves time later and keeps me from getting lost.

Madrid is glorious! Modern, sophisticated and spotlessly clean, this Spanish capital is     beautiful, with spectacular buildings from historic architectural periods, including Baroque, Gothic and Neo-classical; an abundance of large, safe public parks and tree-lined avenues; heaps of trendy shopping spots with prices ranging from rock bottom department stores (Primark) to expensive designer boutiques, specializing in everything from shoes, handbags and stockings to styles hot off the runways.

Madrid has a gentle, quiet and well planned system of public transport with the Metro underground rail being the star attraction. (I say “gentle” in comparison to NYC’s screeching, graffiti-riddled subway trains, and well planned in the sense that it is easy to understand, even for someone who is new to the city and doesn’t speak the language).

The people are friendly and helpful, the city is crammed with world class art museums and a plethora of massive cathedrals, the tap water is delicious and safe to drink, and, as far as I can tell, crime is not an issue.

While Madrid’s street plan is archaic and confusing, the grand plazas, roundabouts, spectacular fountains and statues create an aura of spaciousness, even on crowded streets near packed tourist attractions. Outdoor cafes abound; the coffee is excellent; and prices are reasonable, and don’t vary much between residential and business or tourist areas.

Of course Madrid is a Mecca for tourists, students and international business people. With several lavish Royal palaces, including Palacio Real (former home of  King Phillipe V, the grandson of French King Louis XIV), the Palacio de Liria, the Santa Cruz Palacio, and Palacio de Cibeles Centro Centro, one can get a glimpse of what being in the top 2% of wealth was like during centuries past.

Madrid is also home to the Prado (Museo Nacional de Prado), the Real Academia de Belles Artes, the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sophia, the Thyssen-Bornemizma Museum, a naval museum, the Sorolla Museum, and the Museo Arquelogico. Where else can you see Carravagio, Rembrandt, Reuben’s, Goya, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Velazquez, Raphael, Titian and Heironymous Bosch in the same day?

Home to the notorious Spanish Inquisition of Queen Isabella and King Fernando in the Middle Ages, Madrid’s cathedrals and monestaries are some of the most spectacular in Christendom. The Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, the Catedral de las Almudena, the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony de La Florida, and the Monestario de las Descalzas Reales boast items such as holy relics, like pieces of the True Cross, some of the bones of St. Sebastian, the burial place of Goya, the site on which St. Francis of Assissi built a chapel in 1217, and marble sculptures, and artwork by Titian, Reubens, Breughel the Elder, Goya and Pacheco (Velazquez’s teacher and father-in-law). There is even an Egyptian temple, called the Templo de Debod, that dates back to the 2nd Century B.C., that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid.

This world class city has something for everyone and every taste, so be sure to include it on your Bucket List!




Colombian Cost Co

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Market day in Tunja was a surprised I hadn’t expected. On my last day in Boyaca, we went to the “market” to have breakfast.

Sounds easy, right?

First of all, traffic was backed up for miles with huge covered trucks, collectivas, cars, carts, bicyclists, huge busses leaving for Bogota, and masses of people on foot, wandering between stopped vehicles as they converged on the market.

For stray dogs, moms trailing kids, old men in dusty ruanas with black fedora hats, old women in the same costume, younger men in baseball caps ond ruanas, people in jeans and denim jackets, nuns, and families, market was the place to go, very early on a Friday morning.

Bananas for sale

Bananas for sale

We finally parked and headed for the main attraction. Huge pallets laden with onions, papayas, pineapples, vegetables that I’ve never seen before, medicinal plants, potatos, livestock (little piggies for sale! — chickens and roosters, baskets, espadrills, hats to ward off the high altitude sun, clothes, sneakers, and hand made ruanas, covered an entire city block and the entire interior of a public stadium!

Young farmer girl selling peas

Young farmer girl selling peas

If you can name it, you can probably buy it here.

If only CostCo was as colorful and as well stocked!

Dogs like the market, too!

Dogs like the market, too!

Pummeling through the crowd, we came to the “dining area”. Wood fires and huge grills smoked merrily in the early-morning light, exuding the delicious aromas of sizzling, fresh (like hours fresh!) chicken, pork and beef.

We entered a crowded restaurant — a semi-temporary structure with a tarp overhead, and quickly-constructed rough wooden walls. I ordered chicken “plancha” — a whole chicken cut into flat strips resembling something  that looked like it had been ironed on an  ironing board — that was accompanied by tasty little round  potatoes, rice, salad and a healthy glass of the juice of local fresh fruit.

My friends ordered a thick, hot, delicious soup — a regional favorite — made with aromatic stock, tiny round potatoes, maize, cilantro, and chunks of pork — steaming hot and very filling.

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken and pork

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken, beef, and pork.

Considering the fact the shoppers — and especially the farmers, who brought their goods to the market at around 3 AM — a hearty breakfast was in order. We sat in the crowded dining room with many locals, ate, chatted with other diners, then paid the bill — more than satisfied with the hearty meal of which we had partaken. After leaving the market we fought even more traffic on the way out, and left for Bogota.

I can’t wait to go back!