Day 1 – And peace comes dropping slow…

June 17, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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The seawater pool near the shore

THURSDAY 17 JUNE

On the Spanish island of Tenerife –and loving it.

I like Spain, on my third visit in a year. I like the calm, slow friendly ways, the space. Less dazzle, snap and go (compared with Italy). Less tantrums and vivacious charm (compared with France). Less warm nosiness than Turkey. To name a few countries I have visited in the last couple of months.

But they are rather bad at English even here on the Southern coast of Tenerife –  Costa Adeje, where the luxury hotels line the seafront with palms and pools, restaurants and marble lobbies.

Sheraton La Caleta is charming – far more pleasant than I dreamt the day I used the internet to write some text for our brochure.

I was always a little stunned by its intense orange or salmon colour in the photos. Its colour is indeed intense, but it is more of a desert hue. The colour and design remind me of North Africa, some kind of fantasy castle in the desert. Palms wave against the ginger ochre walls which curve like a fortress around a treasure of pools and gardens, affording balconies for all. Vast public spaces bring a sense of freedom and peace – I sit on a vast terrace with no one in sight.

To get here we flew over the ocean from Barcelona. Approaching Tenerife you think – “wow where will we land?”, as you look out at bony dry mountains. But we curved in over a city where rich ochres and mystic green on flat roof houses make an exotic geometric pattern, and on to flat land where Tenerife North airport lies.

And then the 45 minute drive on a smooth motorway over a crumpled, withered landscape, occasionally blazing with billboards offering coke and other not very original messages.

I was by now anxious with hunger, after the dreadful lack of alternatives on Spanair. So all I could think about was asking reception when I could eat.

I rushed up to my room to deposit my laptop, see my room and powder the nose, so to speak. When I opened the door  I  could not get the lights on, cautiously (too cautiously) sticking my card in the slot.

In the dark I felt my way along the wall into the bathroom, felt bath. Felt more bath…felt…basin…went back…tried light. No.

Must use loo. Back in again. Felt walls, felt glass door… shower cabinet. At last another door…ah…now a bidet. At last the loo…

Suddenly the light came on. The porter has arrived.

I came out to the bathroom door.

Do you like your room? He asked.

“I haven’t seen it yet” I said acidly, as I stepped into the marble hallway.

But then I saw it. Yes I said. I really like it. The décor was classically nice – king bed, table adorned with fruit and mineral water, with cosy chairs. But it was the balcony that was so special. Totally enfolded by gingery ochre walls with flower beds and real earth and total privacy. Looking out over pools and palms to the sea.

Bathers on Duque beach

Here on Costa Adeje the one really genuine thing is the sea. There is something so appealing about turquoise water on dark volcanic sand and rock. It glints in a richly elegant and non-postcardy way, hinting at magic for those who get to know it.

The other thing about Costa Adeje is that everyone here is on holiday – low pace, slow pace holiday, lying by the pool. Standing or loping along the promenade that runs from the Sheraton up to the Plaza and Duque beach. Dining with view of the sea. At this serene end of the Costa Adeje you find no disco. No markets waving plastic. Modestly tucked away boutiques in a little shopping centre offer  chic designs in genuine fabrics, and actually, made in Europe (wow). A little breather away from made in China.

Costa Adeje  is  a place just to be for no practical purpose but just to be.

I like the warmth, warm air smelling of sea and pool water, even under a grey sky as today, all is bright. And there are flowers.

PARIS SHOPPING CENTRE

In a little café watching France and Mexico in the world cup, with the swarm-of-bees sound of the public in South Africa reaching us in the balmy air of Tenerife.

Waiting for my Tortilla Spanish omelette. I think he had to go to buy eggs. I am a little afraid it might get dark.

But it’s so nice being here. Warm glow of sun emerging from cloud. The ancient feel of a beautifully created stone wall fringes the lane, and palms.

And the TV with its bee sound reminds the world is caught in a net of shared experience.

And now the omelet. I try to discard the lovely fresh roll and eat the omelet, while the bee sound swarms in the background and the balmy air of Tenerife breathes around me.

The guy at the bar/the cook/the whatever is pleased I like the omelet. He is glad Spain lost. Why? They were too full of themselves he explained. I am from Uruguay….but I have a Swedish girl friend. I want to go and live in Sweden. She likes living here in Tenerife…its warm…


TENERIFE DISCOVERY

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I am on a fam trip organized bySpanish  tourist authorities. We are going to see a whole bunch of luxury hotels. But more than that. We are going to see and feel what else Tenerife can offer…

So that is my personal mission too.  

Does it offer luxury. Does it offer more than luxury? And what really is luxury to the human soul…

ah…


More tapas and palaces

May 9, 2010 in Spain | Comments (0)

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Saturday 8 May  (Madrid – continued)

palacio real & jardines del pal2

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A long day of exploration.

We walked a huge circle for 6 hours, with little stops. Starting after a leisurely breakfast at La Rotunda, Westin Palace,  we walked up the area rich in tapas bars (Barrio de las Letras). Along C. del Prado, watching the area get more tired and more closed and graffiti decorated, till we came to a wide open square Plaza Mayor surrounded gracefully by low buildings with spires and arches. The old city area Madrid de los Austrias is a confusion of small streets in every direction. We found a tiny square with trees and stopped  out of the cold wind at sunny tables for a drink.

Finally, the stated destination of our walk emerged: a very big wedding cake eruption of pale stone called Palatio Real.  The view from here was recommended by the concierge  – we glimpsed green hills and smoky mountains through the iron gates, but did not feel like joining the queue to get in. Free opera was in process in front of the real palace, with the most extraordinary voice radiating out into the ether. Among others she sang Carmen, which was so haunting in its Spanish setting one felt the tears well.

Into the cathedral Almudena. Austere awe-inspiring Gothic heights, intended to amaze and inspire the spirit to feel small and strive heavenwards.

"Modern" Almudena cathedral windows

Light filtered in through extraordinarily colourful, bright and somehow abstract windows. “They look so modern” I said wondering where the haloes and beatific faces were. Did some artist long ago react against all the sombre black and brown?

The Maria in a gigantic oil painting was a nun wearing a black habit. This lady is a patron saint, and yet another virgin.

Below the Palace and cathedral are formal gardens laid out invitingly with paths between sculpted  trees, ponds and monuments. We popped into a modern coffee bar for nice café latte peeping towards the view (small cup only 1.5 euro) and use of loo (no toilet paper). Only our luxury hotels offered toilet paper – it’s important to carry some with you when out on the town in Madrid.

Past a tiny square Encarnacion (with yet another sculpture)  along some narrow streets and we were in Gran Via. This broad and busy  road skirts the entertainment area – the Soho or Broadway of Madrid. Gran Via represents the modern city, with shop after shop from the big chains like Zara, H&M to smaller clothing boutiques. I must see the prices I cajoled:  really lovely apricot and brown floral with Jane Austen waist (bare arms though): only 15 euro, and lots more lovely inspiring affordable clothes. That boutique thumping with music seemed to be a local brand.

Heading east we turned left into Calle de Fuencarral which the Hospes concierge had told us edged the heavy metal area. This walking street is young Spain, with streams of young adults, small trendy boutiques and plenty of jeans shops. A flashing light Sex Sells highlights Diesel jeans. Turning right into Augusto Figueroa we had now found shoetown – shoe shop after shoe shop. Must check prices, I again cajoled my partner. Plain leather boots and sandals from 20 eur, but most up around 80 or 90 euro, Meanwhile hunger showed this area had less to offer in way of eating possibilities.

Then we crossed the Paseo Recoletos, the mighty avenue with all its sense of pomp and victory, monuments and fountains, over to another important thoroughfare, Calle de Sortero. Now we were in an area of elegant apartments, well kept, with some little trees nurtured – enough to bring again the sound of birds rather than only traffic. This is the area of designer shops – we came across an  Armani store with a sale on. A textured jacket in grey with piping was going for 260 euro. The boring thing was most of the shops had siesta till 4pm. I managed to find a tapas bar that for all the lack of English could sell me a tortilla francais – which turned out to be a French roll with an omelet inside. Delicious when starving.

Still heading east near Plaza de la Indpendencia (where Hospes is situated) we turned down to Calle de Alcala, the broad avenue that sweeps past the northern end of the Retiro park. Here we found  some restaurants and cafes spreading onto the broad pavement, with menus outside – at least they were open.

La Taberna del Toro - serene out animated within

The avenue was rather serene compared with Thursday and Friday. It seemed a nice place to eat and the menu reasonable (3 courses for 15 eur/ see photo ). But we decided instead to have a café latte (1.5 eur). Inside was more traditional bar with bullfighting pictures, TV, and animated Spaniards. The dining room at the back down a corridor of bullfighting pictures was small and totally packed with lively diners at tables bearing checkered blue and white oil cloths. So while the shops close the people dine (or sleep).

We crossed over into Retiro park. The air was fragrant with green  growth – amazing air after the streets that undeniably bear the odour of petrol and rubber. Tucked away inside the park is the lake. It was dotted with small boats. Along one side was a “lakeside” promenade where people strolled as if by the seaside.  The odd stand sold jewellery and restaurants spread their tables. It seemed far away from Madrid city life and smelt of water. We took a break on a bench just being and watching locals play ball with their tiny tots.

Back at the Westin Palace we collapsed after our 6 hour stroll. Then I was reincarnated as myself, and within five swift minutes had walked to The Prado. It stirs in the belly, realizing that such treasures are rising out of the history book with real brush strokes from the 15th and 16th centuries. I lingered in front of names from old memory, like Tintoretto (painting of a subtly alluring courtesan, pink in the desired places), Goya (the radiantly  living man in richest red robe and hat – a cardinal?) and others like Andrea del Sarto, Velazquez…

Back at the Westin Palace I now sat in the lobby to meet my partner, enjoying seeing the debutantes (or wedding guests)  go by, or be photographed on the stairs. Unashamed posing this way and that, as if these young girls needed to get better angles than their all round beauty.

We had already discovered on Friday night that turning left from the Westin Palace you came to an area of trendy tapas bars and small restaurants/bars. Then they were totally packed – not a chance of squeezing in for a meal.

So Saturday night we aimed to get there early. 7.30 pm they were already nearly full. But we finally slipped into Los Gatos eyeing some tables set for dinner.

They were reserved, so I was given a barrel to sit on. Had a really nice evening, starting with beer and tapas sitting on the barrel (2.5 eur each for tapas – a slice of fresh bread piled with cold meats of various kinds, or cheeses, fish….whatever).

Roof mural Los Gatos floating above beer and tapas

Los Gatos is a place of fun and fantasy. The Last Judgement has God or Moses holding a beer on the ceiling. Bikes are affixed to the wall, which is also decorated with frescoes of skeletons quaffing alcohol.

 

When the group arrived to claim the tables, mountains of mixed delicacies were put out in plates, and later bowls of mixed tapas (on bread).  Finally they left and we got to sit on a throne and a barrel in what felt much like a back room though exuberantly decorated with carnival figures, and a naked woman languidly reclining across the tiled wall.

A group of Spanish people joined us in that space: three women (Montse, Noelia and Alicia) and two men (Carlos and Pin).  The latter was an animated football enthusiast, hanging onto his phone to find out the score of two matches. He had a lot to say on that and life in general, I guess, though I didn’t understand a word. Alicia, next to me, explained that his girlfriend Noelia was NOT passionate about football – she was tired of Pin’s passion for it.

From left Alicia, Noelia, Pin, Montse, Carlos

They were all from other areas of Spain, were good friends, often tried to meet, and some of them worked in Madrid. This area of tapas bars was very fashionable and popular with the locals, she explained, as tourists tended to go elsewhere. We ordered langoustines (12 euro for 12) and a salad with sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and lettuce that tasted of nature and a nice sauce.  Beers put the bill up – though they were modestly priced at around 2.5 eur each. It wasn’t me who drank all those beers.

Sunday 9 May

Today Madrid was empty. The boulevards and circles that held a living coil of cars when we arrived  were now revealed, quiet and stand-offishly elegant.

The hotel too had a demure air. A few people at breakfast, and only me at the Reception to check out. We wandered out of the grand doors onto the wet pavement under a wet sky, waved a hand for a taxi, and were immediately speeding along the empty avenues  as if we had screamed Follow that Car, or “Catch my plane – I am late”. In a mere 20 minutes we were dropped at the airport for 33 euros fare, plenty of time to spare. The journey from airport to hotel on Thursday had taken 40 minutes and cost 31 euros.

This afternoon we are back in Stockholm to an erupting spring, young golden green and white ranunculus (vitsippor). The maple leaves came out in the 4 days we explored Madrid.

The most expensive latte I had was at The Palace – 6.9 eur, though it was a more traditional version in a big round cup with percolated coffee and hot milk poured from silver jugs and was called Caffe con leche (the Spanish name for coffee with milk). We drank coiffee all over the place, mostly costing 2.5 euro.


MADRID: TAPAS AND PALACES

May 7, 2010 in Spain | Comments (266)

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FRIDAY 7 MAY

Westin Palace Madrid 4.30 pm

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Westin Palace cupola - a magical place

Under the domed glass roof of The Palace. Commissioned as a “royal palace for visitors”, it trails glory and extravagance from yesteryear. Now it is Westin Palace Madrid, a jewel in the Starwood and Westin crown. Truly royal, apart from the eager customers at reception hoping for upgrade based on loyalty. In those days you didn’t upgrade so easily to this.

In front of me as I write, a woman poses for a photo, and demonstrates that The Palace is a landmark or even a destinatsion in its own right. In the middle of La  Rotunda restaurant, under  the centre of a stained glass cupola, she sits on a circular bench facing outwards, to the circle of classic columns that hold the glass dome up like a temple to Art Nouveau.

The lobby leads up steps  towards this “holy” space, harking back to Royal times, with inlaid marble floors, glittering chandeliers,huge tapestries  and inlays of patterned glass. Sitting in the Westin Palace lobby is an experience in itself, watching not just overnight guests but society belles of Madrid come and go.

Spanish high society comes here for weddings, debutante balls or whatever needs exquisite romantic surroundings and international service. Like flipping through a Vogue catalogue we saw  girl after girl walk past in killer heels, long glossy legs and bare arms, attired in rich colours, glossy satins and sometimes strapless mini evening dresses, bare shoulders gleaming with young skin.

Apart from the Rotunda restaurant, public spaces include the cosy Asian Gallery restaurant , a traditionally dark bar lounge serving tapas, a stylish business centre, and a gym. The Asian restaurant was a good choice for a late arrival to Madrid last night – thus avoiding cutting evening winds outside. Attracting people from the city with its cosy Oriental ambience and food, it offers quite reasonably priced dishes, main courses from around 15 eur, some starters for 7 eur. Bamboo shoots and brown mushrooms was a bit boring, but shrimp rolls (starter) very nice.

Obviously since the days it was created to serve kings it has been renovated to create more uniform size bedrooms (468 rooms and suites).  But the feel of those days is sacred – not just because it is a good business idea. This building is protected by law as a cultural treasure. The spa for example has been a long time coming because of regulations (now planned for 2012).

All over the place is antique furniture from those palatial days, or copies in the same style.

Our newly renovated room (Executive room) on the 5th floor gives an inviting olde-world feel in warm and sandy beige, with a combination of striped wallpaper and medallion fabric on head board and surrounding wall , along with old prints, and a few items of classic furniture. Of course, as the Westin brochure will tell you it has a heavenly bed (with trademark), not forgetting a delicious marble bathroom in the same warm beige with toilet and bidet (hand shower and overhead shower on bath).

 

We were shown a few more rooms by Isabella (senior international sales manager). Premium with view (30?) were very desirable  – especially because of The View and two chairs and table in the bay window. Most overlook the Fuente de Neptuno, a generously gushing fountain in the middle of a traffic circle that still bears the grand name of Pl Canovas del Castillo.  A table and couple of chairs in the bay window have the pleasure of that view.

Then if you need more room and can afford it ( c. 3000 eur/night) you can upgrade yourself to an executive suite (c. 180sqm  – also with a view but perhaps not of Neptune). Some features include separate shower, dressing room, office, lounge/dining room. Then with a Royal Suite you really go palatial with original furniture and effects. Nowadays it is celebrities  and ambassadors who stay in the Royal Suite – there are more of them than there are kings – but is fine enough for a king too. Very traditional, the Royal Suite has a master bedroom with drapes, lounge, separate dining room gleaming with black and gold, library with beautifully bound books, and a few modern things like Jacuzzi bathub, separate steam shower and a kitchenette.  That is for the butler of course – unless you are a celebrity chef.

There are two room types below our Exec room which we did not see.

HOSPES MADRID

hospes view fr senzone-2

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Afternoon.

We had lunch today at Hospes Madrid, on Pl. de la Independencia.  Fine buildings surround the traffic circle and on the traffic island in the middle is a big ornate arch. Not yet sure who they were independent from – was it from the Ottoman Empire? The only information I can find is that the arch in the middle was once the gate into Madrid and is called Puerto de Alcala; it was ordered by Carlos III because he thought that the previous gate was not fine enough.  The Puerta de Alcalá that we know today was completed in 1769.

The Hospes  hotel restaurant (called as in all Hospes hotels Senzone) is intimate and paneled in dark wood, with a view out through French balconies of the “square” (round).  A special Spanish style lunch had been prepared for us, and served with easy and leisurely pace along with friendly personal attention, over a period of more than an hour. Pelle reported that the Spanish style beef dish was superb – braised (I guess) topside (I guess) which in its succulent darkness just feell apart.

The Hospes Madrid lies close to Buen Retiro park – a huge green area comprising some 100 or so city blocks – guests can order a hamper for a picnic lunch in the green park with its romantic lake, stylishly clipped bushes and tall leafy trees plus a multitude of pathways (round what would have been city blocks). I imagine in the old days the elite rode around savouring neatly nurtured nature in horse and carriage.

Talking to Hospes Madrid’s front desk (Alvaro) armed with a map and a pen we discovered: It is also close to a big attraction: the posh area of designer shops north of the park.  It is also close to ( c. 10 minute walk) the Prado and its fabulous Renaissance  art collection (walking south), or walking west  the entertainment area  (Madrid’s Broadway), the gay area and the heavy metal area.  It is a little further to the traditional area where the tourists usually go, with its tapas bars and sights of old Madrid.

The hotel is built in a fine residential block, so it is very much part of old Madrid. We were greeted by the GM Maria Ripoll – redolent of the charming hands-on feel for which the hotel is known. Only 40 rooms, the Hospes is very personal and very pleasant, full of cosy corners, angles, stairs and surprises. There is a terrace eating or sitting area encircled by walls, and a couple of cosy lounge areas, a spa, fragrant with delicious incense, tiny gym.

We saw a Junior Suite with view (four of them have views out of a total of seven Junior Suites). Downstairs is a lounge with white furniture. Upstairs is a really charming attic bedroom with dark beams contrasting with bright white walls. Space is tight and used to the utmost … inventive, cosý, charming.  The bath on the landing is in full view of the bed, and there is a separate shower and toilet.

The deluxe room (like the standard room but with view) number 103 had a French  balcony, I  noted. Diego, the sales manager who showed me the room, corrected me with a smile. “No not a French balcony – a Spanish balcony”, he interjected. (In other words not a real balcony, but a balcony railing enables you to open the doors  and stand in the breeze admiring the view). Nice marble bathroom with shower (no bath tub).

It is now 1855 hours. It’s been raining and thundering. We sit in eternal afternoon under the cupola at The Palace with areas of transparent glass that show the brightness of what might be sun returning. Longing to go out and explore…

20.30

Now we sit at Westin  in El Bar del Palace.

A man trails sound around us from his clarinet. A girl in a very short black dress displays smooth brown legs in killer heels – silver and black. She is one of four Spanish girls living it up with a sortie to The Palace. They present a  classic sight.

The Leg

The high Heel

The slender Ankle

The Shine

The Youth

The Body creating angles that speak about love that might be and dreams that might take shape. A man joins them and his smile is so vivid you see he is charmed…

Nice thing about Westin, it is placed between two worlds of  Madrid. Like an island, taking up its own small city block, it looks over the enchanting Neptune sculpture and fountain. This belongs to grand, majestic,  Imperial Madrid with its avenues sweeping through, its treelined boulevards, eruptions of art in sculptures adorned with angels and other myths or certainties. It’s a clean and open Madrid. A splendid triumphant Madrid that ruled an empire.

Within a few steps up the hill from The Palace the old Madrid closes in. Intricate wrought iron railings, narrower streets, atmosphere  and signs distinctly foreign.  As you get higher the tapas bars increase. There is a square Plaza Santa Ana with open air cafes  – then more tapas bars and now a bit more decrepit, a bit less smooth. Next square has a Two star hotel. Turn right – very cheap cafes and No-star hotels. Around the large square and Puera del Sol metro there are swarms of people (always there I was told) – a general darkness in their clothes (brown black) giving a drabness edging on draining to the spirit. We saw crowds in a street coming down to the square – reminding of  black ants swarming in a line. Suddenly I realized my imagery was going sinister due to hallucination from hunger.  It was now around 8pm and I had not eaten since lunch.

We crossed the crowded square and I confessed: I am terribly hungry. Began peeping into all bars and restaurants no matter how much graffiti or other signs of neglect. Suddenly magically, as if a line was drawn, we were in an area of almost no people – austere street of banks and offices guarded by people in uniform.  We had made Calle Alcala. No tourists, just some respectable locals. On the left (according to our source at Hospes) if one crossed Gran Via one would come to the heavy metal area and trendy, Bohemian, Gay area. Now we were along a wide clean area of jewellery shops. But I wanted only food…

Let’s head back to the hotel I said and find some tapas bars nearby.

It was 830pm when we got to the Westin Palace and too hungry to go any further I agreed to have the longed for tapas and beer there. The aubergine and paprika tapas I had was unforgettably delicious (5 euro). The beer did not seem that reasonable but was no doubt a fine brand (10 euro/33 cl).

Saturday 8 May

A long day of exploration… see next page



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