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Sunday, January 15, 2006


Yesterday I let some of my old friends know about this blog. The first person to get back to me was Gary from up in Vermont. "Maybe you should get a job," he thoughtfully opined. "Writing dense panegyrics about hotels and travel companions puts you squarely in the crosshairs of those struggling to eek out an existence on dogfood and the dried spittle of Republicans." Oh dear! I can't say I hadn't thought the very same thing... and often (though not from the point of view of "crosshairs"). When I thought about starting this travel blog, I realized it wasn't especially for backpackers-- nor even for someone like who I was when I started my travels in the 60s. Nor, for that matter, is it written for people who don't even like travel. Of course anyone is welcome to read it and get whatever they can out of it-- be my guest. But when I started traveling I was hitchhiking, panhandling and sleeping on floors. Now I'm a retired businessman with the resources to travel more comfortably. I plan to write about my experiences in Afghanistan and Nepal when I was penniless but if hearing about good restaurants while eeking out an existence on Republican spittle and wrestling bowzer for the marrow bones, upsets you, stick to the guidebooks from the Lonely Planet.

The first time I saw-- fell in love with-- Madrid, I couldn't afford to even think about a fancy hotel. My girlfriend and I slept in my van, parked on a quiet residential street. The funky accommodations didn't hamper our love affair with the Prado or our admiration for the sophisticated joie de vivre of Madrilènes-- and Madrid has culinary treasures at all price points. Later, the fate or luck Woody Allen examines so insightfully in his great new film,MATCH POINT, found me as president of a large company with regional offices in places like Bombay, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Paris, Milan, Hamburg and... Madrid. If you've been following this blog at all, I'm sure you can guess my reaction when I figured out how these offices and my self-directed expense account could interact.

So, for the last couple decades, visits to Madrid have been headquartered at hotels like the Ritz, the Villa Magna and The Palace, lovely and over the top luxury spots that start at around $600/night. (The Palace, a Westin property, is more flexible than the other two.) These days I don't have an expense account and if I decide to spend that kind of money on a place to rest my weary head, you can be sure that it will be for value that is indisputable (like for Sevilla's Hotel Alfonso XIII, where we did stay on this trip). For Madrid, I found I could be perfectly comfortable now a notch (or two) down the foodchain at the well-situated, slightly over-rated, but reasonably-priced Villa Real on the Plaza de Las Cortes.

Actually I made some internet reservations way in advance and got a great deal, $140 for a double. The service was great and the free computer in the lobby was fast so I asked if I could stay 3 weeks later on my way back from Morocco. Sure-- and for 140, but for 140 Euros, about 20% more. Grrrr... Still, I was thoroughly familiar with the neighborhood and it's very close to La Boitika (Calle Amor de Dios 3), the vegetarian restaurant I was looking forward to eating at again, and about 3 minutes walk from the Prado. La Boitika is cheaper than Republican spittle and a lot more delicious-- and healthy. I had learned my lesson that the immensely expensive and immensely rich haute cuisine joints Madrid so revels in need to be taken in extreme moderation-- like once a trip... and that once had already passed. Probably the best restaurant we had eaten in was El Amparo, a very creative Basque restaurant that made us realize that people in Spain eat dinners too late for us-- and that the food tends to be way too heavy and that henceforth we would have our main meal at lunch and go for the tapas at night.

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