October 29, 2009

Do you like football?  I mean American soccer or European football!  My family and I love to watch “football”—American or otherwise. 

In September my wife and I had an opportunity to visit the facilities of Real Madrid in Madrid, Spain.  It was a real thrill and we thoroughly enjoyed the tour through their magnificent facilities.   To our surprise, the stadium, Santiago Bernabeu, is right downtown.  Quite a difference from what we are use to in the “states”.  We hopped a bus from our hotel, rode six or seven blocks through the busy streets of Madrid and we were there.  The stadium is situated on approximately six (6) city blocks of prime real estate and is one of the most visited structures in all of Europe.  Let’s take a look at several facts.

FIFA voted Real Madrid as being one of the most successful teams in the 20th century.  Take a look at these stats:

  • 31 La Liga Titles
  • 17 Spanish Cup Titles
  • 9 European Cup Titles
  • 2 UEFA Cups

Year after year they are always contenders.

The team itself was founded in 1902 and has since become the world’s richest football club at €351 million.  This is in terms of revenue.  It is the second most valuable in terms of over-all worth at €950 million.  The stadium will hold 80,354 screaming fans but, at one time, 120,000 could squeeze into the facilities.  In 1953 renovations were made adding box seats and “sky boxes” for commercial purposes and to appeal to the many corporations around Madrid and throughout Spain.  This reduced the overall capacity to the present numbers. 

The arch-rival of Real Madrid is FE-Barcelona.  Both teams compete, on an annual basis, for European glory and frequently the bragging rights for the European Community rest with this competition.

Spanish teams limit the nationality of players to only three from non-EU countries.   Real Madrid has the following personnel lineup:

  • 9 Players from Spain
  • 2 Players from Portugal
  • 3 Players from Argentina
  • 2 Players from Brazil
  • 2 Players from France
  • 3 Players from the Netherlands

Let’s take a look at the stadium.

Real Stadium(1)



As you can see, it’s every bit as sophisticated as any stadium in the United States and possibly more-so.  I was really impressed with the artificial turf.  Don’t really know the composition but it is “fake”; a very good “fake” indeed.  You could also tell that there was a significant amount of padding or cushion beneath the surface of the field. 

The players sit in chairs that resemble what you would get while flying first class.  Really beautiful and very supportative.  My wife “plopped” down and decided to stay for a while.



The locker rooms are more elaborate than anything I could imagine.  We were allowed to tour the opposing player’s locker room but NOT the ones for the “home team”.  I can not imagine what they might be like.   I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

REAL (8)



REAL (9)



REAL (10)



The trophy room was loaded with hardware.  Win after win after win after win.  Take a look.

REAL (18)






REAL (15)



An absolutely magnificent facility and one that is fitting for a world-class team such as Real Madrid.  I definitely recommend taking the tour if you are in Madrid.  Oh by the way, we got our picture made with Raul—one of the most famous members of the team.




October 26, 2009

During our visit to Madrid this past September, my wife and I decided to take a side trip to Toledo.  I had done graduate work several years ago that involved research on the painter El Greco, a citizen of Toledo.    I became fascinated with his rendition of Toledo’s “angry skyline” so a one-day trip, while in the area, was a must.   We discovered a city aptly named “El Ciudad Imperial”; truly, a beautiful beautiful little city in the heart of the Spanish plaines.  It lies approximately 70 kilometers south of Madrid; easily accessible by bullet train for the small price of €15.00 per person.  The city itself is home to approximately 76,000 inhabitants and encompasses an area of 90 square miles.  It is located on the Tagus River at an elevation of 2,034 feet amid undulating plaines, olive groves, wheat fields, grape vines and an assortment of fruits and vegetables grown by most of the population.  An example of the landscape is shown by the picture below. 

Olive Trees and Countryside

Olive Trees and Countryside

As you can see, rolling country side with olive groves punctuating the landscape.

It is said that to understand Toledo is to understand Spain itself.  The city has been and is a melting pot of ideas and a meeting place for many different cultures; namely Christian, Jewish and Moorish.  At one time it was the capital of Spain with history going back at least 2,000 years.  Toledo was mentioned by the Roman historian Titus Livius in the journal he provided for the Roman magistrate Marcus Fluvius.  The city is a magnificant “assembly” of old and new with winding streets, shops in cubby-holes no bigger than a closet, majestic castles, a richly decorated cachedral and a gallery of art showing the major artists who lived and worked in the city.  Several “street scenes” are given as follows:

Street Scene

Street Scene

Street Scene

Street Scene

The skyline is indeed magnificent with two very important buildings; the Alcazar Palace and the San Juan de los Reyes Cathedral.  Both may be seen in the picture below.  The palace is in the foreground and the cathedral in the background.

Toledo Skyline(5)

Toledo Skyline

The art museum is located in the cathedral, as well as the fascinating “Room of Ornaments and Robes”; artifacts of the Catholic Church from ages past.

The river provides the life-blood to the city and all of the water is derived from that source. 

River and Countryside

River and Countryside

I also will mention now that Toledo is known for Manchego cheese.  Apparently word famous and absolutely delicious.   Served with just about every meal, including breakfast.  I do recommend you check this one out. We had two meals there, breakfast and a very late lunch and I can certainly state that they do take care of the turisticas. 

Another business that flourishes in this small city, is the multi-colored ceramics.  These are generally for local consumption and tourists although shipments to distributors to make their way to other parts of the world.



All in all, it was a fascinating day and one that will go in the personal “archives” as been one of the most delightful we have spent in quite some time.  I definitely do recommend that, when in Spain, check out Toledo.


October 9, 2009


My wife and I recently visited Madrid, Spain—a city we had never seen before and one in which we actually had a dear friend.  She had been asking us for several years to make the trip but with jobs, kids, grandkids, aging parents, etc etc we felt the time was not quite right.  Well, three weeks ago we “pulled the trigger”.  Approximately eight (8) hours over and nine (9) hours back—non-stop and coach to boot.  Not a bad flight and we really got a “deal” through Expedia.  The exchange rate between the dollar (USD) and the Euro (€) is not that great but, with our national economic conditions, we felt the rate would worsen and not get better in the near future.  Now was definitely the time to go.  Our great country is being run by a self-serving bunch of egomaniacs that “have theirs” and care nothing for those of us who struggle on a day-to-day basis, sometimes to just make ends meet.  ( Another story for another day. )  At any rate, we decided to cash in a few of those “green forms” from our retirement, thinking that we’re not getting any younger and who knows, if we don’t spend it the government will take it away.

Madrid is a marvelous place to visit and the end of September or the first of October is time to go.  Very pleasant weather, low temperatures, very low humidity and tourism is basically over for the summer.  We always walk until we drop so those two weather related conditions are very important to us.  We found just what we expected, a city old in tradition yet with a very new outlook on life.  Broad boulevards, beautiful parks, fascinating museums; all of those things you would expect from the capital of a country.  During our visit there was a definite “buzz” relative to the awarding of the 2016 summer games.  Madrid was in the “hunt” and would have been the perfect place for such an endeavor.  Everyone was talking about the possibilities and really high on Madrid getting the call.  As it turned out, Rio was the choice for the IOC—and a good one at that.  The first time a country in South American had been chosen.

I want to tell you about a dining experience my wife and I had one evening at a small ( very small ) restaurant in downtown Madrid.   The Spanish take their evening meal, when they eat out, around 2000 or 2100 hours; generally much too late for us but, when in Rome do as the Romans do.  I made reservations not really knowing what to expect, although the restaurant had been highly recommended by several people on the Expedia web site.  People that had stumbled upon the place quite accidentally but loved what they found.  The name of the place was IROCO.  Their logo is show below as follows:

Logo for IROCO Resturant

Logo for IROCO Resturant


As you can tell from the logo, it was a classy place and had been in business for a lengthily period of time.  We entered through a rather non-descript door and found indoor dining that was anything to write home about.  Six or seven scattered tables about the place, no table clothes, no place settings, etc.  A big disappointment at first!  After giving our names to the receptionist, we were led through the restaurant into a magnificent garden that was lit for an evening of quiet, gourmet dining. The garden WAS the restaurant.   I don’t really know who decides to dine inside but they were missing a real experience.   Due to the time, 2000 hrs,  we were one of only two couples there.  That changed quickly as 2100 hrs approached and by 2200 hrs the place was really hoppin.  The garden became the focal point of the evening with every table and chair filled.  Couples, business men, singles—you name it, they were there.  I have tried to capture the garden with this rather poor rendition of reality.

 IROCO Garden

The menu was not that expansive but the choices were definitely diverse, including appetizer, soup, salad, entre, desert and of course wine.  Definitely NOT your meat and three.  Their wine menu was one to dream of, red white, champagne, sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, etc.  they were all there.     The choices of bread were definitely not wasted on me.  I could have made a meal on the verity and the herb butter served with the bread was inline with what we had during a visit previous visit to Italy. For the first time ever, I had gazpacho; definitely Spanish in origin and it was out of this world.  Here again, I could have made a meal on the soup, but I did not.  I did order, what became, the best piece of veal I have ever had.  I LOVE veal.  Don’t really know how I got hooked on it but a good piece of veal provided a night of good memories.  My wife ordered tortellini, which also, was to die for.  ( Don’t know why she ordered Italian in a Spanish restaurant but it was worth the calories and she gave me a bite.) The portions were just right although not super-sized like we are used to here in the “states”.  All dishes were in moderation but we did leave feeling we had be very well fed.  My parting shot was an absolutely wonderful desert that any chocoholic would relish.  Four different versions of chocolate; i.e. cake, ice cream, pastry, etc.  I ate the whole thing and don’t really regret one minute of the time it took or the calories.  My wife was in the catering business for seventeen (17) years so she knows a thing or two about presentation and she tells me the presentation of the food was as good as she has ever seen.  The shape of the dishes, glasses, utensils, etc were definitely paired with the food so that the ultimate “look” was captured  and made each combination appear as to be designed by a dedicated chef.

The cost: €221.00 or approximately $250.00 US.  Was it worth it—you better believe it.  We had a marvelous time and really enjoyed the people around us.    It’s really good to get away and visit other countries, other cultures, to remember what it was like before TV, when people enjoyed each other and sitting down to a really good meal ( without interruption ).  Great trip and I can definitely recommend Madrid.

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