by Joe.

(How perfect!  A big congratulations to Real Madrid who JUST NOW won the Champion’s League!  We enjoyed watching the game from here in Paris! We’re big fans.)

AND NOW, A WARNING! this blog post is rated PG-13.  It contains images of severed heads (yes!), ejected body fluids, and bloody bulls.

RUBENSTEIN FAMILY, in particular we want the boys to USE CAUTION before reading and looking at the photos!  Unfortunately, some animals were actually harmed in the making of this blog post.  😦   But, it was in the interest of culture, has been happening for hundreds of years,   and doesn’t hold a candle to what we’ve been doing to all the chickens we eat.  (and, btw, I’m talking about baby pigs here, not full grown male bulls!)

MAYES FAMILY, you should also use caution because it makes your favorite football team look like a second-rate Spanish team, certainly no better just the third-best team in the country, not to even mention where they’d rank in Europe or the world. That’s not MY opinion — just wait ’til you see the photo and what they put on the wall themselves in the section below.

(ALL KIDS … if you *do* read this blog post… be sure to post in the blog comments so we know if it was too much for you and gave you nightmares!)

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid

Welcome to Madrid!
One of the interesting things about our trip in Spain is that.. well.. we didn’t actually plan most of it ourselves!   While we were on the ship, with almost no internet connection, I kept sending email to Kevin and Kristine Shields who drove all around Spain for their honeymoon.. asking for advice.  Finally– Kevin said “hey — how about instead of you asking me all these questions… just let ME BOOK YOUR STOPS FOR YOU!”    Crazy, huh?

How many of you would have trusted someone else to book all your hotels, plan the # of nights in each city, etc?  I jumped on the bandwagon immediately as planning was damned-near impossible while on the ship.

This meant that every long drive was in someone-else’s hands… and every time we’d walk into another Airbnb, the quality and features of the apartment would be a complete surprise.   Scary!

Well… check out the AMAZING place we stayed in Madrid, with a terrace overlooking the Plaza Mayor and within just a few blocks of TONS of great restaurants (including the famous Mercado San Miguel and the world’s-oldest-restaurant, Botin).

Welcome to Madrid! Our FANTASTIC AirBnB

Welcome to Madrid! Our FANTASTIC Airbnb

Besides just booking hotels, in a bunch of cases Kevin setup activities for us too.  Can you believe that!?  In particular

  • As a huge soccer fan, he got some folks at MSFT (thank you!) to set us up with a reservation for a tour of the stadium and a chance to learn all about Real Madrid
  • He figured no visit to Madrid would be complete without the ADULTS seeing what the historic bullfights of Spain are like.

THANK YOU, KEVIN, YOU DID GREAT!   I know you’ll love seeing the photos of kids-in-jerseys and blood-dripping-from-bulls below!    And.. everyone else.. I think Kevin wants to book trips like this as his new full time job, so if you want these services– say so in the comments at the end of this post!   And it’ll be interesting to see if he read this blog post and knows I wrote all this!  Don’t tell him!  Let’s just see if he posts his rates or requirements in the comments.

And here’s your chance to see it all for yourself…



“The Best Football Club in the World”

After his terrific post on Barcelona, I’ve drafted Alexander to proved a few paragraphs on our visit to Real Madrid.

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid


(from Alexander’s journal)

I am a Real Madrid fan.  Not a Barça fan, as I may have implied in my Barcelona entries.  I like Neymar, but Messi is a showoff, and Suárez is a biter (literally).  That should explain why I’m excited about our Estadío Santiago Bernabeu tour.

We first climbed to the top of the stadium, and basically got an aerial view of its 81000 seats.  I would’ve LOVED to see the stadium packed out during a game.

We next walked through the museum, where we saw countless trophies and displays of the amazing history of Real Madrid.  Not just cleats and balls and trophies, but also sophisticated multimedia displays.  They even do technology great.

And the excitement built from there as we went down to the locker rooms.  They were incredibly fancy, and if I were a player walking out onto the field, the setting would’ve been amazing.  The bench seats were not really a bench at all.  They were sport car seats.  They were very comfortable, and watching the game from those seats would’ve been really cool.

We then walked to the press room.  It was a very large press room, much larger– I’d imagine– than others. (I’ve never seen it, but if I had to take a guess, I’d guess that the Real Madrid press room was twice as big as the Seahawks one.)

The tour guide brought us to the team store, where the tour ended.  The team store was just as cool as everything else (3 stories) and I’m sure everybody else loved it as much as me.

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid

Real Madrid visit at the Santiago Bernabu, Madrid



Ooooh… I’m sure this part of the blog will inspire some controversy!   Of course, since we’re travelling to LEARN about different cultures and different ways of life… we thought the bullfighting of Spain would be relevant and interesting. And, for sure it was.

(If you’re curious to read about the history, culture and anti-bullfighting movement.. check out the Wikipedia article.)

Date Night at the Madrid Toreo

Date Night at the Madrid Toreo


The kids stayed at home with a babysitter while Kristina and I went to Las Ventas,  the second largest bullfighting ring in the world.  Designed in neo-Mudéjar style (that’s “Spanish/Muslim”) — the arena seats 25,000 and is lovely but not exactly comfortable.  You literally sit on stone unless you pay 3 euros for a cushion.

The bullfight has six “rounds” — that’s six bulls.  Each round has three parts with a different purpose.  Read the Wikipedia article to understand this..  but you’ll see in the photos a few different things:

  • the toreador has helpers who have jobs that are varied and involve way more than the bull chasing a cape… eg. in round 1, the bull is lanced by a “picador” on a horse.  You’ll see in one photo that the bull can and does attack the horse, who’s protected by leather armor.  Another example– in round 2, the bull faces a banderillero who throws “darts” into its back to weaken and agitate it.

    Date Night at the Madrid Toreo

  • At the end of the round, the main toréador kills the bull with a sword thrust through his back and into his heart.  Sometimes this missed, and the toréador would need to try again.
    Date Night at the Madrid Toreo


Overall, we found the experience to be an interesting view into a long-standing part of Spanish history and we were glad we went even though it was fairly unsettling.   For goodness sake– the Spanish have bull signs all along the highways (see photos below), bull statues everywhere… it’s part of who they are. HOWEVER if we were choosing again whether to spend our own money in support of this activity, we wouldn’t do that.  (Interesting side note:  Barcelona has outlawed bullfighting, but apparently this has primarily had the effect of driving the activity underground and making it potentially more dangerous for humans and less humane for bulls.)

Date Night at the Madrid Toreo

Date Night at the Madrid Toreo



Sites in Madrid: Museums, Bike Tour, the Royal Palace, and “Parque de Attraciones”

None of us had ever been to Madrid, so we weren’t sure what to expect… but man, this place has been terrific and fun!  We learned a ton of the history of Spain at the Museo de Archeologico, we had a fun bike tour on a beautiful day and got to see a bit of the breadth of the city.  We walked into Catholic stores (oh, that brings me back to St. Cecelia’s), we learned about the Inquisition torture that happened right outside our apartment (see photo!).  Two of us even … against our will… got haircuts!  (A week earlier we had been too late to make it to the Barber of Seville.  Literally.)


and since we’re not THAT mean, we topped off all the art and history with.. a trip to the local amusement park!  Kids need some fun too, so we rode the “Teleferico” cable car up from downtown to the top of the hill where they had some pretty killer rides!


The Oldest Restaurant in the World, the best Chocolate Churros in the World

We ate some terrific food in Madrid… and besides the fantastic tapas, we had a fun and interesting experience one night visiting the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin.  They specialize in suckling pig here (look closely at the photos!) and it was delicious.

After dinner, the girls wanted to go with Daddy to try out the famous chocolate churros at Chocolateria San Gimes which was also RIGHT near our Airbnb. Absolutely fantastic!



Goodbye, Madrid!  Oh… and the last two items..

We sure had a great time here– honestly, our expectations weren’t all that high, but Madrid was fantastic.   Oh — I mentioned severed heads and ejected body fluids in the opening.. and you read all the way to the bottom to find these… good for you!   Here they are!

  1. Severed heads:  These were in the Cathedral at Tarragona on our way to Madrid.  One John the Baptist and one St. Paul!  You never know what you’ll find on a road trip, eh?


2. Ejected bodily fluids.  Poor Alexander!  I made him do a nice 5 mile run in the heat (2 easy miles with the girls, then 3 tough ones with me).. and he hadn’t drank enough fluids.. then later ate chocolate ice cream… and then later blew chunks right in the giant public area of Plaza Mayor just minutes before getting into our apartment where he ALSO blew chunks. That’s two added to our Barfcon!

Luckily for Alexander, Piper has already added a subsequent Barfcon 11 to the list, so Alexander’s not featured on the home page anymore.  As a consolation prize to him, I show you these lovely photos:


And so… goodbye Madrid! We loved you!   Sure, you had blood and guts.. but also great FOOD and great FOOTBALL and great FOON!

Next stop… San Sebastian!




7 thoughts on “Spain 4: Madrid! Blood, guts, and.. great foo..

  1. Wow. Spain looks like a lot of fun. After reading all your posts, Spain is at the top of my wanna-go countries. Bull fighting looks like fun, but you’ll have to explain the rules to me better when you very back. Thanks for the warning at the start. I appriciate it. Also, sorry to Alexander for throwing up. But I must say, I’m a barca fan.


  2. Looks like Spain was quite epic. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure….France! You guys should add your list of countries and places, post ship life, to your About Our Trip Section. It’s cool to see where you have been and where you are going. 🙂 xoxo. Miss you!


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