We spent very little time in Madrid and there is a simple reason for that, it’s bloody boiling in the Summer and nowhere has A/C. Still we had to go and see Cousin Matt so we braved the heat….
We spent most of our few days here going out and enjoying Madrid by night, luckily we had a willing baby sitter and of course Madrid’s night life is seriously full on. Still, most of what we did wasn’t suitable for a family friendly travel blog. So I’ll stick to what we did do with the kids which wasn’t much to be honest.
There was a trip to the cinema in the Gran Via looking for A/C, the cinemas here are BIG and OLD and shouldn’t be missed. We also went along to Natural History Museum which had an exhibition on poo, which went down a storm with the boys.
We went for a hangover nursing afternoon in Malasana where I managed to find a bar I used to frequent 20 years ago. It had a good selection of games so it was backgammon and cocktails in a classic and elegant Madrid bar.
If you do go to Madrid with the family, take my advice don’t go mid-Summer.
Castilla y Leon
All the guidebooks bang on about Castilla y Leon being overlooked as people whiz between the trendy parts of Spain Blah blah. Well the fact that it’s overlooked is that in fact a lot of it is pretty boring, so no great mystery really.
Still there are some cool bits, including some of the ones we went to this Summer (20017)
Where’s the crisis? They say, (when they’re in Salamanca), whilst other Spanish cities have beggars on every street corner etc, Salamanca is full of shiny tourists. This means it ain’t as cheap as it might be, but you can get fancy tapas and feel extra brainy after visiting all the cultcha. This means taking the obligatory photos in front of old churches and beautiful squares as well as a tour of the old university, as a Don myself I thought it was only professional courtesy….although after reflecting on the 20 odd Euro it costs for the two of us to look at some big old lecture rooms I was left with the feeling that perhaps I was in the wrong line of work.
The whole old town is great especially the Plaza Mayor, which has managed to keep some kind of ‘real’ vibe despite the volume of tourists, it’s big enough to swallow a fair number up.
We actually went to drop the kids off on two week Summer camp, which we’ve talked about in another post, so it was with a heavy heart Lorena and I had to spend the night eating excellent grown up food on the downtown tapas trail and generally not having to ‘do’ anything special. We did happen across a free concert in the Casa de las Conchas an old house converted into a lovely public library. Before driving back to Asturias we also went for lunch and chose a place with a tasting menu which was good if not great and not overpriced for what it was. So I can’t really talk about Salamanca with kids, except to say that there is nothing too obviously kid friendly, but that Tommy has the time of his life on the Summer camp, so who knows?
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, it was just as hot as Madrid so we basically ate and then slept in the afternoon and then ventured out in the evening. We also stayed in a cheap and cheerful place in the centre of town which was basic but dead friendly.
We combined a trip to Ponferrada with a trip to Las Medulas and both were smashing for kids. Ponferrada has a whacking great Templar Castle and a pretty old town, and so to the castle it was. Again it was on the warm side, but castles are good for shade so it was cool and cool. The price in was a few Euro and there were some bits of weaponry and some old books to look at as well as the battlements etc. I keep saying next time I go to visit an old thing I’ll make the kids watch a video on it to get them primed, but I never do. In this case it would definitely have made a difference as half the time we weren’t really sure what we were looking at and the boys didn’t have the patience to read the information boards. Lunch was in the shade of the castle walls and was a big menu of the day, good value and good grub.
After lunch a local recommended a good stop para tomar el cafe was in the very nearby village of Molina Seca. As I said it was pretty warm and the village is on a river set up for swimming. So the kids had a dip in the pants and although the water was too cold for me I had to drop my trousers to show the boys that it was OK in Spain to show your Primark undies in public.
After a swim we followed the little river into some woods which offered some shade until we got to a spot where the kids could build a ‘bridge’. A local guy ambled past and we had a chat then it was back to the village for a drink. The place was also full on pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago and it really had a laid back friendly vibe, a great way to end the day.
We stayed out of town at what could be described as a business hotel if I were feeling generous or a truck stop if I were feeling honest. Still being a truck stop it was easy to find as it was on a main road, it was cheap, clean and the food came in big portions. Oh and it had a table football which is always a deal breaker for the boys. I will say though that lunch was great value and delicious, the waiter also threw in an ice cream for the boys and was generally a good egg. So if there is a lesson to be learned it’s that the less pretentious or ‘touristy’ places sometimes make for the most friendly spots.
Las Medulas is an old Roman gold mine that has ended up looking like natural landscape. It’s a great spot for a walk combined with a bit of oohing and aahing over just how crafty them Romans were. To visit, you park up in the village at the entrance and have some grub, then go for walk according to how fit you’re feeling. We had a shonky start to to the trip as we got into a fight with the kids who said it was boring (before we even started) and then when Lorena took their phones of them it went up a notch. After we all had a go at sulking, guess what? We had a great time especially the boys, who woulda thunk it?
There was one other noteworthy low-light though, when the boys went off piste and Danny ended up taking a tumble into a bunch up conker husks and there was some serious howling and Tommy hating going on while we picked out the thorny things from Danny’s legs, with the help of a fella with a handy pocket knife complete with tweezers. Still the pain was soon forgotten once they got to run up a big caves with tunnels and dirt, it all seemed worth the effort of all those slaves dying thousands of years ago….
Again this was a kid-free part of the trip, but it was when me and Lorena were going to pick them up from Summer Camp so they were never far from our minds. Benavente is a middle-of-nowhere Spanish town that by happy chance has a lovely Parador, that charges middle-of-nowhere rates. So, a Parador is a cool chain of hotels owned by the state that keep old listed building alive as hotels. This one (or part of it at least) was an old castle and was lovely. We ate a massive lunch, slept in a comfy bed and generally enjoyed our last night of peace….
The town itself had a medieval market on, which saved it a bit, it was pleasant enough but not worth too much more than a once up and down main street.
We also stopped on the way back from Salamanca to Asturias, this time in Zamora, yet another in-the-middle-of-nowhere town in Castilla y Leon, that the area seems to specialise in.
This time the boys were very much with us and so we spent the day catching up on all their Summer camp adventures. The town itself had a pretty old town and we managed a decent menu in the town square.
I love Galicia, let’s get that out of the way now. I lived here for a year in the mid-nineties and had a wale of a time. So everything that follows is through the prism of Galicia can do no wrong….
So this Summer we were never actually all in Galicia at the same time. I was there with Tommy for a festival and then did a mini-tour with Lorena and Danny never made it.
The reason for going to Viveiro was for me and Tommy to go to Resurrection Fest, which put simply was AWESOME. The town is also pretty darn nice, but it was the presence of so much great music that made our overnight stop here unforgettable. We saw Anthrax, Dropkick Murphys, Airbourne, Suicidal Tendencies, The Mezingers, Late to Scream, Blaze Out, Noctem, and The Devil Wears Prada. Musical highlights were Airbourne for Tommy and Anthrax for me, but the real highlight was once again the people. The atmosphere of the festival was super chilled and we made friends with some local lads , which really made the difference. As the day progressed Tommy had to turn down offers to sit in people’s shoulders as he was getting a sore backside, but the lad done good and managed to keep going until about 2am. We then had the long walk back to the car where we got our heads down for a few hours.
Here are a few pics of Tommy and his new mates, including My Little Pony and Jaws
My next concert in Galicia was a bit different, Juan Luis Guerra is one of Lorena’s favourites and we have shimmied to his tunes quite a bit over the years. He is looking a bit long in the tooth these days (as were a lot of the crowd), but the band were fantastic musicians and they banged out all the hits so no complaints. We combined the gig with a couple of nights stay as La Coruna is lovely. Happily some friends were also in town from Abu Dhabi so we were able to hang out with them as well.
Most people who visit Galicia head for the Rias Baixas (which are in fact fantastic) or Santiago de Compostela, (more of which in a minute), but I would say that La Coruna pips them as my favourite city. It has the old town but is not touristy and the beach esplanade is long and sweeping. We had a good night on the tapas and the medieval market was in town giving an extra layer of atmosphere. Food wise we had gulas which are the cheapy version of angulas, but still tasty, and in general the tapas scene struck me as less pretentious than in other places (and all the better for it). We stayed in a place away from the old town which has big rooms and a decent shower even if it was a bit soulless. We didn’t do any of the sights in the city as there are only so many sights I can see, and to be frank being there without the kids meant we could focus on eating and drinking and having a lie-in. I would come back with the kids and spend more time in the area, who knows. maybe our mates will invite us back next year….
Santiago de Compostela
I have great memories of visiting Santiago back in the day, and as so often happens with such memories I ended up being slightly disappointed with the reboot. First off, the famous cathedral was all covered in scaffolding and second in the Summer the place is light on the students that give it atmosphere and heavy on tourists of the tour bus variety, who I am unabashedly prejudiced against. Also it was to damn sunny, Santiago should be damp if not positively wet and the jolly sunshine just didn’t sit right with the place.
Anyway we had a day pounding the streets and queuing for a look at the scaffolding inside the cathedral. We had a fair enough lunch and managed to find where we had parked the car afterwards so all in all it was not a bad day. And I would still recommend Santiago over 90% of Spanish cities, I know why Northern Europeans go to the Costas etc, but the North of Spain really does knock all that nonsense into a cocked hat.