For the Shoe Fashionista

(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)

Madrid. A blend of history, art and fashion. While I have so many fond memories of this lively city — Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum, the throne room at the Palacio Real, the impressive grandeur of the Plaza Mayor, and the ubiquitous jamon y queso — what I remember most were the giant, 10-foot shoes decorating Calle Serrano, Madrid’s most fashionable street. A temporary exhibition in June called “Shoe Street Art” lined the sidewalks with about 25 stiletto shoes made from fiberglass and polyester. Each shoe had a unique design, exploding with color. The exhibition was a delightful expression of contemporary art and fashion, in the midst of a city rich in tradition and culture.

Manolo Blahnik, eat your heart out.

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Viva Madrid

My family took an almost 4-week trip through Europe. First stop, Madrid, Spain.

My young teen succinctly characterized it as “hot, stinky, old, and ham and cheese”. After 7 days, he got a good feel for the city. This would not be a top summer destination for him, but, never the less, an excellent choice for our family reunion with my in-laws who live on the Canary Islands.

From my adult perspective, I would describe it as a city rich in history, grand architecture, abundance of art museums, and, yes, hot. And, ham and cheese — jamon y queso –everywhere. Of course, the city has all modern amenities. A 7-day stay in this big city gave us a chance to experience more than just the tourist destinations.

I would highly recommend our hotel, Jardin de Recoletos. It is centrally located and a great starting point for many of our walks through the city. Walking is the best way to explore Madrid and many other European cities. The hotel is a quick jaunt to Retiro Park, perfect for evening walks. Large rooms compared to typical sizes throughout Europe. Excellent restaurant food. Dinner served outdoors in a small garden. Efficient and friendly front desk staff. Quiet side street off of Calle Serrano, where all the designer shops are located. One negative — restaurant staff need to learn about service!

Here are the highlights of our stay. Our kids’ ages range from 11 to 15 years old, which I feel are old enough to appreciate old cities rich in culture.

– Retiro Park (lots of strolling through shaded paths, snack bars, people watching, playgrounds)

Museo del Ferrocarril (for fans of old trains and model trains)

Real Fabrica de Tapices (very low key, no crowds, but fascinating short guided tour of how tapestries are made)

Museo Reina Sofia (modern art museum houses Picasso’s huge black and white painting, Guernica, which many experts claim is his greatest work)

Photo credit: The Guardian

Casa Patas (excellent, authentic flamenco in a small venue)

Museo del Jamon (not so much a museum, more of a popular eating place where you stand squeezed between locals enjoying their jamon y queso sandwiches and other tapas, like pulpo)

Segovia (easy day trip from Madrid showcasing Spain’s largest Roman aqueduct — amazing!)

Other memorable experiences included a necessary visit to a “lavanderia”, laundromat, to wash our clothes. Totally automatic with signs in English and Spanish. A snack at the Chocolateria de San Gines for the must-eat churros and thick chocolate experience. Of course, unfriendly and incompetent waiters at many restaurants. We longed for American service.

Next stop: Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

If you would like help on your next trip to Madrid, please send me an email.

Hotels for Seniors with Disabilities

Sometimes trip planning gets tricky for families, especially when combining requirements of kids, as well as grandparents. Even trickier is if the grandparents require wheelchair accessible hotel rooms. Here are a few hotels in Europe that provide accessible rooms, yet can satisfy requirements of comfort and location. This blog is submitted by a member of my family with a disability.

What to look for:

– an excellent location in the center of the town and close to the main sights (for town
hotels);
– access without stairs to the hotel itself, to the restaurant etc. and to the room;
– fairly spacious rooms with separate beds
– a well adapted bathroom, with separate shower and tub if possible, or else at least a separate shower.
Berlin, Germany
NH Hotel Berlin
On Friedrichstrasse, a very centrally located modern 4-star business hotel, in walking distance (with wheelchair) of the museum island, the Brandenburger Tor, Unter den Linden, and many other sights. Hotel is well accessible from street and also inside; the breakfast room is reachable via a ramp. Well-equipped bathroom with separate tub and shower (in selected rooms). Good breakfast and dinner, very friendly and helpful staff.
           Photo credit: NH Hotel
Vienna, Austria
Hotel-Pension Pertschy
Even more centrally located, the Pension Pertschy is housed in the baroque Cavriani palace, a listed building which traces back to the 14th century. The entire centre of Vienna, from the St. Stephens cathedral to the “Neue Burg”, the imperial palace, is in convenient walking distance. The pension has 55 rooms of very different shapes and sizes and differing facilities. It helps to be quite specific when ordering. The staff is very helpful and will try their best to satisfy your requests. Bathrooms are mostly simple with only a shower, but reasonably complete. The buffet breakfast is generous and ample. There is no restaurant. The house was to be refurbished and overhauled last year and presumably improved again within the limits of monument protection regulations. Accessibility with a wheelchair is good, movement inside the hotel is unproblematic.
                                               Photo credit: Ethan Prater
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Hotel Anthelia
Spacious and comfortable 4/5 star hotel at the seaside. Access with wheelchair to the hotel is unproblematic, movement within the hotel likewise. Also, easy access behind the hotel to the paved seaside promenade. Room size is sufficient for wheelchair. The hotel offers several rooms which are specifically equipped for people with disabilities. Bathrooms in standard rooms are well equipped but don´t have separate shower and tub. The large breakfast buffet is delicious, as is dinner in the two restaurants. A quick snack
for lunch is available at a bistro besides the pool. The staff is both local and international and generally very friendly and helpful. All together the house offers a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday experience also for handicapped people.
Photo credit: sunshine.co.uk