When we first arrived in Spain we were staying at a boutique hotel not far from the city center. Every morning we ordered a tortilla for breakfast. The tortillas in Spain are very different from tortillas in America. Their tortilla is similar to a fluffy omelette with onions and potatoes. It reminded me of Silvia and Florencio, our friends from Madrid, who had Mike and me over for a meal, where they served tortillas. I decided to contact them by texting their son in the US; he quickly responded with a phone number. After exchanging a few text messages with them, we arranged to meet over brunch the following morning.
Silvia and Florencio are the most cultured people I know. They are elegant and hospitable, yet humble. Our brunch was at an upscale hotel in Madrid. The last time we saw Silvia and Florencio was at a dinner in Irvine, California, about 5 years ago. I remember because I had a terrible cough and got one of those horrible coughing attacks after drinking iced tea. Silvia kindly suggested that I drink something hot to control the cough, and she was right.
At brunch we shared family pictures and caught up with our lives. Mike and I have known this couple for many years. Their cookies were imported into the US, and Mike was their distributor. We appreciate our friendship with Silvia and Florencio, and I love to watch how skillfully they eat. Eating for them is an art, and I believe that is one of the reasons this country does not suffer from obesity. Eating is a form of relaxation.
Another observation about Madrid was the freshness of the food; nothing seems to be processed. They have very few fast foods, and you can forget about Starbuck’s because there is nothing that compares to Spain’s cafe con leche; each morning I had three cups.
After leaving Spain we visited Lourdes, France, and then on to Tuscany. We have frequented the same accommodations in a small village about 45 minutes outside of Florence. The Castello del Nero never disappoints, the setting is not only picture perfect, it’s celestial.
We visited Cortona, where the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” was filmed. Cortona, like Assisi has beautiful, quaint villages that offer incredible experiences. Assisi is always one of my favorite places to visit. This is where St. Francis’s body is laid to rest. Helen and I walked the long distance to the church, said our prayers and left. It was getting dark and driving on unfamiliar roads is not safe for Californians; one wrong turn on the round-about can pose a big problem. Even with navigation, it’s still complicated. We ventured into Florence, walking around one of the most aesthetically perfect cities in the world. I will always be in awe of it’s beauty and all that it has to offer.
We returned to Madrid to once again meet with Silvia and Florencio. This time dinner was at La Gran Pulperia, specializing in tapas. Tapas are like ours appetizers, you get to sample a little of every thing the Spaniards eat. There are many stories about how tapas first originated, but my favorite is the one from one of the oldest restaurants in Spain, El Ventorrillo del Chato. The story goes as follows: After a long voyage following one the the longest routes in Andalusia, King Fernando VII arrived at the restaurant. He was served a glass of wine, covered with either a slice of bread or cheese to repel the bugs. The King knew why the wine was covered, but ate the slice anyway; then his entire court followed suit. After this event it is said that the King continued to ask for “tapas” with wine wherever he went. Some of our tapas included octopus – thank God I tried it for the first time a few days earlier. Octopus has the same texture as calamari but with no breading, because it is served with potatoes. It takes some time to get used to the rubbery coarseness. I cannot recall all the different types of tapas we ate that night, only that it was a memorable evening with wonderful friends.