Day 3 in Madrid – The History of Madrid Museum

 

When we were first walking around Madrid, we came across a museum about the city’s history. We were pretty excited because Kevin had looked online and not been able to find one. Naturally, 20 minutes into exploring the city and we found it! We marked down the location and aimed to check it out later in the week.

After our lunch at DSTAgE, we needed a low key destination where we could walk off our lunch, and fortunately the Museum of the History of Madrid was around the corner.

Weirdly enough, there’s no english Wikipedia entry for this museum, but according to a different tourist site:

“Housed in one of Madrid’s impressive Baroque buildings, formerly the San Fernando Hospice, the History Museum offers an overview of the arts, industries, lifestyles and customs of Madrileños from 1561, the year when Madrid was established as the Spanish capital, to the present.

Following thorough renovation, the museum reopened in 2014 with a collection comprising 60,000 objects linked to the city’s history: paintings, prints, maps, scale models, drawings, photographs, postcards, sculptures, porcelains, silverwork, fans, furniture, weapons, coins and medals.”

The building that housed the museum was beautiful, but the collection itself was a bit dry. Madrid has a long and complicated history, and it’s covered in great detail in the museum. Coming from the sprawling GTA, we were keen to learn about how Madrid came to be a landmark of density and great city planning. I’m not sure we got all that, but we did learn quite a bit.

Fortunately, Madrid itself has a very lengthy Wikipedia page to summarize what we learned:

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times,[30][31][32] and there are archaeological remains of Carpetani settlement,[30] Roman villas,[33] a Visigoth basilica near the church of Santa María de la Almudena[26][34] and three Visigoth necropoleis near Casa de Campo, Tetúan and Vicálvaro,[35] the first historical document about the existence of an established settlement in Madrid dates from the Muslim age. At the second half of the 9th century,[36] Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba built a fortress on a headland near the river Manzanares,[37] as one of the many fortresses he ordered to be built on the border between Al-Andalus and the kingdoms of León and Castile, with the objective of protecting Toledo from the Christian invasions and also as a starting point for Muslim offensives. After the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Madrid was integrated in the Taifa of Toledo.

With the surrender of Toledo to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, the city was conquered by Christians in 1085, and it was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown.[38] Christians replaced Muslims in the occupation of the centre of the city, while Muslims and Jews settled in the suburbs. The city was thriving and was given the title of Villa, whose administrative district extended from the Jarama in the east to the river Guadarrama in the west.

Since the unification of the kingdoms of Spain under a common Crown, the Courts were convened in Madrid more often.

In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Valladolid to Madrid, installing it in the old castle.[43] Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political centre of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 and 1606 (Philip III of Spain‘s government), in which the Court returned to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate.

During the reign of Philip III and Philip IV of Spain, Madrid saw a period of exceptional cultural brilliance, with the presence of geniuses such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Quevedo and Lope de Vega.[44]

The death of Charles II of Spain resulted in the War of the Spanish succession. The city supported the claim of Philip of Anjou as Philip V.

Philip V built the Royal Palace, the Royal Tapestry Factory and the main Royal Academies.[45] But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as “the best mayor of Madrid”. Charles III took upon himself the feat of transforming Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, street lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.). 

The Peninsular War against Napoleon, despite the last absolutist claims during the reign of Ferdinand VII, gave birth to a new country with a liberal and bourgeois character, open to influences coming from the rest of Europe. Madrid, the capital of Spain, experienced like no other city the changes caused by this opening and filled with theatres, cafés and newspapers. Madrid was frequently altered by revolutionary outbreaks and pronouncements.

However, in the early 20th century Madrid looked more like a small town than a modern city. During the first third of the 20th century the population nearly doubled, reaching more than 950,000 inhabitants. New suburbs such as Las Ventas, Tetuán and El Carmen became the homes of the influx of workers, while Ensanche became a middle-class neighbourhood of Madrid.[48]

To be clear, this was not the most well curated museum, but it was free admission, so worth checking out. The history of Madrid involved a lot of royalty-related drama, revolutions, etc and documenting that took centre stage over a history of urban planning. The museum also had a weird amount of rules and staff. We got in trouble for making too much noise, for drinking water in the wrong room, and carrying a backpack.

When we finished at the museum, we then walked to the oldest plazas in Madrid to see all the stuff we’d just learned about. After that, we headed up to the rooftop bar at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, on Zoya’s recommendation. It’s one of the best views of the city, and a great place to grab a drink. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great, but we snapped some great photos. Standing up on the rooftop, you can see out of the city into the countryside all around the city, which really highlights how dense Madrid is.

That night, we met up with Zoya and Shrip for a top notch sushi dinner in their neighbourhood. It was the perfect way to wrap up a long day of indulgence punctuated by walking. Also one of the only nights that we went to bed early!

Day 3 in Madrid – Lunch at DSTAgE

Before we came to Madrid, Zoya recommended we splurge on lunch at DSTAgE, a two Michelin star restaurant. She advised we’d need reservations, but when I tried to book us in, they were full.

So what did Zoya do? She called them. She got us on the wait list for lunch everyday that we were in Madrid. On Tuesday, they called her back while we were in the museum, so we couldn’t go. But on Wednesday, they called her back just as we were waking up from a late slumber. Perfect timing. We got up, we got dressed, and we went to lunch at DSTAgE.

Before we get into the amazing experience we had, a quick note on Michelin star restaurants.

The Michelin Guide assigns star ratings (1, 2, or 3 stars) to top quality restaurants in select cities around the world. Receiving a Michelin star rating is considered rather prestigious, as the Michelin Guide is famed for its extremely high standards. Here’s where it all comes from, according to Wikipedia:

In 1900, fewer than 3,000 cars graced the roads of France. To boost the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tires, brothers and car tire manufacturers Édouard and André Michelin published the first edition of a guide for French motorists, the Michelin Guide.[2] The brothers printed nearly 35,000 copies of this first, free edition of the Michelin Guide, which provided useful information to motorists, such as maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France. 

Recognizing the growing popularity of the restaurant section of the guide, the brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants, who were always careful in maintaining anonymity.[6]

In 1926, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments. Initially, there was only a single star awarded. Then, in 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced. Finally, In 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published:[3]

  • 1 Michelin star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
  • 2 Michelin stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
  • 3 Michelin stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).[6]

Michelin reviewers (commonly called “inspectors”) are completely anonymous; they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by the company founded by the Michelin brothers, never by a restaurant being reviewed.

The French chef Paul Bocuse, one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine in the 1960s, said, “Michelin is the only guide that counts.”[11] In France, each year, at the time the guide is published, it sparks a media frenzy which has been compared to that for annual Academy Awards for films.

So, that’s what the hype is all about. Accordingly, Michelin star restaurants are also quite expensive to eat at. Zoya and Shrip have found that, relative to other markets, Michelin star eating is a deal in Madrid, yet another reason why they encouraged us to try DSTAgE.

So, what about DSTAgE itself? The restaurant is typically described as a ‘concept’ restaurant, and its known for experimentation and creativity. The owner and chef, Diego Guerrero, was previously the head chef at a different two Michelin star restaurant, and left to create his own restaurant in contrast to the uptight tradition and style of other high end restaurants in the city.

According to the Michelin Guide:

This restaurant has an urban and industrial look and a relaxed feel that reflects the personality of the chef. The name is an acronym of his core philosophy: ‘Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow & Enjoy’. Discover cuisine that brings disparate cultures, ingredients and flavours together from Spain, Mexico and Japan.

Now that you’re familiar with the concept of Michelin stars and with DSTAgE in particular, let’s talk about our experience.

On Wednesday, we woke up to a call from Zoya about our reservation. From there, we got dressed and strolled across the city for lunch.

One of the most interesting elements of our DSTAgE experience was how specifically everything was timed. When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re escorted to 1 of 2 stations at the bar of the open kitchen.

There, you meet one of the cooks, who makes and serves you a palette opening dish, following by a palette cleansing drink. In our case, we had shrimps cooked over a Himalayan salt rock, served on a homemade cracker. It was bizarre and delicious, and hit every tastebud. Over the course of our meal, we watched every other group of patrons go through this experience as well.

From there, you take a seat at your table, and decide how to tackle your meal. You can choose 12, 14, or 17 courses. You can also choose wine pairings for each course. We opted for 14 courses, without the pairings (it was lunch, after all!).

Our first course was the seafood of the day: “razor clam with celeri dashi, almonds mild and coffee nectar”. The presentation was so cool that we took a video:

 

When each course was brought to the table, our server explained how it was made, what is was, and how best to eat it.

After the razor clams, we had something described to us as “Thailand in one bite”. It was pandan radish with pandan tea, and reminded us so much of the rice we had in Cambodia, which was often served with pandan leaves. Unfortunately we didn’t snap a picture of this one.

However, we took photos of every other course, which you can check out below! I’ve added our notes on every dish below as well. As you can see, the amount and variety of food made for an intense experience, but it was absolutely worth it.

See for yourself below… and then consider adding DSTAgE to the agenda when you’re next in Madrid!

 

Day 2 in Madrid: Museo del Prado and beyond!

Day 2 was our first full day in the city, and we tackled it with all the enthusiasm we could muster, which perhaps was a bit too much.

We started the day off with an early morning run through Retiro Park. As we were planning our trip, multiple people had told us to pack our running gear because Madrid is a great city for running. They certainly weren’t wrong. Retiro Park and the surrounding areas were full of runners of all sorts. Running in the Park had the exact ‘live-like-a-local’ feel that we’d been promised.

After our run, we headed home to shower and start our day. We had two rough goals in mind: visit the Museo del Prado, and explore the city. We spent 4 hours in the museum, and walked over 30km that day, so I think it’s safe to say that we accomplished both goals.

It took some time to get into the museum because we hadn’t bought our tickets in advance, but the line moved quickly and the weather was great, so the wait was no issue. Armed with our tickets, maps, and enthusiasm, we entered the Museo del Prado.

The Museo del Prado is the main event as far as Madrid museums go. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The Prado Museum (Spanish pronunciation: [muˈseo ðel ˈpɾaðo]) is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world. The numerous works by Francisco de Goya, the single most extensively represented artist, as well as by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez, are some of the highlights of the collection.

The building that is now the home of the Museo Nacional del Prado was designed in 1785 by architect of the Enlightenment in SpainJuan de Villanueva on the orders of Charles III to house the Natural History Cabinet. Nonetheless, the building’s final function was not decided until the monarch’s grandson, Ferdinand VII, encouraged by his wife, Queen María Isabel de Braganza, decided to use it as a new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The Royal Museum, which would soon become known as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture, and subsequently the Museo Nacional del Prado, opened to the public for the first time in November 1819. It was created with the double aim of showing the works of art belonging to the Spanish Crown and to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that Spanish art was of equal merit to any other national school.

Because much of the art in the Museo del Prado was commission by the Spanish Royal family, it has two primary themes: paintings of the royal family, and religious art.

I know we were feeling optimistic about our museum adventure because we started in the religious art section and really took our time. The collection was impressive, with art from masters like Titian, El Greco, and Caravaggio. However, at the end of the day, we both found the religious art to be repetitive. The museum is roughly in order based on time period, and most of the paintings from the 1400s to 1600s were religious in theme. 200 years of religious paintings is a LOT of religious paintings, and eventually we had to skip through a few of these rooms

The other thing to note is that this museum is physically HUGE. We spent nearly 2 hours looking at religious art before we realized that we’d only covered a small amount of the museum. The Museo del Prado is currently 16000 square meters. According to this weird little website, 16000 square metres is 3x the size of a football field, and half the size of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot to take in.

Once we’d covered the bulk of the main floor, we had to break for lunch. We’d had only a small breakfast, and were beginning to wilt. We re-fuelled with a paella from the museum cafeteria, and then headed upstairs.

Beyond the Spanish royal family’s extensive collection of religious art, the collection has quite a few rather famous highlights. Spanish artists Velazquez and Goya are both showcased beautifully.

Goya is considered one of the last “Old Masters” of painting, and was a renowned portraitist in the 1800s, hence his relationship with the Royal family. Later on his work took on darker tones, particularly in response to war and conflict in the region. We were able to see a full range of his artistic span, including the famous “The Second of May 1808” and “The Third of May 1808“. We were also able to see his “Black Paintings”, which “originally were painted as murals on the walls of the house, later being “hacked off the walls and attached to canvas.” (Wikipedia).

Velazquez’s paintings formed the other main event. According to Wikipedia:

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter, the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

The Museo del Prado is intentionally a home for classic paintings and art, with more modern collections held in other museums. From religious art to the works of portraitists favoured by the royal family, the theme was really ‘the art of old Spanish power’. It was a lot to see, but definitely worth it.

After all that walking in the museum, we left to continue exploring the city. We walked through many beautiful old plazas, headed for the Royal Palace of Madrid, the original source of all the art we’d just seen.

The Royal Palace of Madrid has a long and complex history, much like Spain itself. Here’s a brief (seriously!) soundbite from Wikipedia:

The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar (“Muslim-era fortress”), near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba[2]:7 and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.

The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Philip V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755[3] and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. Charles III first occupied the new palace in 1764.

The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as “Palacio Nacional”. There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name “Office of Azaña”.

The palace has 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms.[4][5] It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area. The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms.

You can pay 11 euros to go inside the palace, but we were honestly tired of looking at paintings of rich Spaniards and Jesus Christ, so we decided to skip this one. Instead, we walked around the outside of the palace and explored the nearby gardens. The weather was beautiful, as were the architecture/gardens/fountains.

We then headed to a nearby park that Zoya had told us about. Oeste Park is apparently the go-to spot for watching sunsets in Madrid. We were a bit early for sunset, but we did enjoy the view, which overlooks the palace and the expansive green space behind it.

We then wandered through the park in search of the Temple of Debod. This was one of the more random things we saw in Madrid. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this attraction:

The Temple of Debod[1] (Spanish: Templo de Debod) is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid, Spain.

The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Aswan[2] in Upper Egypt, very close to the first cataract of the Nile and to the great religious center in Philae dedicated to the goddess Isis. In the early 2nd century BC, Adikhalamani (Tabriqo), the Kushite king of Meroë, started its construction by building a small single-room chapel dedicated to the god Amun.[2] 

In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy.[4][5] As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.

The temple was rebuilt in one of Madrid’s parks, the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid, and opened to the public in 1972.[6] It constitutes one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain.

So, yeah. We saw 2000ish year old Egyptian temple in Madrid. Not much to say other than it looked really cool, and was a unique thing to see.

From the park, we continued our walk. We stopped for lunch at Takos Al Pastor, recommended by Zoya as a great spot for cheap tacos. She was right. We tried all the tacos on the menu, and it was a delicious.

Eventually we made it back to our AirBnB. I have to assume that we napped, though I don’t remember.

That evening, we ate dinner at the Mercado de San Anton. We’re weren’t a huge fan of the set up, but they had a cool rooftop bar, where Zoya eventually joined us. When the party ended there, we headed to 1862 Dry Bar. After enjoying their spectacular cocktails and hospitality, we wrapped up the night and headed home (walking, of course).

All in all it was a great day, but we definitely slept in the next morning.

Day 1 in Madrid: Naps & Vermouth & Tapas, Oh My!

On Sunday night we left Toronto, and arrived in Madrid on Monday morning. Unfortunately, we managed to sleep just two hours on the flight, so we were exhausted. We checked into our AirBnB and then proceeded to nap for the next few hours.

Zoya and her partner, Shrip, worked late while we were visiting, so dinner was often late in the evening. This worked out perfectly because it gave us extra time to explore the city, which is precisely what we did upon waking up from our nap.

When we arrive somewhere new, we like to hit the pavement ASAP, and get a sense of the city’s layout and walkability. We stayed in a really cool neighbourhood (according to Zoya) called Ibiza, just east of Buen Retiro Park. Also called El Retiro, this incredible park can be described as Madrid’s version of Central Park in New York City.

According to Wikipedia

The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The Buen Retiro Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá and not far from the Prado Museum. A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid’s premier attractions. The park is entirely surrounded by the present-day city … For children there are multiple playground areas as well as ponds throughout the park with ducks you can feed.[8] The inside of the Palacio de Cristal has been modified to include the edition of a stone slide in the interior.[10] The major paths and walkways are used by families, runners, bikers and rollerbladers.

We kicked off our city exploration with a walk through the park. Eventually we stepped out into a neighbourhood west of the park, near the Museo Del Prado. We walked the streets, saw many shops and interesting sites, and then met up with Zoya.

Zoya took us back to the street we were staying on. Two of their favourite tapas restaurants were located just steps away from our AirBnB apartment. A quick note on tapas, since I’ll be writing about it a lot, coutersy of Wikipedia

A tapa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtapa]), in Spanish cuisine, is an appetizer, or snack. It may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, sophisticated cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In Mexico, similar dishes are called botanas. According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.[1] The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Needless to say, tapas is a big thing in Spain, and we ate quite a lot of it while we were there.

On Monday, after a delightful reunion with Zoya, we started our night at a placed called La Castela. They serve vermouth on tap, which was both interesting and excellent. We drank a lot of vermouth in both Madrid and Cordoba because it’s a common, and often homemade, beverage.

For tapas, we had a variety of “pincho” or “pintxo” dishes … aka small things that you eat with a giant toothpick. We had a beef cheeks, and some really intense/amazing cheeses. Once Shrip met up with us, we had one more round and headed out to another tapas place.

Down the street was Taberna Laredo, one of Shrip’s favourite tapas restaurants. Again we had some really delicious dishes, including a beef tartare. We were a bit too tired to be taking many photos of dinner, but I do remember it all being top notch.

See below for the many photos Kevin took on day one!

We Went to Spain!

We were gone and now we’re back!

Kevin and I spent all of last week in Spain. We were in Madrid during the week, and then spent the weekend in Cordoba.

We chose Madrid because Zoya, one of my best friends and also my honorary baby sister, lives there. She had tons of great recommendations, and curated a great trip for us.

In the course of 8 days, we slept approximately 30 hours, we walked approximately 200km, and Kevin took at least 400 photos. We saw tons of museums, plazas, churches, old timey buildings, and parks, and we ate at tons of great restaurants.

As a result, I’ve got a lot of writing to do in order to share the details of an incredible trip. I’m starting to work on those today, but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos of the two of us enjoying Spain!

Quick Weekend Trip to DC

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin and my dad were scheduled to work at a trade show in Washington, DC. Given the success of our previous trip, my mom and I decided to tag along for the ride.

Though Kevin and Tony did spend some time working, the 4 of us found plenty of time to see sites and eat well.

Here’s a quick rundown and review of where we went…

Thursday:

When we drive to DC, we take a semi-scenic route, and stop midway in a Pennsylvania town called Altoona. We eat at Champs Sports Grill, which has impeccably clean washrooms and pretty good food. Kevin recently realized that his favourite candy bar, the Mallo Cup, is made in Altoona. Obviously, we had to stop at the factory and stock up at Boyer Candies. You can see photos of our visit on Google Maps!

After arriving in DC around 6pm, we ate dinner at Zaytinya, a Greek/Mediterranean tapas restaurant. The weather was so good that we were able to sit outside on the patio! The service and food were great. After a day in the car, it was really nice to relax outside while eating a light dinner (and wine, of course).

Friday: 

Kevin and Tony worked in the evening for a few hours, but we did our site seeing during the day. We started with the Newseum, a museum that highlights the importance of the press in the American democratic system. Entry isn’t free, because it’s not part of the Smithsonian, but it’s a really cool museum and well worth seeing.

After a few hours at the Newseum, it was time for lunch. We walked up the street to a place we tried and failed to eat the last time we came to DC, Charlie Palmer Steak. Congress wasn’t in session, but our server told us it’s a go-to spot for Republican Congresspeople. Then again, we could only name 3 house representatives, so I doubt we’d have recognized anyone either way.

Charlie Palmer’s is one of the closest restaurants to the Capitol Building, which Kevin could see in full view from his seat. But the view got much fuller after lunch when we were given the opportunity to go to the building’s rooftop. This is the spot where CNN sits to film inaugurations, which was really cool. The photos we got seem to prove that it’s the best view in town.

While the gentlemen worked, Judy and I did some shopping. We then met up for dinner at a french restaurant called DBGB. The food and service were both good, and yet I can’t imagine craving a return trip.

Saturday:

Kevin and Tony worked, so Judy and I headed off on an adventure in Georgetown. The plan was to visit a cat cafe, which we couldn’t get into because we didn’t have reservations. Then we wanted to try on wedding dresses (for me) at a bridal boutique. We went to several different boutiques and couldn’t get in anywhere due to lack of appointment. And yet! In the basement of Carine’s Bridal Atelier they had a sample sale! No appointments necessary! This welcome surprise really turned our day around. We spent a fairly amusing 2.5 hours working with a woman named Brianna in trying on 50+ dresses. Nothing purchased, but lots learned!

That night we headed to Filomena Ristorante, which had been a highlight on our last trip. The portions being enormous, we couldn’t finish eating and certainly disappointed our waiter. Again, as with everywhere else we’d eat, the food and wine were delicious.

Sunday:

Sunday morning started early. I got up at 6:30am to book day-of passes for visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As the newest Smithsonian to open, it’s incredibly popular, and you can’t get in without a pass. There are 3 upper floors and 3 lower floors. The lower floors required a wait time of 2 hours, so we opted to start upstairs. And even the upper 3 floors had more information than one could take in during one trip. I spent nearly 2 hours on the the third floor alone. And just before leaving? I found an entire art wing! It’s an incredible and important museum, and we’ll definitely be going back for more on our next trip to DC.

After a few hours at the museum, we walked up to the W Hotel. My friend Julie had recommended it as good spot for drinks, with an unmatched view, and she was right. It was nice to wrap up our day with a view of the White House.

From there, we headed to the hotel, packed up the car, and began our road trip home. And just before we left, we actually saw the presidential motorcade in motion. Bizarre, to say the least.

A few people asked me if the feeling in DC was any different post-election disaster.Visiting at the Newseum felt particularly important this time, and you could tell that some of the people visiting the museum were feeling frustrated with the current administration. Otherwise, we were there on a quiet weekend, with no marches/protests taking place, but the overall vibe of the city seemed the same. We’ll see if that continues on future trips to visit the USA.

Toronto Adventures – An Assortment of Weekend Activities

We’ve been back in Toronto since July, and having a blast. Though we’ve been pretty tied up with work and back-to-school prep (for me), and fostering with the Annex Cat Rescue, we’ve also found time to explore the city.

Typically we spend our weekends on long walks, punctuated by food and wine.

Below are the photos we’ve taken on our adventures around Toronto, including some of our favourite places to go and eat. They’re pretty random, so I’ve added comments to each photo to explain what’s going on. We took way more photos than this, but I’ve only included photos of our favourite or most common activities & places to go.

Of everything listed below, the most bizarro thing we did was go to the Swansea neighbourhood to see their popular Halloween decorations. While we were there we ended up meeting the guy who’s been fighting with the city over his treehouse. We actually went into his backyard and saw the infamous treehouse!

Photos & comments on other adventures are all below:

 

We Moved! And Decorated!

This post is primarily for my mom’s friends, who haven’t seen our new place yet.

Kevin and I moved back to Toronto at the beginning of July, and have spent the past few months focused on setting up our new home together.

We also got back into fostering with the Annex Cat Rescue, which you can read more about over here.

In my experience, moving is one of those situations where you realize just how wonderful and helpful family support can be. I’ve never moved without my brother, Tyler, travelling some far-ish distance to help me move (read: move most of my stuff for me). And having now moved out of my parents’ house 3 times, it’s clear that I never leave without taking (re-purposing!) a bunch of their stuff.

Like a fool, I was planning to paint our entire place by myself. Kevin’s mom insisted that we let their family help us, and thank goodness for that. In my allotted paint-the-whole-condo time, I managed only to paint our closet and bedroom. The Saturday after we moved in, Kevin’s mom, Aunt, and Uncle came over to help us paint. 12 hours later, our place looked amazing!

So, we made a big move. And our place looks great (in my opinion), but it wouldn’t look nearly this great without the love and care of our families.

Anyways, here are some photos to show you how it all looks. Be forewarned, Kevin is in the photos which means I took the photos, so they’re a tad blurry.

The only remaining decoration project is the closet, which will be resolved soon. In case you’re wondering where some of our furniture came from, the yellow chair, wine rack, bed, and kitchen table, and patio set were all “re-purposed” from our families. The couch, chairs, bookcases, and desk came from Ikea. The dressers and bar table were picked up at vintage/antique stores on Queen St W. The light in our bedroom comes from Morba on Queen St W. The rug and pillows came from wayfair.ca. Our glass coffee table and side table came from Home Sense (but versions of this are being sold everywhere right now). The pink stools came from Design Republic, also on Queen St W.

Watching the Dream, Girl premiere in NYC (and how you can see it too!)

Quick note off the top: Dream, Girl will be on a quick tour through Ottawa, Waterloo, and Toronto during the first week of November! Today I’m writing about my trip to see the film in New York, but I already have my ticket to see it again in Toronto, and you can get yours here!

As alluded to in previous posts (ages ago, I know), I went to New York City to see the official world premiere of Dream, Girl – the incredible documentary about female entrepreneurs.

Dream, Girl is the brain child of Erin Bagwell, who quit her job and launched a kickstarter campaign to create a feature length film inspired by the incredible female entrepreneurs she was meeting through her storytelling blog, Feminist Wednesday.

The film’s co-producer, Komal Minhas has been one of my best friends for nearly 10 years, so of course I bought my ticket to see Dream, Girl in New York as soon as possible. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to go, but supporting this film felt important. Fortunately, it worked out that I was actually able to make it to New York City to see the premiere!

It was a quick 24 hours in NYC, and totally worth it.

Kevin dropped me off at the airport, and I landed in La Guardia much sooner than expected. So much sooner that I’d forgotten to read my necessary-travel-prep articles in WikiTravel. I’d never been to New York, so I got off the plane with no real clue where I was or how to get where I was going. Fortunately, New Yorkers are super nice and helpful. In the first hour I easily asked 5 different people for help or directions.

Finally, I made it to Central Park and met up with Julie, another best friend from my days at Carleton. We were crashing in an AirBnB with another friend, and after a bit of sun in the park we headed back to the apartment to get ready for our night on the town.

Clothes. Makeup. Hair. Before long we were ready to go. I also made a dicey shoe choice that my feet regretted for the rest of the night, but we felt and looked great.

Which was good, because we were just a brief subway trip away from the Dream, Girl red carpet. Naturally, I forgot my camera, but luckily Getty Images was there to cover for me:

I’d already seen the film in Washington, DC, and was excited to see it again. After seeing the film with Kevin and my parents at the White House, we’d had some really great conversations about the film and about women in business. Those conversations had me excited to see it again.

I’ve already said it, but after seeing this film twice, it really is great. The most easily comparable film is Miss Representation, which I’ve seen at least 5 times. To those who’d make the comparison, I’d say the concept is similar, but the execution and end product are totally different. By focusing on the stories of individual women, each re-watch draws you in with something new. I couldn’t watch Miss Representation a 6th time, but I can’t wait to watch Dream, Girl a 3rd, 4th, etc.

The range of women in the film brings something for everything, and you’ll be sitting at the end of the film wondering which entrepreneur is most like you. When you friend turns to you and says “you’re totally a [insert name here]”, your heart will swell with joy.

Once the film was over,  we headed to the after party. Which means a group of 20+ women – all friends and supporters of Komal – trekked onto the subway to the Hotel on Rivington for a rooftop party. As subway rides go, that one was pretty surreal. Consider that 7 hours previous, I was in Toronto. And now I was standing in the New York subway system trying to figure out how to get to the after party for my friend’s first ever film premiere.

Travelling hours and hours to see your friend in her glory is pretty amazing. But as a side effect, I got to spend my evening with some of the most impressive women I know. Women who are honest about their struggles, who are hilarious, and who are unapologetically ambitious and excited for the future.

I headed back to Toronto the very next day, already looking forward to the next screening & gathering of lady powerhouses.

And now, Dream, Girl is screening in Ottawa, Waterloo, and Toronto during the first week of November. I strongly encourage you to book your tickets and watch this film with your own best friends. I have a feeling it’ll make you excited for the future.

Here are more photos from the premiere, courtesy of Komal’s fiancee Mitch (who has been graciously photographing our antics for years):

 

 

Adventures in DC – Day 2!

Our second full day of adventures in DC was slightly more subdued, only because our feet were truly beginning to hurt.

After breakfast in the hotel, we headed out to the Smithsonian again. The Smithsonian is free to enter, and is one of the best things to do in DC. Here’s some quick facts on the Smithsonian and how it came to be, courtesy of Wikipedia:

 The Smithsonian Institution (/smɪθˈsniən/ smith-soe-nee-ən), established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States.[1]

British scientist James Smithson (d. 1829) left most of his wealth to his nephew Henry James Hungerford. When Hungerford died childless in 1835,[8] the estate passed “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men”, in accordance with Smithson’s will.[9]

Though the Smithsonian’s first Secretary, Joseph Henry, wanted the Institution to be a center for scientific research,[15] it also became the depository for various Washington and U.S. government collections.[16] The United States Exploring Expedition by the U.S. Navy circumnavigated the globe between 1838 and 1842.[17] The voyage amassed thousands of animal specimens, an herbarium of 50,000 plant specimens, and diverse shells and minerals, tropical birds, jars of seawater, and ethnographic artifacts from the South Pacific Ocean.[17] These specimens and artifacts became part of the Smithsonian collections, as did those collected by several military and civilian surveys of the American West, including the Mexican Boundary Survey and Pacific Railroad Surveys, which assembled many Native American artifacts and natural history specimens.[18]

The Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as “The Castle”) was completed in 1855 to house an art gallery, a library, a chemical laboratory, lecture halls, museum galleries, and offices.[4] During this time the Smithsonian was a learning institution concerned mainly with enhancing science and less interested in being a museum. Under the second secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, the Smithsonian turned into a full-fledged museum, mostly through the acquisition of 60 boxcars worth of displays from the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The income from the exhibition of these artifacts allowed for the construction of the National Museum, which is now known as the Arts and Industries Building. This structure was opened in 1881 to provide the Smithsonian with its first proper facility for public display of the growing collections.[5]

The Institution grew slowly until 1964 when Sidney Dillon Ripley became secretary. Ripley managed to expand the institution by eight museums and upped admission from 10.8 million to 30 million people a year.[6] This period included the greatest and most rapid growth for the Smithsonian, and it continued until Ripley’s resignation in 1984.[6] Since the completion of the Arts and Industries Building, the Smithsonian has expanded to twenty separate museums with roughly 137 million objects in their collections, including works of art, natural specimens, and cultural artifacts.[1] The Smithsonian museums are visited by over 25 million people every year.[1]

When the Detroit philanthropist Charles Lang Freer donated his private collection to the Smithsonian and funds to build the museum to hold it (which was named the Freer Gallery), it was among the Smithsonian’s first major donations from a private individual.[22] The gallery opened in 1923.[23]

So, that was a lot of info, but it was also relevant, because we started out our day by visiting the Smithsonian Castle. It was the original Smithsonian building, and today it serves as a visitor information centre, as well as a museum about the history of the Smithsonian. It’s a beautiful old building, and completely different from architecture of the surrounding buildings. It’s very old timey Britain-esque in a way that most buildings in that part of DC are not.

The Freer Gallery was under renovation while we were there, but we were able to visit the underground portion of the attached Sackler Gallery, which contained an incredible exhibition on artisans in Afghanistan. Through an organization called Turquoise Mountain, the work of these artisans was highlighted as part of a project to rebuild the Murad Khani district of Old Kabul.

I’m pretty sure that we could have seen more art, but I was conscious of time, knowing that we wanted to still explore the entire National Gallery of Art.

Of course, before going to the National Gallery, we made a quick stop for a guided tour of the National Museum of American History. This is where you’ll see things like the famous movie props, the dresses of first ladies, and the first star spangled banner. It’s a lot to take in, so we enjoyed an abridged tour provided by one of the museum’s guides. Next, we had lunch in the sculpture garden beside the National Gallery of Art. For the next leg of our journey, sustenance was required. (A note on lunch: I’d read online that the best place to eat was the cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian. This is definitely true. Lunch there was far better than the lunch beside the sculpture garden, though the latter had a better ambiance).

And next up was the National Gallery of Art.

Having been through the lower level, we were faced only with tackling the extensive collection of the main floor. I’ve been to a lot of art galleries, and I love art galleries, and so I was beyond thrilled to explore this collection. It’s possibly one of the most concentrated collections of iconic artwork that you could see. It took effort, and our feet were killing us, but we were able to see the entire collection in a matter of hours.

And oh, what a collection. We saw art by Da Vinci, Titian, Vermeer, Fragonard, Rembrandt, Turner, Constable, Manet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet, and Matisse. And not the secondary stuff and early career sketches, but the actual career-defining great works. If you’re looking to see a collection that will take you through the evolution of western art over the past 200 years, this is the museum for you. But seriously, wear comfy shoes.

As we walked out of the Gallery, we saw the East Building. I knew that it was some kind of modern art building, but it far surpassed my expectations. The East Building is less of a traditional gallery, and more of an actual work of art itself. From what we could tell, the building is an open, modern space, which provides event and exhibition spaces for the gallery. Within this open events-oriented space, you’ll find a variety of modern sculptures and installations. We took very few pictures because it was impossible to capture the feeling of lightness and calm that came over us in the space. If you’re in DC, drop in for a visit. It’s unbeatable.

After a day of museums, we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We then cabbed across town to the historic neighbourhood of Georgetown, en route to Filomena Ristorante. When travelling, I try to aim for choices more unique or creative than simply ‘italian food’, but Wikitravel promised this would be well worth the visit, so I added it to our list. Besides, sometimes carb-heavy comfort food is just what you need while on vacation.

I cannot stress enough how much we enjoyed our dinner here. It’s a supposed favourite of the Clintons, so I figured it would be good, and I was so pleased by just how good it was. It’s a basement restaurant, and when you walk down the stairs, on your right hand side (at street level) you can see a kitchen full of women making pasta from scratch. The atmosphere and service were excellent, as were the food and the wine. My dad’s comment was that he’d go back to DC specifically to eat there. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it certainly was worth returning to if the occasion arises.

After dinner & dessert (and coffee… and sambuca…) we walked along the waterfront, and then cabbed to the Lincoln Memorial. We walked all along the Vietnam Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, over to the WWII Memorial.

From there my parents cabbed home, while Kevin and I opted to walk. DC is a gorgeous city, and it was great to see the same sights again under a different light (though we did all notice some burnt out lights along the Mall and on the Lincoln Memorial). My feet were killing me (have I mentioned that yet?!), but we got up early to drive back to Canada, so I had plenty of time to recover.

All in all, we had an amazing trip to DC, and the drive itself was excellent. I know for sure that Kevin and I will be back again soon, as there’s much more to see.

Photos are below, and are once again in reverse order: