Tag Archives: Madrid

El Gato Con Botas

We arrived in Madrid in mid-afternoon and booked into the only open campsite near the city. Although it was later in the day, it was only a short walk and metro ride to the center of the city. We arrived at the Plaza del Callao station after dark and ascended into a crowd. There were lots of people and bright lights. As our eyes adjusted, we saw a crowd barrier cordoning off a movie theatre that opened on to the square. Curious, we responded to that intrinsic human instinct to see what all the fuss is about, and made our way forward through the crowd. We were able to get within a few feet of the barrier with only a couple of people in front of us. Only then did we piece together what was happening.

Large screen above Cines Callao showing advertising for Madrid Premiere WeekWe had arrived in the midst of a movie premiere, part of the Madrid Premiere week. The crowd was gathering in anticipation of the stars walking the red carpet, which was right in front of us, just on the other side of the barrier. Television crews were forming up on the other side of the carpet.

Male & female flamenco dancers poised to begin a number on the red carpet

Flamenco dancers warming up the crowd

To keep the crowd entertained and the energy up, a large screen high on the front of the theatre showed clips from the movie. Music played on loudspeakers. Costumed characters from the movie walked the red carpet. Two flamenco dancers performed periodically. It was lively, but we really had no idea what to expect. As we waited we were able to sidle closer, within arm’s reach of the barrier, but still not at the front.

The film was in Spanish so we figured the actors were probably not ones that we knew. Beautiful and interesting people in fine clothes started to arrive to the great interest of the media and excitement of the crowd, which began jostling about and pushing forward for a closer look. I didn’t feel comfortable mounting the person ahead of me, so I tightened my core and held my ground, holding back the people behind me. After a while, my calves began to burn as they resisted the leverage caused by the steady pressure from behind. By the time the main stars arrived, I was almost cramping. Who knew that star gazing would be such a workout!

It turns out we were wrong about not knowing the actors. Walking down the aisle, flirting with the flamenco dancer, came Antonio Banderas. He was taking his time, talking to the crowd and signing autographs.

Antonio Banderas with flamenco dancer on red carpet

Antonio Banderas flirting with flamenco dancer

Despite his short hair, which isn’t his best look, Diane was ecstatic.

Close up of Diane in crowd looking at Antonio

Diane did NOT approve this less than flattering picture!

She was close enough to touch him. A woman passed her camera forward to Diane, asking her to take a picture of Antonio..

Antonio Banderas on red carpet

Following closely behind Antonio was another star that I almost overlooked in the excitement. Salma Hayek waltzed down the carpet gracefully. Though not as flamboyant and crowd pleasing as Antonio, she looked beautiful.

Salma Hayek walking the red carpet with her handlers

Salma was harder to get a good picture of because she is vertically challenged!]

Head shot of Salma Hayek bing interviewed by young reporter

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the movie being premiered was El Gato con Botas 3D. This literally translates from Spanish as ‘The Cat with Boots’, but is known in English as Puss in Boots.

El Gato Con Boas advertisement showing on screen above the theatre

This unexpected little adventure was complete in less than 2 hours. As soon as the stars entered the theatre, the crowd dispersed and we moved on to enjoy an evening promenade through the town squares followed by tapas and wine for dinner. When traveling, one never knows when something interesting is going to happen. It’s great to be open to the opportunities that present themselves and to enjoy what life brings my way.

Mascot of El Gato Con Botas on the red carpet having his picture taken

El Gato con Botas himself!

Sobrino De Botin

Sobrino De Botin was established in 1725 making it the oldest restaurant in Madrid. Indeed, it is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest, continuously operating eatery in the world. It is said that the famous Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) worked there while trying to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Art. Sobrino De Botin was a favourite of Earnest Hemingway’s, and is mentioned in two of his legendary novels.

…but, in the meantime, I would prefer to dine on suckling pig at Botin than sit and think about the accidents which my friends could suffer. – Ernest Hemingway, Death In The Afternoon

De Botin had been recommended to us by the same Aussie foodie mentioned earlier that we had met in a campground near Venice. At the time we knew nothing of its significance, other than her recommendation that we go there for the speciality of the house, concinillo asado (roast suckling pig). De Botin is also famous for its roast lamb and its other signature dish sopa de ajo — an egg, poached in chicken broth and laced with sherry and garlic.

Although we had some reservations about the prospect of eating the specialty of the house, a 3 week old piglet that has never tasted anything but its mother’s milk. we were keen to visit the place, me more than my wife. The restaurant was founded by Spaniard James Botin and his spouse, and was originally called Casa Botín. They have been serving the same traditional food since it opened 286 years ago!

We saved this meal for our last night in Madrid, and arrived at the restaurant early on Friday afternoon (at the start of the Spanish lunch) to make a reservation for that evening. From the exterior, the restaurant is not much to look at, moderate sized place in an old building off of Plaza Mayor.

The maître d’ told us that there was no availability that evening. If we wished, we could dine the following night (Saturday) at 11:30 PM (which sounds later than it is because most Spaniards eat dinner at about 10 PM, but it’s still late even by Madrilenian standards). We left the restaurant a bit disappointed, but rallied on the curb, and so I went back in to inquire about lunch. It seems that the restaurant has the same menu at lunch and we could eat there that day if we wished, coming back as late as 3:15 PM. In many retirement communities in North America, that’s almost the normal dinner time, and although it seemed strange to splurge on such an extravagance at lunch, Diane reminded me that it tastes and costs the same whether we eat at 3 PM or 10 PM. Upon reflection, it was probably better to eat such a big meal at 3 PM anyhow, in true Spanish style.

We arrived back at the restaurant for our 3:15 lunch reservation (a little late by Spanish lunch standards, but not out of the ordinary), and were seated upstairs in the small but busy dining room. We were shown to a nice table for two in the corner, the last one available in a crowded room of about 15 tables. Was this the table that Earnest Hemingway used to sit at? He preferred a particular corner table for two, and there were only a couple such tables in the room. We like to believe that we ate at his table.

We lunched upstairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta. Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

The service was formal, with waiters and bus men in white jackets, and food dished from hot serving platters to plates tableside.

We ordered a bottle of house red wine, which turned out to be a 2007. Most house wines in North America were bottled some time last week, or perhaps that’s just at the restaurants I frequent. Anyhow, this wine was terrific. Rich and full-bodied for under $30 a bottle.

To start, we had a cold appetizer of Pimientos asados con bacalao, julienned, raw, salt cod served on a bed of roasted red pepper, which was peeled and also cut in strips. We spooned it on to fresh white bread, and it was too much for 2 people. We also had Croquetas de pollo y jamón, croquettes of chicken and ham which were warm and creamy.

Diane with partially eaten appetizers at Sobrino de Botin

Diane enjoying wine and appetizers

For our main course, we had the two specialities of the house – roast suckling pig and roast lamb (sorry Tania). We were served large portions, still on the bone. Not whole animals, but big enough pieces to be recognizable. The pork was moist with the crackling cooked perfectly. They still use the original oven, now almost 300 years old. The roast lamb was even better, though neither of them were jaw dropping.

Patrick with roast suckling pig (carved)

Overall, we had a good meal in a very unique and historic restaurant. Apparently we were happy enough to have our picture taken outside afterwards…

Diane and Patrick outside restaurant after late lunch

Later that night, while reading a book on a completely unrelated topic, I learned that the word used by the cannibals of New Guinea for roasted human was ‘long pig’. It seems that human beings, when eaten, taste very much like pork. That was a bit uncomfortable.