The Masterpiece – a second book of short stories

Blogging is a latest passion of mine, but my love of the written word began with books at an impressionable age and continues to remain so. Story-telling has been a weakness, the need to get beyond mere outward appearances, to delve into the soul of a passer-by and think and feel his emotions is more a wont than a need. My stories are born of imagination, when I’ve seen a story happen and a seemingly hidden drama unfold. My collection of short stories ‘Whispers at Twilight’(first published in 2008) and ‘The Masterpiece’(published in 2016) , and everything else I’ve written or will be writing, are all born of such situations. Stories from every day life intrigue and inspire me.

My ‘the Masterpiece’ is the latest addition to my published works besides my first book and stories and poems that have appeared in various anthologies.

Do read it and kindly leave behind your feedback so that I’ll know how you liked it. Thanks!

The Masterpiece – by Mini Menon available on Amazon Kindle

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Short stories are brief and entertaining narratives of a certain world or people. However, this collection of short stories by Mini Menon is not just a narrative but also a journey into the variety of day-to-day situations and events that have shaped the author’s life and thinking.

Be it a story of how an artist shocks her never-ceasing-to-denounce-her sister into complete silence, a story about a young prince whose toys were inspiration to a war winning strategy, or the story of a film buff’s strange interaction with a fellow movie-goer, one thing is for certain. Nothing will be as expected.

A Masterpiece is what awaits you….

 

 

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When in Spain – Day 10 -All good things have to end

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In our quest to see a little more than the old town, we decided to step out and look around for places of interest nearby. We first had coffee and croissants in a quaint looking cafe on our way. There are plenty of shops on the way to the Amphitheatre which we were eager to explore. When we finally arrived at the Amphitheatre, we were a little disappointed. It is mostly a commercial space and the part that belonged to the original structure is just a little section of a much larger newer structure. So this was where condemned men were publicly executed.

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Section of the Amphitheatre which we believe is the original structure

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However on our way to the Amphitheatre, we passed what looked like ancient temple ruins.  After that we hurried back to our room and began to pack so that we could leave our luggage with the hotel concierge and step out for a quick bite. We were back at Victoria Mercado where we stopped by our favourite Crazy Potatoes.

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Ruins of an old temple

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Another old structure amidst newer buildings

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An arty shop in the old town

We took taxis to the station and boarded our trains. Arriving at Madrid, we were told by another tourist, an American, that if we had a Renfe ticket then we were eligible to free tickets to the airport. All we had to do was scan our tickets from Cordoba to Madrid on the machine. We were very excited to hear this. After we bid our friends good-bye as they would be staying back for a few days in Madrid, we took a train to the Airport.

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Sights from the train

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Later shopping at the duty free shop and waiting in the departure lounge having grabbed a coffee and sandwiches at a Starbucks outlet, there was a sense of deja vu. It seemed  like just the other day when we arrived, excited about seeing a whole new place. Our moments in this great country had been outstanding, remarkable and spell-binding. There were times when we had to put up with a little rude and patronizing attitude to mar an otherwise perfect holiday and we felt it best to ignore that.  But, yes – Spain had given us one of our best holidays ever.

 

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When in Spain – Day 9 – Temples and Shrines

We took a train, Renfe, travelling from Seville to Cordoba that morning. Arriving at the hotel before check-in time, we left the luggage at the hotel and went to explore the old city. The old city was just across the place we were staying at. The fortified citadel is straight out of a fairy tale book. There are few vehicles plying the tiny streets that  is lined with quaint little shops and eateries. The roads are a maze and you can easily get lost going round in circles even though the area is small. We finally arrived at the Mezquita Cathedral and was struck by the magnificence.

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The magnificent Mosque-Cathedral from the outside

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The Organ and the Organ Man

Within the cathedral is the mind-blowing story of how two cultures met and combined to form a beautiful temple for two different faiths. The cathedral within the mezquita is outstanding and two different worlds blend and combine beautifully. We were lucky enough to be able to listen to the organ being played. We took a short break from exploring, sitting before the altar and drinking in the moment, the organ playing dramatically in the background. These are the kind of awesome memories you like to carry back from a holiday.

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Ceiling it with cupids

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Lunch was a very passable paella at a nearby eatery. Our experiments with vegetarian versions of Spanish food was done with that.

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It was 6.30 by the time we stepped out again. For the four of us, our trip would be over the next day while our friends would carry forward to see Madrid. An amazing holiday was pretty much over but not finished yet. The better-half and I went to see the Roman Bridge and Puerta del Puenta as the group broke up, with some even choosing to remain in the room while the rest did some shopping.

A little away from our hotel was the Victoria market, a bustling food court where you can eat most anything. We located a place called Crazy Potatoes and went all crazy about the made-to-order potatoes.

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Oranges for the taking

 

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Officially it was our last night in this country of bull-fighters, flamenco dancers and amazing artists.

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When in Spain – Day 8 – Ole!!!

During our walking tour the previous morning we had walked past the river and seen the bridge towards Triana and had included it in our agenda of must-explore. So the next morning, after a sleep in and  late breakfast, we set out for a leisurely walk upto the river. By the banks of the river, my friend and I even got silly dressing up as Senoritas and then having our pictures taken.

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Following lunch we visited the Cathedral and climbed up La Giralda, the Bell Tower that is over 340 feet in height. It’s  a steep climb but worth every effort as you get an awesome bird’s eye view of Seville.

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Pic : the Better Half

Tomb of Christopher Columbus

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View from above

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Within the Bell Tower

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We were booked to watch a Flamenco performance for late afternoon. Coming down the tower (and as they say, the climb downhill is always more tricky), we managed to arrive at the venue during the introduction. A mind blowing show – feet a-tapping accompanied by the soulful rendering of the guitarist and the female vocalist while two Flamenco dancers  swayed and sashayed across the floor-  an hour went by and we didn’t even realise it had been that long!

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In the evening, we crossed over to  Triana and explored the area. The flea market was  closed unfortunately, and as we realised a little late in the day, because it was Sunday. Thereafter we returned  to Seville. There always seems to be something happening around Seville and a group of skateboarders were trying to outdo each other on the sidewalk. We stood by and watched them for a while.

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IMG_20160516_241141839The day had turned out to be better than the previous one. We were off to Cordoba the next morning. But we still had the evening to walk around Seville, having dinner in the outdoors, sipping on Sangria and enjoying it one last time.

 

PS:

We made a good decision to watch the Flamenco dance in Seville at Museo del Baile Flamenco (The Flamenco Museum). It was an outstanding performance and worth every second.

During the conducted walking tour, we also went past the Plaza de Toros where you can take tours and catch a bull fight if interested.

Do enquire with the hotel staff for tips and advice on shows and tickets. We were able to skip the long line outside the Cathedral only because we were told where to collect passes from another location. Also we had done advance booking for the Flamenco show through the hotel. So although we did get slightly delayed, we all found seats in separate corners. Hence it may make sense to be there a few minutes early.

 

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When in Spain – Day 7 – Intriguing Seville

First we had  a hearty breakfast at the hotel. Then we headed out for the walking tour of Seville. Here too, like in Madrid, the hotel had thrown in a complimentary Feel the City tour and our guide was Enrique. Enrique walked us through the beautiful city, pointing out landmarks and enthralled us with the intriguing history, captivating lore and interesting anecdotes.

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Triana across the river

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Tower of Gold

We decided to sign up for a tour of the Alcazar post lunch and headed for a quick bite of Italian fare at Pomodoro, one of the many interesting looking restaurants lining the cobblestoned pathways. Later within the Alcazar, a true story of love, intrigue and revenge unfolded. ‘Game of Throne’ fans  were also in for a pleasant surprise when they are told that portions of the series were shot within the premises. Our tour concluded amidst fountains and flora in the sprawling garden.

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Within the Alcazar

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Getting floored by the floor!

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Looking up at the ceiling

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There is so much happening on the way as you explore beautiful Seville. You’ll find performers and musicians everywhere, apart from ongoing tableau such as one that depicted Lucifer himself hanging in thin air, a band of headless musicians and a harried waiter who was frozen in time even  as he fell to the ground. Our favourite though were three clown heads on a table with one of them enticing us ever so endearingly to  go closer. If you fell for it, then you were in for the shock of your life. Of course, there were not so funny sights like a sad old man quietly playing the violin on the street side. And a guitarist with a  beautiful voice serenaded us at dinner time and having done that, went around hoping to be tipped for his soulfully rendered music. Yet it is fun to just stroll down the streets and take in the sights and sounds.

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Outside the cathedral

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Flamenco performer on the street side

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Seville is even more beautiful at night. We took a walk down the same roads that looked so different in daylight. Dinner was at El Rincon de Beirut that served delicious Lebanese fare. Once again there was enough and more for the vegetarian palate and eight satisfied souls walked out of there, heading to the hotel after a day packed with excitement.

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When in Spain – Day 6 – From Barcelona to Seville

We had time until evening before we caught a flight to Seville. We started off with breakfast at an Enrich outlet. Enrich has several outlets through out the city and there was one across the street where we went as well. Having tucked into melt-in-the-mouth croissants and coffee to wash that down, we proceeded to a huge El Corte Inglis store that we’d seen on our bus rides.

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Drool-worthy stationery

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Lunch stop

Initially we’d planned to visit Pablo Espanyol, but realising there probably would not be enough time, we dropped the idea. The highlight of the day for me was a visit to a little shop Paperalia Libreria where I found some amazing art stuff. The sweet little bespectacled salewoman was very helpful and was quick to coax me to look around some more when I complimented her on the amazing range of art stuff and stationery.

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Bye-bye, Barcelona

In no time we were headed for the airport. Through the airplane window, you could see the lights around coastal Spain looking like a star spangled reflection of the night sky. Seville airport is a tiny one. Amidst the passengers were a large group of noisy revellers who made no effort to hide the fact that they were there to have fun.

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Magical Seville

Driving from the airport to our hotel, we turned into a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone road that was large enough to take a single car or carriage at a time. All around us were structures that looked like the perfect setting for a fairy tale to unravel. An apt description, as my friend liked to put it, was that this was indeed a fairy land for grown ups.

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When in Spain – Day 5 -Spellbinding La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The La Sagrada Familia, looming large and glorious and still under construction is a sight that takes your breath away. The birth and life of Jesus depicted through beautiful  carvings on the walls in the front, the steeples that seem to touch the sky and look more like the castles that you saw in your fairy tale books —you can spend hours admiring the vision.

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The three wise men

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Gaudi’s dream project is a must-see in Barcelona. Once inside, you’ll find it peaceful even amidst the huge number of visitors. We opted for an audio guide that took us through the church in a systematic way and leaves nothing out. Do make time to sit for a while and admire the beautiful stained glass windows.

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You exit from the opposite side and the sculptures here are harsher and depict  the events leading up to the crucifixion.

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The tour of the church had made us hungry, so when we stepped out an hour or more later, we began to search for a place to eat. Finally we found a restaurant called Pikako and luckily they served a vegetarian version of paella for those of us who didn’t eat meat. For the children, there was pizza.

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 Outside Park Guell

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Straight out of a Fairy tale book this

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A peek inside Gaudi’s home…now a museum

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Made for comfort by Gaudi. This was one among many such thoughtfully made furniture on display

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Miniature version of La Sagrada Familia

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Art on the ceiling

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The genius himself – a bust of the inimitable Gaudi

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The crowded Park Guell

Our next halt was Park Guell. We had tickets this time for the Gaudi Museum. The structure that houses the museum was home to the renowned architect himself. A fascinating peek into the life and living spaces of a man who was indeed a genius! We skipped the park itself and set out on a shopping spree visiting Spain’s very own Zara and other places.

Dinner was at 100 Montadittos.

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When in Spain – Day 4 – All you need to Nou about football

Starting off late that day, by the time we set out it was closer to noon. Not wanting to lose any more time, we decided to visit La Sagrada Familia. Taking taxis from outside our hotel we reached the magnificent church but were told that the tickets for the day were sold out.

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The magnificent La Sagrada Familia

We had no go but to change our plans and we decided to visit the next popular location. Park Guell it was and we went all the way climbing on an uphill but not impossible walk. Another unpleasant surprise was in store for us when we were told that the tickets for Park Guell would be sold only after four. We decided not to wait and took a bus to Camp Nou, changing once on the way.

Tickets had been booked online for four from the group, all children aged between 13 and 17 for a guided tour of the Barca Stadium. While the parents waited outside, the four youngsters went in and had a euphoric  visit of Camp Nou.

We planned to spend the latter part of the day at Las Rambla. After Camp Nou, we went back to the hotel and then again took buses to Port Vell. Taking our time to explore the place, we enjoyed the sea breeze and the accompanying views, then took a leisurely stroll down the famous Las Ramblas where you get to see anything and everything  from theatres, eateries, shops selling most everything and then the other side of urbanization…the poverty stricken face of the city.

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Port Vell

Later we had a delicious Chinese dinner at Wok to Walk, and yes, the vegetarians weren’t going hungry this time.

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Note:

When in Barcelona, book all your tickets to the more popular places well in advance. Having learnt our lesson, we booked tickets at least one day earlier from here on. Barcelona is a large city  and the major attractions are spread across it, so it may also help to plan on what you want to see and what you don’t before you set out sight-seeing.

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When in Spain – Day 3 -Chugging our way into Barca

We had a train to catch. Our tickets for the Renfe Ave Barcelona Sants was booked online. This high speed train was going to take us from Madrid to Barcelona in three hours travelling often at 295 km/hr.

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Glimpses of the Spanish country side out the train window

Unlike Madrid, Barcelona is a larger city with streets and pavements that are more crowded. Just next to where we were staying,  we found  Taberna Del Bierza where we decided to have our lunch. They were offering local cuisine, and a menu card in English and here we got to tuck into some tasty food.

There was no time to lose. We had half a day left and my husband decided that we should visit the Picasso Museum. So after we had left the luggage in the room and freshened up a bit, we left for La Rambla.

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La Rambling along

The hotel staff advised us to take a bus. Bus tickets can be bought at any Tabacs or tobacco shop which you find through out the city. We took a bus into Down Town, the most happening place in Barcelona according to the hotel staff. La Rambla is a bustling  boulevard where you can shop, eat and be entertained. Taking instructions from cops who were more than willing to help, we took  a lane off La Rambla and arrived at the Museo Picasso.

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The structure that houses Picasso’s art work – unfortunately no photography allowed inside!

On display at this exclusive art gallery are works by the famous artist from the time he was a student. Audio guides are available but we opted to go without one. Apart from the art work, the structure that houses Picasso’s work is also worthy of a dekko.

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Something to ramble on about – street views and sights at La Rambla

We retraced our steps and took a bus back to our hotel. Getting off at the bus stop, we lost our way and since we were carrying neither a map nor had a live internet connection, we had to get into a cab and find our way back to the hotel.

Once our friends, a family of four, joined us, we went around looking for a suitable place to have dinner. We finally landed up eating  Italian food at Diversus BCN which is next to our hotel.

PS:

Carry a city map with you when you explore a place or have an online map handy. Figure out the bus routes by asking or search the internet for suitable buses to board.

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When in Spain – Madrid Day 2 -Art and all that

A leisurely stroll from the Opera – yes, we were back there again that morning– brought us to San Gines. For breakfast we had tucked into some doughnuts and croissants bought at the supermerkat, but this opportunity was too good to forgo. When the delectably rich and piping hot chocolate and crunchy churros arrived at our table, we knew why everyone raves about this place.

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The cup and churros that cheer

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Madrid’s Coat of Arms – The bear and the strawberry tree

Our next halt was Museo Nacional del Prado. Respecting the choices of the other members of the group, that includes two youngsters who claim to have no interest in the arts, I’d decided to restrict myself to just one museum visit although there were two or more listed under the must-see places in Madrid. By the end of the visit to the Prado Museum, I was glad I went. On display are paintings  by Reubens and Rembrandt and a host of other  artists.

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A bibliophile’s dream come true…the never-ending line of pavement bookstalls

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We were back at Feuncarral, exploring road after road thereafter looking around as well as searching for a place to eat after a visit to an El Corte Inglis outlet. As we made our way back to the hotel, we spotted a rainbow in the sky.

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A promise of better things to come? Well, watch this space.

 

Some important observations :

  1. Always be safe and carry appropriate clothes and footwear. Download one of the many apps that will alert you on weather conditions. The Sun and Rain Gods don’t care whether you are carrying a bikini or a fur jacket.
  2. Walking tours in Madrid are a good way to explore the place. We liked the Feel the City tours which we took in Madrid and Seville.
  3. Walk, you must. But if you are too tired and are a part of a largish group, it makes sense to take a cab.
  4. Lebara cards were available at the Madrid airport. It is convenient and helpful to have a local simcard.
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When In Spain – Madrid Day 1 – It rained in Spain

When we arrived in Madrid on a weekend night, we found people  sitting in outdoor cafes and lapping up beer, tapas and the great weather. We reached our hotel  at 9 PM and there was a cafe just outside. But the only thing we wanted just then was a nice warm room and a comfy bed to cosy into after the 2 ½ plus 7 hours of air travel, first from Mumbai to Dubai and from there to Madrid.

We started Day One of our stay in Madrid with much enthusiasm. We were to take a city tour which was complimentary with the hotel booking.  For some reason we thought it was going to be a bus ride and dressed up accordingly, also wearing summery clothes instead of warm ones. We were in for a nasty surprise as the weather chose to remain wet throughout the time we were outdoors. Also we were not sitting on a bus and staring out, but walking on the cobbled streets of Madrid.

                          Some interesting landmarks in Madrid

                            Ratoncito Perez – Spain’s version of a tooth fairy

           A memorial and looking into the window of one of the oldest restaurants in the world

But every inclement cloud usually has a silver lining. Our tour started at the Opera where a handful of tourists from all over the world had gathered. We trudged along through by lanes and open plazas for about two and a half hours until we arrived at the Campo del Moro gardens and Palacio Real de Madrid,  the royal palace. Capturing for us, the history of the city in a nutshell, was Gonsalo, our tour guide, who made the narration interesting and fun. A great way to explore the city especially if you are a newcomer and don’t know what to expect, was the unanimous rating the family gave the experience as a whole.

                  The penultimate attraction were the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Cathedral

We spent the evening exploring the area, grocery shopping and discovering the delightful multi-brand store, El Corte Inglis, where for some strange reason we landed up initially to pick up groceries. We found groceries later at a Carrefour closer to our hotel. We took a stroll down Calle de Feuncarral, a street lined with shops on either side and hardly any vehicular traffic. Dinner was at 100 Montaditos, a restaurant chain which I’d suitably located on the internet before leaving on our holiday.

                                                                   A promenade in the city

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                                                     A window shoppers’ delight – Fuencarral

PS:

There is an ongoing dog show on the streets of Madrid. We spotted every imaginable breed, from chihuahuas to pure bred Pomeranians, German Shepherds to Tibetan Mastiffs.  Make sure you don’t miss a step and take a tumble as you admire them beauties…

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