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As a passing retrospective of one year in Spain, I am almost obligated to make inventory of what has made the time well-spent.  So the following is a synopsis of my, you read correctly, top 81 places, events, observations and impressions of my Spanish life.  They are in conjunction with “My Oyster, Part 1″ and yes, I know, for the comfort of the reader, that’s too many.  In fact, I could have easily included many more, possibly 19 more, but a seemingly random odd number like this just felt right.  

There are a few people who I wish I could mention by name, since they have meant so much to me and without whom this list would be significantly smaller.  But in order to be enjoyed by the public, I’ll leave the background characters anonymous, all of whom to remain in my own head and heart. These are, by the way, random, and in no particular order of importance. 

(I apologize for the cluttered nature of this post.  Wordpress is in fact conspiring against me with arbitrary formatting issues.)

Ávila in the winter.  One of my first impressions of Spain, I visited this medieval town, in the cold of December, during an English language program and met some of my best friends there.

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Salty little fish.  Maybe its the Scandinavian in me, but I love little intensely salty sardines and anchovies.  Not a good date food,but still readily available.

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Fabada.  A wonderful winter stew with sausages, a rich broth, white beans, and generations of Spanish rural practicality and love.

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Punta Nati, Menorca.  A wind-swept, isolated place with a lighthouse and a grand view of the ocean.

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Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.  One of the big three museums in Madrid, this one fancies itself as an approach to the alternative museum experience.

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Plaza Olavide.  For me, this bunch of trees, tables and a fountain epitomize the terrace experience in Madrid.  Best if used in Spring and Fall.

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La Latina.  A lively neighborhood, especially on Sunday afternoons late into the night, there is always a good time to be had here.  But don’t waste your time if you have an aversion to good drinks and masses of beautiful people.

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El Toro de Osborne.  This guy pops up from time to time on road trips throughout Spain.  It is a symbol of governmental compromise, allowing it, along with the tilted-hat of Tio Pepe, as one of the few road-side billboard advertisements.

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Palentino.  A crowded, locally famous Malasaña bar, sometimes frequented by celebrities, I know this place as a great stop for a cheap caña and great bocadillos.  The bar tender is 187 years old.

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  Walking in El Parque Buen Retiro in the fall.   One of the first experiences I had when I came to Madrid, before I had met most of my friends here.  Walking around such a quiet place in the middle of car horns and buses, was a private and inspiring experience.  I liked watching the little boats rowing across the shallow, green water, over the slow-moving carp, and I appreciated the obvious importance that the city had put on the upkeep of such places of retreat.

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  A caña.  The small beer that is easy to order and always easy to drink.  Ordering beer has become infinitely less complicated for me here in Spain.  No choosing from 48 different breeds and races of beer. There are few little, but pure, pleasures that beat a light beer that is served small enough to stay cold before you’re finished and force you to order more of them.

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Cala Pregonda.  After a dusty walk, this Menorquín beach and cove area was a great way to spend a day.  Hot sun, perfect water, and a cold beer.

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Country side viñedos.  On a recent road trip to the east coast of Spain, I saw for the first time some plots of land that are the birthplace of the wine I drink.  There is something beautiful and sentimental about a vineyard and a bodega with its large doors, with a solitary picker gathering grapes next to his tractor.

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Beginning to fit in.  There are personal and private experiences that can only be seen through the eyes of the expatriate. There was one day, as I walked off the metro and into a more industrial part of Madrid, when I suddenly felt there had taken place a change in my perception of the city. I was becoming more familiar with my surroundings, or at least understanding that Madrid was more than Puerta del Sol and tapas.  It was where I lived, and it was a fleeting, but important moment.

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  Eating and drinking at El Fragua del Vulcano tapas bar.  In the slightly over-touristy neighborhood of my first residence, near Plaza Santa Ana, this is the place when I actually said out loud that I was in love with Madrid, as I saw a giant ceramic pot of paella and enormous, steaming vat of mussels in white wine sauce.  I had my first Cocido Madrileño here, a botched ordering process that at least served as amusement of the very friendly staff.

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Gambas and calamar at Es Grau, Menorca.  Way too expensive, at about 1 euro per gamba, but a great way to add to a hard day of swimming and exploring.

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A Pomada.  A Menorquín treat with lemon soda and gin.

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  Late night copas in Madrid.  Of course late hours socializing is an integral part of Madrid culture, so it was a tragedy to be forced to continue my life-long habit of drinking strong alcoholic drinks until past the point of rational decision-making.  I drink less here, however, and the inspiration for drinking has shifted, slightly, to social behavior rather than a series of mini existential crises.

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 Searching for graffiti in Malasaña.  I have always had an interest in creative street art.  In my current neighborhood of Malasaña and Chueca, there is a healthy art scene that seems to be on the verge of something great.  Walking throughout the narrow streets, one just has to look up to discover little gems of expression.

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Recycling.  Fellow Americans: Check this out.  It’s where you take old, used and dirty stuff and use it to make other stuff, instead of piling it up in giant collections of earth-destroying crap that is hauled away and out of your sight. Please look into it.

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Stores of inexplicable use someone, apparently.  Especially in Malasaña, these little shops are full of amazingly useless items, ranging in price from apparently free to approximately 3 euros.

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The Madrid Metro system.  One of the easiest, most intuitive and comfortable modes of public transportation anywhere in the world.  Through this channel, by the way funded by taxes and public programs, I am able to free myself from the limited life of the provincial pedestrian, and explore more of the world around me.

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Lolina.  If the Guerilla Girls had a nuclear shelter in the late 50’s that happened to serve cold white wine and awesome tostas with goat cheese and raspberry jam, this would be the place.

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Pepe Botella.  A comfy little cafe in the Plaza 2 de Mayo, in Madrid.  Named after Napoleon’s under-achieving brother, there is free wi-fi and it’s where most of this blog is written.

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  Oysters and cava at El Mercado San Miguel.  Yet another food-centered memory.  Although most Madrileños will tell you that this place is an overpriced facade that caters to the oblivious tourist (they are right), it is nonetheless a wonderful experience to slurp down oysters (with lemon sauce from the Catalán “nueva cocina”) and drink cold cava or vermut.

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 Watching a Real Madrid game.   Although my support is elsewhere, the experience of watching a football game at the Santiago Bernebéu stadium shouldn’t be missed.  There is not a bad seat in the house, and it is great exposure to the deep-rooted football culture shared by (almost) every Spaniard.   Pictured here is a a close-up of the pitch, taken on a tour of the stadium (held daily).

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San Sebastián on a winter’s night.

I was surprised by the cleanliness and particular attention to aesthetic that I found in this wonderful Basque town.  At Christmas there are trees, buildings and streets lit up beautifully.  And without all the blatant commercialism and obsessive consumerism, it felt like what a cozy, winter Christmas should feel like.

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 Cava.

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 Black licorice from Oomuombo candy shop on Fuencarral Street.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I’ve developed a healthy addiction to these little squares of wonderfulness.

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  A complete Mallorquín lunch.  Mejilliones, pimientos de Padrón, olives, Pa amb oli, and tinto de verano.  Call me shallow, but I think to enjoy this might be the single reason we humans are on this earth.

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 Los Gatos tapas bar.  One of my favorite places to choose from beautifully prepared tapas, it is a bustling, usually very crowded place at the bottom of Huertas.  Good things always seem to happen here.

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   The Roman Aqueduct and Alcázar in Segovia.   I have been here twice, and each time I am taken aback, particularly from an American point of view, by the depth of history and brilliance in architecture that is showcased at this place.

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 The cliffs near Soller, Mallorca.  A surprising view of the sea on the northwest side of the island of Mallorca. There is a trail up to a lookout that proves uneasy, but worth it, for anyone with even a slight fear of heights.

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  Puerta del Sol in the evening.   Although there have been some setbacks in the preservation of the historical decor (the missing Tio Pepe sign), I still like to be here, in the true center of Madrid, especially in the evening as the light hits the old buildings and shines through the water of the fountain.

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  The Templo de Devod.  This site of an ancient building, a gift from the Egyptians to Spain, is a great place, again in the evening especially, with plenty of opportunities for post card quality photos.

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  Nurturing my latent architect.  Time and time again, I remember to look up as I walk the streets of Madrid, and I’m always surprised by the lines, symmetry, colors, and diversity of the buildings, old and new, particularly in the center of Madrid.

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  La Puerta de Alcalá.  One my first impressions of Madrid’s easy mixture of old and modern.  I never get tired of walking or driving by this historical gate to the city.

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  Horses at Ctr. del Pardo a Fuencarral.  When my horse-obsessed niece came to visit, we were able to rent a horse for her to trot around on.  It was nice to see her smile and check ‘Andalucian horse riding’ off of her equine to-do list.

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  City sunsets.  Even throughout the narrow streets of Madrid, one can look up and see sunsets that rival those of Palma, the American Southwest or the Caribbean.

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  La Bodega de Ardosa.  There’s nothing like having an 8 euro Pilsner Urquell and great salmorejo in a bar that was built in the 1800’s.

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  Mechanismo.  It is always a great time to watch our good friends Merv and Sebas and their burgeoning band Mechanismo, as they slowly grow in deserved popularity. I wish them the best in the future.

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 Chupitos de hierbas.  Tasting somewhere between kerosene and a compost heap, these little gems are sometimes given for free after a meal at a restaurant, when one is obliged to accept them gladly.

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  Soller, Mallorca.  After a beautiful, winding road though forest and steep cliffs, there is the small bay and marina at Soller, on the island of Mallorca.  This day was one of the highlights of my experience in Spain, if not my life.

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  San Lorenzo de El Escorial.  Emblematic of the kind of trip one needs to take to relieve the claustrophobia of a city, this old monastery is only minutes away from Madrid, but a quiet escape well worth the time.

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  Calle de las Huertas.  A pleasant street to walk, full of bars and restaurants and inscriptions from many famous local writers.  At the bottom of the hill are some of the best tapas bars in Madrid.

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The Guernica.  Since I was young, I’ve been inexplicably obsessed with Picasso’s representation of bombs falling on a Basque community.  It is just around the corner from where I live and yes, I took a picture of it even though I wasn’t supposed to.

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 The teleférico over Casa de Campo.  A nice and cheap way to get a view of the King’s old playground and the Palacio Real and Madrid.

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Tacky bars that still ooze class.  There are seemingly hundreds of them in Madrid: small, cavernous holes-in-the-wall with tiny shelf spaces cluttered with signs, plates of food, bottles, giant beer taps, hanging legs of cured ham, sausage, and approximately 6 glasses to serve the 42 thirsty, talkative customers packed in the room.  The single redeeming quality of these places are that most of them were pouring beers and wine since before my parents were born.  And I love these places.

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  Gin and tonics at bar Ave Fenix.  There are many places to enjoy this wonderful drink, usually prepared with care and attention at most bars in Madrid.  But this bar in Malasaña is has a well-deserved reputation for making the best from your gin-derived poison.

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  La Mariscada and quemada at Ribeira do Miño.  A giant pile of crunchy, seafood goodness, this is a concentrated representation of the best of Galician cuisine.  Add some Ribeira wine and flaming pot of flammable alcoholic coffee, and you’ve got a big chunk of heaven.

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  Paella Valenciana at Arrocería Gala.  There are many places to have good paella, of course, but this restaurant in the neighborhood of Cortes is one of the best.  The staff is a group of miserable, unhappy people, but they somehow still produce wonderful food that makes the gastronomically obsessed person return.  Here I discovered socarrat, a Catalán word for the wonderful burnt part of the rice that you can scrap off the pan.  Add a jarra of Sangría for easy consumption.

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  Plaza de Castilla.  As a small reprieve from the antiquity of old Madrid, Calatrava’s Obelisco and the office buildings of Caja Madrid will do.  Many Madrileños complain of the uselessness of this ostentatious moving structure, but it is at least interesting.

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   Jamón Serrano.  For most Spaniards, this is as much a part of life as oxygen or sleeping. I have come to consider this as one of my all-time favorite foods, especially when complemented by Manchego cheese and Ribera wine.

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  The Spanish Revolution (15M).  It started out strong, on May 15th, as an ever-growing group of young people who were unhappy at the current economic situation in Spain, particularly with unemployment, and the beginnings of a collected effort to make change.  At the height of the excitement, they had the world’s attention.  I just wish they had said something.

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  Toledo.  An excellent day trip to the old capital of Spain.  After a walking tour of the ancient buildings and cathedral, down the winding narrow pedestrian streets, and a wonderful lunch on a terrace, I was reminded of my fortune and blessings once again.

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 Bolardos.  This little things were specifically designed to destroy my shins, but they are another small part of my Madrid.

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  Olé Lola.  A pleasant and comfortable bar in my neighborhood of Malasaña/Chueca where I have had many great nights, and hopefully many more to come.

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   Bilbao and San Sebastián.  On a great weekend trip with co-workers from school, I got my first exposure to the Basque Country.  The food is amazing and the beach and architecture of San Sebastián rivals that of any city I’ve seen.  Bilbao was great as well, although less impressive to the eye at first.  I suspect both cities to be better appreciated over time.

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  Seaside walk in Palma.  Another one of my own personal highlights, this pleasant walk along the shore near Sometimes, Mallorca will be one that is stained on my positive memory forever.

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   Picnic Bar.  A quirky little bar in Malasaña in which I’ve had some good times, some more memorable than others.

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  Bar In Dreams.  A dirty, tacky place so lacking in ambiance and ascetic, that it comes full circle to cool again.

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  Sushi at Pink Sushiman.  A groovy place for a modern sushi experience, whatever that means.

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  Coffee.  It’s strong and dark and comes in small quantities.  Just how I’ve loved it since before I can remember.

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Ensaimada.  The tasty pastry from Mallorca, sometimes even worth checking on as luggage!

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The port in Ciutadella, Menorca.  An unforgettable walk along a narrow waterway, full of great restaurants, bars, terraces full of chatty people, and a great sunset.

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 Plaza Santa Ana.  One of the first places where I learned the simple pleasure of eating and drinking on a terraza in the open air. It never gets old.  This is one of the most important parts of Mediterranean culture, in my opinion.

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Swimming in Bennicassim.  A morning dip in an ocean area well-known for its music festival, and breakfast in a 90-year-old hotel patio.

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Ernest Hemingway’s guesthouse.  The anything but humble abode, on the beach in Bennicassim, loaned to Papa Hemingway while he was a reporter observing the Civil War.  Standing in front of a place of such iconic creativity, I suddenly felt like shooting an elephant and drinking a bottle of whiskey while chasing skirts (even more than usual).

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   Maceiras.  Another Galician gem at the bottom of Calle de Huertas.  Wonderful food and drink every time, this crowded little oasis is not to be missed.

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  A road trip over the Sierra Guadarrama.   A trip best taken by car, thick forests, river rapids and a great view of the city of Madrid are within easy reach.  There was even snow on the peak in May, as we drove through the chilled air.

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  Sangría at Plaza Mayor.  A great square full of more history and constant commotion.  And of course another natural place to have a cold sangría.

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  Bar Purobeach in Palma.  A comfortable, posh terrace to take in a view of the Palma shoreline while sipping a cold gin and tonic.

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Sunset at Sa Foradada, Mallorca. One of the best evenings of my life: a cold Tinto de Verano, a perfect high vantage point, over high cliffs, to watch the sun, and special company.

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Real Club Nautico de Palma.  I had the opportunity to work in the boat yard here, just before the famous Copa del Rey races.  A mecca for sailors and yachties of the Mediterranean.

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Club Marítimo Molinar de Levante.  My workplace for the summer, this is the oldest marina in Mallorca, always occupied by elderly fishermen who seem to do more drinking and talking than fishing.

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  Spring thunderstorms.  In Madrid, there are the kind of arid, mixtures of hot and cold air that make wonderfully violent thunderstorms full of dark clouds, lightning, wind and hail.  I miss these storms that I knew growing up in a desert environment.

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Dinner at Cala Blava, Mallorca.  Another unforgettable seaside experience, this somewhat out-of-the-way restaurant (Panoramica Playa), every table with a complete view of mountains, beaches, Palma, and the sunset, should not be missed.  Best if enjoyed with someone else and maybe a gintonic.

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  Huelgas.  I won’t say I particularly like it when essential workers in a society collectively abandon their jobs at critical times, but these strikes are a great window into meaningful conversations and cultural awareness.

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  Free exhibitions of art.  Everywhere in Madrid there are art exhibitions, some of local art others of famous icons.  After a little bit of research, one can discover endless cultural, spiritual and intellectual satisfaction in Madrid.  Here is pictured a free show of pencil drawings by Dalí and Goya.

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Catedral de Mallorca.  An impressive construction highly visible from anywhere around, especially from the sea. Simply put, I never tire of looking at it.

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 Wine.  An integral part of the day, this gift from the heavens is obviously very well made in this part of the world.  Often serving as my surrogate girlfriend, partner, companion and complement, I add this to dark chocolate and black coffee as one thing I could not live without.

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