La Venencia: Sherry, Hemingway, 1930s Spain

As I’m a tremendous fan of fun facts, a fun fact about Madrid is that it’s got the most bars per capita when weighed against any other European country. Another fun fact is that the Korean peninsula drinks more alcohol per capita than any other country in the world. It’s a shame I’m not even close to being an alcoholic.

A third fun fact is that I love historical places and artifacts. I’ve always felt that way, from the time I leaned over the velvet rope in 8th grade to sneakily touch the Liberty Bell during a school trip to Washington DC and Philadelphia. The idea of touching something that really historic people touched, or for the sake of Madrid, sitting where Ernest Hemingway once imbibed while getting the scoop on the war makes the history lover in me really excited.

That being said, I’m guilty of feeling quite sedentary and saying I want to explore Spain more than I actually get around to exploring it. It’s one of those things I can’t stand about my Spanish self, but so it is. However, this attitude has a tendency to shift whenever a visitor comes knocking on my door from afar. Luckily it happens sorta kinda often. I can go on and on about how Spain and I just never hit it off, but I do love to show it off to my visitors. Plus, there’s still so much I need to see, of which I have a growing list that I need to get around to checking off during these last few months.

One of those places on my list of must-visits was La Venencia, an unassuming bar established over 70 years ago, circa the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The fun facts keep coming – it also happened to be a local hangout of Don Ernesto, as Hemingway was referred by the Spanish. La Venencia is like a little time capsule, and with one foot in the door, you are immediately transported to a time of bygones, of Republican soldiers sipping the one drink the pub sells – sherry, while divulging information to Mr. Hemingway.

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During Veny’s visit I dragged her to the bar at the top of my list, and I got a bit day lit while drinking both glasses of sherry that I ordered for the two of us. Knowing nothing about sherry (or jerez), I ordered one of each – a manzanilla and a palo cortado, served with a tapa of deliciously herbed green olives, and a side of dialogue with the others in the bar after asking the bartender “cual es la mas mejor?” Yes, I asked which is the more best, yes my Spanish sucks, and yes I got people talking with me – intrigued why two clueless girls stumbled into a sherry bar.

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Our tab was written on the wooden bar with chalk just before sneaking this picture, disobeying the ‘no photos’ rule which has been long standing since wartime when Republican soldiers didn’t want their photos taken, for fear of being outed by fascist spies. After having a good laugh at my poor Español, the guy standing next to us asked how I found out about this place, wanted to know which sherry I preferred (the manzanilla was fruitier, while the palo cortado grew a little hair on the chest – I enjoyed both as time went on), and told me he has been a long time regular and believes La Venencia to be the most authentic bar in the city.

As if the ambience of the wooden bar, wooden tables, barrels of fermenting sherry, antique cash register, and decades old posters weren’t enough, a couple guys sitting behind us had a bottle of the manzanilla and a plate of machego that they offered us a taste of – unaware that I had ordered a glass already. I loved feeling like a visitor being urged to experience the bar’s offerings to the fullest. On the opposite end of the bar, as we veered our sights to the right, just to the left of the entrance, sat three older gentlemen looking as if they’d been posted there since the ’30s and hadn’t moved since. I sometimes have a bit of a staring problem, and think one may have noticed our gawking which I don’t think he enjoyed, but I was enthralled.

If you’re in Madrid and fancy a bit of history, are looking to try something a little bit different, something a lotta bit Spanish, and stumble into one of Hemingway’s many stumbling-grounds, I urge you to pop into La Venencia.

La Venencia – Calle de Echegaray 7, Madrid, Spain

Have you ever visited La Venencia? Have you ever visited an age-old watering hole that granted you a different side of the city you were in? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Prague Is Bad To The Bone

This winter took me traveling around what I always called Eastern Europe, but which is more Central Europe. But that’s all technicalities as far as I’m concerned. You read previously about why I became obsessed with Berlin, and now I’m going to let you in on the next destination on my winter escape, Prague.

For forever and a day, Prague has been boasted about to me by everyone and their mother in waking life and on the interwebs. You’ve probably heard it too. No one can keep their trap shut about how Prague is the most enchanting city on the planet. And while it is enchanting and stunning and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast at every corner we turned, its people are horrendous, which somewhat overshadowed a bit of Prague’s wonderment. A bit like Paris, they’re damn lucky they’ve got such a visually pleasing city.

With that out of the way, I will get onto the good of Prague, and really one of the coolest things I’ve ever bore witness to.

Jen and I entered Prague on the floor of a train, and after that haggard train ride, had a little tricky situation getting into our Airbnb. Twas a bit of a tumultuous morning, but once settled we came to realize our host was excellent. Martina happened to work for Czech Tourism, so she was a whole wealth of knowledge when it came to must-eat foods to add to my ever growing list, and where to eat them. Based off her recommendations, the two of us ate like queens during our time in Prague.

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Kielbasa my damn Jewish face off.

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Memories of Koko as I greasily ascended up to the castle.

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A nightly tradition of parting the Red Sea. Here we have duck, bread dumplings, red cabbage, schinitzel, and mashed potaters. Oh, and Radler. Yummy!

As for the sites, I could sit here and yammer on to you about the must-sees that Lonely Planet or Señor Rick Steves will tell you to see, but I like the out of the ordinary so I will spare telling you to go see things like…

The Astronomical Clock and Name Day Calendar

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This face isn’t unenthused over the spectacle, but rather of the Chinese tourist I thought to be in my shot.

Prague Castle and its insanely exquisite gothic architecture.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is in the center of Prague Castle. The view from the top of the mountain cannot be accurately depicted. Must be seen with your eyeballs.

The Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.

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A wander over this bridge will lead you to Prague Castle. Fun Fact: We spent NYE at the ‘biggest club in Europe’ just next to the bridge.

Or Frank Gehry’s eyeball-tickling Dancing House.

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And of course, the Jewish Quarter of Josefov, formerly the Jewish Ghetto. This deserved much more time as it’s mystical and beautiful and boasts one of the largest Jewish museums.

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The Old New Synagogue, which I fancied to look like a menorah.

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Rabbi on a string.

While you should see all these because they’re spectacular, the highlight of Prague to me lies an hour’s train ride outside of the city in Kutna Hora. I first learned about The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora from a group of girls I met in Berlin on a Third Reich tour. They told me if I did only one thing in Prague I HAD to go there. And I did!

The Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Roman Catholic chapel decorated entirely of skull and cross bones. Yes, you read that correctly. The interior is the most beautiful display of bones you will ever see, and while it’s quite macabre, it’s exquisite at the same time. To think of living the remainder of eternity as the most bizarre artwork is quite a spectacular thing to imagine.

Above the chapel is the cemetery, that holds a special history. In the 1200s, an abbot of the monastery returned from the Holy Land with some holy earth to be sprinkled on the cemetery grounds. When word of this broke out, it became one of the most prized burial sites in Central Europe at the time. In the 1300s, after the Plague swept through Europe, the cemetery had to be enlarged to compensate for all the additional bodies to be buried there. Then, in the 1500s, after the chapel had been built in the center of the cemetery, bodies that were exhumed to make room for new ones were piled up in the cathedral. The bones were later organized in the 1800s into the masterpiece that it is today. It’s strange, and creepy, and extraordinary, and this kind of ish fascinates me!

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Craziest chandelier I ever did see!

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New meaning to human shield…

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The only kind of selfies I take.

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Hello sir.

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And one more for inappropriate measure.

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Crazy, right? If you are intrigued just as much as I, I suggest carving out a morning or afternoon to get your badonk out of Prague to see it. You can either do it on an organized tour or by yourself, which is what we did. Many of the tour companies don’t do it everyday, so you’re left to do it yourself. It’s open everyday except I think Christmas and New Years Day.

Getting to Kutna Hora on your own:  From Prague train station, purchase a roundtrip ticket to Kutna Hora Main for 183czk. From there, basically just follow the herd, but it’s about a 10 minute walk from the station to the Ossuary and quite self-explanatory once wandering. A suggestion is to check the train times back to Prague at the station before you head out to the chapel, because we ended up waiting 2 hours for the next one from the time we were done. When you purchase your entry tickets, you can buy for 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the UNESCO sites. We bought for 3 of them and decided we didn’t want to see the others after the 2nd one (which was a huge let down after the bone chapel). The final 2 are in the city center, so a train or bus ride away.

Well there you go! I hope you weren’t too creeped out and have now decided that you will hop on a plane just to go see this miraculous chapel! Have you been to the Bone Chapel before? Did you go to the other UNESCO sites? What did you think of them? Did I make a stupid decision to throw them to the wind? Were there any other off-the-beaten-path wonderments I should have seen while in Prague? Did you think the Czech people were as rude as I did? Let me know all of your whathaveyous in the comments! 

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