I have been working on the Spanish Civil War ever since I landed back in Madrid, my hometown, after 16 years away.  Spurred by constant questioning about Franco's dictatorship and my desire to know more about my own family's involvement in the war, I developed an interest in this subject which has never stopped growing. 

I joined the International Brigades Association in Madrid pretty much as soon as I returned to Spain in 2008, and eventually was elected their president.  The more I learned about the role of the volunteers and the more involved I became in recovering testimonies and historical memory of the Republic, the more I realised that something had to be done to educate visitors.  Other tours out there are commercial, capitalist ventures or led by people who are not Spanish, are lacking any credentials and have not endured the family trauma, or by people who treat it in such a superficial manner that it is offensive to the memory of the Republicans and are only doing it for profit.  

We travelled to Paris last weekend with our 5-month old baby and despite the torrential rain on Saturday and Sunday, we very much enjoyed our time there.  There were some challenges, particularly when it came to public transportation.  If you are considering using the metro system in Paris by yourself with a baby on a stroller, think again.  We found it extremely difficult since there are no elevators anywhere on the main central lines of the metro network, and had to climb up and down numerous steps to access the platforms.  In fact, we were the only travelers with a stroller, and such a rare sight on the underground must account for the attention our baby got from fellow passengers.  Our baby was smiled at, spoken at, and even touched and tickled by quite a few very friendly Parisians, who must have been in awe of our brave decision to use this very unaccessible transportation. 

We found the bus service much more friendly, and it was very easy to get on and off the bus through the central door of the vehicle. 

This post is inspired by the current news about the refugees trying to come into Europe after fleeing their war-torn countries.  The news are awash with images of desperate human beings who are running away from almost certain death and who have lost everything in the conflict destroying their home countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia, South Sudan... The United Nations has described this exodus as the worst migration crisis since the Second World War, and European countries are reacting to the event in rather questionable ways such as the razor-wire fence across the Hungarian border or the tension building up in Greece, Macedonia or in the French and Italian ports.  Humanitarian concern for the fate of these exiles is a moral duty, and the trafficking of human beings must be stopped before it is too late for its unfortunate victims.  

Images of people dressed in western outifts, including European soccer t-shirts or multinational sport brands make it perhaps even easier to relate to their plight.  The photographs of these refugees have been a powerful reminder for me of the archival images of the exiles from the Spanish Civil War who had to flee Spain in 1939. 

If you are in Madrid until August 30th and have an hour to spare, drop by the Imprenta Municipal in Concepción Jerónima 15 (behind Plaza de la Provincia, 5 minutes from Plaza Mayor) to visit their temporary exhibition on Origami.  This wonderful exhibition showcases over 250 works of art in paper created by international origami masters such as Pere Olivella, Manuel Sirgo, Florence Girard and other artists from Japan, France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Germany and Vietnam, amongst others.  The exhibition has been organised by the Imprenta Municipal in Madrid and the Origami School in Zaragoza.

Origami 300 bugsThe exhibition is open, free of charge, on weekdays from 10:00 to 20:00 and from 10:00 to 14:00 on Saturdays and Sundays.  If you are not familiar with origami, it will open your eyes to the creativity and skill of this particular art form. If you are already an origami fan, you are in for a treat, because the works on display are simply spectacular.

If you are interested in pursuing origami as a hobby or would like to know more about it, you can visit the following shops in Madrid:

Minimum Origami in Blasco de Garay 66 offers origami workshops for children and adults alike.  Manuel Carrasco has plenty of experience teaching this wonderful art on paper to a wide range of students, from architects to  young children.  His workshop hours are between 9:30 to 14:00, and from September he is also open in the afternoons from 17:00 to 21:30.  Contact him for further information on 915446548.  Apart from animal figures, in this shop you can also find original jewelry and hair accessories made with paper.

Where to stay in Madrid?

There are many hotels to choose from when you are planning your trip to the Spanish capital, so we have created a list of 'tried and tested' hotels in the city centre which we recommend.

If you are visiting Venice and are interested in the arts and crafts that Venice has been producing for centuries, we have a few suggestions to help you steer away from mass-produced, industrial imitations and to acquaint yourself with authentic craftmanship.  

Venetian glass is perhaps the most recognizable product, and you will come across hundreds of shops selling what you would assume is a genuine article.  However, it is difficult to be certain that these objects are manufactured in Venice and not elsewhere.  To be sure, here is our list of recommended Venetian glass artists:

Coming to Madrid soon and you do not know where to stay? There are many, many hotels to choose from, but why not try this apartment right in the heart of the city, in Plaza Mayor? With your own kitchen and all sorts of facilities, staying here will enhance your experience of Madrid and help you feel as a local.  The host, Mario, has raving reviews from his guests. 

If you are looking for a special present and would like to support local businesses and craftmanship, we recommend the following shops:

If you are planning on visiting Paris before or after Madrid, these are our suggestions, based on our own positive experience:

For those of you traveling with children and looking for information on activities suitable for families in Paris (and beyond), there is the invaluable guidance offered by Little Goguette, a website (French language only) packed with very useful information on kid-friendly restaurants, cultural exhibitions and workshops, suggestions for daytrips, and more: