I always believed that if Belmar, NJ ever needed a tour guide, my father would be just the man for the job. In the winter months, he and his lovely assistant Jake could take you on a crawling tour of our little Jersey Shore town. And, I mean, literally a crawling tour. In the summer months, he’d run the special Belmar Bicycle Tour…up to the beach, down to the marina, and if your lucky, to the Boathouse for a drink and a burger so he could relive his “Rescue” days.
In Madrid, Spain, I met a man who reminded me a lot of my father. While I often jokingly refer to my father as “The Chairman of Belmar” (he loves his hometown dearly), this man was The Chairman of Madrid…and he had a society to prove it. Meet The Chairman and his Wellington Society…I will always think of him as one of the BEST decisions we ever made.
While preparing to take any trip, we always purchase the newest edition of the Rick Steve’s book for the particular country we will be visiting. We trust Rick and find his books to be pretty informative. While perusing the Spain book one evening, Paul came across the Chairman and his Wellington Society while looking for a good tour. He decided to do some research online and after liking what he saw, he contacted the Chairman himself via email. This is where things got interesting. You see, to take part in the Chairman’s tours, you have to become a member of the Wellington Society. For 50 Euros per person, you get a membership card and a VIP tour of Madrid. We also decided to add on the “Hemingway’s Madrid” tour since Paul and I are both fascinated by Ernest Hemingway and his writing. Sounds great right? Well, it all sounded just wonderful until Paul told me we had to send the money to the Chairman’s wife in Minnesota. Minnesota?! For a tour of Madrid, SPAIN? I hate to be a skeptic, but while I was putting that check in the envelope, I was pretty confident we would never see this money again. I could just picture us walking around Madrid saying, “I wonder what that woman is doing with all of our money in Minnesota? What a scam!” But it definitely was not a scam and like I said before, was one of the best decisions we ever made!
We booked our tours for our first two nights in Spain and, if you ever plan to meet the Chairman yourself, I recommend you do the same. Read further and you’ll understand why. He and his wife (she was visiting from Minnesota) picked us up, by foot, at our hotel. This began our VIP walking tour of Madrid. The Chairman (his real name is Stephen Drake-Jones) is a writer and historian and is beyond knowledgable about the history of Madrid. In addition to the plethora of historical information he provides you with, his VIP tour also includes stops for tapas and wine at MANY fabulous cafes. He takes you where the locals go. If you lived in Madrid, this is where you would spend your nights tapas hopping. This is how it goes: The Chairman takes you in, orders his favorite specialties, hands you a glass of wine, pulls up a chair and chats with you like a long-lost friend. He pays for it with all of your money that you sent to Minnesota and then, you are off, to the next café and the next glass of wine! On this tour we were introduced to “The Bullfighting Bar”, El Schotis (the King of Spain’s favorite restaurant), and a café with really good paprika french fries (I can’t recall the name). The Chairman also introduced me to my new favorite summer drink tinto de verranos-red wine mixed with lemon soda. We also got to see the King and Queen’s palace (that they choose NOT to live in) and the very exquisite Town Hall. On the Hemingway tour, we got to visit some of Ernest’s old haunts and try some more fabulous tapas. One of my favorites on this tour was the meatballs! I remember dragging our mothers and Paul around Madrid the following day, just to revisit the restaurant with the amazing meatballs!
Why do I advise taking his tours the first few nights you are there? For the rest of your trip you can go try out these local cafes for yourself and not be hounded by the tourist trap type places that will do anything to overcharge you for terrible food. It’s like meeting up with a friend who introduces you to all the little “hole in the walls” that locals love.
Just an aside…did you know that when you eat tapas at a bar in Madrid, its polite to throw your trash on the floor? You shouldn’t leave your napkin or toothpick on the bar (that’s considered rude), but should throw your trash on the floor so that they do not have to touch your garbage with their hands. They’d rather just sweep it up! I had a hard time with this concept. They keep their restaurants so clean and I hardly felt okay with throwing my napkins on the floor.
The Chairman and his wife’s hospitality was truly unique and we had a wonderful time getting to know them. Their love story (they met while she was taking one of his tours) was heartwarming. We would take another trip to Madrid just to see them again. In fact, we wish we had a Chairman in every city we visit. We learned so much from him, but we are still not sure how he makes any money. He is very generous when it comes to buying food and drinks for you along the way. Not that we are complaining. We envy his lifestyle and think it would be rather fun to have people pay you to go to all of your favorite restaurants and hang outs.
In conclusion, if you are planning to visit Espana anytime soon, give the Chairman a call. We promise you won’t regret it. In fact, why not visit him now? http://www.wellsoc.org/Index.html