Trip Start Dec 11, 2009
10Trip End Jan 26, 2010
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A cloudy start with some sunny spells and we set off back to Malaga, having a good run on the autopista. A garage stop to fill up the car and clean it (yes it's a new trick by the car hire companies – if you take a car back dirty they charge you to clean it!!) Ain't it fun being a tourist?
At the airport we return the car (without scratches, dirt or problems) and then go to the taxi rank to get to the city's train station. No way – there's a national taxi strike, there's confused tourists who’ve just got off the planes everywhere and the half hourly bus into town hasn’t got a prayer of coping. Aardvarks - yes Chris M, they have recuperated over the summer and have rejoined us for this trip!
A quick lunch and then back to the platform to catch the high speed train to Madrid. The inter city system is called 'Ave’ (the Spanish for bird) and this bird certainly flew. At times we touched 300kph or 180mph on this really smooth, 540km journey to the capital. The mountainous terrain and many long tunnels lasted for over half an hour and then we were out onto what seemed a vast plain with small rolling hills in parts. There were extensive fields and miles and miles of olive groves, all seemingly hidden away in the centre of the country. As we neared Madrid there was snow on the sheltered side of the track, a taste of things to come?
Arriving at the start of rush hour (and no taxis), we zipped up our fleeces in the 6 deg evening air and set off on the half hour, uphill walk to our hostal in the old quarter of the city. The hostal was on the third floor of an old building but was clean, comfortable and the radiator in the room was nice and warm. We noticed that the floors above us were being completely renovated by the 'Senor Seven Bells’ building company, who consequently proceeded to hammer enthusiastically in the rooms around us
Out in the cold night streets there was no 'off season’ here. The streets were bustling and the many bars were full of people on their way home from work. We stepped into a small tapas 'cerveceria’ (that’s 'beer house’ to me and you) and in our limited Spanish finished up with a couple of beers, several mini rolls full of (mainly) sea food and a delicious tuna and tomato pie.
A walk after eating, round the area and a coffee and cake in another place (OK – it was Starbuck’s!), watching the endless Madrid traffic charge past. Thankfully our hostal was in a quiet backstreet and our warm room was welcoming after the cold night air, even Senor Seven Bells had gone off to the cerveceria for the night.
Friday 18th December
A slow start with a (thankfully not too early) call from Senor Seven Bells and we wandered out to breakfast in a nearby café. Then on for a walk through the main areas of Madrid; the big city square (the Plaza Mayor) and its Christmas market; the several small squares; the ornate, traditional, great old buildings and we eventually arrived at the (old) royal palace, only to find that it was closed today, there was a protest going on outside and the area was full of police
A slow wander back through the city streets and its shoppers, with a stop for lunch; the main market; the ‘Sol’ area (which is reputed to be the centre of Spain) and many other magnificent buildings, as you’d expect from a nation’s capital. Another coffee stop before returning in late afternoon to the hostal, the temp was now 4deg.
Resting before going out for an evening meal we started to write this blog. At 8pm in we set out into the very cold night air, joining the many people in the narrow, criss crossed streets of the old town.
Saturday 19th December
We awoke, courtesy of Senor seven bells, just after 8 and went out to look for breakfast (the hostal did not do any meals) but this was no difficulty with the many small bars and cafes around all open and serving food. If you wanted beer and tapas for breakfast then it was available
In the nearby ‘Plaza de Angel’ we found a small café and whilst Norah had a coffee and toast I ordered ‘Chocolate y Churros’. This is a typical Spanish breakfast of a cup of thick chocolate, that you could (almost) stand a spoon up in and several sticks of deep fried fritter, each the size of a small stick of rock. The idea is that you dip the churro into the chocolate. Slimming World approved? –no way!
After our brush (or was it clash?) with art culture in Malaga, we’d decided to have another go here in Madrid, which has three major art galleries. Starting at the world renowned ‘Museo del Prado’, we spent nearly four hours (and that was not dawdling) looking at a fabulous collection of old masters from the world’s great artists. Whilst all were good, there were some that I found to be artistically excellent and I think the most impressive one for me was Reubens for his colourfull attention to imaginative detail. Admittedly they did not have any Constables but the collection was still extensive and it was interesting to compare the works of the great artists.
Opposite the gallery was a large old church where a wedding was taking place and we stopped to watch the couple leave after the ceremony, with the bride having an extensive long train and most of the women wearing enormous fur coats.
A (late) lunch break at a smart tapas bar and then off for more. The next stop was at the ‘Museo Thyssen’ which had a similar but less extensive display and included a more modern section. At last was a Constable, yes he was still as good as I remembered but the works of other English artists were not as notable as their reputations. Art is obviously something to do with the eye of the beholder. This was shown up in the impressionist, modernist and cubist areas – no, definitely not my style.
Returning to the hostal at 6pm to recover for a couple of hours before venturing out again for an evening meal. This art watching is tiring and makes you hungry.
At 8pm we sauntered out into the cold night air and joined the Madrileno crowds. Most of the bars were full and we were not too hungry so we settled for a little pizza place. Definitely a bad choice and the pasta was reheated with a small dollop of sauce, so no tip there then
Sunday 20th December.
A good (warm) night’s sleep and no Mr Seven Bells. Out into a bright and sunny but very cold morning, where we spotted a digital sign showing -6 deg. As JHS said, "you wanted sunny Spain – you didn’t ask for it to be warm did you?"
Another chocolate and churros breakfast to ward off the cold. Now there must be something special about the Spanish body metabolism, as during a following toilet stop I visited the adequate ‘aseo’ and pressed the lights timer switch. Sitting there in the single tiny room, contemplating the world, the bloody thing timed out leaving me in pitch blackness. Now I’m all for saving the planet but there’s a certain amount of time needed for one’s personal requirements and illumination is definitely a ‘convenience’ for this. I guess that Spanish potty training must involve a stopwatch!!!
In another old part of the city there is a Sunday market that stretches about a mile down both sides of the street
We walked on to the ‘Centro de Arts Reina Sofia’ for our final culture burst. First up was a Scandinavian ‘artist’ who had contrived all sorts of sculptures out of perspex blocks and tubes – he was definitely having a laugh!
The centro was based on the more modern schools of art so mentally prepared we proceeded. Another gallery had displays of ‘modernism’ then ‘cubism’, maybe art is a matter of personal relativity in just how much of it you can take?
The main gallery had more paintings by Picasso - which were definitely better than the bits of bloody Perspex and then Dali. Now I like this guy ‘cos he was a real outlandish eccentric and whilst you cannot always understand his works (as compared to, say, a bowl of flowers) at least you can clearly see what it is you don’t understand and then try to figure out his amazing mental creations which are always done in an ingeniously imaginative way.
A final viewing was of Picasso’s "Guernica", depicting the aftermath of a second world war attack on a Spanish town. Yes creative maybe but perhaps "It’s art Jim, but not as we know it!"
Now cultured out, we emerged into the still cold but bright sunshine and found another tapas bar. I love this snacking and trying different bits of this and that. There’s nowt like a good ‘pick and pike’ is there Dorothy? – you’d love it here. It’s also fun to try and figure out what is on offer and to banter in broken Spanish with the (mostly) friendly bar tenders.
A leisurely saunter back to the hostal for a siesta, well it’s tiring, all this culture on top of international jet setting.
We venture out into the cold night air for just a coffee and sandwich at Starbuck’s, finishing off with another coffee and a sticky cake. Now I’ve never got into this coffee culture with the ‘macca wacca donga latte’ or a ‘bigga thicka chocca wotsit’ but the ‘caramel frappacino’ sounds like just the ideal nice thick sweet thing to finish off as a hot nightcap. Oh Yeh?? ‘Do you want it with coffee?’ asks the barman, well yes, this is a coffee house isn’t it? Right – and he mixes the crushed ice, coffee, caramel and tops it with cold cream! What?? It’s mid December, its 1 deg outside and I’m drinking chuffin frozen coffee slush. I’m doing alright with my Spanish but I’m about to die of hypothermia because of my lack of Italian!!!!!
We walk back to the hotel and go to bed where my anaesthetized stomach eventually warms up. The lesson is to stick to ‘café con leche’ (coffee and milk) in future!
Monday 21st December
A good night’s sleep and up just before Senor Seven Bells and his lads get stuck in for the week. We emerge into another bright, sunny, espana day for……………WHAT?????? It’s completely overcast and it’s snowed!!!! There’s an inch and a half on the cars and pavements, which is turning to slush as the cold rain very slowly melts it. Returning to our room for waterproofs, we then find a breakfast place where I again have chocolate and churros, only this time I try a ‘churros relenos (stuffed churros). This comes as a big ice cream cone sized fritter, stuffed with a caramel cream filling and must be worth a thousand calories – try getting that past weight watchers!
Adequately provisioned against the weather, we slip and slide our way across town to the ‘Palacio Real’, the Royal Palace, which is the official 17th century ceremonial residence of the Spanish Monarchy, the monarchs actually living in somewhere more modern at the edge of the city.
We join the long queue, where, although we’d planned to come here today, everyone else seems to have opted for an ‘inside’ day. We queue for nearly an hour, standing in slush in the steady drizzle around 1 deg, whilst we are serenaded by a guy playing an accordion to the strains of ‘This year I’m off to sunny Spain, hey Viva Espana!’ Somehow he lived!!!!!
Inside the Palacio is extravagantly magnificent, with marble floors and columns, exquisite tapestries and paintings and room after room decorated in amazing themes. It is only used now for state occasions but is quite impressive.
Walking back to the hostal we stop for a quick lunch. It has stopped raining but in the bar we watch the news detailing the chaos that the snow has caused all over Spain and Europe, with transport delays everywhere and some flooding down south in Andalucia. So no beach party yet then !!
On reaching the central Sol area I spotted a metro station and we go underground and buy tickets for a quick whizz on their underground system. Just as we’ve bought the tickets there’s a bang and all the lights in half of this underground area go out, bringing security staff running. Everyone else just carries on and as it hadn’t affected the lines that we wanted we just continued and caught the metro across town and returned to the hostal for a siesta.
For our last dinner in Madrid we walked back to the little restaurant that we had enjoyed tapas in on Saturday lunch. They’re closed on Sundays, so on this Monday night they were…..er, not open also! Aardvarks! OK, so we walked on and crept past the lousy pasta place, just in case the waiter that we didn’t tip recognized us and went to another little tapas bar. This is one of the delights of Madrid, there are so many bars and restaurants of all different sorts that you’re spoilt for choice.
Now, Spanish dining lesson – a ‘tapas’ is the small portion as a snack (there’s one smaller but think that’s just like an hors d’oeuvre) and here in Madrid a lot of tapas came on a small bun; then there’s a ‘medio racion’, which is not enough for a single portion per person and comes about side plate size; then there’s a ‘racion’, which is a full plate full. So you can mix and match to your heart’s (and your appetite’s) content. We shared a veal stew, a portugese cod and a potato/egg/tomato and onion mix – all delicious. It was still drizzling as we walked back to the hostal but the temperature had now risen to 2 deg!
Tuesday 22nd December
Do you know what the Spanish national sport is ???
No……… it’s furniture arranging !!!!
I’ve had a suspicion about this from previous visits to Spain but as most of our stays have been in hostals, hotels or other tourist rented apartments, it’s only been on the odd occasion, when we’ve stayed in an apartment block lived in by Spanish people, that this unknown pastime comes to light. As it’s a secret the rules are not published and it always takes place under cover of darkness but the general drift is that before they go to bed and first thing in a morning on waking, you start shoving some item of furniture around, the heavier it is and the more items involved in the session, the more points you get for the day’s game. I suspect that at some time in the future Spain will introduce this as an Olympic sport and the Spanish national FA (Furniture Arranging) team will sweep the board after years of undercover training.