[3/12] YEAH!! One year has passed and I'm going back to Madrid!! You can all probably imagine how excited
I am. It has been difficult fighting off insanity these past 365 days here in Columbus, Ohio but I keep Madrid and Spain and all my memories very close to my heart and in my mind daily.
My USAir flight leaves Columbus, Ohio, USA on Friday, April 4th and connects in Philadelphia to Madrid. Anyone else on that flight? If so, please let me know or say HI to me at the gate's waiting/seating
area. This happened to me on my way to Madrid in December 2002. It was wild! There I was just passing time, waiting for the boarding calls, when a smiling man starts walking
towards me. "Hmmmm.. Weirdo?" Then he introduced himself and asked, "Are you MadridMan?" WOW! I felt like a real celebrity. Then he told me he KNEW I was on this flight from our discussions on
MadridMan's ALL SPAIN Message Board. We chatted until we boarded and then I found my seat. As I was situated my carry-on in the overhead compartment,
the woman in the next seat had a similar smile on her face. Then she asked, "Are you that guy with the Madrid website?" I WAS FLOORED!
So if YOU'RE on this flight to Madrid, please say hello and we'll talk about Spain during our long flight over the Atlantic.
These past few years visiting Madrid I've spent literally hours everynight writing the journal and... well... by the end I was exhausted and vowed to trim down for the/this next trip. Sorry! You'll
get the highlights and as much as I can write in a short(er) period of time. Thanks for understanding. I really shouldn't have spent SO much time in front of a computer while I was on vacation. But
this time around you'll get LOTS of goodies to imagine.
During Semana Santa (Holy Week), my ladyfriend and I plan to spend 4 or 5 days staying in San Sebastián in País Vasco (Basque Region) on Spain's north coast. We'll also take daytrips to some of the surrounding
towns and take in a part of Spain that I've yet to see. I'm REALLY looking forward to it!!!
One more Pre-trip note, IF YOU'RE IN MADRID ON FRIDAY APRIL 11TH, PLEASE COME BY THE "PARTY WITH MadridMan IN MADRID: VERSION 5.0". You can read all about the pre-party (more of a "gathering" rather than
a "Party") in THIS THREAD of MadridMan's ALL SPAIN Message Board.
NOTE: This journal will be updated at the end of each day while in Madrid and sporatically (if at all) when in País Vasco (Basque Region). I'll fill in the blanks
upon returning to Madrid though so you can be sure to get every detail. Also, you'll be sure to find a few personal postings in MadridMan's ALL SPAIN Message Board.
[4/5 Saturday] I'M IN MADRID!!!!!!!! FINALLY!! Had a wonderful and fast flight on USAir via Philadelphia yesterday (Friday to Saturday morning) and was able to sleep - which I can never do - but this time had no one in the next seat in my 2-seat side of the plane so I could lay my 6'1" body down in the 3.5' space. HA! And guess what, USAir now charges for beer and wine so, well, I STILL had two bottle of French white wine with dinner. OOps. Did I say the word "French"? Can I still use that word these days? Well anyway, I had hoped to read while flying but my head was heavy with war-related concerns.
I landed in Barajas Madrid airport at about 10:00a.m. to a beautiflly clear sky and cool-ish temperatures. PERFECT! As my ladyfriend drove us though the streets of Madrid I had an unusual sensation. It wasn´t a sensation of giddy excitement but rather of a relaxed "at home" feeling. We made it to "home" where I was greeted by my ladyfriend's mother - we haven´t seen each other in a year but have talked on the phone many times. She´s SO sweet, about 85 years old, and always so very caring towards me.
They prepared for me a light snack of ham, sausage, olives, and coffee and before long other family members came over to greet me and have lunch of soup, Cocido Madrileño, salad, bread, wine, and strawberries in wine and sugar. Mmmmm.. I was in heaven. After a 2-hour siesta, my ladyfriend and I went "tapeando" (went for tapas at several places). FIRST STOP: PULPO A LA GALLEGA (olive oil boiled octopus - Galician style) at a nearby neighborhood spot called "Mesón la Ría de Noia" with a great view of the nightime illuminated Palacio Real and La Almudena over the Rio Manzanares. Next we walked up the hill, under the Viaducto into Old Madrid. Next Stop: Las Bravas for patas Bravas, not far from Plaza Santa Ana. Final Stop: La Casa del Abuelo for Gambas a la Plancha (grilled shrimp) on the Cava Baja (I think). Then we walked back through a busy Puerta del Sol to the Opera house where we caught a taxi home. It was a GREAT first night - JUST the right pace and I ate some of my favorite foods and tasted my first Mahou beers too. Yummm..
[4/6 Sunday] Today, Sunday, I slept LATE until 11:00am and just fiddled with the computer after my late breakfast of pan tostado con aceite y ajo (toast with olive oil and garlic.. Mmmmmmm...). Today will be another lazy day but will start a busy week ahead EARLY (I hope) day tomorrow. This next week I hope and expect to make some daytrips to either Toledo and/or Segovia. I still haven´t decided whether to go by bus or train. Seems the train is just a little more expensive but STILL very very cheap and ... well... there´s just something about taking the train - something I've YET to do in Spain. Can you believe it?
I promised myself before this trip that I'd keep this year´s journal entries slimmed down in order to spend more time doing things with family or friends or.. well, JUST being away from the computer. We´ll see how it goes. I just LOVE telling you all about my days and hope you get some enjoyment reading about it too. I must go now.. It´s almost time for lunch and my ladyfriend is making a paella. Mmmmm....Yummmmmy.. Until next time!!
[4/7 Monday] It´s just after 7:00pm and I´ve just returned from a LONG, but wonderfully tiring day in Madrid. Can you believe I took over 250 photos today??!! It all started at about 6:30am when I walked down to the neighborhood bar to get porras for the family. MY GOODNESS they´re cheap! I bought 10 for about 1.76?! Amazing. Left the house at about 8:30 to a perfectly clear, blue sky and took the grey line metro to the blue line and.. well, I took the right metro but in the wrong direction! Ugh. That was mistake #1. Well, I started at OPERA and spent a good 2 hours around it and then all around the Royal Palace. The tulips are in beautiful bloom in the gardens of Plaza Oriente, located between the palace and the National Opera House.
Walked to the Plaza Mayor and went directly to the tourist office there and got some information about the Madrid Vision, double-decker bus tours around Madrid. So I went straight to the Puerta del Sol to get this tour bus, got on the first one I saw, paid my 9.62? for an all day, hop-on-hop-off pass good for all 3 routes. Went to the top deck, straight to the back, and first took the "Modern Madrid Tour", route #2 and, well, probably wouldn´t have chosen that first but it was good to see northern Madrid, around Bernabeau Stadium and Calle Serrano/Salamanca District since I haven´t seen much of it before. This tour took about 1 hour 15 minutes to make the complete loop on a Monday.
By now it was almost 2:00pm and time to have lunch so I walked to Casa Marta, recommended my ladyfriend, located a few blocks south of the Opera House on Santa Clara, 10. It´s a nice, little place and the waiters were very friendly. I opted for the Menú del Dia and had.... here was Mistake #2. Well, it wasn´t really a mistake because I was being adventurous and trying things I´d never had or heard of before. For the first course I had "Sopa Castellana". Sounds good, right? Well, it did tast good but it was a pork soup with, mainly pig skin as the "meat" of the soup. Hmmm.. well, I only ate a bit of it although it tasted good but couldn´t bring myself to eating "pig fat soup" - call me crazy. And I could have had macaroni in tomato sauce, but nooooo.. hehehe.. For the next course I tried something called "Escalopes San Jacobo" which turned out to be two square breaded-fried patties with ham and cheese within. These were good and came with French fries. With all this I had a white wine which was alllll good.
After lunch I went straight back to Puerta del Sol and got on the Route #1 of Madrid Vision tours which is the "Historical Madrid" tour. I´d have to say that if you only wanted to take one Madrid Vision tour during your first-time visit to Madrid this #1 would have to be it. But with your ticket you can ride all 3 tours all day long if you´d want and can also buy a more expensive 2-day ticket which seems like overkill to me. Route #3 is the "Madrid Monuments" tour and this route is seen by taking route #1 and route #2. The Historical Madrid tour went through Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo(Neptune statue/fountain), down the Paseo del Prado, by the Atocha train station, along Retiro Park and then through the Salamanca district, over to Plaza de Colón, then to Cibeles, along Gran Vía to Plaza de España, by the palace, down to the Puerta de Toledo, then back to Puerta del Sol. As I said, THIS tour would be a good first choice and then maybe take the tour #2 and in doing these two you can skip the #3 route, "Madrid Monuments" as you´ll see them all in the first two anyway.
After all the bus touring, it was time to walk, which I did, around Plaza Mayor again, and then decided to walk.....home - which was about 2 miles, maybe more, half of which was uphill! WOW, are my legs tired!! I just had a coffee with milk and some cookies and I´m about to fall asleep and it´s only 8pm... I think I´m still adjusting to the time difference
Tomorrow is ANOTHER VERY BIG DAY! It will be exciting for me. I´m leaving the city for a daytrip!! Can´t wait. Hope you enjoy reading about it tomorrow night.
[4/8 Tuesday] Hot-n-Exhausted. These are the two words for the day. I also have a feeling that my feet will be screaming tomorrow morning after spending all day walking on the cobblestones OF TOLEDO!!!!!!!!!!!!! Today was my first visit to this medievel city since 1995 and I enjoyed another cloudless sky with high temeratures at about 72ºF. In 1995 we drove but this time, going by myself, I took the train and it was very easy, leaving from Atocha train station. The round trip "Regional Express" ticket was bought at the ticket booth for 8.90 ? and it seems that I could have used this ticket for the return trip anytime within 15 days. The trip took about 65 minutes and made about 4 stops, including in Aranjuez. Toledo´s train station is really beautiful, clearly antique, and built in the Mudejar style. I walked out of the station, turned right down the road and saw the group of people standing at the bus stop so I went too. I´d heard from the message board that the #5 & #6 buses went into downtown so I took the first bus, #5 - cost: 0.80? . It was packed packed PACKED with people and they didn´t leave until everyone squeezed on. It surprised me when then stopped at the bus stop and SHOVED in about 15 more people... at first I thought this was where I should have gotten off, especially when we left the bus station and began traveling AWAY from Toledo. Just as my worry was turning to panic the bus turned up a ramp and back towards the city.
I got of with a lot of the other bus-ers just outside of the main gate and next to a park at Paseo de Merchán where a huge bazaar/flea market was taking place. I was happy I got off here because at the edge of this park there was a tourist information (portable) building and there I picked up a map of the city with the "important" tourist locations and a crossed-out list of those sights which were CLOSED - - INCLUDING THE Alcázar!!! GRRRR... It was under renovations. Hmph! Not to let it dampen my visit, I walked towards the main gate, the Puerta de Bisagra, to take some photos and walk through, took a right and walked along the outside of the walls, taking the oddly-present escalators to the top of the hill and inside the walls.
Once inside Toledo´s walls, I walked around the edge of the city, down Calle Real, passed Convento Carmelitas Descalzas, Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes, then down Reyes Católicosand up the narrow street of San Juan de Dios and bought my 2.40 ? admission ticket to the Museo de El Greco. This was probably the one of the nicest parts of todays visit to Madrid as I´d taken a Spanish Art History class in college and we studied the works of El Greco. This was a decent collection but it seems his most well known painting are in OTHER museums around the world, including in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and, of course, in The Prado Museum here in Madrid.
Leaving the El Greco Museum, I continued up the gift-shop-lined San Juan de Dios to the Church of Santo Tomé. I really wanted to enter this well known Toledoan church since one of the paintings were done by El Greco but the hoards of students waiting in line made me decide to KEEP MOVING so I turned right on the street of Santo Tomé, by the City Hall building, and to the main cathedral. Wow.... Nice.. big... beautiful... COOL! (in temperature and in cool-ness) I bought my "all inclusive" tickets for 6 or 8 ? (I can´t find my receipt now) which not only allowed entry into the cathedral (this alone is 2? but my 2001 guidebook said it was free to enter) but also all of the "treasure rooms" and the "Corpus Exposition". I figured while I was already inside I should see as much as I can see since, well, who knows when I´ll return. It was all interesting inside. I liked it a lot but was a bit disappointed that NO photos were allowed, with OR without flash, inside the cathedral.
By now it was about 1:30pm and I had just reached the very nice Plaza de Zocodover, a large plaza right beside the CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS Alcázar (Grrr...). This plaza has many terrazas and trees which were recently "trimmed" to woody branch stumps - quite unattractive, but whatryagonnado?
I was now getting quite hungry and had my eye on my watch to gage the rest of my afternoon and still make it to the train station for the 4:20pm train back to Madrid. Walking through the winding, narrow streets of Toledo, HOPING a little out-of-the-way gem of a restaurant would present itself fell to disappointment as I didn´t find anthing until I was almost at the main gate, the Puerta de Bisagra, once again. But before this I did, just by chance, happen upon the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, an ancient moorish mosque which I recall seeing during my 1995 visit. So, I find myself on the Calle Real de Arrabal and found two restaurants, side by side, just up from the main gate. Well, I thought, being this close to the gate it MUST be touristy but it was not. Looking over the two Menus of the Day for the two establishments I decided on Bar-Restaurante El Arrabal (a wall divides the bar from the restaurant).I entered right at about 2pm and to my surprise it was absolutely empty. Hmmm, I thought. Either I´m still early (not) or this place is terrible. Well, it wasn´t terrible at all but not what I had hoped.. But you know, we often have these dreams of romantic little places with wonderful food for little money. AND, my chances no doubt would have been better findind a place such as this had my ladyfriend been along with me but that´s the way it goes. So for my 8 ? I had "entremese" of two slices of ham, one slice of chorizo, another slice of chorizo, and some potato salad. Hmmm... Okay. Well, THIS was my choice but not what I had envisioned - should have had the spaghetti. For the second dish I had something called "Camusa Toledana" (or something like this) which is a soup of ham meat (NOT of pig fat).
After lunch, about 2:30pm (I ate fast), I walked along the Paseo de Recaredo all the way to the Puente de San Martín, an old stone fortifide structure of a bridge spanning the Tajo River. Crossing it, I looked at the map, and thought, "Hmmm! It seems the parador is close. I think I´ll walk!" Guess what... IT WAS NOT CLOSE! It must have been about 3 or 4 miles and almost totally UPHILL, especially the last mile. I kept looking for a casual passing taxi to take me the rest of the way but out there, in the middle of nowhere, there weren´t any. I was getting sweaty under the hot sun while making this exercise but I finally arrived and spent 15 minutes taking photos of the view and darnit, I couldn´t get it all in a single photo frame! I had to split it in two. So, I walked for almost an hour to get there, got there, took several photos of the city over 15 minutes, then decided to go back to the train station since I didn´t have time to even sit down and have a MUCH NEEDED cold drink. That was disappointing but it was either LEAVE NOW or wait 2 more hours for the next train so the parador desk staff kindly called a taxi for me. Having only 30 minutes ´til the next train left (at 4:20pm) for Madrid, I was a little worried about getting through traffic but the driver said it would only take 5-10 minutes since there´s a road that bypasses the city that goes to the train station. The taxi from the parador to the train station cost right at 6 ? and I still got there with 20 minutes to spare, to relax, go to the bathroom, and have a FANTA de Limon!! I´d heard SO much about how good these were and how impossible it is to find them in the USA so I had to try one and yes, they´re gooood.
The train for Madrid arrived about 15 minutes early and it stayed there until 20 minutes after the hour. I dozed on the way back since I was quite tired and because the scenery isn´t particularly interesting. Although some of the old train stations where we stopped along the way, almost always in the Mudéjar style, were always pleasing to see. Got back to Atocha train station in 60 minutes, took the wrong direction metro again, backtracked, and got home at 7pm and had coffee and biscuits. Gooood. Shame I missed my siesta today. heheehe.. I think I´ll be missing a lot of those during this trip.
So that´s that! What a day. Tomorrow MAY BE AS exciting. We´ll see. So to finish, YES, if you have time for only one daytrip from Madrid it really should be Toledo. Yes, there are LOTS of gift-shops and tour groups and admission fees but ... it´s... TOLEDO! It has some of the oldest history in all of Spain.
[4/9 Wednesday] I´m afraid I have very little to report today other than getting up early to buy porras for breakfast at the neighborhood bar (I figured that they were about 15 cents EACH! My god! So cheap). Mainly, I was lazy all morning and didn´t leave the house until about 2:30pm when I went to my ladyfriend´s school to help with a pre-examination examination for an oral English test her children will be taking soon. That was an interesting experience for me. I had a few hours beforehand and just walked the streets until buying an El Mundo newspaper to read on a streetside bench until my stomached growled enough to take me into a nearby bar for a slice of tortilla de patata and ANOTHER Fanta Limón. Mmmmmmm..Good. I expect tomorrow will be somewhat more interesting to you all as I plan to go to the center until mid afternoon. At that time I´m returning to my ladyfriend´s school to do some more pre-examination oral tests with the children. ¡De Madrid al Cielo!
What a beautiful and fresh day here in the capital city. It was slightly cool and mostly sunny all day. Just perfect for me. My day started relatively late, leaving the house at 10:00am and taking the metro to OPERA where I walked to the Royal Palace and and took the guided tour, in English, for 8 Euros. I took this tour, but in Spanish, 2 years ago with the mother of my ladyfriend and aunt but this time I was also taking photos. It was a good tour and I can recommend it but one only sees a small portion of the palace itself. The tour took less than an hour.
After the tour I went to the Plaza Mayor and to the Bar Andaluz: Torre de Oro. This is an old old old bar with a long bullfighting history as seen in the many photos, bull-heads, and bullfighter suits under glass on display. It´s a small, narrow bar with tiny bathrooms down winding stairs. I´d been here many times before but always like to return. It´s kind of touristy but I only saw a few tourists inside - most were Spaniards. I had a beer and they gave a free tapa of paella and a slice of bread. I believe that Thursday is the day for paella in Madrid at many of the restaurants.
After the palace I had hoped to take the guided tour of the national Opera house but couldn´t seem to find where the tickets were sold. Oh well. Another time. So I walked through lower Old Madrid and found myself in Lavapies - this is where El Rastro (flea market) is held every Sunday. My ladyfriend lived in this neighborhood for several years about 10-15 years ago but it seems to have improved a lot since then. I´d heard many "horror stories" about its safety at night and/or in the day but it was a perfect day around noon and I didn´t feel unsafe one bit, me, with my camera around my neck and taking photos of old buildings and hilly streets. Lavapies is a neighborhood/zone that few travelers know or care to visit UNLESS it´s for the Sunday Rastro, but I found it "real" as there are no gift shops or fancy clothing stores or these things. But, in part, I guess, for this reason, it may not have the cleanliness or modern beauty or modern services that other parts of the city have. It seems to be coming into a kind of transformation but this change is slow and many of the older buildings have not been renovated.
2:00pm came and so it was time for lunch and I was VERY hungry. This is always a time of some anxiety for me. My lunches are relatively few here in Madrid and so I want to make the most of them but sometimes you just have to take chances so I took a chance on the small-ish "Cafteria-Restaurante Juli Fer" which showed a Menú del Dia for 8 Euros that sounded nice. The bar is in front and I was seated in the back dining room - they show a photo of this dining room on the outside window. It´s located directly across from the red-front painted Iglesia Cayetano on the corner of Calle de Emajadores and Calle del Oso in Lavapies. For starters I had a chicken soup with egg and small thin noodles. For the second plate I chose the lamb chops. This was with a half-bottle of red wine which I couldn´t finish, bread, and ice cream. It wasn´t bad but the lamb chops were a bit fatty and had some unpleasant bone shards in the meat. Still, it was good enough for me. I was happy to find an out of the way, off the beaten path place where locals ate. The dining room was clean, neat, and modern.
Now it was about 3:30pm and I walked downhill on the Calle de Embajadores walking past the old church ruins (which is being restored), the old/closed tobacco factory, as far the large, double fountain Plaza de Embajadores to the metro station there. Got the metro to near my ladyfriend´s school and had a couple hours to kill so I went back to the same cafeteria as yesterday and had the same thing, tortilla de patatas and a Fanta Limón while I read the El Mundo newspaper - filled with war-related news, of course. At the scheduled time, I went to my ladyfriend´s school and gave another 10 pre-English exam exams to the 8-10 year olds.
Upon DRIVING home at about 7pm, after having a coffee near the school, we encountered what MUST have been a mass exodus of Madrileños leaving the city, starting their weeklong Holy Week holiday early, just one traffic jam after another.
Now I´m writing the journal and the mother of the house is making a delicious..... TORTILLA DE PATATAS! Hmmm.. I´ve already had a "pincho" today and yesterday but... I THINK I can handle another portion. What do you think!? Hehehe... That´s all for now. Tomorrow night (Friday) is the Party with MadridMan in Madrid: Version 5.0"!! I can´t wait!!!! Should be a lot of fun. See some of you there!
(This journal entry was written one day after the fact) The day started in a lazy way. Today, Friday, was the first day of "vacation" for my ladyfriend but she worked ALL DAY on the computer for her Masters Program. We didn´t leave the house until about 11am when we took "La Madre de la Casa" to her doctor´s appointment. LUCKILY, they saw her right away but then she waited in the waiting room, waiting for her number to be called to make another appointment or get a prescription (or something - I´m not sure) but my ladyfriend and I left her there while we went for groceries. We first stopped at a bar in the neighbor which she´d never been before. The LOUD-speaking bartender was so friendly, asked where I was from, told me he was 100% Toledan (from Toledo) and gave us our beers with THREE free tapas of olives, then chorizo on bread, then jamon iberico. And the beers themselves were ONLY .90 Euros each! We felt like we´d just had lunch! After this we went for groceries at the neighborhood grocery store - a typical one like we have in the USA but about 10% the size. I was AMAZED at how CHEAP the Spanish wines and anchovy-stuffed green olives are IN SPAIN as compared to those imported in the USA - about 70% cheaper in Spain.
I helped take the groceries up the 5 flights of stairs (I carried one LARGE CASE of milk-bricks and two large 4 Liter, about, bottles of water while my ladyfriend took the rest then I went back to the doctor´s to pick up La Madre. We weren´t hungry so we just took our siestas immediately. I needed to rest for tonight´s PARTY!
And Wow. What a party it was, eh? The "Party With MadridMan: Version 5.0" had a surprising turnout of about 43 people and this included many message board members. Rafael, my friend from Barrio Lucero and message board member, met me near the LUCERO metro station but we walked to the Cercanias train stop at the LAGUNA metro stop and took a direct underground train to Atocha train station where we walked across the street to El Brillante. We got there at about 8:45pm so about 15 minutes before the party was scheduled to stop. At about 9:15pm everyone started coming in droves and by 10pm we reached our maximum number. I was able to eat one complete bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich - a MadridMan FAVORITE!) and one glass of beer. Unlike previous years where we all put in our money at the end, this year, maybe because of the large size of the group, we paid for each thing at the time we ordered.
By 11:00pm it was getting QUITE chilly and I noticed some people´s teeth were actually chattering and their muscles shivering (like Shannon who came in sandals and a belly-shirt) so we took a long, slow walk up the newly pedestrian Calle de Huertas and settled on a smallish place called CARBONES which seemed to have enough space to accomodate our now-group of 30 persons. Well, it was VERY loud and made chatting prohibitive so after one drink here we went on to Café Ducados on the Plaza de Canalejas. This was a GREAT place because it was quite big and must more quiet so we could all stand and talk more easily. PLUS, they left the large front door open so we could stay relatively cool.
My ladyfriend and I left at about 2am, getting a taxi at the National Opera House. By the time we left, I think only about 10 people remained. To be a proper host, I probably SHOULD have stayed until the last one was ready to leave but history has told me that these MadridMan gatherings can easily last until sunrise so I just couldn´t manage it. Besides, we HAD planned to leave for San Sebastián-Donostia in País Vasco in the morning. (which didn´t happen for reasons beyond our control)
Party guests came from all over the world, really. We had people from South Africa, Canada, all over the USA, foreign students studying in Spain, and of course many Spaniards themselves. I always REALLY appreciate the attendance of the Spaniards. Most of them are longtime friends, some are new friends, clients and hostel owners. I find that having these wonderful people at the party help provide some insight to travelers about a Spaniards everyday life, something we rarely experience when on vacation in Spain. Plus, the same may very well go for the Spaniards themselves. My hope is that bringing these people together, two (or more) cultures, that we can eliminate some stereotypes and, really, see how the other lives. I apologize for not being able to spend more time talking with each guest - the large group made this more of a challenge but I did the best I could.
That was my day! And what a GREAT day it was. REALLY! I SO look forward to these MadridMan gatherings to see old friends, put faces to message board members, and enjoy the company of my fellow travelers and new/old Spanish friends.
If interested, you can see some of the party photos HERE.
Today was a day of "recovery" after the late night last night. I was up until about 4am rearranging MadridMan.com, removing the old PARTY NOTICE banners and information and posting comments on the message board. So I slept until almost 10am and was lazy after that until I got myself in the shower and had a café con leche. After that I accompanied my ladyfriend´s elderly mother to go shopping for groceries - which I ALWAYS LOVE to do. First, we went to the nearby store (no larger than a large walk-in closet) to return some empy Mahou Beer bottles (which I generously "emptied") to exchange for new, FULL ones for a price. Next, we went for chicken at the butcher shop where we walked in and the female butcher welcome "la madre" by name and they exchanged small talk about each others families while the butcher chopped off the chicken meats in half. Under glass they had full chickens, without feathers but WITH their legs, feet, and chicken toenails! I don´t think I´d ever seen that before. I returned home after that while La Madre went on for the bread and fruit.
A little later I called my friend Antonio for a lunch get-together at about 2pm. Antonio is the son of the owners and integral part of Hostal Chelo. Antonio´s a great guy, VERY knowledgeable about the tourism industry in Madrid and Spain, and his English is excellent. We met near the Plaza de Canalejas at the restaurant "La Finca de Susana Restaurant" on Calle Arlaban, 4, near the SEVILLA metro stop. This place is recommended by Antonio and his recommendations are always well-placed. He said this place was elegant, classy, but very reasonably priced for good Castillian food. AND IT WAS! VERY nice place. We arrived at a good time too and got a table immediately but it was one of the last too and by the time we left people were waiting at the door for an available table.
I was going totally on Antonio´s menu recommendations and they didn´t disappoint either. We started with mejillones a la marinera (mussels), then Canelones a la Madrileña. For the main course we both had the Entrecot de ternera a la pimienta. (veal steaks) This came with rice and some thin, fried potatoes on the side. I did like the rarely-cooked ternera but it was maybe 25% fat so, well, that I didn´t eat but the meat itself was very good. For dessert we had a red house wine. It was all quite good for 35 Euros. This place is totally NON-touristy. I ONLY noticed one German couple next to us but otherwise they were all Spaniards - the mark of a good restaurant!
After lunch, Antonio kindly went with me to El Corte Inglés and FNAC travel agencies to look for rental cars for our trip to San Sebastián which we were scheduled to start today but, well, things didn´t work out so we´re leaving tomorrow morning - assuming things go well in the morning. Well, being Semana Santa, all cars were rented already so we just decided to take my ladyfriend´s car.
Antonio and I said our goodbyes and "see you soon"s (we´ll see each other again for sure before I leave) and I got on my bus at Opera and went "home" when, nearly as soon as I returned, the rest of the family came over: aunt of my ladyfriend, sister, brother in law, and nephew so the house was suddenly full. I tried to take a short siesta but it was impossible with the 4-year old running about. We had a nice visit though and the brother in law gave us some suggestions of things to do/see in/near San Sebastián.
The rest of the afternoon was lazy after "the family" left. My ladyfriend spent several more hours working on her master program on the computer while I watched TV. At around 10pm La Madre was cooking us dinner of fried chicken wings, fried eggs, and chorizo and salchichon while we watched TV until midnight. While we were eating, La Madre was polishing my two pair of leather shoes in the kitchen! I didn´t even ask her to do it nor did she offer - she just did it and wow, they look like new!! She´s SO sweet. I washed the dishes after dinner to help give my thanks. Can you believe we had 11pm reservations at Casa Botín outside of the Plaza Mayor tonight but cancelled them because my ladyfriend had too much Masters work to do? It was quite a bummer but I understand. The food here at home was CERTAINLY as good if not better than the famed Casa Botín, supposedly the oldest restaurant in the world and an Ernest Heminway haunt. Well, we´ll certainly eat there before I leave Spain. I understand the food is just "okay" but it´s more the place and the history that interests me.
HEY! We leave for San Sebastián-Donostia in the morning!! We have reservations for the next 3 nights at Pensión Donostiarra but we´ll make a couple daytrips, I´m guessing. We´ll be getting back on Wednesday night but I may not be able to update this journal until Thursday morning. Sorry! Just know that we´re (probably) having a great time in País Vasco. See you in a few days!!
[4/13 Sunday] (written after returning to Madrid)
We woke up more or less late and got on the road by noon, heading towards San Sebastián-Donostia, stopping for a rest in the beautiful old town of LERMA. Here, they have a parador de turismo as well as a fully-parked (with cars) Plaza Mayor and a beautiful church. Here, we had a "pincho" of tortilla de patatas and a Coke. We took a nice, long walk around the busy town, full of pre-Semana Santa visitors and best-dressed locals visiting the church. Back on the road we went, with my ladyfriend driving.
We arrived in sunny San Sebastián at about 7pm and our room at Pensión Donostiarra was still available to us - we had reservations for 3 nights. It couldn´t have been better located in our opinions, just about one block from the Church del Buen Pastor and one block from the fountain at the pedestrian Plaza de Bilbao. We parked our car directly BELOW the church in the parking garage at about 10 Euros a day.
At our first drive through San Sebastián, SEARCHING for our pensión after making the first wrong turn and getting off track, we marvelled at the elegance of the city. SO RICH with detail on the buildings, boulevards, and tree-lined streets. We both agreed that it was much more elegant than Barcelona. It doesn´t look particularly 'old' but about 100 years old and very very elegant.
The pensión, we agreed, was just perfect at the Semana Santa rate of about 50 Euros for the double room per night - with two twin beds pushed together (ugh). But at least our room, #110, was one floor above ground level and had a small balcony overlooking the Calle San Martín - we could see both the steeple top of the church as well as the river. The room was VERY VERY clean, had a nice and modern bathroom, and we could keep our keys to the room. The building was clean, the old and polished wooden staircase was beautiful with carpet covering the middle part, and the woman attending the pensión was kind. We didn´t notice any street noise but did hear a bit of the neighbors from time to time.
The first night we went straight to "La Parte Vieja" (the old part) as the sun was about to set. We were "rubber-necking" the entire evening, not believing the beauty which surrounded us. The old quarter is mainly pedestrian, which is nice of course. Weaving our way through we found ourselves at the beach, right up against the Monte Urgull where we chose a bay-facing restaurant called "TXOKO". Since we arrived more or less early, at 9:00pm, we were the ONLY customers for dinner. We passed through the bar below to the restaurant seating upstairs on the second floor. The two large balcony windows were open, overlooking the port and the glowing La Concha Bay as well as the hotel and tower across the bay to Monte Igueldo. It was JUST perfect, SO beautiful, a little breeze coming in as I took photos and the waitress arrived. The place was really NOT expensive and the food was good. We had a bottle of Rueda (white wine from Valladolid - seemingly the ONLY white wine to be found in the region - which is from a DIFFERENT region) with our meal. But to start we had fried chipirones (small squid) with lemon which were JUST DELICIOUS!!!!!! WOW, those were good. My ladyfriend had the "rape" (monkfish???) which I tasted and LOVED and I´m not even a fish-eater! I had the "solomillo a la pimienta" (sirloin steak) in a green sauce along with fried potatoes which was really good too. The meal was relatively cheap, about 40 Euros total, and the place was just perfect, nothing pretentious at all. After dinner we took a nighttime stroll back through the old quarter to our pensión along a blossoming tree-lined street of Getaria to San Martín. It was a pleasant, relaxing first night in "San Se", as it´s referred to in Castellano for short.
[4/14 Monday] (written after returning to Madrid) We slept too late this morning, as we usually do on our first day on "vacation". The first thing I LOVE to do in the morning in a new place is throw open the balcony windows and step out to the fresh air. Mmmmm.. Nice. It was mostly cloudy and slightly cool which was nice. We got ourselves ready and went to a café on the Plaza de Buen Pastor, right next to the church of the same name, and had croissants with peach preserves and café con leche. Next, we entered the church and I took some photos. We walked around the neighborhood a little and then at 1pm in front of the church of Buen Pastor waited for what turned out to be the last city-loop of the day of the "Donosti Tour: Bus Turístico" around San Sebastián. This cost 9 ? per person and lasted about 45-55 minutes. It´s a double decker bus so we sat on top. We agreed this was a good trip to make to get a feel for the city and what was interesting enough to return to see. It´s a hop-on-hop-off bus but since this was the last of the day we just stayed on. It wasn´t particularly good for photos though because of the somewhat dirty and/or scratched windows. Still, we make a nice big loop through the center, through the GROS neighborhood across the river, then back to La Concha Bay, along the beach, and then up Monte Igueldo for a great view, through these bus windows, of the bay, then back down and we got off where we got on, near our pensión and next to the Church of Buen Pastor, whose steeple you can see from all over the city.
On foot, we walked along the beach from beautiful beach-side city hall building and park towards Monte Igueldo. By now it was mostly sunny and LOTS of people were out and walking. We strolled along, me stopping constantly to take more photos, irritating my ladyfriend profusely (hehehe..). Both starving and it being the lunch hour by now, we stopped at one of the 3 beachside restaurant, this one called "La Perla" which apparently was one of the places where royalty held gatherings, parties, and such right on the beach. We took a table RIGHT against the railing just over the beach where topless women sunbathed below us. Bonus! Who needs dessert! hehehe.. Here, under the passing sun behind clouds from time to time, we had a WONDERFUL meal with friendly service. I had a HUGE plate of spaghetti with meat sauce for a first course, then had roasted duck in a green pepper sauce and sliced potatoes in a cream sauce. WOW, it was SO delicious. I don´t know if I´ve ever had duck before but this was very tasty. We had a bottle of Rueda white wine and then an orange ice cream for dessert. Price: 30 Euros - cheap - and a VERY nice place both outside with the bay view as well as the 180º beach view inside. Feeling full and now lazy, we slowly walked along the beach on the walkway above the sand, again towards Monte Igueldo. But during one of my photo-taking stops, my ladyfriend stretched out on one of the benches and fell asleep for about 15 minutes. Not wanting to wake her, I just took more photos! Why not! Well, we start again, passing Ondarreta beach, and walked as far as we could, under Monte Igueldo to the steel sculptures of "Peine del Viento" by the artist Chillida. The sculptures are nice but the things that are cool are the "blow holes" created by the same artist where pressurized air and sometimes water blows up through the holes of the platform, creating a cold, hard wind from below. The children loved them. They say these are particularly "beautful" during storms and strange sounds can be heard from them.
Turning back, we found the old old old Funicular station and took it, for 5 Euros each, to the top of Monte Igueldo (or Igeldo - as it´s also spelled) where there is an odd amusement park, seeming very out of place with this beautiful view of the bay below. But fine, it´s a great place for photos, that´s for sure. This is definitely a "must do" while in San Sebastián. That is to say, NOT the amusement park rides and attractions but definitely going to the top. We also went a step further and went up the stone, spiraling staircase atop the TORREON (tower). I´d say this is also a MUST DO. The photos and information in the old tower are very very interesting as to the history of the mountain and the city of San Sebastián. It was cheap too, about 2 or 3 Euros per person. VERY windy up top too but a great vantage point for photos and there were just enough clouds on the horizon to give the city and bay a beautiful backdrop. SO pretty from up there. DO IT if you can. We took the funicular down to the bottom and then walked some distance to a taxi stand where the driver took us to the Playa de la Zurriola which is on the back side of La Concha Bay on the OTHER side of Monte Urgull. We walked along the beach, passed the beachside UGLY "modern" KUBO, the hideous green structure used for conferences, expositions, and the like. Passing it and crossing the river Río Urumea Ibaia and then took the beautiful, long, sunset walk AROUND Monte Urgull with many many other walkers. We had SUCH a beautiful view at sunset over the rocky coast of the mountain and encircled all of Monte Urgull as far as the port of La Concha Bay where we stopped at about 8:30pm at a dockside restaurant called "La Rampa", right at the ramp where boats are launched. We sat under the green awning on their 7 table terraza as the lights dimmed over the sea. TIP: The word "restaurant" in Basque is "JATETXEA". So at "La Rampa" we had two croquetas de chirirones en su tinta (croquettes of small squid with their black ink). I didn´t particularly like these but they weren´t bad, just... BLACK and a little gooey. hehehe.. well, they weren´t bad, just odd. Also. We also had langostinos (large shrimp). We had caña of beer, Heineken, which oddly enough seemed to be the main caña brand in all of País Vasco, not a regional beer. Tab: 21.80 Euros. MY poor ladyfriend, I left her at the table of "La Rampa" to go up to the deck to take a number of near-nightime photos. I thank her for her patience with me during this trip with so many beautiful things to record.
Next, we went into the nearby "La Parte Vieja" (the old part) of "San Se" where we met a couple of my ladyfriend´s friends. We met them in a tour-book recommended place for tapas (or "pintxos" as they´re called in Basque) called "El Alcalde", right in front of the Church/Iglesia de Santa María. As it´s done in the Basque Region, the bar is lined with plates of different tapas. You take what you want and then at the end you tell the bartender how many you had and they charge you this way. VERY interesting - mainly on "the honor system". The place was closing at about 10:45pm so we left and went to a plaza on the "Plaza de la Constitución", the main plaza in the old quarter. Here we sat under a nearly full moon and illuminated walls and talked until midnight when we said our goodbyes and returned to our Pensión Donostiarra. Goodnight!
[4/15 Tuesday] (written after returning to Madrid) Waking up in a bit of a rush, we showered and got the car from the parking garage and headed for Hondarribia under a cloudy, rainy sky. Arriving in the beautiful old walled city of Hondarribia, we needed our umbrellas. They have a parador there on the main square but other parts of the old quarter were even more beautiful with the colorfully painted balconies of the many thin buildings. It seemed to us that in these small villages mainly Basque or "Euskera" was spoken whereas in San Sebastián-Donostia mainly Castellano was spoken.
Next, we crossed the river and INTO Hendaia, FRANCE!!! We drove around a bit but didn´t stop. We did drove a ways further, stopping in a village that we thought MIGHT be Saint Jean de la Luz and asked a shop owner how far it was. Well, this was a challenge because the owner ONLY spoke French and neither of us do so with hand gestures we took it to mean that it was just a bit further and it was! We found Saint Jean de la Luz to be a nice village right on the sea, having it´s own little bay. We walked around a bit and had lunch in a little restaurant called Bar Bodega Chez Kako at 18 Rue Mar Harispe, right on a square. We had the Menú del Dia (no choice of courses) of roasted chicken, potatoes, and salad. It was ALL SO good, especially the chicken in its sauce, and with French beer and a shared creme brulee for dessert the total was 27 Euros. Not bad.
Continuing on to Biarritz under a cloudy but not-raining sky we didn´t even stop in the city but made a turn-around and headed back to Spain. We were a little surprised to see there weren´t ANY signs or other indications of leaving one country for the other.
We went straight to Pasaia, another seaside village with a beautiful, old, small old quarter. The city itself is VERY industrial but the set-aside old quarter, at the foot of a large hill (or small mountain) is very nice and I took lots of photos. My ladyfriend had two bracelets made by three enterprising girls sitting in wait on benches along the walk. Nearly every house on the water had a small boat docked on a post just like in Venice. I´d say this place is also a MUST SEE.
Next we went up up up the mountains to Jaizkibel where there was (sort of still is) a hermitage and a great view of the valley below. The mountains have a series of far-apart towers and many groups of sheep and cows grazing along the long, winding drive up to the top of the nearly treeless mountain. We had a great sea-view from above and could JUST make out the distant San Sebastián. We made many scenic-view stops along the mountain top heading back down to indurstrial Pasaia city where we then turned towards "San Se" as the sun was about to set. This night, arriving back in the city at 8:15pm, we parked on the street near our pensión IN THE BLUE ZONE where parking is allowed for non residents. It´s free after 8pm and until 9am so we put in enough money (1.75 Euros for 90 minutes) for the NEXT morning to be "good" until 10:30am. The clock starts ticking at 9:00am.
The night ended calmly in San Sebastián. We simply went to a nearby bar and ordered some patatas bravas (better in Madrid) while our to-go Bocadillos de Calamares (fried squid sandwiches) were being prepared and we took them back to the room and watched TV until about 11pm. We knew we wanted to get up early the next morning.
[4/16 Wednesday] (written after returning to Madrid) Woke up at about 6:00 and immediately got dressed and left the pensión, going straight to the beach where we were HAPPY to see the full moom JUST going down behind the Monte Igueldo. We arrived JUST in time along the beach´s railing because 2 minutes later the moon was gone. It was so beautiful and romantic with the cool, sea breeze, the lights around the bay, and the setting moon over the mountain. It really could NOT have been nicer. From here we walked towards Monte Urgull and to the port in the peaceful morning air and few dog-walkers along the beach promenade. We took another walk through the awakening old quarter and then stopped at a café for coffee and croissants. Went back to the pensión at about 9:00am, slept another 2 hours.
(Today was a busy day visiting many villages - most of which now run together in my mind but here goes...)
Got up lazily, being our last day in San Sebastián and (thinking we were headed back to Madrid) left for the interior. Our first stop on this mostly sunny day was Azpatia and we simply walked around the old quarter, spending only about 45 minutes there, walking through the main plaza which had an oddly modern and not too attractive building on one side. Next, we drove to San Ignacio de Loiola. The large basilica was unfortunately closed the hours we were there so we just walked around the grounds and left shortly thereafter. Arriving next in Azkoitia which was particularly nice with it´s main church and old neighborhood. It was lunch time and we walked and walked looking for a restaurant and finally found one on the edge of the old town near where we parked. It SEEMED to be one of the few restaurants around as it was full full - full of locals having their lunch. We sat one of the few available table and had the menu of the day which. That is to say, we chose from three things they made for the day - no menu. We ate very well here and for little money. Next we went to Zumaraga and saw the statue of Lagazpi. Spent very little time here and then went on to Bergara and walked through the old town (what, again?!). Our last stop was El Santuario de Arantzazu in the mountains over the city of Oñati. The new sanctuary was somewhat modern, built in the 70s, I´m guessing, and wasn´t attractive at all. You go down underground to enter the building and see the Virgin Mary sculpture. We had a drink at one of the few nearby bars and walked past the numerous new-buildings being constructed around the sanctuary - presumeably new hotels. Well, we weren´t very impressed with this but the view up in the mountains was impressive if the church was not.
We went back down the mountain to the village of Oñati which we particularly liked. We arrived at about 7pm and while we´d planned to return to Madrid that night we decided to try spending another night here IF we could possibly find a hotel with a room available. Asking around to people on the street, they said there was ONE in the old city center. We found it, a 1-star hotel called ONGI HOTELA on Kale Zaharra, 19 (tel: 943 71 82 85 - email: email@example.com ). They don´t yet have a website but are working on one. This place, being the ONLY one, was surely to be expensive AND NOT have any rooms available but there was! We got a double - two twin beds pushed together - and it was ONLY about 40 Euros total!!!! How shocked we were but not as shocked as we were when we saw this WONDERFUL ROOM! It was in the TOP level, in the attic and so we had high ceilings and a beautiful view of TWO churches below and the mountains. It was like a suite with a sitting room inside the doorway and a separate bedroom. The bathroom was amazingly large and modern with double stainless steel sinks. We couldn´t have been happier. It´s located on a pedestrian street where all the bars and boutiques are located.
After checking in, we went for a long walk around the nice, old quarter. Everything was already closed but we still had some sun for me to take a few photos. For an early dinner we decided on one of the few restaurants in the zone, called GOIENA JATETXEA. Oddly enough, to me, it was an Italian-type restaurant, serving mainly pizzas and pastas. The bar is upstairs but the downstairs has a nice restaurant having our tuna, chorizo, and shrimp pizza. A funny story: My ladyfriend ordered a beer without alcohol and I first ordered a caña but then changed my mind to a jarra of beer. Thinking I was going to get a mug of beer like in Madrid, they brought a HUGE pitcher of beer, enough for probably 4 people. Imagine our popping eyes when the waitress put this down on our table! Well, over the 2-hour meal we both managed to finish it. After dinner we took a nice, long, slow stroll under the moonlight through some of the other streets in the old quarter, including through their main plaza with the iluminated city hall building. We returned back at the room and went to sleep early, very tired after a long day of multiple stops throughout our day.
[4/17 Thursday] (written after returning to Madrid) By chance, I woke up at about 6:00am and opened the window to the clear, cool night sky, TOTALLY illuminated by a nearly full moon going down towards the mountain tops in the near distance (can you say "near distance"?).
Went back to sleep for a couple more hours and got up at about 9:00am and had a light breakfast of croissants and coffee in a bar on the Plaza Mayor. I swear, during our 16 hours in Oñati I´m almost positive I was the ONLY tourist and/or NON-Spaniard in this city. We took a last walk through the old quarter and went back to the room to prepare our bags, checking out at 11:30am (noon was checkout time both here and in San Sebastián).
Got in the car, which we parked on the street for free, and took the main highway towards Burgos where we immediately had a stop and go traffic jam for hours, probably 3 hours. I´m talking about the highway here, 3-lanes, totally stopped for minutes at a time sometimes, then it would clear for a few more miles and then be stopped again. It was like this all the way to Burgos but after passing by it totally cleared and we had "smooth sailing" to Madrid with very very light traffic and arrived back in the city at about 4pm.
Not much to report for this night as I just sat behind the computer for about 4 hours writing the journal for these days away. I did, however, have a nice dinner at home of fried eggs and fried potatoes while watching TV. Ahhh... calm.
[4/18 Friday] The day was cloudy and most of it was spent at home in Barrio Lucero with my friend Rafael. He lives in the neighborhood and is a computer genius (being his job) so he came over to help with some computer-related issues with my ladyfriend´s computer. THANK YOU RAFAEL!!!! Poor guy spent literally 4 or 5 hours here working on things, setting up a new computer that wasn´t totally compatible with the new(er) PC and reinstalling some other needed software. There were lots of conflicts and the poor guy had to go back home, download information from there (as the drivers for this PC´s modem and printer were missing) and return after lunch for more hours of work. Really, THANK YOU RAFA!!
A little later I took the bus to Opera and then to Gran Vía are to the Calle Hortaleza, 17 to meet my friend Antonio of the famed Hostal Chelo and meet with his parents for a bit. Then Antonio and I went downstairs to meet his sister Loli and his cousin María and her husband Abel, the two own/operate the Hostal Las Murallas on Calle Fuencarral, 23, one street over from Hostal Chelo, north of Gran Vía more or less near Chueca.
The 5 of us went to an informal but good neighborhood bar/restaurant called "La Sacristía" on Calle Infantas, 28. We pulled 5 chairs around two tables and had some tapas as well as two Pizzas Castellanas. These pizzas were not typical pizzas but on bread bread, not on pizza dough. They were really good and the total bill was cheap. We spent the evening just talking about things other than the hostel-business, things like American TV shows in Spain (Friends, The Simpsons, South Park, CSI, etc.), famous Spaniards in the USA (Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Enrique Iglesias), very little about the war itself (thank god) but did talk about Bush and Aznar (or "Ansar" as Bush once publicly mispronounced Aznar´s name and mentioned "The Republic of Spain") and Bush´s "grasp" of the Spanish language, how the Spanish TV show "Los Guiñoles" (puppets with comical, mainly political commentary) portray Bush and Aznar and other political and sport figures. So anyway, he had a lot of fun and talked a lot and I thank them for their company. These are all very very nice people and I feel comfortable calling them all my new friends - except for Antonio who is a good, OLD friend (but much younger than me).
We left the restaurant at about 11:30pm to a light, misty rain. We said our goodbyes, made plans to see each other on Monday, and I walked to OPERA where I´d hoped to either get the bus back to Barrio Lucero (which were no longer running) or get a taxi. There were LOTS of people in the street but no taxis were coming by OPERA so I walked up the street toward SOL and caught one available/LIBRE stopped at the light. He drove me home and the total was about 5.60 Euros. Not bad, considering in the US the same distance/time would have cost double or more.
Finished the night with my ladyfriend, watching a Kevin Bacon movie on DVD until HER bedtime. This is when I went to the computer to catch up on email, message board postings, and other details until about 3:00am. Goodnight!
[4/19 Saturday] Today, I said goodbye to my good friend Rafael who lives here in Barrio Lucero. at 2:15pm I met him and his friend Iván today at the LUCERO metro stop and we walked past the LAGUNA metro stop and through the brand new park which has a small body of water, a fountain, and some ducks paddling about. There was a slight mist in the air, aside from the fountain, and lots of wind so we didn´t stay long. Walking a little further we found the "Restaurante <>" - a small neighborhood restaurant located on Calle Alhambra, 72, one of the very few around there, and went in to take a table for three. While the place was small it was quite nice and the prices were much higher than one would think for a small neighborhood restaurant.
By the way, my ladyfriend rolls her eyes when she reads these journals because, she says, it only talks about EATING in Spain! Well, the food here is GREAT in my opinion and people like to read about it too.
Anyway, we had a LARGE lunch too. To start off, we sheared a large place of bocerones (smelts - fish) which were boiled in butter. I´m NOT at all a "fish eater" but this trip has started to change my mind about this. Other than the very small, fine bones that are eating in these smelts I didn´t find it at all. They kind of tickle your throat as they go down but they were quite good in the melted butter. And of course, we dunked our bread in the butter as we ate. Mmmm.. For the main course Iván and I both had the Currascos (steak - veal, I think), a specialty of the house, and Rafael had the Solomillo (steak). All our steaks were great which we ate with a bottle of red wine from TORO, a VERY nice old city known for its wines in the province of Zamora. My ladyfriend and I went to the town of Toro over the Christmas holiday of 2001. We had asked for the house red wine and, sometimes this happens, it´s not really what *I* consider a "house wine" because it´s a commercial bottle of wine. Most often, it seems to me, you ask for the "house wine" and they´ll bring you a cheaper, lesser-known bottle or wine in a carafe or pitcher, often made specifically for that restaurant. For dessert we had a beautifully prepared cream cheese with blueberry topping and some nice swirls of chocolate over it and around the plate. To finish we all each had 2 little shot glasses of Melocton (a kind of peach brandy, I think) which I´d never had but it was quite good, served cold. As I said, the place was rather pricey for its neighborhood location, being the only restaurant in the area, total price for the three of us was 89.00 Euros.
NOW it was time to work off the big meal! Rafael is WELL KNOWN for his great distance walking abilities so when he says we´re going for a walk you can bet it will be far and take a long time to get there. We left the restaurant, heading into a strong breeze and light rain and headed for the crest of the hill in this area which was recently made into a park with gravel & sand walkways, play areas for children, benches along the path and a GREAT view of the entire skyline of Madrid. As we walked through the park of newly planted trees, we called out the things we could see: El Pirulí, La Puerta de Europa (a.k.a. Los Torres Kio), the buildings surrounding the Plaza de España, El Faro de Moncloa, La Catedral de la Almudena, El Palacio Real, and La Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande to name a few. It was just a great view from there under the cloudy skies.
Walking downhill now, we passed through the lower part of Barrio Lucero to where el Paseo de Extremadura meets el Río Manzanares and walked passed my FAVORITE restaurant, "Mesón a Ría de Noia", mainly because of its GREAT "pulpo a la Gallega" (spiced, oliv-oil boiled octopus. Mmmm..). Noia is a fishing village on the coast of Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain and my ladyfriend and I were there last year during Semana Santa. Very nice place and great seafood, as you can imagine. So we three stopped at the old bridge spanning the Río Manzanares and took a few photos of us and then cross the bridge, then crossed the street, and walked up through "El Parque de Atenas" (Athens Park), a park adjacent to the Royal Palace. We walked passed a number of ruins of Moorish walls, now about 6-10 feet below current surface level. These ruins are really beautiful with it´s arched doorways and window, brick and stone walls. We continued up the serpentine street where I noticed SERVERAL (no doubt illegal alien) Africans "finding" parking spaces for cars in exchange for a tip. They´d stand in an open space and flag down passing cars to "alert" them of the existing space and then expect some change in return. Just a few years ago these people were mainly gypsies but these "jobs" and now they´re Africans. There was one woman shouting at the man who "found" the space, asking why she had to pay him since she would have found the space on her own anyway. Well, it seems everyone feels compelled to give them something for fear, maybe, that they might do something to their cars (i.e. scratch them or something) if they didn´t. We we continued up to the Calle de Bailen, the now-pedestrian street that runs in front of the Palacio Real. We walked past the Palace and then to the other side of the National Opera House where we all went down into the OPERA metro stop and we all went to the Principe Pío metro stop where we said our goodbyes untile next time and I got on the metro and came home. It was a nice, VERY pleasant day with Rafael and my new friend Iván. They both speak English quite well so I´m happy that when my Spanish fails me they can usually explain things to me in English.
Got home to find my ladyfriend and her mother about to leave to visit the mother´s sister for a few hours so I called some friends, trying to make some plans to be with them for the night but they were all busy. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I called the famous British Expatriate Stephen Drake-Jones, Chairman of The Wellington Society here in Madrid and made plans to get together with him, his new lovely fianceé, some Wellington Society members, and some of his friends from the El País newspaper tomorrow for lunch at his house. I´m looking forward to it.
Tonight, since I don´t have any real plans, I´ll likely just do email and such until my ladyfriend and her mother come home and eat a couple dozen of the "croquetas de jamón serrano" (ham croquettes) that the mother made earlier today. I awoke at about 4:00am this morning to the sound of her making "torrijas" (umm... a kind of grilled or fried bread with eggs and sugar - loosely similar to our French Toast in the USA but these torrijas are MUCH tastier and typically eaten during Semana Santa-Holy Week). Maybe we´ll watch an Almodóvar movie on DVD tonight. I have a BIG day tomorrow. I may be getting together tomorrow night with my friend Julio, owner of Hostal Horizonte, to take some nighttime photos of the city´s landmarks. Julio is an accomplished photographer and his work was on exposition in a the castle of a nearby village last summer.
And happy Easter, everyone! I didn´t watch a single procession live this year, only one here in Madrid on TV on TeleDirectio of TeleMadrid TV. I guess that´s all for now. Goodnight! Until tomorrow.
[4/20 Easter Sunday] Wow... what a great and long day it was today. I slept until about 8am and did relatively nothing all morning except watch the award-winning Spanish movie "Barrio". What a good movie it is, very simple, low-budget, but with a good story about the life of 3 teenaged boys in the lower, working-class neighborhood in Madrid and how they spend their days and nights trying to find entertainment, "love", and how they see their futures. A good movie.
As soon as the movie was over, at about 10:30am I was asked to go for some groceries like the daily bread, Mahour Beer (for me), and a "brick" of white wine for cooking. Lunch came along shortly at about 2pm (uh-oh, he´s talking about FOOD again!) which was, of course, GREAT as usual. A long siesta took me to mid day and... well.. to be honest, I don´t remember much of what I did other than call some friends to make week-day plans.
Tonight was a BIG night! I met Julio at his Hostal Horizonte on Calle de Atocha, not far from the Plaza Mayor. Wow. How beautifully he has decorated and renovated this place since I saw it last year at this time. It now has a library, asian urns, crystal chandeliers, paintings, things from India, Morrocco, and the middle east as well as an inviting smell of incense. He has done a WONDERFUL job with it and I´m looking forward to hearing about it´s GRAND re-opening soon. I´ve NEVER seen a hostel like this before in my life. VERY elegant!
After the grand tour of Hostal Horizonte, Julio drove me around Madrid to take many MANY nighttime photos of landmarks. I´ll simply list the places here: Palacio Real, Opera, Plaza de España (not too wise to visit at night but I felt safe with Julio), Templo de Debod (another place not wisely visited at night unless accompanied by one or two or three other men) which had a great view of Palacio Real, La Almudena, and even the church of San Francisco El Grande and the river valley below, also El Faro de Moncloa and the Arco de Vitoria, then to Cibeles/Palacio de Comunicaciones, the Gran Vía/Calle Mayor split, THEN we had a 2-hour dinner at the VIPS in the Salamanca district at 1am-3am, Puerta del Alcalá, and finally to a secret place for a wonderful skyline view of Madrid - Julio SWORE me to secrecy so don´t ask where it is - but we could see the entire city from this elevated position including the Pirulí, Torres Kio/Puerta de Europa, Torre de Picasso, Telefonica, and many more things I couldn´t name because it was nighttime. I literally took 150 photos, loading another mini-CD on my Sony Mavika. He drove me home and I arrived there at 5am with a boquet of flowers for my ladyfriend who was STILL awake, worried, and waiting for me. WHO KNEW I´d be out so late, much later than the expected midnight return. I know - I know - I should have called.
[4/21 Monday] Whew. What a tiring day. I got home at 5am as I said above, everyone was up already so I had breakfast with them, talked for awhile, then went to sleep by 7am and slept ´til 11:30am. We had another great lunch at 2pm, volunteered to clean the meal´s dishes until 4pm while the others slept, then I took a much needed 2-hour siesta on the sofa until about 6pm. Then I showered, dressed, and worked on some email and looked over some statistics for the website, and left by 7:30pm by metro and visited the sweet family of Hostal López, located on the NEWLY and BEAUTIFULLY converted PEDESTRIAN street of Calle de Huertas. This pedestrian street is JUST what the HUERTAS area needed, making it much more people friend in its narrow streets - not to mention safer since the sidewalks before were so narrow and lots of traffic buzzed down its one, one-way street at all hours.
The family at Hostal López are so very very sweet. They are my second family in Madrid and I´ve known them for about 8 years now. They are always SO nice to me, sitting me down, talking my ears off with updates since the previous year. I really love them. During the first 30 minutes I think they phone rang about 12 times by people wanting to make reservations for the next weekend but, being a holiday time, they´ve been full for weeks. We had a nice, long chat, lasting about 1.5 hours and guests at the hostel came and went but finally I had to say my goodbyes. I plan to see them again later in the week. On my walk through the very nearby Plaza Santa Ana, I stopped to take a number of dusk-time photos of the plaza and terrazas. Then I went to Plaza Mayor where I caught the number 31 bus to the top of Paseo de Extremadura and walked the rest of the way home. I could CLEARLY see a GREAT INCREASE in the number of people and traffic on the street in the city and in the neighborhood today, Monday, as compared to yesterday and the previous days when many people were out of the city on vacation.
Since I called from Plaza Santa Ana to say I was on my way home no one was worried when I arrived just after 10pm. They sat me down, gave me a bocadillo de chorizo (a kind of thinly sliced sausage-with-peppercorn sandwich) and that was enough. I was still relatively full from my BIG lunch of roasted chicken, croquettes of serrano ham, and fried potatoes. And so here I am now, just after midnight, and am the only person awake in the house.
Tomorrow it´s supposed to rain as well as the following 3 days. I had HOPED to get the early train to Segovia today but there was just no way with the little sleep I had. Tomorrow, Tuesday, I´ll be visiting more hostels and might even go to a museum or two. We´ll see. Good night and sweet Spain dreams!
[4/22 Tuesday] Had heard from the Hostal López family that Madrid's mayor was going to be on Calle de Huertas for the Grand Dedication/Opening of the newly "peatonal" (pedestrian) street but arrived a little too late since I slept-in this morning. Well, fine. So I just walked around the streets of Huertas including Calle de Lope de Vega (another of many famed Spanish author which lived in this area) and the newly renovated "La Ecademia Española" which used to be "Convento de Trinitaria Descalzas", the Trinity Convent, in the 17th century. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the famed "Don Quixote" lived and died in what is now Huertas and his life has been a great compliment to Madrid and Spain in general. I LOVE walking around Huertas, even more now. It´s much less "en obras" (buildings undergoing renovations and covered in green shrouds) than it was a year ago and is so pleasant as always.
Walking down towards but not as far as Paseo del Prado, I found myself at "Congreso de Los Diputados" or "The Parliament Building" on Carrera de San Jerónimo, located nearly across from the Palace Hotel. I crossed the street and I HEARD BELLS! MUSICAL BELLS! I looked at my watch... 12:00 NOON! COULD IT BE?? And hey! There was a sizeable croud looking up, some with cameras, fixed on the vertically lined bells on the façade of the building which I was just standing under moments before. The classical tune played on the bells and then... slowly.... the large double doors to the balcony opened, people whispered around me and some with cameras pointed at the opening doors. I'd heard about this but never witnessed it myself. Apparently, every Wednesday and Saturday at noon these 5 mechanical "dolls" (presumeably on a track of some kind), women and men, come out to the balcony, and very slowly face the crowd as the classical tune plays, they turn to each other, seemingly bowing to each other, then do a kind of 5-minute slow dance and exit back into the building just as they came out. Interesting!
Hungry and a little tired, I found a little, nice, bar called "La Taberna del Prado" at Marqués de Cubas, 23, just one block from the parliament building. This place seemed to be patronized, probably, by politicians and businessmen - lots of suits and smartly dressed people there. I took a barstool and ordered a beer and a pincho de tortilla de patatas.
Feeling satisfied and rested, I walked back through Huertas until about 2pm when my stomach started growling for real! I was turning down one street after another in Huertas looking for that perfect little restaurant and finally settled on a little one in a yellow-painted building on the corner called "Mesón Restaurante immediately NEXT TO the "Convento de Trinitaria Descalzas" on Calle Lope de Vega and Constanilla de las Trinitarias. I know - I know, more FOOD TALK! I love it though. So for 7 Euros I had the "Menú del Día" and chose the "Patatas con Costillas" for the first plate, which was a kind of potato soup and had carrots, and some chicken chunks. This was REALLY tasty. For the second course I chose the "Filete de Ternera" (thinly cut steak). This was just okay and came with... FRIED Potatoes. Is anyone counting? I had tortilla de patatas at noon, now the potato soup and then the fried potatoes for lunch. Potatoes Potatoes Potatoes! I chose the San Miguel beer for the drink and the strawberry yogurt for dessert. It was fine. A decent value, I thought, and in a good location and I didn´t see a single OTHER tourist inside, ONLY locals. By the time I left at about 3pm the place was nearly full.
There was still some time to kill so I went to the BBIGG Cybercafé on Calle de Alcalá where caught up on email, etcetera. After that I went to visit Antonio at Hostal Chelo and we visited for quite a while and gave me a new tour of the hostel and he proudly took me for a ride in the building´s fancy new elevator. NICE! Next, the two of us went to visit his cousin on the next street over, Fuencarral, who owns/operates Hostal Las Murallas and we got a tour of it too. This unassuming hostel as well as Hostal Chelo are two of the best values in Madrid and located near Chueca which is kind of like the Greenwich Village of Madrid and one of the HOT SPOTS in the city. After the tour we all sat down, talked, and I tried my first "boya", a typical bread from the Aliste, Zamora area. It was DELICIOUS! They bake the round bread loaf WITH chorizo and other goodies INSIDE. VERY tasty.
Went back to Hostal Chelo with Antonio for a while and since I was running late Antonio, without my asking him, called home to my ladyfriend to explain why I was going to be later than scheduled. He did this after I told him the story of my being out until 5am with my other friend Julio, taking nighttime photos of Madrid. YIKES! heehehe..
I arrived home by the Number 31 bus from the Plaza Mayor at the top of the line, goes up the Paseo de Extremadura, and I exit at the top of the hill and walk down through the neighborhood. It´s a simple neighborhood called Barrio Lucero. It was always and continues to be a kind of working-class neighborhood but, for me, it has a lot of character. It doesn´t have anything in the way of architecturally significant or beautiful buildings or façades but the people are real and all the shops, markets, bars, and tiny tiny groceries are operating. The face of the neighborhood has been changing these last 2 or 3 years with the growing number of immigrants coming to Madrid looking for work. Most are from Latin America and in particular from South America, many from Colómbia & Perú but from all parts of Latin America.
Had a simple sandwhich dinner sitting in the kitchen while chatting with my ladyfriend and went to bed shortly after that.
[4/23 Wednesday] Got up SUPER EARLY compared to most days and went to Bar Paco at the bottom of the hill to get porras and my ladyfriend and I had breafast with our cafés con leche in the kitchen with the fresh, cool morning air from the open window.
For once, I left before my ladyfriend at about 8:20am and waited for the #31 which never came so I took the metro and in a round-about way made it to the OPERA metro stop. From there I walked up through the streets to where Calle Montera (I know. I know) meets Gran Vía and arrived at Hostal Chelo once again, meeting Antonio at the door. He was very very kind to accompany me to run some errands where understanding Spanish was a necessity - he was my security, and we ran all over the city doing these "administrative things" that one needs to do from time to time. (hmm.. mysterious, eh? Sorry. That´s all you get for now. hehehe...)
After we ran all the required errands, Antonio took me to the Comunidad de Madrid´s Tourist Office where he´s well-known because he´s always there getting new, fresh information which he can pass along to his hostel´s guests when/if they ask. I gathered some useful information and then we went to a little place in Huertas called Cafetería Neila on Santa María, 41. It´s apparently well known for their good food ("Como en Casa" as the sign says) and good prices. I had a big FAT slice of tortilla de patatas which was really delicious. Next, Antonio took me to a Huertas restaurant called "LA SANABRESA" to take a look around. His friend from his family´s hometown in Zamora owns the business and apparently has a lot of fame for it´s high quality food, low prices, and for always being full for both lunch and dinner. They have an ubelieveably cheap Menú del Día for something like 5.75 Euros. WOW. It´s located on Calle Amor de Dios in Huertas. I took some photos of the inside and look forward to having dinner there tomorrow night. I´ll tell you all about it then.
We next walked around the area surrounding the Plaza Mayor and said our goodbyes at the doors of the Mercado de San Miguel, the oldest operating market in Spain (I believe). I walked through the market and then around the walls of Plaza Mayor and even stopped in to Casa Botín on Calle de Cuchilleros to make a reservation FOR TWO for Friday night at 10pm. Casa Botín is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the OLD restaurant in the world. I´m looking forward to dining at this touristically significant restaurant. I understand the food is just okay and overpriced, but the place itself is very very nice. Can´t wait.
Already in the "food-mood" an being the lunch hour, 2pm, I crossed Calle de Cuchilleros, walked down a couple doors, to the "Mesón Chichilleros" which had a tasty-looking Menú del Día for 6.50 Euros. It´s a small place with few simple, small wooden tables in the back. Thing is with me, if I decide on the place before entering and then enter only to find it´s not very interesting looking I don´t have the guts to turn around and leave after being seen and greeted. It was fine though. For starters I had the Paella Mixta which was pretty good with two shrimp. For a second course I chose the chicken with fried potatoes. Dessert was "Natilla", a kind of custard similar (to me) to flan but this was creamier and had cinnamon on top. DELICIOUS! With the meal I had the house red wine which looked more purple in it´s 4-sided, lable-less, no-cork bottle. This is typical with house wines and it was just fine. I enjoyed watching food orders being placed into what appeared to be an oven but later figured that it was a small food-elevator to the kitchen below. Like magic, an oder was put in, the doors closed and a button pushed, and a few minutes later a bell would ring, doors would open, and VOILA there was the food on a plate. Here, there were many more tourist - logically - right next to the Plaza Mayor, but it was a good value and the food was basic and good. I´ve found that in most all these Mesón/Restaurantes the serve "home food" - nothing fancy or special, particularly with the "Menú del Día" - and it´s always predictable if you know the different offerings. It´s rare to be disappointed unless you´re expecting a work of gastronomical art for the low price you´re paying.
Now full and sleepy, I decided to just get on the bus and go home for a MUCH NEEDED/WANTED siesta at about 3:30pm. Got home, undressed, checked some email and visited with "La Madre" for awhile and was about to get into bed when BOOM! I looked at the clock and it was 4:15pm!!!!! I was supposed to meet Alberto, Rosa, and their daughter at "El Prado Apartment", their 1-bedroom vacation rental apartment in Huertas. I´d heard so much about it that I asked them for a tour of the place and now I was late! I called Alberto on his cell phone immediately and from the sound of it they were waiting for me at a nearby bar. I explained and apologized and we agreed to meet at 5:30pm. So I got re-dressed and got back on the bus and got mayself back to Huertas, early this time, and I met them at the apartment entrance on the street level. They are SUCH a nice family, both speaking English very well, and were so kind to personally show me the "vacation apartment". It´s SO cute. I know this all sounds like an advertisement and I should give my standard disclaimer now that since I´ve not stayed the night here I can´t endorse it but it certainly is SO cute, so well furnished, and has two tiny balconies with good views. These are NOT clients of mine nor have any kind of business agreements so I´m not gaining ANYTHING but knowledge by touring the apartment. It has everything one would need in an apartment too - EVERYTHING! There´s a reception desk at the elegant entrance and since it´s RIGHT on the newly pedestrian Calle de Huertas it´s close to all the bars, restaurants, and nightlife. After the tour we went across the street to a café and talked over coffee about my "situation" and my future, the website, and their life in Madrid and about life in Spain in general. They´re a nice family, that´s for sure. Alberto, Rosa, and their daughter walked me as far as the Plaza de San Jacinto Benevente where they turned towards SOL to get the metro home.
I planned to visit Hostal Adriano on Calle de la Cruz, 26, JUST above the Plaza de San Jacinto Benevente and below the Puerta del Sol. Wow. What a place that is. The entire buinding´s façade and inside stairway is "en obras" for serious renovation. It´s a historically protected building and the city requires all such buildings to be restored to their original style. Entering and walking up the steps one certainly thinks as I did that this couldn´t possibly be a nice hostel but then when the door swings open on the 4th floor and you walk in you feel like you´ve just stepped into heaven. This place is immaculate! Spotless! Enrique gave me the GRAND GRAND GRAND TOUR and the attention to detail, color, furishings all by Ikea, TVs & REFRIGERATORS (!!!!???!!!) in every room is SUCH a pleasant surprise. Wow. I was REALLY VERY impressed with it all. I give the standard dislaimer as above: I´ve not spent a night here so I can´t personally endorse it, NOR is this hostel in any kind of business agreement or have any contract with MadridMan.com at present. Alberto came around a little a later and he too, like Enrique, is SO friendly, natural, and their attention to detail in this business is obvious not only in the hostel itself but also from the growing number of positive reviews I´ve read on MadridMan´s ALL SPAIN Message Board in the "Hostels & Other Lodgings" forum. Both Alberto´s and Enrique´s English is quite good, having both lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 1.5 years (hope they don´t mind my writing all this) and they both speak Italian as well as Spanish, of course. Alberto speaks French too. I hope to someday have the opportunity to spend at least one night here in the future. Wow, these are two VERY nice guys. They really make you feel "at home" there. OH! And by the way, they told me that MONGO, registered member of MadridMan´s ALL SPAIN Message Board, was staying there at that very moment! What a coincidence! Alberto rang his room but Mongo was out on the town. Shame I couldn´t have met him too. Hopefully he´ll give us his personal, detailed review of Hostal Adriano on the message board after he returns.
You´d think the day would have ended there, right? Wrong. Just beginning, in fact. Now, it was 8pm and I planned to meet Julio at his Hostal Horizonte. I had hoped to have time to return home, shower, and change into nicer out-on-the-town clothes but there just wasn´t time SO I CALLED HOME and left a message that I wasn´t coming home until after the outing with Julio and Jesús (of Hostal Martín/Cervelo, both on Calle de Atocha not far from the Plaza San Jacinto Benavente). After calling home I had 45 minutes to spend so I walked around the tiny, streets between Plaza Santa Ana and the Puerta del Sol. I don´t think I´d ever experienced this zone at night and it was impressive with it´s seemingly hundreds of restaurants, bars, and terrazas. LOTS of people in the street too. I could just imagine how it would be in two hours during the dinner hour and afterwards! It´s such a beautiful site to see all these places open and doing well.
Met Julio at Hostal Horizonte and took a few photos of his newly, beautifully renovated and decorated former-house-of-nobles-turned-hostel before going to meet Jesús. They asked me to choose the restaurant where we´d dine but since I don´t know many they chose a Argentine (or is it "Argentinian"?) steakhouse nearby called "La Cabaña; Parrilla Argentina" on Ventura de la Vega, 10. We shared a bottle of PROTOS Ribera del Duero red wine with our meal which was a shared PARILLADA MIXTA which was a "tray" full of meats over hot coals keeping the meats HOT. The meats included chicken, beef, morcilla, chorizo, and probably some others I´m forgetting now. Total price for three persons: 70 Euros. It was a good 2-hour meal, having lots of "hostel business" talk, about life in Spain (for me and for them), futures, possibilities and realities. What a great couple of guys these are. I hope they don´t mind my talking about them here but really, two of the nicest guys I know and they couldn´t be more different from one another. Julio is the artist, photographer, long ponytail, organic & somewhat quiet, introspective and wise 31 year old. Jesús is 32 years old and is a bit faster-talking, to the point, business-minded, knowledgeable about "operations", and always planning and starting new projects. These two share similar qualities in their hostel businesses as they´re both very friendly, customer-minded, work VERY hard in their respective businesses, speak English well, and enjoy the company of new people as many Spaniards do. These guys are part of my growing "band of brothers" which has formed with many trips to Madrid over the years and I appreciate their friendship.
OKAY! We left the restaurant for a little bar in the area, forgetting the name now, just a simple bar which was playing salsa music and we stood watching some spontaneous and impressive displays of couples dancing next to the bar. We left this place soon after for the tourist-favorite Joy Eslava discotheque located on Calle Mayor just west of the Puerta del Sol. Here, we just stood at the bar and had a drink while people watching and talking in loud-voices (to be heard over the music) about life, this famed "Spanish Form", as well as a little bit about "the war".
We three left at about 2:00am and we said our goodbyes next to my hailed taxi home. Arrived by 2:30am, used the computer until about 3:00am and then went to bed. Zzzzzz... Long but enjoyable day and very RICH in experiences. I´m now sadly counting my remaining days. TOO FEW! I return to the USA on Sunday and there are still many things I had hoped to do but have nearly resigned myself to the fact that it will be impossible to do them. That´s all for today! Hope you´re enjoying the journal entries as much as I am writing them.
[4/24 Thursday] Okay. No excuses - just laziness, I guess. Got up at around 9am and stayed at home the entire day with "La Madre" while I spent a few hours writing the last 2 days´ journal entries. I think that yesterday I was SO busy, setting a new "on-the-go" record, that today I didn´t want to do anything.
Had one cup of coffee for breakfast and was essentially "vago" (lazy) with the computer all morning while "La Madre" went to buy the day´s food and bread, hung the laundry on the terraza (roof) lines upstairs, swept the floors, and made the beds. I often offer to help with these things (and in fact I DID wash the morning´s dishes, went down the 4 flights to bring up the heavy bags of groceries when she returned, and then put away those grocers - minor help, I know) but she always tells me "No! No! You don´t know how to do these things!"
Uh-oh....here comes LUNCH! hehehe... 2:15pm rolled around and I was getting hungry. Knowing there was green beans and fried tomato sauce on the stove top ready to be eaten I walked past the sitting room and saw the worn-out mother sitting on the sofa taking a much-deserved nap. Not wanting to bother her, I shut the door to the kitchen and started preparing my lunch. JUST when I was about to start eating, the mother walked in a said, "What are you doing?!" I told her I was having lunch and to that she said, after looking at my plate, "That´s all you´re going to eat!? No. No. That´s not enough!" So the sleepy and overworked mother insisted on... get this... frying me 4 small lamb chops, potatoes, and an egg on top for my MAIN course for lunch. I was WONDERING how I was going to eat it all but decided to "do my best". Ha. Ha. No problem. I set the table in the sitting room, put out the bread and sliced some pieces for us both, and we had lunch together while watching the news. And yes, I washed allll the dishes and cleaned the counters to show my appreciation. By now the mother was again worn out and she went to bed for a proper siesta while I took my shower... at 4:00pm!! Ugh. Late!
After rushing through the shower, I ran off to get the LUCERO metro, changed once at PACIFICO and then arrived ontime to where my ladyfriend works. A note about the metro, while I was wearing my backpack on my back while walking through the metro stations, it´s a good idea to wear it on your front instead just for security reasons. I´m ALWAYS very cautious and aware while wearing it on the streets and in the metro and even on the buses. When at restaurants, put the bag in the unoccupied corner chair or if this isn´t possible then between your feet on the floor under the table. Sometimes in Mesónes or smaller restaurants you´ll get your choice of table to I always take the table in the corner and sit facing the center of the room. Just be aware of your surrounding when carrying a purse, backpack, and camera bag.
After meeting my ladyfriend at her workplace ontime at 5:15pm, she drove us to Chueca. This was my first time seeing much of Chueca since I first came to Madrid in 1995. My ladyfriend said it has improved a lot over the recent years. Now it´s the hip, "IN" place to live -- IF you can afford it. Even the run down, falling down flats are expensive but many young, professional, "couples" often buy these places and restore them to a beautiful condition. We drove around the single lane one way rodes throughout Chueca and I saw a lot of the area mainly because we were in stopped traffic about 90% of the time. There are SO many boutiques, shoe and purse stores, and lots of mens´ clothing stores too. And the neighborhood is teaming with hip cafés, restaurants, and clubs. Not finding a parking space we opted for a parking garage and from there we walked around the neighborhood, stopping in the Plaza de Chueca to have a drink on the terraza. WOW. Get this. One non-alcoholic beer for my ladyfriend and one Fanta Limón for me cost 6 Euros. My ladyfriend asked the soften-spoken waiter to repeat the price twice before she could believe the bill. Upon hearing our surprise, the woman at the table next to us, which was speaking Dutch with her friend all the while, suddenly said to us in Spanish, "Here you pay more for the ambiance," which is true. Well, at the VERY LEAST the waiter brought us a BIG, overflowing bowl of delicious olive-oil fried potato chips. After we finished that he brought ANOTHER but we declined it.
Got the car out of the parking garage and boom, another traffic jam in Chueca. Finally got out and started up the Calle de Alcalá to Puerta del Sol and boom, another traffic jam and Sol is closed to through traffic except for taxis and buses so we had to backtrack to Cibeles and down Paseo del Prado. Boom. Another traffic jam. It was one traffic jam after another and I think it took about 1.5 hours to get home from the time we got into our car to leave. I was happy to get home because I was getting tired of my ladyfriend´s complaints of "Es que... Es que..." (or maybe more phoenetically correct, "Ejhkay... Ejhkay") everytime we´d encounter more stopped traffic. "Pues nada..." Arrived home at 8:30pm and fiddled around until 9:15pm rolled around when I left the house, going by bus to Plaza Mayor and walking to Calle Amor de Dios by way of Calle de Atocha.
Arriving ontime at 10pm outside RESTAURANTE LA SANABRESA, located in the middle of Calle Amor de Dios on the edge of Huertas. I first saw a woman looking over a map and looking up for numbers and offered to help. Not knowing exactly how to get there from here, along came Super Antonio (of Hostal Chelo) to the rescue! He told the woman exactly how to get there and happily went on her way.
Antonio and I entered Restaurante La Sanabresa where we waited for his sister and his cousin and her husband who own and operate Hostal Las Murallas. Antonio had made reservations for our group at Restaurante Sanabresa because it is well known by locals for his high quality food and low price in a nice setting. The place is almost always full for both lunch and dinner so it´s a good idea to come early if possible.
After the rest of the group arrived (note: our group of 5 are in our 20s and 30s), we chose the Menú del Día for dinner (which was, I think, about 9.50 Euros each) but since we were 5 people, we chose 5 different 1st course dishes and shared them all. These included Aubergine fritters (deep fried squid), grilled prawns, eggs scrambled with oyster mushrooms and prawns, stuffed peppers, special chicken croquettes, and three delicious rices. For dinner, I chose for the roast lamb and it was SO tender and totally delicious. Antonio´s sister had fish but the rest of us had either steak or lamb. For dessert, we 5 had yogurt cream, Cheesecake, Crème caramel with cream, Marc dessert, & whisky sponge dessert. With the meal we chose a bottle of red wine from Zamora. Zamora is the region from where the owner, Pedro, comes and the name of the restaurant is named for a village in the region, Sanabria.
We had such a nice evening chatting about hostels, the possible new laws concerning hostels and pensions in Madrid, as well as stories of our experience in Spain. We laughed, we didn´t cry, we had good food, and finished the night with a small glass of liqueur, and then a photo with the owner. I had a melocotón, or a kind of peach liqueur which was good and light.. We walked through through Huertas to Plaza Santa Ana and then to Plaza de Canalejas where we said our goodbyes. I´ll miss these nice, friendly people and look forward to seeing them again the next time I come to Madrid.
Walked through the suprisingly busy sidewalks, past discoteques Joy Eslava and Palacio Gaviria to OPERA at around 12:30am and hailed the first taxi I saw. Got home just after 1:00am (Taxi: 6.05 Euros). I´m now sadly counting my HOURS, instead of days, until I leave Spain this Sunday at 1pm.
[4/25 Friday] Sad. My last Friday in Madrid. Got up relatively early and went to Bar Paco down the hill (Paseo de Perales, 6) and Paco now seems to recognize me. In fact, the last time I was in and asked for 8 porras he said something like, "Oh, not 10 this time?" Again, this time I asked for only 8 which cost almost nothing at about 1.65 Euros. I´m sure he remembers me from previous years but we´ve never spoken. Afterall, I´m sure I´m the ONLY American-looking customer he has from this neighborhood. Brought the porras back, which were wrapped in what became an oil-stained paper and the ends pinned together with a toothpick, climbed the 4 flights of stairs, and put them down on the small kitchen table and started making our coffee. There on the table were the LAST THREE TORRIJAS! I can´t say NO to torrijas, especially when made-with-love by "La Madre" so I ate the three torrijas and about 3 porras with my coffee and my ladyfriend across from me. Then, she went to work and I started writing in my journal about the previous day´s events.
It´s another semi morning but begins to clear and I can now see the rising sun casting an orange glow on the brick builings and their terra cota roofs. Got myself showered, dressed, and by 12:30pm out Paseo de Extremadura, a major street which runs alongside Barrio Lucero, to do some shopping. It´s a long street which goes down down down to the Rio Manzanares and from the bridge has a beautiful, wide view of the river valley and the Royal Palace, the Almudena cathedral, Plaza de España buildings, and even the San Francisco El Grande Church. I walked all the way down the street to the river and back up the other, only going in a couple stores.
Now it´s 2:00pm and I had YET to eat in my favorite neighborhood restaurant, "Mesón A Ría de Noia" (a Galician mesón), just up from the river. And through the black, wraught iron bars you can clearn see the palace and other places I mentioned before. This is especially spectacular when they´re iluminated at night and you´re in the bar. I walked in, asked for a table, and I sat in the small dining area (no windows, unfortunately). I´m really here for only one reason - PULPO A LA GALLEGA (octopus, Galicia style). Looking over the menu I saw they only showed "raciones" (full servings) and asked the waiter if I could just get a "pincho" or smaller serving and he said they only sold "raciones". Great. I´m going to be stuffed with red, suckered tentacles slices for the rest of the day. Well, I was there and this was my FIRST and LAST opportunity to have pulpo in this restaurant so I ordered a ración of pulpo, a ración of patatas ali-oli (potato chunks in a kind of spicy, white, mayonaisse sauce), and a ceramic pitcher of white Ribero wine and a small ceramic saucer from which to drink the wine. Really, this meal is intended for 2 persons but what was I to do? EAT! And eat I did, eating all the squid, half the potatoes, all the bread, and almost all the wine (about a full bottle!!!) while I read the day´s edition of El-Mundo newspaper. (Total: 18.80 Euros - the pulpo alone was 10.20, potatoes 3.15, bread 0.45, and the Ribero wine was 5.00 Euros).
Bueno... Here I am, 3:15pm, and all the stores are closed until at least 4pm. And I don´t have my camera!!! ARGH! THIS IS A FIRST! Choosing to take advantage of my proximity to the city center, I get on a bus to Plaza Mayor. By now, the sun is totally out and with only a few white clouds floating about. Walking the arcade of gift shops, bars, and restaurants, stopping in each store to browse, bought a few things, and just stopped in the corner of the Plaza Mayor, in the sun, the plaza is teaming with tourists and Spaniards on this now beautiful day. I stand there, looking over the plaza and focus on details for what seemed like details, standing there with my shopping bags in front of me, just alone and staring like a fool, people walking around and past me and I can´t believe this will be the last time I´ll see this sight until next year. Tear ducts begin to activate but I fight it by turning slowly to my left and walk out the north west portal, looking back just once.
I´m now walking very slowly, absorbing the environment as best I can, and enter the Plaza de la Villa and lean on the railing around the small garden of freshly blossoming flowers to take in the springtime sweetness. After a few minutes, I turn back to the Calle Mayor and stop in a couple of book stores which focus on the sale of Madrid books, just taking my time, and exiting again walking more or less towards the Palacio Real which I never reach because I find myself choosing to walk down narrow streets, streets I don´t recall ever seeing, winding and hilly streets. I find myself around the seemingly nearly finished construction site of Plaza de Ramales and then back towards Opera where I got the bus back home. In some ways, NOT having my camera during this long, slow stroll through my favorite city. And I wasn´t in a rush, looking for that "perfect" angle or "perfect" composition, just taking in the air, the sun, the architecture, the people, the sounds, the smells, and all I can absorb, attempting to store it away in some secret box in my memory which can be opened from time to time when I miss Madrid, being careful that too much won´t leak out before I can return again. In some ways, happy I don´t have my camera... just breathing Madrid now... "Take Me". Take me now from Madrid to heaven. I´m ready.
Arriving home at about 6pm to an empty house and my ladyfriend arrived at 6:15pm. Perfect. We both had a coffee and then stretched out on the sofa for awhile, falling asleep for a bit. We have a big night planned which include 10pm reservations at Casa Botín restaurant. Got ourselves nicely dressed and ready to go by, well, 9:45pm, and when we reached the street we coincidentally and luckily encountered my ladyfriend´s sister which was dropped off their mother to home so the sister took us directly to El Botín at the bottom of Calle de Cuchilleros. We walked in the door at about 10:05pm and waded through the waiting crowd, seemingly those who had NOT made a reservation, and gave our name and we were promptly seated upstairs in the corner at a 2-person table.
The place is really nice and I looked forward to the house specialty, "Cochinillo Asado" (roasted suckling pig). We were given, to my great surprise, not an old, leather-bound menu but rather a smallish 4-fold paper-board menu to make our choices. What?! Hmmm.... We decided to start with a "surtido ibérico" (plate of a selection of hams which included jamón serrano, lomo, salchichón, & ) and the "Gambas al Ajillo" (garlic and olive-olive shrimp), both of which was REALLY REALLY good. I LOVE Gambas al Ajillo A LOT! We also both ordered the must-eat Cochinillo and it was tender and delicious with our bottle of Faustino V Reserva 1996 (which turned out to be the most expensive single-item of our meals). The meal was quite good (total bill: 104.85 Euros) and I was happy that we could BOTH experience this fine restaurant for the first time in our lives. This dinner was actually a belated birthday gift to my ladyfriend and a last-dinner alone together. And get this, long after leaving I realized I FORGOT to leave a tip!!! ARGH!! My god. What bad manners. I paid with a credit card and since, I suppose, there was only space to sign and not to add the tip to the credit card receipt that I forgot it. I never forget to leave a tip but I rarely pay with a credit card too. Had I paid with cash I certainly would have remember. My goodness.
We took a short tour through the rest of the 300+-year old restaurant (listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest established restaurant in the world) and then strolled up the stair of El Arco de Cuchilleros and to the center of the Plaza Mayor. We sat down in one terraza to have a coffee to finish the night and no, no coffee was served at the first place. NEXT terraza over, sat down, same thing - no coffee. Number three terraza, sat down, YES coffee! The waiter looked at his watch then told us it would be the last coffee served as they, and others, stop serving coffee at 12:30am and it was now 12:35am. Got our cortado and café con leche and looked over the still-bustling Plaza Mayor while enjoying this last semi-private time together. Nice. Very nice.
After the coffe, now about 1:30am, we started walking towards home, but first walked around the Plaza de la Villa and some of the small streets until we reached Calle de Segovia. We´re just strolling slowly along now, talking, holding hands, and my ladyfriend telling stories about her life in Madrid when she was young, noting different bars or places which were there when she was young. We walked under the Acueducto, across the old bridge over the Río Manzanares, up Paseo de Extremadura, and finally walked in the door at 2:30am. I wasn´t at all tired and the slow, relaxed walk after the big meal in the cool night air was just perfect. A perfect way to nearly end my time here in Madrid. We went to be by 3:00am and slept soundly. Mmmm... Dreaming of Madrid and my time with my ladyfriend, her family, and my friend here.
[4/26 Saturday: written after returning to the USA] My last full day in Madrid and it's really hitting me hard now. The morning was cloudy and rainy but cool and I like that. Got up at about 9:00am, had a cup of coffee, and immediately started to write yesterday's journal entry. I typed like a maniac because it was going to be a busy day spent, mainly, outside the house, including a big last-day lunch at the house of my ladyfriend's sister (and her husband and 5-year old son) at NO LATER THAN 2:30pm.
Called my long-time friend Florencio, son of Hostal López, whose only in town (he's working in New York City now) for the weekend so we made plans to meet for a drink at 1pm at the café of the Hotel Puerta de Toledo on the corner of the Puerta de Toledo. Finished the journal by noon, uploaded it, and went to the bathroom to take a super-fast shower in order to make the 1:00pm meeting. While in the bathroom I was about to brush my teeth before my shower and reached for the toothpaste, pulling it off the shelf in the cupboard and CRASH!!!!!!!!! I had knocked off a bottle of my ladyfriend's perfume - coincidentally a bottle *I* had given her for Christmas when I was there in 2001 - and it shattered all over the ceramic tile floor. I was still wearing my socks (and nothing else) and pulled "the near foot" off the floor just in time but the shatter glass coated my sock. LUCKILY there wasn't much perfume left in the bottle but still it made a nice and dangerous mess in the doorway. I took off the one sock and used it to sweep/mop up the glass into the corner. I was in SUCH a rush and didn't know how I was going to make it in time with this untimely diversion. Well, ENOUGH OF THIS BORING NONSENSE ABOUT A BROKEN PERFUME BOTTLE, ALREADY!!! With my loud EXPLITIVE, my ladyfriend came running and kindly offered to clean up the mess while I showered. I suddenly felt like a 5 year old and mommy was going to clean up after yet another mishap.
Showered, dressed, and ran out of the house at about 12:40pm and was almost to the Paseo de Extremadura and PRAYED to get the #36 bus to PIRAMIDES but was sure that with any traffic I'd be late so I caught a taxi and he took me directly to the Puerta de Toledo in about 10 minutes for something like 3.65 Euros (cheap, I thought!). Whew. I'm ontime. I waited outside the café, looking over the tasty pastries displayed in the window and paced back and forth, people watching the crowds going towards the Estadio Vicente Calderon, the Atlético fútbol team's stadium located down the hill on the Río Manzanares.
Time was passing quickly and the pedestrian fútbol fans' numbers increased. Luckily, the rainy skies became clearer and some sun was now shining. Tonight, the Atlético team is celebrating their 100th year anniversary with, first, at 4pm, a game of veteran players from the team. Then at 8pm is the current "Club Atlético de Madrid team playing (and eventually losing) to "Club Atlético Asasuna". Taking a seat on a bench with my back to the Puerta de Toledo, looked at my watch; 1:30pm. Hmmm.... Stood up and was about to walk to my ladyfriend's nearby sister's house to meet the rest of the family for lunch but turned one last time to look across the street and there was Florencio standing on the other side waiting for the light to turn.
It was great seeing Florencio again after 2.5 years when he took me out on the town in October 2000, just the guys. Today he had taken the bus which got stuck in pre-soccer-game traffic so he got out, took a taxi which got stuck in the traffic around Puerta del Sol with a demonstration AGAINST Cuba's Fidel Castro, so he WALKED nearly the entire way to the Puerta de Toledo. Poor guy. We said our hellos and took a stool at the bar in the café, both having a glass of beer while discussing life since we'd seen each other last.
Florencio is SUCH a nice, sweet guy. I don't exactly recall now how we met but he was the FIRST person I knew from Madrid aside from my ladyfriend. I think I read some of his informational in-English postings on the European Travel Newsgroups and sent him emails with questions and he was kind enough to reply. His family's Hostal López was also the first Madrid hostel website on the internet in 1995 or 1996. Keep in mind this was all before MadridMan's Yankee Home Page was even an idea (est. autumn 1996 but the DOT COM was registered in summer of 1997) but I'd spent 30 days in Madrid in spring 1995 visiting my ladyfriend so I had some knowledge and LOTS of interest in the city already. Florencio was still in college then and we became fast friends and I've had a wonderful "family relationship" with him and his family ever since meeting them all for the first time in 1998 and every visit after that.
Florencio's English is excellent but I was proud that this was probably the first time we'd had an entire conversation ONLY (nearly) in Spanish. Seems I'm coming around with my Spanish. (It's about time!) We said our goodbyes as I was already going to be late arriving at my ladyfriend's sister's house for the 2:30pm lunch. I walked only about 10 minutes through the pre-game crowds to the house, a top-floor new(er) house ("piso") with a big terraza, they "buzzed" me up at the street-level entryway, took the elevator, rang the doorbell, they opened the door with that "you're late, we've been waiting for you, the guest of honor" look on their faces but said it was okay, no problem. I was late for my own lunch! Yikes!
Everyone was there, including, of course, my ladyfriend and their mother. We sat right down and had a long, wonderful meal of fish and COCHINILLO (hmmm.. didn't I eat this the night before??). They made a similar wonderful meal of cochinillo (roasted suckling pig) for me last year on my last day before returning home to the USA. These are such kind, giving people, and I consider them to be my own family. This year's meal outscored the previous year's meal. Yummy! I had BOTH the fish and the cochinillo along with potatoes and Rioja red wine. Delicious!! I think I was about to sprout a curly tail on my backside after eating so much pig in the last 15 hours. hehehe...
After the meal, "La Madre" took the 5-year old to bed for a long, 2-hour nap, my ladyfriend quickly fell asleep in the most uncomfortable-looking position (she's one of these lucky people who can sleep anywhere at anytime during the day - but sleeps very little at night) on the sofa and her brother-in-law and I took seats outside on the wide-view terrace and kind of dozed while chatting from time to time and looking out over the big, white puffy clouds hovering over the skyline of Madrid. I'm able to see the dome of San Francisco El Grande, half of the Puerta de Toledo, El Faro de Moncloa, the top of La Almudena cathedral, and the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. A beautfiul view.
Time for napping was over and we all decided to take a nice, long walk through THE HUGE CROWDS of partying (i.e. drunken, urinating, singing, littering) Atlético de Madrid soccer team pre-game fans and through the Glorieta de las Pirámides and on towards the Parque de la Arganzuela. We were walking with the 5-year old and 80-something mother and it seemed that only I was amazed by the dozens of males urinating on walls, between cars, in doorways, and on the sidewalk as we walked right by them. NO ONE FLINCHED - not the urinating guys nor the family I was with. Hmmmm.. I'd say this must be culture shock for me. I was visibly upset that we all - that is *I* had to see this. Noticing my disgust, my ladyfriend asked what was wrong and I told her and she asked, "Isn't it the same before your football games?" NO WAY! Maybe on the college campuses with kids but not with grown men in city streets! Well, I must say this was QUITE annoying... maybe I'd get used to it but maybe not.
The walked continued until we got to the nice Parque de la Arganzuela where on this bueautiful afternoon there were MANY people taking walks, people rollerskating and skateboarding, children playing in the play area. This was nice and a MUCH needed change in scenery from "The Warm Yellow Rivers" in the previous city blocks. We walked through the dusty park and ocassionally kicked-back a stray soccerball to a child, changed walking partners from time to time for different conversation, and finally stopped at a terraza where the 5-year old played on the Jungle Gym (or the appropriate Spanish equivalent) while the adults had a beer and sat our (my!) weary butts down. Just after I'd had my first sip of cold Heineken (??!! AGAIN with the Heineken?) and my muscles began to relax, a shout came from the Jungly Gym, "SCOTT! COME LOOK!" (but in Spanish, of course) So I got my self up and over to watch the 5-year old climb around and make funny faces upside down. Then he went to the hill to show me how fast he could run down without falling. Just once, I maliciously thought...."...." Nah.. I can't even repeat it here.
The sun was going down and the day was coming to an end. I began thinking about my packing, if I'd have time to write the day's journal, and what little - if any - private time I'd have left with my ladyfriend before going to Madrid Barajas Airport in the morning. We walked back to the sister's and brother-in-law's (and the 5-year old's) house and said our sad goodbyes. They "gifted me" with a bottle of my favorite cologne and I felt a little odd that I didn't have anything to "gift" in return. I KNEW I should have brought SOMETHING - even a bottle of wine or something but nooooooo... I was too wound up in my last day's plans and forgot about the details of graciousness. I wanted SO MUCH to get something for "La Madre" or even take her/them out to dinner one of the last nights but that too passed un-done. Hmph! What's happening to me! Am I scheduling TOO Many things and forgetting about what's REALLY important here? These fine, generous people allow me to stay in their home, cook meals for me nearly every night, and what do I give them? Nuttin'! I'm very disappointed in myself. VERY. No excuse for that kind of non-thanks to those who have opened their lives to me for these past 3-weeks. Really! I'm usually much more considerate. Maybe I took them for granted this year. If so, I'm ashamed.
Arriving home at about 8:30pm, I immediately started packing my suitcase. I arrived with the suitcase FULL but had "gifted" everyone upon my arrival - hmmm.. maybe THOSE were the pre-THANKS gifts?? (I'm trying to let myself off the hook here. Can you tell? It's called "rationalization") But after putting some accumulated papers and gifts for stateside friends and family members I had nearly EXCEDED my suitcase's arrival capacity. Hmmm.. TIGHT FIT but I got it all in. DINNER TIME!
La Madre had eaten a light meal while I was packing and my ladyfriend made us two a light dinner of garlic soup, fried potatoes, and fried eggs. Just perfect. Yummm.. Before we had our dinner "La Madre" said goodnight and went to bed. I wondered if she was really tired or if she was giving her daughter and me some last-night privacy. I believe the latter. She's so sweet. We had our dinner and held hands over the table, almost afraid to say anything. You know how it is - you always think "This is the last time I'm going to be able to tell you this or that while looking into your eyes for the next 4, 5, 6, 7, or 12 months." It's an anxious and sad time this last night. It always is. To sleep or not to sleep? Try to stay awake as long as possible and do your best to remember the sound of every breath, the sensitivy in every word, the whites of the eyes through the tears and nighttime darkness, and the whiteness of the teeth in every nervous smile. Don't sleep. Don't sleep.
BUT BACK TO DINNER! It was good, of course, and I enjoyed it not only with the best possible company but also with my last Mahou Beer AND THE CONTINUOUS BLASTS of fireworks shot from the Estado Vicente Calderón, the Atlético de Madrid stadium after the game met its conclusion; they lost. Oh well. Better luck at the next 100 years anniversary. In mid-dinner at 10:30pm we decided to go up to the rooftop terraza to watch the rest of the fireworks and they were spectacular. There we were, shoulder to shoulder and leaning on the terraza wall, looking out over the neighborhood and night sky to the not-too-distant stadium and the brilliant multi-color fireworks display. It was quite romantic until "The Big Finale" with the thousand-and-one machine-gun ear-piercing BOOMS which made my heart throb even more.
Time for bed. No more details here. Goodnight!
[4/27 Sunday: written after returning to the USA] Awoke at 7:30am and had breakfast of cereal (or "Kellogs", the general term for "cereal", as it's called in Madrid or Spain generally) and coffee and took my shower. No more porras. No more cafés con leche. No more torrijas. No more holding hands. No more Madrid after today for a lonnnnng time. My god. It's ALWAYS SO SAD this last day, the day I leave. It's so emotional, sad, yearning, wishing on magic, hoping for a miracle, hoping it's just a dream and maybe I've just arrived in Madrid instead of now leaving. Gave a tearful hug and kiss to my ladyfriend's 80-something year old mother as I left. You just never know.... next year... you know. You never know. She took SUCH wonderful care of me during my stay there even though she frequently apologized for not having done a better job since she was in somewhat ailing health these last several months. I hope to see her in much better condition next year. I hope. I hope. I hope.
Little traffic on the highway today, thank god. I always allow LOTS of time to get to the airport and expecting long lines at check in I scheduled leaving 3.5 hours before the 1:40pm flight time. Holding my ladyfriend's hand while she drove us... studying her long, thin fingers and pure skin. We didn't say much during the drive to Barajas Madrid Airport - I was just studying her and feeling her hand in mine. To me, holding your loved one's hand is more intimate than a kiss. Call me silly.
My ladyfriend dropped me off and parked the car while I went inside in search of my USAir check-in counter. OF COURSE I turned the wrong way, on a guess, since there are no signs anywhere telling where the different airline company's desks are located. Got to the end and had to turn around and go all the way to the other end, dogding the luggage push-carts with their unaware drivers, nearly taking mowing me down at the ankles a couple dozen times while I weaved my way through the great crowds, over-extended check-in lines, and enventually just went outside to walk the rest of the way to the USAir counter when I found it. Thank god! There was almost NO ONE in line! My ladyfriend caught up to me in line and said while rolling her eyes, "See. This is what happens when you get to the airport SO EARLY!" That's fine. I'd rather be early and avoid hassles if running late.
Checked in quickly. No problem, right? WRONG! The USAir clerk said, "Here's your tickets. Now please take your suitcase and follow this attendant." UGH. Here we go... walking walking walking with all my luggage to a small room on the other side of the airport. "Please. Miss. Wait here," they told my ladyfriend. I entered the room and they asked me to empty my bag onto the counter. "Just a precaution" they told me. Fine, I said. BUT COME ON! IT TOOK ME AN HOUR TO PACK THIS SO IT WOULD ALL JUST BARELY FIT!!!! Unpacked. Fine. Done. Now repack it. ARGH! I made THREE attempts before I was able to prepack it to its original bulging splendor and then they checked it for me. I was now hot, sweating, no doubt suspicous looking, but they didn't check my carry-on bag. Interesting! Left the room and got to the HUMONGOUS, DISTENDED central (middle/main) security gate line. UGH! While I waited in line, just to check, my ladyfriend went to the other end of the airport and came back minutes later saying that I could apparently enter through that other security checkpoint. We arrive there and found only 4 or 5 people waiting in line. I looked all around in disbelief, SURE that we must be in the wrong place but no! This was the place but only at the end for international flights. I still had about 2 hours before boarding so we stood near the gate, leaning up against a pillar, and said all those things couples say in the way that you aren't 100% absolutely sure you'll ever see each other again. Sad. Desperate. Anxious. We said our final, tearful goodbyes and I passed through the security gate in seconds and every step of the way I was turning around blowing kisses and waving goodbye to my shrinking-in-the-distance ladyfriend. There she was. Seemingl SO far away now. So small. I can't hear her at all and can only barely see her teeth in her big smile. I can no longer see the tears.. In fact, she was getting blurry through my now misty eyes and blew just one more kiss before turning and going towards my gate. Sad. So very sad. Just as it always is.
I killed the 1.5 hours before boarding in the usual way in international concourses - SHOPPING! I had about 40 Euros left and felt the need to spend it so I went in the typical ALDEASA duty-free airport shop and bought all kinds of stuff for friends and family, including chocolate, roasted almonds, turron, and a Madrid refrigerator magnet for me. I'd spent all my money and kind of regretted it, thinking I could have bought just one more Fanta Limón at the cafeteria near the gate. Time to board the plane! I flashed my ticket and the attendant asked me to step aside to show my carryon. This was another TIGHTLY packed bag but it didn't matter. They had me empty the contents and repack it as well as get the front-and-back wand-shaped metal detector waved all over me. Fine. No problem. Boarded the plane about 45 minutes before scheduled take-off and found my aisle seat (it's GOT to be an aisle seat!) next to a very kind Colombian woman who was living in New York City. She was nervous at take off and told me she didn't fly much and I assured her that this or that was normal. She told me about her 10-day travels through Spain and we switched between Spanish and English all throughout the flight. It was especially challenging to teach her how to use the arm-rest set video controller, controlling the video screen in the back of the headrest of the passender in front. I was SO happy to see these panel as the TO MADRID flight only had the one big screen for all to watch. This way with the individual screen, every passenger can choose whatever THEY want and at any time. This is such a blessing being able to be entertained THROUGHOUT the flight. The lunch came (chicken! What a surprise!! It was either that or pasta) and I was in the middle of one movie when the Colombian woman wanted to talk. No wanting to be rude and taking this opportunity to speak a little more Spanish with someone over a meal might be my last for a long time so we ate, talked, and enjoyed each other's company.
These daylight flights make it almost impossible for me to sleep so I didn't even try. Oddly enough, I find it most relaxing just before and during the takeoff and ascent of the plane into the sky. It's like rocking me to sleep. But after leveling off I find it more difficult to sleep. The time passed and in about 7.5 hours we found ourselves in Philadelphia where we waited in long, slow customs lines. After rechecking my bag I got into the next security check line when they took me aside upon seeing something suspicious in my bag through the Xray machine. "Please step aside, sir. I'll ask you not to touch the bag as I'm looking through it." Okay. Fine. Whatever. They opened and dug, pulling out magazines, gifts, and camera to get to the thing ON THE BOTTOM! It was a butane lighter I had bought in a gift shop in the Plaza Mayor. The stainless steel lighter has the crest of Spain on one side. Apparently, butane lighters are one of the many NO-NOs on the list of no-nos so they security agent took a leaky pen tip to the butt-end of the lighter and expunged all the internal butane gas. GREAT! Now how am I going to get THAT refilled?! "Thank you sir. You can now repack your bag." Yeah. Thanks. Fine. No problem. I really am never annoyed by such security efforts. Just a minor inconvenience, that's all. REpacked the bulging back and walked down the corridor to another security checkpoint. SAME THING! "Sir. Please step over to the table. I'll ask you not to tough the bag while.." Here we go again!??!?!? I explaned the butane lighter which I'd REpacked to the bottom of the bag once again and they dug it out ONCE AGAIN. Okay. Fine. It's empty now. REALLY EMPTY.
There really isn't much more to tell from this point on. I had a 1.5 hour flight to Columbus, Ohio where my friend picked me up and took me home. In the next few days I'll enter "MadridMan's Final Thoughts" about the trip, complete with observations, positives and negatives, and I'll try to avoid spending too much time going on and on about how delicious the Spanish food is. hehehe... Hope you enjoyed reading "MadridMan's 2003 Madrid & País Vasco/Basque Region Trip" as much as I did writing it!!