Friday, April 04, 2008

The Anglo Spanish weekend, a reunion of the past.

Buying a lottery ticket in the Puerta del Sol, a very typical thing to do in Madrid.

It was only a week ago today that we were expecting the visit of my old school friends from my Bradford days. My best friend Amanda was coming with her husband Andy and her brother Simon and his wife Gill. As I have probably mentioned in other posts Andy and Simon went to Bradford Grammar School where my Father was a teacher of languages (actually French, Russian and German – just to show you how knowledgeable he is!!). Amanda and I have been friends since we started at St. Joseph’s College Grammar School when we were 11 (some time ago, of course!). Gill was the person we least knew. However as the weekend progressed this household gradually fell in love with her charming and easygoing nature just as Amanda said we would.

Amanda and Andy had been to see us before but it was Simon and Gill’s first visit. They don’t know this, but there were many preparations to welcome them, the shopping, preparing the beds, deciding on the menus, the actual weekend programme itself (oh, yes, I programmed everything - including what seemed most popular; the “leisurely breakfasts”) and even new blue and pink hydrangeas for the kitchen patio. Everything had to be just perfect for such an important and unique visit. The only thing I couldn’t programme was the weather. The forecast was not too good but we were very lucky that Saturday was gorgeous with temperatures of up to 25ºC. We were more unlucky with Segovia on Sunday where it rained, was cold and windy and at one stage even hailed!

However, the weather never deterred us as we all enjoyed every minute of the weekend, talking, laughing, walking, visiting monuments and places, eating (a lot of tapas) and drinking gallons and gallons of wine. They discovered Rueda white wine which I already know that once you try it you are hooked and never want to drink white wine from any other wine yard in the world. I think they might agree.

Eladio went to pick them up at the airport on Friday as I was coming back from my TV programme. Lunch was a tapas type affair which I think they were much looking forward to. We went on to live off tapas most of the weekend. After a siesta (also programmed, of course) we took them on our daily walk. Both Andy and Simon were offered walking sticks for the occasion! You might not know but Eladio has a fixation with the latter and also has quite a collection.

The "boys" with their walking sticks
On Friday night we went to the Basque restaurant called La Txitxarreria in Pozuelo, Andy was so looking forward to going back to. I had some hitches parking and Eladio got lost (we went everywhere in 2 cars and were very sexist using one for the “boys” and one for the “girls”), so dinner was a little late but that is no problem in Spain. And it was worth it to judge by the mountains we ate. We all had to agree, however, that the best was the meat, grilled to perfection and oh so tasty.

On Saturday we left the car at the local underground station and took the metro to town. It was such an unusual occasion for us that we took photos. I really can’t remember the last time we took the metro. We were pretty slow with the logistics; buying tickets and knowing which gate to go through because of lack of practice of course.

In the Madrid underground
Our tour of Madrid started in Plaza de España. We then walked up the Gran Vía past where Eladio used to work. Our first stop was the famous Loewe shop (my friends called it “Lovey”). It is perhaps the only Spanish “haute couture” brand and it is so exclusive they have to unlock the door to let you in our out! Here my friends bought the very sexy “Esencia” fragrance for Andy and Simon and here, amazingly enough, we bumped into the veteran tennis player, Björn Borg who it transpired later was in town for the Veterans Masters Series.

Posing in Loewe
From Gran Vía we turned into the famous street of Alcalá and walked up to the Cibeles fountain from where we crossed the street and walked up Recoletos to the “triangle of culture” where you can find the Thyssen Museum and the Prado (and a bit further on the museum of contemporary art, Reina Sofia). There was no time for real culture but plenty of time for street culture of which we saw a lot throughout the whole day. One example was this amazing “live” statue of stone men.

The stone men. Can you guess which is real and which is not?
We carried on up the Calle de los Jerónimos, made a quick detour into the emblematic Palace hotel and then walked on past the Spanish parliament (El Congreso) until we reached the square called La Puerta del Sol, the geographical centre of Spain and from where all roads are measured. After taking the obligatory photo of the “kilómetro 0”, we decided to make our way to the Plaza Mayor and find somewhere nice for lunch.

By the Km 0 in Puerta del Sol
The Plaza Mayor is the old main square of Madrid and every city in Spain has one. Perhaps the one in Madrid is the most beautiful in Spain. I wanted to take my friends to have tapas at one of the bars under the Cuchilleros Arch but we never got to them as we came across the outside dining area of the restaurant called Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas and I just knew this was the place we were going to have lunch. It is slightly touristy but very traditional and has excellent food. The waiters today are still dressed like the original Luis Candelas who was a bandit and the restaurant dates from 1825 or so. Here we enjoyed some more great tapas.

By the Arco de Cuchilleros off the Plaza Mayor
After lunch we wandered back into the Plaza Mayor and watched some of the side shows. Simon and I dared to go for a Chinese massage which I thoroughly enjoyed. His was a little rough I’m afraid. From the Plaza Mayor we walked to the Plaza de Oriente to show them the Madrid Palace which is a copy of Versailles as most Spanish palaces are. Unfortunately it was closed. The last stop of the day was to be the Retiro Park and this time we took a taxi.

Whilst waiting for the “boys” at the entrance to the Retiro we came across the arrival of guests to what looked like a very high society Spanish wedding to judge by the amazing costumes.

The Retiro Park, Madrid’s equivalent of Hyde Park, was teeming with people and side shows which is how it always is when the weather is good. I wonder how many nationalities were there when we were, to judge by the number of different languages being spoken.

We returned home on public transport again, to be greeted by a very well organised dinner by the girls which included that dish made famous by the Casa Lucio restaurant, “huevos estrellados” or “starred eggs”. However much I tried to explain the dish to my friends, there was no way I could get away from the fact that the dish is really only egg and chips!

While the meal was being prepared and over some more Rueda wine, Andy and Simon were having an animated conversation with my Father about the old times which I think was enjoyed by them all. Simon discovered my Father had also lived in Bristol when he was young and that they were both Bristol Rovers fans!!

After dinner we drank some lovely Pedro Ximénez sherry (thanks Graciela) and read parts of my diaries when I was 9, 11 and 14. I sounded a horrible girl. I then went on to read out again some of my school reports, including things like “Sport: “rarely swims”, “lacks equipment”, “M would do better if she concentrated”. The whole thing left me feeling quite depressed and I am thinking of burning those reports. Truth to tell I have been much more successful professionally then I ever was at school.

Sunday was the last day and we were determined to enjoy it to the full in Segovia, that jewel of a town with its famous 1st century intact Roman aqueduct about 85 km from Madrid.

A close up of the aqueduct in Segovia
We took my Father with us and I had booked a table at Segovia’s most famous restaurant, Mesón de Cándido which is directly under the aqueduct. As it was pouring with rain upon our arrival we made our way straight to the restaurant. Here we introduced our friends to the delights of such dishes as suckling pig and suckling lamb. If anyone thinks paella is Spain’s best dish, I would ask them to try these and if possible at this restaurant.

Outside Mesón de Cándido under the Aqueduct in Segovia
After lunch we walked rapidly around the town because it was so cold. We toured the top part of the aqueduct and then walked up the Calle Real to the Plaza Mayor and entered the magnificent cathedral. It is actually 18th century and late Gothic but still a marvel. I was particularly struck by a candle stick representing the “original sin” (Eve turning into a snake!) I saw in the Cathedral Museum.

The Cathedral in Segovia
From the Cathedral we walked to the famous Alcázar (Fortress) which towers above Segovia and reminds you of the Austrian castle made populour by Walt Disney. Here is where some of the regional Kings and Queens of Spain, before Isabel la Católica, are buried, or represented. Also it seems Spain's military archives are kept here too.

The Fortress (Alcazar) of Segovia
Very tired, from so much walking, and a little cold from a small hail storm, we drove home to spend our last evening together. We had lost a little of our gas but were soon fortified by a pot of English tea and some exquisite M+S shortbread biscuits my friends had bought for my Father.

And then it was Monday morning and time for my friends to go. Time did fly but the two days were packed with so much fun and activity they will not be easily forgotten.

I do hope our friends will come again soon.

Cheers Masha

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