travel back in time

Tuesday 2nd November, Madrid, Spain
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*
The world waits with baited breath to see who the American people choose to hold the title "The Most Powerful man In The World" for the next four years. Most of you will know that I don't care much for what Mr Bush has done over the course of his term, but then again I'm not sure I'd be out waving a flag for Mr Kerry either. Will America somehow elect the best man for the job, not only for the US but for us all? Time will tell....

It was a long weekend in Spain. Why? How would I know? It was just nice to have a day off. Hey hang on... I don't have a job! Anyway, Maria and I spent most of Saturday window shopping for warm gloves, scarves, thermal underwear and socks, in preparation for our assault on the frozen mass that is Russia in January. In conversations about Russia, reports of January temperatures as low as thirty or forty degrees below zero have been bandied about. Even my potential hosts in Russia have been telling me that we're crazy. "We'd love to meet you, and you'll certainly be welcome to stay with us during your visit" they say, "but are you sure you really want to come here in January?"
My answer is "absolutely!" To me, Russia has always been a mysterious frigid land, and it just wouldn't seem right to go there in the summer. Besides, what an experience! And what a way to discover how people cope with the difficulties they're faced with. I can't wait!

I already have several challenges to complete on our Russia trip. Along the way, I have to find a busker playing the drinking glasses on St Charles Bridge in Prague. Then in Moscow, I have to locate the long lost friend of one of my readers, and in St.Petersburg, Maria and I have to visit the conservatory of music, and attend a concert there! And of course, there are the ongoing "Condom Challenge" and the "Currency Challenge". I'd dearly love to have more challenges for Berlin, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus and Russia. Besides making the trip more interesting and fun for the readers, these challenges help to cover my costs, and after receiving my latest credit card statement, that is more crucial now than ever. I'm sad to report that, although the first edition of "Everywhere but Missouri, Mate!" has almost sold out, ironically I don't have the funds available to go ahead with another print run. If I was confident of achieving another two hundred or so sales between now and Christmas, I would take the gamble, but at this point that seems a little ambitious, and if I failed to reach that target, it would leave my credit card almost to its limit, with nothing available for Russia or beyond.

GET YOUR CHALLENGES IN NOW! Do you want me to send you a souvenir from the frozen north? Want me to find or visit an old friend of yours, and pass on your greeting? How about sending me to photograph some place that you've always wanted to visit? Get your challenges in now, by posting on my interactive messageboard.

When Maria asked me if I wanted to make a day trip to El Escorial on Sunday, I was convinced that she must have Alzheimers.
"We've already been to El Escorial, honey" I told her, trying (not very much) to not sound patronizing. This started a discussion that went something like this:
"No we haven't!"
"Yes, we have!"
"No we haven't!"
"Yes, we have!"
In the end I proved to Maria that we had indeed been to El Escorial, by showing her this journal entry from our travels just two months ago. Only problem is that what I thought had been El Escorial, was in fact Valle de los Caidos. So I was left feeling quite stupid, and Maria spent the rest of the evening with a very satisfied smile on her face. The moral of the story is that we actually did go to El Escorial- the real one- on Sunday. And more importantly of course, that Maria was right.

A lovely little mountain town, El Escorial is most famous for its huge monastery. We weren't so lucky with the weather on Sunday, and ended up spending a considerable amount of our day sheltering from the elements in a couple of El Escorial's inviting little bars, eating tortilla, croquettes, and pinchos, and drinking white wine and Mahou beer. Which reminds me, Maria and I are almost ready to admit defeat on the "Shiner Challenge". We have surely footed it around to every Cerveceria in Madrid, we've emailed and phoned every American restaurant in town, and there is just no sign of the elusive Shiner to be found. Good news though, on the "Antxon Monforte Challenge", and the "Big Fred Eiseman Challenge". I finally renewed contact with Antxon, and he has been in touch with the person who issued the challenge. That challenge earnt me forty Euros. Regarding Big Fred, I have located the man, and have passed on his phone number to the person who issued the challenge. Result still pending.

I've been cooking up a storm since I got back to Maria's, making the most of having access to a kitchen after more than a year on the road. Last week I made the mistake of going grocery shoping while I was hungry. Anyone ever doen that? By the time I reached the checkout, the trolley was overflowing. With no possible way that I could lift all that weight at once, let alone carry it a kilometre or so home, I had to have the order delivered later that evening. As I unpacked the numerous bags of groceries, trying to find space for everything in the small kitchen, I found things that I swear I have no recollection of buying. Croissants, mixed nuts, potato crisps, even a plastic container with a huge cheese pastry in it- but the label clearly stated that this was a package of three cheese pastries. Almost as if someone had eaten two of them while they were shopping!

So I had loads of fresh meat and vegetables that needed to be used up. Maria is always on a diet, and eats nothing but spinach and lettuce, and there's only so much I can eat, so we decided to invite over some friends to help us out. I crumbed some finely sliced chicken breast, and fried it, served with a leek, white wine and apricot broulichard. (I made that word up. It seems you're allowed to, if you're the chef!) Alongside the chicken, I served a hearty portion of caulifower and broccoli au gratin (I didn't make that one up. It's a real word. French, but real.) On the side, guests could choose from a salad of fresh spinach, red onion, mushrooms and green peppers, with mozzeralla cheese, black olives and fried sunflower seeds or homemade coleslaw with a lively tabasco mayonnaise dressing. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and all agreed that they ate too much *bur..bur..burp* but is there something about my cooking that makes people poke out their tongue?