travel back in time

Tuesday 23rd November, Madrid, Spain
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*

Eleanor in Parque el Retiro, Madrid.

Maria and I have had the pleasure of a visit from my friend Eleanor. I've just walked Eleanor to the Metro station, and she's her way back to sunny England at this moment. Eleanor was one of the first people I met when I found myself cold and homeless in England at the beginning of the year. She and her sister Phyllida and their parents Pam and John welcomed me into their homes and their lives, and made me feel like one of the family. I'll be eternally grateful to all of them. Anyone who was following my journal at that stage will remember that January began as the lowest point in my travels so far- in fact I was even talking of giving up and returning to Australia- and thanks to the kindness of the people I met in Redhill and Bletchingley, it turned out to be the beginning of one of the best times of my life!

I may have already told you about the two distinctly different types of bars in Madrid. On one hand, you have the bars that most of us are used to, where you pay two Euros or so for a small beer, and if you're lucky you'll find a small bowl of olives sat in front of you. Then there are others, where a small beer or cider will set you back between 1.20 and 1.50, and will be accompanied by free food. Not a whole meal, but maybe a little plate of fried chorizo and potato, or a slice of tortilla, or a couple of little croquettes. By the time you've had four or five drinks, the four or five complimentary snacks usually mounts up to a small meal. Guess which type of bar I prefer? When I told Maria she was to be 'entertainments manager' for the weekend, I insisted that she not take us to any bars where we wouldn't get free food, and she didn't let us down!

Eleanor and Maria in one of a number of Cidrerias that we visited, Madrid..Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena.

Just to be on the safe side we started our Saturday night with a dinner at one of my favourite restaurants on Calle Fuencarrall, Patatin Company. You can fill up on a mixed meat shishkebab and fried potatoes with your choice of a dozen or more tasty sauces, for a grad total of five Euros. From there, we wandered the streets of Madrid, visiting an undisclosed number of cervecerias and cidrerias.

The backyard at the Royal palace, Madrid.

Sunday morning we all slept in till 10:30 or so, and then spent our day wandering the famous El Rastro street markets, and the huge Parque El Retiro. In El Rastro, we saw a guy selling small sticks that people chew on. My curiosity got the better of me, and I bought a small bag of sticks, handing one to Eleanor and one to Maria, and popping one in my own mouth. I bit down hard on the soft stick, and instantly doubled over dry reaching. Not the reaction I'd expected, but as far as surprise value goes, not bad for 1.20 Euros!

Leaning Tower of Madrid..Maria, Eleanor and myself, chewing on sticks in El Rastro markets, Madrid.

Maria's friend Augusto came over Sunday night. Augusto manages a lot of Spanish musicians and bands. If you click here you'll see that Augusto was the guy who got Maria and Amy and me into a Hombres G concert for free, actually standing on the stage behind the band! Well, Augusto had another treat for us... he had three tickets for us to see Jose Merce, reputedly the best Flamenco singer in Spain. We'd decided not to tell Eleanor, but to keep it as a surprise for the next night.

The red carpet treatment, Madrid.
*note my stylish new style bumbag- 'STASHSAFE'- from Pac-Safe*

Poor Maria had to get up early for work. I didn't stir till my 10:30 alarm interrupted a very nice dream. Eleanor and I put in a days' sightseeing- the Royal Palace, the nearby Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena, a couple of bars, and even *gasp* a museum! That's right, the famous Terracotta Warriors from China (well, ten of the 8 000 of them!) are on display at the moment in a Madrid museum. I guess I'll get to see the rest of them in China in about three months time, but for now I had to be content with just the ten who were chose to go on tour. I have to tell you, going into a museum wasn't all that bad! In fact, my Day of Culture was both very enjoyable and educational. I learnt for example, that:

* The Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena took over a hundred years to build. Construction was begun in the 1880's, but was stalled during the Civil War, and wasn't completed until 1992, which explains why the stained glass windows feature such contemporary designs.

* When a Chinese peasant farmer unearthed part of a life sized terracotta warrior in 1974, little did he know that he had stumbled onto something that would become known (by the Chinese tourist board, at least) as the eighth wonder of the world. It was later discovered that this was just one of 8 000 life sized warriors, each indiviualized with unique facial characteristics, that had been deliberately buried in the huge burial complex of the first Emperor Qin Shihuang over 2000 years ago.

* The ancient Chinese even made dildos out of bronze!

So in one day, I visited a cathedral, a museum, and attended a Flamenco concert! And lived to tell the tale. It seems culture isn't so bad after all...

What's the difference between an Australian and a tub of youghurt?
If you leave a tub of yoghurt out in the hot sun for long enough, it will eventually get culture!

The concert was fantastic! I must admit that the first few songs- solos- were a bit hard on my untrained ears, but once Jose was joined by a talented troop of backup singers and musicians, it was quite an experience. We were seated next to a famous Spanish actor, and the most famous bullfighter in the country. Maria was so excited to even be sitting next to such celebrities, so imagine when she had to tell them to move, since one of them was sitting in her seat. I think she almost pee'd herself!

Maria's Mum is a huge fan of Jose Merce and wasn't too impressed when Maria chose to take two foreigners to the concert instead of her. Now the last thing I need is to have Maria's Mum offside, especially since she's such a great cook! But after a bit of sweet talking, Augusto happily coughed up two more tickets for next week's show- for Maria's sister and her Mum. They're elated, and I think Maria's Mum likes me again :)