Wednesday 22nd June, Madrid, Spain
Back from Miami!
Nice to get out of the city for a weekend. Maria had to be in Barcelona for work on Sunday evening and Monday, so we hired a car and made a weekend out of it. Our steed for the journey this time was an Opel Astra stationwagon. I laughed when Maria marvelled over how 'huge' the car was, since in Australia the Astra (a four cylinder) is considered a small car, or medium at best. But after I had spent five minutes struggling to squeeze it into parallel parking, I realized that in relation to Madrid's narrow streets, tight corners and miniature parking spaces, this car was indeed a giant. How the delivery drivers manouevre their trucks around Madrid's labrynthine neighbourhoods is a tribute to their skill and even moreso their patience.
So we launched ourselves north on the motorway in a hair raising battle for survival, the flow of traffic pushing me faster and faster until even at 170 kilometres per hour, I was repeatedly pushed into the slow lane by the impatient flashing of headlights from behind. After a few hours of this nerve wracking mayhem, we exited onto a smaller road towards the Tarragona coast. This presented another test to my patience, as the two lane road was apprently used by every heavy vehicle in the country to avoid paying the motorway toll. For over an hour, we were stuck behind a slow moving convoy of trucks, with little or no opportunity to overtake more than one truck at a time, for the endless stream of oncoming semi-trailers.
But finally we made it to the seaside town of Miami Playa (playa means 'beach') and checked into the cheap hotel that Maria had booked. The place was by no means modern or stylish, but our room was huge, clean and comfortable, with a generous balcony (no sea view unfortunately), and I questioned again why people would waste three times as much to stay in a four star hotel. The next day, we went for an early morning swim in the chilly waters of the Mediterranean, my second swim in the sea since leaving Australia almost two years ago. Hard to believe that in Brisbane, I used to go to the beach at least two or three times a week during summer, and even quite often in autumn and spring.
Miami Playa is a popular tourist destination and restaurants proudly displayed their menus in three or four languages. We stocked up with a few two litre containers of white wine, rosado (rose) and port at a local bodega. Wines were less than one Euro a litre, and you could find good port for $2.80 a litre. But the best was that you could 'try before you buy'.
On Sunday, we continued north to Barcelona...
I'll leave you with an interesting little story. If you've spent any time around Spain, you will for sure have noticed the huge black bull-shaped billboards that dot the countryside. The first one I saw was in Andalucia; I had no idea what its purpose was, and I guess I assumed it was one-of-a-kind. In fact there are scores of them around the country, and a decent intercity drive will take you past at least half a dozen toritos bravos, the affectionate name given to the 'bullboards', meaning 'brave little bull'.
I've done a little research on the internet, and have found a lot of conflicting 'facts' regarding the number of 'toritos bravos' around the country, but one thing is for certain. The bulls were (are?) an advertisement for Osborne, a popular Spanish producer of wines and sherries. They began to appear in 1957, and by the mid 1960's had sprung up alongside highways all over the country. In 1988, the Spanish government introduced a law prohibiting advertising next to highways. Well, this caused an uproar among the population, who had come to identify with the huge black bull silhouettes as part of the Spanish identity. Numerous citizens' associations around Spain demonstrated their support for the Osborne bulls, asking that the Osborne bull be 'pardoned' and the billboards be declared as a 'cultural asset'. In 1997, the Spanish Supreme Court finally accepted that the Osborne Bull has become part of the Spanish countryside, that citizens identify themselves with this symbol, and declared it part of Spainís National Heritage. The toritos bravos are here to stay, and I for one find them a charming landmark, a refreshing break on a long drive.
I've read that there are 500 toritos bravos around Spain. I've read that the Spanish government purchased the bulls from Osborne 60 years ago. But to get the lowdown straight from the bull's mouth, so to speak, you can visit Osborne's website. There's an English version of the page, and everything you wanted to know about the toritos bravos (and more!) if you click on the 'THE OSBORNE BULL' link.
According to Osborne (and they should know!) there are 90 toritos bravos around Spain. They even have a cool map showing the locations. The first bulls in the 50's were four metres high, and made of wood, sporting the words 'Veterano- Osborne, and a picture of a brandy glass. Legislation in the early 60's forced Oborne to move the bulls fifty metres from all roads, and 125 meres from motorways. Osborne responded by replacing the wooden structures with fourteen metre high metal bulls. At that stage, the bulls still featured an advertising slogan, but later that was painted out, and all that remains is a ghostly black bull silhouette. As I read in one person's Spanish weblog, it's "better to have this Osborne as a neighbor than Ozzy or any of his offspring!"