The weekend of 25-27 September saw the long-awaited reunion of at least half of the group from the Vaughan Town I did at the beginning of August.
Marta, Nacho and I had become the unofficial organisers of the whole thing, so come the Friday morning, I found myself with a long piece of paper containing the names, mobile numbers, planned arrival times, accommodation details and who knows what else of the group. They were arriving by various methods and all through the day - apart from those of us who live in Madrid of course.
First to touch down was Roz who came into Barajas and then found her way to the lobby of Kim's hotel to wait. Then Kim arrived - we had a very girly, screamy reunion of our own as she came out through arrivals, and then headed off to her hotel. Or we would have, if she'd had any idea of what it was called or where it was! Now I realise I had become the weekend organiser, but I wasn't aware that that stretched to knowing where she was staying or how to get there. With the help of various people on the street and finally Roz, we made it.
We spent a lovely afternoon after she'd checked in, first at La Mallorquina (great tea/cake shop on Sol) with Pedro, who was moving to Dublin the next day. It was great that he could manage to catch up with just a few of us before going to his own leaving party in the evening.
Over the course of the evening we managed to track down/meet as planned with: Carlos (known to me as Luis, long story), Mercedes, Margarita, Maria V, Nacho, Marta, Ana Belen and Geraldine. Oh, and Marta's brother and Margarita's husband! We moved around the area near Plaza Mayor for most of the evening, from bar to bar, attempting to eat but in 2 places failing, once due to no room and once due to no food! The travelling finally caught up with people and we drifted off.
On the Saturday, people went out in disparate groups. Kim and I met Roz, Geraldine and Marta at Plaza Espana and we went for a lovely walk all around the Temple of Debod, Palacio Real, Jardines de Sabatini, had a late lunch, sat in the sun, talked a lot and generally chilled.
In the evening, 12 of us made it to dinner at Bardemcilla (owned by the Spanish actor, Javier Bardem). What a great place! Google it - even the online menu is funky! Margarita's husband came out again, and this time Maria Angeles came and brought her husband along too. Halfway through the evening, we had some bad news and some great news.
The bad news was that one of the Anglo participants on the program had been involved in a really bad car accident 5 weeks earlier in Ibiza, and had been in hospital there ever since, with a severely injured pelvis and will have to learn to walk again. Poor Ali. We've heard from her since and she's very positive, bless her!
The good news was - JOSÉ LUIS was coming - as a surprise guest! Without a shadow of a doubt, the loveliest, most gorgeous, most popular (with both sexes!) guy on the whole program, and I know everyone else would agree. He'd said he wouldn't be able to make it due to work commitments, but he drove all the way down from Santander, with a work colleague, to come to the restaurant! The reaction from our table when he walked in probably made people think some film star had just entered! It was really good to see him, and his work colleague (Haagen from Germany) was equally lovely and entertaining! After dinner, we all headed to Chueca and took over a huge corner outside a great bar, that was full to overflowing with drag queens and various same/mixed/indeterminate sex couples and groups. We talked and drank til the small hours but finally admitted defeat!
On Sunday, most of us met up again, this time in the lobby of José Luis' hotel. The majority went off in search of culture by way of the Prado and the Thyssen. Roz and I, being the uncultured heathens that we are, went to the Retiro and just sat in the sun and chatted for a couple of hours. Roz then headed off on the train to Alcala de Henares to visit other friends and I went to find the rest in the Thyssen gift shop (generally the only bit of an art gallery you can drag me into!)
We went for lunch nearby and then it was time for everyone to head their separate ways. The usual 30 minute goodbye scene took place on the street and it was over!
It had been a lovely weekend, full of laughter, chat, fun, silliness, seriousness (Margarita had a totally life-changing experience the week after our program and is clearly very, very happy - good for her!), and a reminder of what good friends we had made on the program.
Whatever other nonsense might be going on with those programs at the moment, the fact remains that they're great experiences that always result in new friends being made, some programs more concretely than others. This was just one of those very special programs.
So thank you to everyone who made the effort to come, thanks to those who couldn't come but sent messages, and to the rest - see you sometime in the future. There is talk of this becoming an annual event so we'll keep you all posted!