Saturday, 28 March 2009

Purple shoes and grey skies

Today started unexpectedly with another trip to Locandita for "Speechcraft", a regular meetup where Spaniards can come and get practice and help with public speaking (in English, obviously). It looked like it wasn´t going to happen but there were 2 Spaniards (PJ and Nacho) and 3 Anglos (Richard, me and Julie) so we thought what the hell and did it anyway. Down we went to the meeting room and after a quick "Talk for one minute about a subject given to you" we started the presentations. Nacho´s was his first so he did 3 minutes basically introducing himself. Then PJ told us a story with a moral - his English is really good and he has a voice that Brian Blessed would be proud of!

Then, rather alarmingly, it was our turn! Having had no idea that it was meant to be 3 minutes, nor that "moral of the story" was meant to be the theme, I was reduced to telling a joke! OK, a funny story, and it was something I´d been carrying round in my bag for days just in case. For those who recognise it, it came round by email a while ago and was entitled "Why Parents Drink" - employer calls an employee´s home, concerned he hasn´t turned up at work and has an increasingly worrying conversation with a small child. I won´t spoil the end - if you recognise it, then you get it. If not, you may forever wonder. Anyway, free tapas followed, making it all worthwhile, even if I did throw tomato all over Richard´s shoes.

Then Julie and I had a doing day. I´d found a massive hole in the bottom of one of my lovely red boots so my least favourite thing in the world had to be done - shoe shopping. Fortunately for me, the 3rd shop I tried had a fantastic pair of purple boots, very me, for 20 Euros. Sold! We hit Lush to sort out Julie´s Madrid-ravaged skin (well, actually, we blame the beer). Then we headed to the other side of Plaza Mayor so that she could look at a room she wants to rent for the next couple of months. Now I was expecting a room in a shared apartment or something, but it basically turned out to be a hostal - a double room with a private bathroom, and WiFi. She took it pretty much on the spot. So our planned chores were almost done, just a quick trip to a bookshop to find a book on Spanish grammar that had been recommended.

Then it seemed that the day had barely started and it was siesta time! She headed to hers, I headed to mine - and it started raining! Now that wasn´t meant to happen, certainly not when I was wearing sandals and a T-shirt. I managed to escape the worst of it and headed home to make a giant pan of lentil and vegetable stew. Which hopefully is simmering nicely while I´m writing this.

I seem to be getting alarmingly used to this not working lark though at some point the financial implications are going to hit home! Back to job hunting then.....

Santander sunshine!

So to cheer myself up I booked a trip to Santander to visit Louise, my landlady! A 5 hour bus trip ended with a very numb arse but smiley Louise meeting me and whisking me away to her great apartment high up on the crest of the city. I couldn´t see a lot (it was night, I wasn´t drunk!) but she assured me that you can see the sea from the balcony. We chatted and drank beer then crashed.

The next morning (Thursday) dawned bright and sunny. Louise had gone to work and the day was my own. I grabbed the map and headed out into the unknown having marvelled at the view from her balcony! It certainly is a town on hills. All the way down to the waterfront was a steep hill which was great in that direction but I wasn´t relishing the journey back up! I headed into the narrow streets that make up the bar-restaurant area. A real mix of new and old. I walked out along the waterfront to the east, past an enormous Brittany Ferries cruise liner (that explained all the British and American elderly people I kept spotting) until I could go no further. Then I came back to the old part of town and treated myself to una caƱa (beer) and a bocadillo (sandwich) in the sun. Then I decided to head west to the little beach. On the map, it appeared I would pass both the Museo de Prehistoria and the Planetarium on the way so I decided to take a look. Given that the museum was clearly marked on the tourist map and had a huge sign above the door, imagine my surprise to find an obviously permanent sign by the door - Cerrado el Publico (Closed to the Public). Ah well. The Planetarium also turned out not to open for another hour and it appeared that you needed to be a minimum of a group of 5. Oh well, the beach it would be. It was a cute little beach with only a dozen or so people sunning themselves, and a very tempting ice cream van (I thought we only had those in the UK). I sat on the sand, dug my toes in and wrote my diary for a bit. My bladder being what it is, and Spanish beer doing what it does, and there being no such things as public loos, I then started the climb back up to the flat. And it was certainly a climb!

After a short break at the flat and a well deserved litre of water, I decided to head out again, this time in the opposite direction and towards the Playa el Sardinero, a huge beach Louise had recommended. I really hope it means Beach of the Sardines, but probably not! Just before the beach I found a beautiful little garden full of benches which overlooked the beach. I treated myself to a very large ice cream and watched the world go by. Unable to resist sand between my toes for a second time, I descended the long staircase to the beach and plonked myself in the sand again. Much wilder sea than the earlier little beach, presumably because it faced a different way so the waves crashed in front of me, threatening to swallow up the one brave swimmer!

Eventually I had to contemplate the climb back to the flat, realising that I had the only set of keys and Louise would be home from work soon. I made it back just in time, then we chatted for a while again before going out to eat at a clearly very popular, but also incredibly smoky, tapas/racion place. Given that I am generally resigned to living on patatas bravas and tortilla these days, it was a real treat to discover that they did a huge vegetable kebab. I was like a pig in the proverbial. I giant kebab filled with broccoli, potato, tomato, cauliflower, mushroom, red pepper and bizarrely, pear arrived, drizzled in olive oil and cooked perfectly. Mind you, I did have to have patatas bravas on the side! More beer and the fact that I´d been out all day in the sun eventually caught up with me and we plumped for the taxi option to get back. I was disappointed that it was such a short trip - I was heading back to Madrid the next morning. Santander had been a real revelation. It reminded me a lot of Brighton, Brisbane and Barcelona (I would say almost anywhere beginning with B but then I remembered Bradford)!

Fortunately, the next day dawned grey and threatening drizzle. Due to the one set of keys issue, I had to leave the flat at the same time as Louise left for work and despite my efforts to walk at Spanish speed (ie a millionth of a mile a week) I still got the bus station with an hour and a half to kill. I wandered about in the local area, but needless to say nothing was open so I settled myself down with a book. The journey back was uneventful but longer than expected due to the Friday afternoon Madrid traffic. Still, I was back in time for the Friday night meetup at Locandita where I found Cristina, a Spanish girl I met in February 2008 at Vaughan Town!! It was lovely to see her but the meetup being what it is, I actually barely got to speak to her. We´ve promised ourselves lunch one day. 2 of the guys who had been on the Vaughan Town week that I had so nearly been on also turned up and told me some interesting stuff about the week. Given what they and Dade had said, maybe I should be grateful I didn´t end up staying the week!

Sitting outside drinking beer at nearly midnight can pretty much sum up what I came here for, but if I want it to carry on I NEED A JOB!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Cafe carnage!

So yesterday was spent in a haze of beer with the lovely Julie from Portland (all 6ft 2 of her!), mostly in JJs bookshop and coffeeshop/bar. We went there to brainstorm about our futures but after the first couple of beers, there was more storm than brain. Then we got chatting to the other people in the bar, including Morad who I think may be a permanent fixture. He´s a very wise, though slightly sozzled Brit (Iranian) who bought us drinks, chatted away and gave me a stern pep talk! So 4 beers later (and no food), we staggered back out into the sunshine in search of tapas. Having put away enough food to down a small rhino, we somehow found room for a pastry from La Mallorquina at Sol. Yum!

Madrid continues to be a revelation as I swear this kind of stuff doesn´t happen in the UK. Or maybe it´s just that I don´t go to the same kind of places at home.

This internet place is becoming my second home. I really need to either fork out for mobile broadband or at least find a proper WiFi cafe where I can take my laptop. This place is cheap enough, but it´s all public computers, uncomfortable seats and behind me are the international phone booths, filled with very loud people shouting at their relatives in South America!

Today I´m off to Santander to visit Louise (my landlady - and friend!) for a couple of days. She has a spare room this week and I´m missing the sea so it seemed like a great plan. So there is a 5hr 30min bus trip awaiting me later this afternoon. Better get a good book!

It occurred to me today I haven´t had chocolate and churros yet. Huge mistake. Needs to be rectified asap!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Not the best experience

In an attempt to gloss over the disaster that was Sunday, suffice to say I learnt a salutory lesson in trusting people who think they have more power than they actually do, and who then relinquish all responsibility for the outcome.

What did I find out? That complete strangers here are damn friendly and helpful when you´re in trouble. That Spanish long distance buses are fast, comfortable, cheap (fortunately) and show some very dodgy films. That taxi drivers here, as in the UK, don´t always know where they´re going.

So - Madrid again after possibly the briefest sojourn ever, 10 days into my trip. I can´t pretend it´s quite turning out as planned but a) I´m not where I was and b) my Spanish is improving rather fast, by necessity.

I now know a couple of other people here in almost the same situation so we´ll get together, commiserate, brainstorm and work something out.

And if not - I´m not above begging the mad cat-obsessed taverna owner in Kalives for a job. Er yes, that´s in Crete, not Spain but so what? It´s not Gatwick!!!!