Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cathy dodged the volcanic ash!

Since my birthday weekend, I had my first visitor of the year last weekend. Cathy somehow managed to catch the only flight from Gatwick to Madrid that actually took off on Saturday and by 12 she and her dinky suitcase made it to Plaza de Castilla and the short walk to the flat. A quick lunch and a well-deserved beer and we headed out.

First stop was the cheap shoe heaven that is Calle Montera (otherwise known as Prostitute Street!). Baseball boots, sandals and the world's cheapest work shoes (they were for me) were purchased, by which time we were ready for tea and cake at La Mallorquina - great cakes and pastries to take away downstairs, and upstairs a tea "salon" that appears to be stuck in time. A couple of Napolitanas de Chocolate (pain au chocolat to the rest of us, though I have no idea why there doesn't appear to be an English word for these), proper tea with cold milk and a coffee set us up nicely for a trip to El Capricho.

Recommended by Debbie , El Capricho Garden of Enlightenment is a very peaceful little park hidden away almost at the end of Metro Line 5. It once belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and consists of 14 hectares of land, containing a folly, a hermitage, a Temple to Bacchus, a lake, a mini fort, a palace and, thankfully, very few people! A lovely way to spend the late afternoon/early evening. We left but decided it was too early to head back into town so found a little bar, full of locals (and showing bullfighting on TV which we had to try to avoid seeing). One beer turned into two, then inexplicably into four and we finally wended our way to the Metro at about 10pm. Still, it was Saturday night so it would have been rude not to stop at the square near the flat for a couple more beers and a plate of very good patatas bravas.

Sunday morning still threatened rain so our planned boating trip on the lake at the Retiro could wait. We headed to the Chocolateria San Gines for an artery-clogging breakfast of hot chocolate and churros (though we actually got porras). Then it was off to El Mercado de San Miguel , where we strolled around the many deli stands, admiring the sheer variety and quantity of delicious food and drink. Despite our filling breakfast, we couldn't resist a couple of mozzarella and veg kebabs, artichoke hearts, a tiny bean-filled pastry and a stuffed vine leaf, washed down with a glass of wine. We bought rustic bread and some interesting-looking cheese, ready to make a packed lunch for the tennis on Monday. A short walk took us down to La Caixa Forum , an art/exhibition centre near the Prado. There was an exhibition of works by Miquel Barcelo , including a very bizarre video of his live show from 2009 (I think) where he covered an assistant in blocks of wet clay and moulded them on him, before the assistant collapsed against a wall presumably to set! Hmm. Art, eh?! The second floor was more to our taste with a photography exhibition (FotoPrensa) - a random collection including civil unrest in Rwanda, graphic pictures of Pakistani women who had suffered "honour" attacks by having acid thrown in their faces, a weird 1970s themed nightclub and much more. Needless to say, there is a cafeteria upstairs so we stopped for refreshment, before heading over to Lavapies where there was a festival to celebrate Spain's Presidency of the EU this year.

We wondered if we'd got the day wrong when we arrived as it was all due to kick off at 4pm with street theatre etc, but we couldn't find anything! However, after wandering for a bit we stumbled across a square where there was some kind of dance going on, performed by a mixture of disabled and able-bodied teens. We spotted Debbie, Moira and Raul so we joined them, shortly followed by Krisztina, just in time to be entertained by a trio of Polish acrobatic breakdancers (one with abs, and a face, to die for), then a rather odd Finnish slow-motion dancer/contortionist and finally a group of 7 French freestyle breakdancers. Feeling entirely worn out by their exertions (!), we repaired to Baobab, a Senegalese bar up the road for more beer! A very stoned waiter with dreadlocks and particularly lovely eyes brought us beer, then another beer, then crisps, then another beer before we decided we really should go and find food. Being in Lavapies, the obvious thing to do was get curry - and very delicious it was too. A €7.95 set menu got us samosas and pakoras for starters, rice with veggie coftas for main, a beer each and tea or dessert. Bargain!

Monday rolled around and with it our long-awaited trip to La Caja Magica for the Madrid tennis tournament.
All went well initially, we picked up the pre-booked tickets easily but were a little too early as the gates weren't yet open so we headed into a tiny local bar for a quick drink (non-alcoholic I hasten to add, it was only 10.15am!) Once the gates were open, we clutched our tickets and marched happily towards the security staff on the gates. They asked us to open our bags and that was where the trouble started! No food or drink allowed! Nothing, not even a bottle of water! Outrageous. We vainly argued that we hadn't known etc, but to no avail. We had to scoff our tasty cheese and houmous bocadillos, as many crisps as we could and most of a can of Diet Coke outside the gates. We weren't alone, there were several people caught out by the ridiculous rule. We both decided to flout the rules and managed to smuggle our empty water bottles in by hiding them in amongst other things in our bags. I understand the economics of it - they want you to spend money on food and drink at their concession stands (and there are a lot of them!) - but it's not well-advertised, and not everyone can afford to buy everything they might need for around 9 hours there. Well, their cunning plan failed with us. We topped our water bottles up from the bathroom taps and made a point of buying absolutely nothing to eat all day! Little victories!

We'd been a little surprised by the order of the play for the day. It's a men's and women's tournament, we knew that, but we assumed that the play would be split about 50/50. Not at all. Play started at 11am on most courts, yet there wasn't a men's match on until 2pm and the women accounted for about 75% of the day's play. I'm not averse to a bit of women's tennis when there's no choice, but I'm afraid it doesn't hold any great fascination. Still, Court 4 found us watching Petrova win pretty convincingly. We wandered wondering what to watch while waiting for the first men's match on the main court, when we noticed that the current match on that court was looking more interesting than expected. Serena Williams had lost the first set so we decided to head over there and cheer on Dushevina. It was a surprisingly good match, lasting over 3 hours, but in the end (disappointingly) Williams won. And finally it was time for some real tennis (!) - Gael Monfils beat Stephane Robert pretty convincingly, then my second fave player, Feliciano Lopez was up against Lucasz Kubot. Amid many calls of "Vamos, Feli!" he won, to the delight of course of the Spanish crowd. And that was that. By the time that match was over, play on all the outside courts had finished and they were starting to let people in for the evening session. We headed off, stopping for dinner at the splendidly-named "Bosphorus Grill" Greek place near my flat. Can't beat houmous, tzatziki, stuffed vine leaves and beer after a day watching people chase a small ball round a rectangle of red clay.

Tuesday brought Cathy's last day so we managed to get up at a vaguely reasonable time and headed to the local square for another chocolate and churros brekkie, then down to the ghost Metro station at Chamberi (Anden Cero) - I'd been there before but it's a nice, quick and interesting thing to take visitors to. Our timing wasn't best as we found ourselves following a big school group around, but they were fairly well-behaved teens.

Quick lunch at the flat and it was time for Cathy to head back to the airport and for me to get ready for my first class of the week. It wasn't at all certain that Cathy was going to make it back, as the other two Gatwick Easyjet flights of the day had been cancelled due to the volcanic ash. Off she went though and, as with Saturday, turned out to be on the only flight of the day that actually got off the ground.

It was a very lovely weekend and it was great to see Cathy for the first time since Christmas. A lot of catching up was done! My (few) pics can be found HERE

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  1. great reporting! Lots of foodie references too! Makes me feel homesick all over again! Churros!Chocolate! Yum!

  2. Can't believe how much you fitted into that weekend and I loved the food references too!

  3. cathy robinson16 May 2010 at 22:19

    Well yes we just ate all weekend basically. And drank! Hurrah. Thanks for memories of a fab time :)

  4. lol - thanks Rockinon, though my birthday was in February. This was my first visitor since then!

    Yes, I didn't realise how our 4 days pretty much revolved around food and drink until I wrote it up. ;-)