I was honoured with the presence of no less than four good friends in my last couple of months in Madrid - Cathy, Julia and Mike, and Sid. I hadn't seen any of them since at least last Christmas so it was lovely to catch up with them in my adopted hometown.
First was Cathy for four days. We had a lovely time just wandering around, with lots of food (previous blog shows just how much food!)
Then at the end of May, Julia and Mike came for a belated anniversary trip. They were staying in the centre of town so we met up a few times, went to the Retiro, El Capricho, ate at the very lovely Isla del Tesoro (still my favourite veggie restaurant) and generally just "did" Madrid! It was nice to be a tourist again even if I did also have to demonstrate that living somewhere doesn't necessarily mean you know where you're going! It was great to see them and I think (I hope!) they had fun! Annoyingly, I managed to forget to take my camera out even once, so I'm hoping Julia uploads her photos sometime soon (hint, hint!)
At the very end of June, it was Sid's turn. It didn't get off to the best start as she flew in on the same day I (semi-unexpectedly) had to move out of my flat and into a hostal, and on the third day of the chaotic Metro strike! She finally joined me at the hostal at 1.15am Wednesday night (well, Thursday morning). On Thursday, once I'd picked up my final pay of the summer, we hit the Retiro for the afternoon. Ice-cream, laughing at the rowers on the lake and sunning ourselves passed a couple of hours. We walked back to the hostal via a quick exhibition at La Caixa Forum, and La Mallorquina for afternoon tea then spent a relaxed evening in the nearby square with Julie and Natalee.
On Friday, after a brekkie at the hostal of knobby bread and cheese, we headed out to a couple of photography exhibitions (PhotoEspana 10). We wandered back to the hostal to pack for the weekend in Alcoy (for Kim,'s 50th birthday party) and then off to the airport (on the way we got on the Cercanias going the wrong way and had to jump off at the very last second, trapping poor Sid's arm in the door and causing a spectacular swelling and bruise! Sorry Sid!) Our flight was delayed a bit but we finally made it to Alicante and found our welcome committee (Kim, her son Matt, his girlfriend Silvia and Kim's friend Silvia 2). Kim's lovely friend Silvia very kindly drove us to Alcoy, Kim,'s hometown, about 45 mins inland from Alicante, dropped us off at the Savoy (yeah, OK, not the famous one!) where we changed and hit the main square to meet the others. We'd bumped into Geraldine at the door of the hotel so the three of us went to meet Alex and Marta, who had flown in from New York and Zaragoza), then were soon joined by Kim, her niece Lisa (in from Australia!), Matt and Silvia, Fay and Stuart (Kim's friends from Devon) and Jay, who we discovered was going to be the DJ at the party on Saturday night. Alcoy was much more buzzy than I'd expected and at 1am we walked to the weird and wonderful Gaudi Bar (not the name, but it's based on various Gaudi designs of houses in Barcelona). Kim got us all drinking some strange cocktail with lemon and coffee liqueur but we finally gave up the ghost at 3am and crashed.
Having discovered that the hotel dining room doesn't open at weekends, we went back to the main square for Saturday morning breakfast - tasty and cheap hot chocolate and croissants. The rest of the group were heading into the mountains for a huge slap-up lunch but Sid and I had promised ourselves a day at the beach so we went off on the 90-minute bus journey to Alicante. At first glance, the beach looked a bit like one of those "Yuk" pictures of classic Spanish tourist beaches - absolutely packed, with sunbeds lined up like rows of sardines in a tin. We were surprised to find that the majority of the people were Spanish though. We found ourselves a small patch of sand and settled in. It was damn hot so after a few minutes it was time for my first dip in the sea since September 2008! Sid wussed out, only making it in up to her knees before deciding it was too cold, but I'd been looking forward to this for months, so in I plunged for a lovely long refreshing swim. A couple of hours of sunbathing and a bite to eat, and it was time to head back to Alcoy for the party!
Having initially gone to the wrong address (not our fault!) we eventually found the party, being held at Kim's school. The party coincided with the quarter final of the World Cup, with Spain playing Paraguay, so the first couple of hours were a little quiet, with the majority of the guests inside watching the TV, but after that the party got into full swing. There was stacks of alcohol, a huge table of cold foods and then no less than 3 barbecues! Great mix of people, Spaniards and Anglos so there was plenty of chatting and laughter. Kim certainly seemed to be having a good time! But as all good things do, it came to an end and we weaved our way back to the hotel.
On Sunday, we all headed to Kim's, helped clear up the party stuff at the school, then went for a slap-up Italian meal with far too much wine, and then (at Kim's insistence!), 2 bottles of champagne. We finally had to leave when we realised the restaurant had actually closed, so we went back to Kim's just in time for me to see the final 4 points of the Wimbledon final (yay, Nadal won!), more wine before Matt kindly drove 4 of us to the airport. Great weekend!
For the next two days, Sid and I walked, ate and drank our way around Madrid. More sunbathing was required, as were a couple more photography exhibitions. Tuesday evening was my last night in Madrid so an evening in El Buscon was the predictable result. Joined by Louise, Jorge, Philip, Sian and Richi, we had a fun time. Jorge had brought his VERY expensive guitar along for me to play with. Fortunately, the music in the bar was loud enough to drown out my picking and warbling but I was certainly impressed with the guitar. Now he just needs to learn to play it!
Before we knew it, Wednesday arrived and after one final morning sunning ourselves on the rather steep slope of grass under the suicide bridge (!) we had to face the packing! I was convinced there was no way it was all going to fit in but finally, after a lot of sitting on suitcases, it was all in and we made the trip to the airport on the Metro. Dragging all that luggage in 36 degrees was interesting! I'm very grateful for the fact that the Easyjet staff at Madrid are a bit more relaxed than they are at Gatwick - luggage allowance each was 20kg. My case weighed 23kg and Sid's (which mostly contained my stuff!) was 24.5kg! Ouch. At €16 per kilo excess luggage, my heart (and my credit card) skipped a beat, but the check-in guy didn't bat an eyelid and we waved goodbye to our cases.
And that was that! We finally took off and my first full year and a bit in Madrid was over - 7 weeks in the UK to come!
So thanks to all my visitors for entertaining me over my last couple of months there.
Pics of Sid's trip and a few of the party are HERE