Happy Birthday to Me Jenny

Today is Me Jenny’s birthday….. we’re going to see if we can find her some Spanish shoes and then we have a special tapas dinner for a special lady at a special tapas restaurant that has a Michelin Star!!!

Me Jenny should have her own Michelin Star just for being so fabulous.

Um….

Three hour train journey from Valencia to Barcelona – all was normal. We noticed a few stops out of Barcelona that there were police at one of the stops and a crowd of what looked like students, but didn’t think anything of it. When we got to the the Barcelona train station, we hopped off the train – everything still normal, then we got to the door to find a taxi and were met with a crowd of people and about 200 armed police surrounding the entrances to the building. First we thought maybe it was climate change activists. There didn’t seem like a lot going on, but with that many police we thought it best to move away from the area quick smart.

So we got to the taxi line along with approx 2000 other people all lining up patiently for a taxi – of which there were none! We stood and watched for about 10 minutes and 2 cabs pulled up so we made the decision to start walking in the direction of our hotel and away from the station thinking we’d hail a cab on the street.

We walked for a bit and then found another taxi stop. We stood and waved at quite a few, but they were either occupied already, or they drove straight past. We were a bit far from walking distance from our hotel and so with two suitcases and Me Jenny, walking the whole way there was out of the question. We gave a final wave and were again ignored, we turned to start walking down the street a little more and a taxi pulled up, calling out to us – he’d essentially flagged us down! We jumped in and in our best Spanglish, tried to ask what the hell was going on a the station and that’s when we learned that today, of all days, was the day that the sentencing had been given for the 9 politicians of the Catalan Independence Party and the followers of that party were not happy Jan!

Here’s a bit of brief history from what I can understand:

In 2017 Catalonya’s Independent party – who wanted to become a republic away from Spain bungled a vote to do with becoming independent… they didn’t do things lawfully and were initially charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and ‘misappropriating funds’ – the bigger charge of ‘rebellion’ was dropped, but they were all found guilty of the other two charges. Their fate has been discussed for the past 2 years, but today all 9 of members who were involved were sentenced to prison terms ranging between 9 & 13 years – pretty harsh in the eyes of most people, but especially their loyal supporters – 100s of 1000s of them, and they all took to the streets and more seriously – to the airport to share their disapproval.

Pic: El Pais

It was chaos! The police blocked the roads to the airport, so the protesters walked the 16km distance – it took them 3 hours, so the police were well prepared by the time they got there. Riot Police.

When we first arrived and finally go the cab our driver explained in arm flailing Catalonian (which is easier to understand) what was going on and that he would try to get us as close to our hotel as he could as all the roads were blocked, so he dropped us on Las Ramblas and then just gave arm waving directions. I had been to the square before, so was ok with where we were going…. then as the afternoon progressed, we wandered around for a bit and there didn’t seem to be anything else going on.

The feeling in the street for us was like they had a protest earlier on in the day, but that it had finished and everybody had gone home. We had a bit of tapas, looked around, but then when we got back to or hotel to sit and look at the cathedral, we heard the chanting and the cheering and the singing of what we learned was the Catalonian national anthem.

The view from our room…. at least we had something lovely to look at during the ‘troubles’

We could’ve been listening to a footy game from outside the stadium. There were police everywhere and helicopters flying overhead.

We weren’t sure if these were extra protests that had happened on the fly after the announcement of the sentences or if they were preplanned on top of the earlier marches – just in case the sentencing went south. We didn’t know how long they would go on for or how long they were going to occupy the airport for – we’re flying out in 3 days. There was utter chaos at the airport with quite a lot of people injured by the police brutality – many of the instances were filmed and uploaded straight to Twitter. It was horrifying!

This was at the airport Pic: NBC News

We considered our options – would we try to get a train to Madrid and fly out of there? Would we just stay in our hotel until Thursday? We emailed our lovely travel agent – Lyn Tyson (seriously, book her for all your travel needs – she’s awesome…. and how much of a relief it is to know she is a phone call away if things like this happen)

The noise we could hear from our hotel went on until about midnight and then when I got up to check at about 12.30am, the street was empty and the city was in silence.

Then today we woke up it was like nothing had happened! People were getting about their business, going on tours, eating tapas, sipping sangria, shopping, and going to work…. Nobody that we spoke to mentioned it at all.

Pic: Fodors

After yesterday I can’t imagine that that is the end of it and that there will probably be more protesting to come, but hopefully by then, we’ll be well and truely back in sunny Mandurah eating something other than tapas!

Fear not dear friends and family – I’m looking after Me Jenny and we are keeping ourselves extremely safe, avoiding major squares where people might gather and staying relatively close to our hotel area. Also the amount of police that are in the city should be making us feel safer. We have one more day, then we’re on our way home.

The river runs dry!

Our final tour in Valencia was to the City of Arts & Sciences. Valencia used to have a river running through the centre that used to flood all the time and after the last time in the 1950s they decided to divert the river around the city (flooding rivers seem to be a theme in Spain!). Anyway, they were left with an enormous dry river bed and didn’t quite know what to do with it.

They couldn’t just leave it as a gaping hole in the ground – it went for 9kms through the city. The choice was to make it a multi lane highway or an open public space….. so over the space or 30 years, they have made it into the most awesome open public space. Running tracks, playgrounds, walking/bike paths, baseball & football fields, ponds & fountains, a performance space…

… and this – the City of Arts and Sciences, which is an architectural marvel.

The second half of our tour was to be wined and dined by Nick, our chef who presented us with a 10 course degustation tapas dinner with matching wines on the top floor of Valencia’s tallest building.

The views weren’t too bad….

Then the sun went down and all the lights came on…

Then like clockwork – the moon came up and she was a beauty. It was one of those moons that were really red and full and so clear that you could see the little American flag not waving…. almost. But naturally, you can’t take good photos of the moon with your iPhone. It just doesn’t do it any justice.

But in real life, it just got better and better.

Our group consisted of a couple (one from the USA, who spoke a bit of Spanish and the other from Estonia – English speaking); a couple from Romania (he spoke a little bit of English, a more Spanish, she spoke both languages well); 3 older siblings from Spain who only spoke Spanish and us.

So, we wondered what was going to happen over dinner with this big language barrier, but thought that there were enough people with both Spanish and English that we should all get along well.

However…. the couple from Romania didn’t speak to anyone except each other, the Spanish trio spoke a little bit to each other, but not much and the man from USA talked solidly and exclusively about himself in English to us.

I tried desperately to use google translate to communicate with my table mate – one of the Spanish ladies which was funny even it if wasn’t successful, and so in my very broken one word Spanish and a bit of mime, we had a laugh together. It wasn’t until half way through the dinner that we learned Mr USA could speak Spanish and he spent what time he wasn’t regaling us with his achievements, letting the Spanish speakers know which part of his achievements they’d missed out on. He asked no questions. Maybe his knowledge of Spanish (and English) was limited to “I” statements only.

Anyway….. besides that little snippet, it was a lovely evening with a great view and delicious food….. and I may have a new best friend from Pamplona.

Paella time!

Today, as the title of today’s blog suggests – we were going to learn to make paella…. hopefully better than the one we had yesterday! We walked from the hotel through the old town to get to the school and passed some lovely buildings and parks along the way…

First we had to have a group photo… Sure we look happy to be in this pic… nothing unusual in this one… it’s only the beginning…

We followed our host – Orla (from Ireland) to the Centre Market to buy our ingredients… on the way there we passed a small square with this mural. It looks like an opera singer in a big frock standing in a paella pan…. I quipped to Me Jenny – ‘oh, aren’t you lucky that you didn’t decide to wear that today? That would have been embarrassing’, and a lady walking next to me said, ‘Oh, no, I think it’s an opera singer…. in a paella pan.’ Um…..

The Central Market has been around for yonks and is apparently the biggest undercover market in the all of Europe. I don’t know how they check these things… is that somebody’s job? I could do that job.

Anyway, the symbol or mascot of the Central Market in Valencia is the Cockatoo. That’s right, there’s one a the top of the building and in the logo. Apparently it’s because of the sound of the market – lots of chatter. Do cockatoos do a lot of chattering in Spanish? Maybe they do.

This market would have to be the freshest that Me Jenny and I have seen thus far. A lot of the stalls were closed today because it was a national holiday, but there was enough for us to do some purchasing. It used to hold over 1000 tiny stalls, but now there are approx 400, and they’re now a bit bigger.

We’ll just get a pic of that moment that we all climb the steps…. Me Jen and I are working our way to the back…

Orla went stall by stall and explained each of the ingredients and why you use one thing rather than another in a traditional paella.

And we’ll just get a photo of each stall we visit…. Can you spot us here? Major points if you can.

What about in this one?

Or here? (I think this one is my favourite)

Traditional Valencian paella, just so you know is made with chicken and rabbit and then beans, then you have your seafood version and a vegetarian/vegan version. Our group was making all three which are all prepared a little differently and Me Jenny and I opted for seafood.

In this tray of snails they were mostly sleeping, but there was one rogue dude who had climbed to the top of the basket, had a look over, contemplated his escape and then turned back around… Obviously I’m guessing that’s what he did – that would have taken an hour to stand and watch! I caught him on the downslide and made a guess at the rest.

We walked back to the school and donned our chef’s outfits… not too shabby. Me Jenny looked a little like she was going fishing in a dinghy before we did hers up at the back.

In the kitchen our ingredients were all set out for us and our paella pans (the pan is actually just called ‘paella’- apparently you call the food after the instrument.)

We met our Chef, Carolina who was a riot. She only spoke Spanish, so Orla translated everything, but Carolina was so animated that you could pretty much tell what she was saying….

Then we got cooking. It was chaotic and we didn’t always know what was happening, but it was good fun, and by the end….. I think this bottom photo shows the exact time that I asked Me Jenny if she had any idea what Chef Carolina had just said and Me Jenny replied, “nooooo!”

… and le voilà! That’s ours at the front.

Naturally we danced around the paella…..

Then we did a bit of posing with our paellas, then we got stuck in!

We were awarded a certificate that says “non professional” paella maker – just in case you tried to add it onto your resume… I tried to make my chef’s hat like Carolinas… I think I pulled it off.

And that was our day….. but not before one more group pic… front and centre for the finale.

Now that we’re experts…. who wants paella?

Let’s go fly a kite

This was the carpet that we walked on between the lift and our room in our Madrid hotel – it took 130 steps – Me Jenny counted (every time). Lucky it was pretty carpet…..

Then we hit the train station ready to head east(ish) to the coast – to Valencia.  I’ve got to say – I LOVE train travel and wish the we had it in WA.  Although the train is so fast here, I want it to go for longer.  Today we travelled at 300+ kms ph!  I only just barely got into my audio book and it was time to pack up and get off.

We got to our hotel and thought as we were on the coast, we should hit the beach – or at least a bar/restaurant near the beach. We asked a young chap at reception for a restaurant recommendation in an area near the marina. He suggested a place about 3kms north off the marina and we just went with it.

So it turns out that the place the young chap recommended was a bit run down, dirty and the table tops weren’t entirely attached the bottoms….. so we went two restaurants down … After deciphering what the hell “duckling grilled octopus” was – turns out it was octopus hearts – don’t you love google translate?

We tasted our first seafood paella. It was ok, but wasn’t as spectacular as we were hoping for. It seemed to lack ingredients. Maybe a muscle or two?  The traditional paella in Valencia has chicken, rabbit & beans, but we were by the sea, so it seemed like the ideal situation to try a seafood paella.  Also – just FYI, the word ‘paella’ refers to the pan in which the paella is cooked.  Did you know that?  We didn’t.

We were lucky enough to be entertained by this lovely chap giving his best “Girl from Ipanema” in Spanish.

When we’d finished we wandered back down the pathway towards the marina….. mainly to walk off the paella, but also do have a squizz at what goes on down here and to get us closer to a taxi…

People were using the beach for all sorts of activities…

Firstly, there were these wooden slatted paths, for people to shower on the beach, but then they don’t have to walk on the sand again – ingenious! Also great for wheelchair users.

In the 2-3kms we walked there were climbing equipment for kids, volleyball nets – like 25 of them – that’s a whole open air arena! There were also were cafes a plenty, places where you could learn to surf, paths wide enough for bikes and scooters, joggers and slow walkers. There were even basketball rings – I’m not sure how people would get a game going on the sand though???  It was late afternoon when people would have finished work and taking their ‘siesta’ – which doesn’t have to mean sleep… it really just means break from work.

We stopped to sit and watch these amazing kites flying.  There were two chaps controlling one each and they were mesmerising to watch…

There was a sandcastle – how amazing is this?  This is ‘sandcastle busking’ – a chap built it and then put the hat out the front to collect money from lookers….. 

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If you zoom in you’ll see he’s added his own drama…

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It’s a shame that I had just given all my change to this guy…

So after a couple of small cañas listening to this chap, we found the taxi rank and headed home… passing this statue in the middle of a roundabout !?  Any thought as to what the hell it might be?

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Welcome to Valencia!

The rhythm is gonna getcha

Our last day in Madrid. No tours, no early get ups, just an easy wander around and maybe we’ll buy some shoes? Who knows?

Me Jenny had read about a square not far from us that had a flower market. We found it on the map and headed in that direction. When we got there, we thought, oh bless…. there’s one stall….

… but as we walked in further, we saw that there were exactly 4 stalls. All a bit sad really, even though the colours were pretty and the flowers were pretty cheap!

The other night on our tapas tour we visited a stall in the Mercado de San Miguel. It has some history that is too drawn out to go into, but now it’s a tapas haven, full of tapas bars and seating for people to try different things. It’s a bit pricey, but it was all good. On the tour we only visited one stall and it was really crowded, so we decided to go back before the Spanish go for lunch and have another crack.

Here were some of the little delicious delicacies on offer…

There is some seating – but ALL taken, so most people just stand at the bar have a drink and quick bite and move on.

Then it was shoe shopping time.

With a pair of shoes for Me Jenny in hand, it was decided that we would take the long way home through the area we went on our tapas tour, but this time in the day time and down some streets that we hadn’t been before.

There were some groovy restaurant fronts…

And interesting murals…

Once home for a small siesta, we were jolted by the sound of drums and chanting. Out our window we watched the parade for World Mental Heath Day go by.

On our last night in Madrid decided to head back to Casa Alberto – one of the tapas bars we visited with our tapas guide, but again, we decided we were going to get there earlier than local Spanish people would turn up. This time we got a table and and it was a much more relaxing experience… even if the tables are so close together that you literally have to sit hip to hip with people behind you.

The way this place was run was fantastic, as were the people who frequent it (local Spanish people or people like us trying to fit in). There was no pushing and shoving, there were no loud yobbos – people were respectful and waited patiently – like they all knew the rules and knew that they weren’t going to miss out. Also the people working there were like a fine tuned machine. One person behind the bar and one person in front (and a couple roaming around). They knew where everybody was, what they’d ordered, what they were waiting on and where they were up to in their tapas experience. It was great to watch and be a part of. We also had some lovely tapas and a complimentary drink to finish – not sure what it was, but it was delicious.

Let me just talk to you briefly about the ‘rhythm’ in Spain…

7am-9am – breakfast
by 12pm (obviously starving, but not saying anything!)
2pm-4pm – lunch
6pm-9.30pm (not one bit hungry, then after 9.30pm too tired to think about eating!)
8.30pm-10.30pm – dinner

It’s no wonder so many primary school aged kids want to move to Spain. I’ve not directly asked any, but I’m sure they would when they discover that kids go to school from 9 until 2pm, then they go home for their lunch (2pm-4pm). However some other schools (depending on the area and school) go from 9am to 5pm with a 2 hour lunch break, so that might not be as enticing. But then they’re out and about with their parents in restaurants at 9 or 10pm for their dinner (some probably even later, but we were home in bed by then, so we wouldn’t know!). Some restaurants don’t even open their doors until 9pm. I’m sure that some families are eating in their own homes, but we didn’t witness that.

We asked one of our guides in Seville about the lateness and she couldn’t see a problem with it. “The kids go to bed by 11pm – they get 8 hours sleep a night. How much more do they need?” she said. Probably more than that is what I thought, but didn’t say out aloud and also – if kids are up until 11pm – when do the grown ups have quiet time?

Since we arrived in Spain we’ve been trying to eat like Spaniards – pushing lunch back until 3ish and then not eating again until about 8.00pm (which is still super early for people here). I can’t imagine that flying when we get home! #kitchenisclosed

This was a scene that we came across on the way home from our tapas meal at about 9.30pm. I think these poor babies were tired and ready to go home, but they sat there patiently waiting until their selfish, late eating human was finished (well I assume they did – we would have been home in bed by then!)

How mean! 😦

The lucky butt

Today’s cultural activity was a walking tour of old Madrid and then a tour of the Palace Real. Me Jenny and I don’t love a large group tour, so have opted for small groups or private tours when we can. I don’t enjoy wearing the ear piece and I hear better when I can see the guide’s face/lips… I find that in large groups the guide has to walk and talk, otherwise they’d get nowhere and I miss most of what’s being said.

And…. a first for us today – our small group consisted of us and a lovely Spanish speaking couple from Argentina, so our guide had to say everything twice – once in Spanish and then again in English. It probably made the tour twice as long as it needed to be.

So we started walking towards the palace, but just to see where we would go later on…. that’s the queue for people to get in – and that’s only half of them!

This tour really doubled up on a lot of information that a guide from the tapas tour told us in relation to the history of who was here and when the christians took over, etc… This chap below (don’t know if he’s somebody significant, our guide didn’t know) but he’s looking at an ancient wall from the Moorish times that they have preserved under glass…. whoever he is, rubbing his butt obviously brings you luck!

We also learned that the symbol of the city is the bear climbing up the ‘strawberry tree’. It never occurred to me that Spain would have bears, but apparently, they’re out there in the forests.

You can tell that this section of the city has ‘Moorish’ history because of how close the buildings are to each other. They loved a narrow street – making it shady for the people, and also having narrow windy streets was a defence tactic.

Having a tour in both Spanish and English really highlights how many more words are needed to explain something in Spanish. Spanish needs about 3-4 minutes of non stop words and then English 15-20 seconds – tops!

Here our guide is telling our Argentinian friends something in Spanish while Me Jenny and I stood aside and discussed why short pantaloons were invented.

If it looks like these buildings are on a bit of a lean, that’s because they are!

At the bottom of the curved street is the oldest restaurant in the world. 1725 is apparently when they opened their doors and they have the Guinness Book of Records certificate to prove it.

In the window they have a miniature dolls house version of the inside of the restaurant, so you can see that it goes over 3 levels. You can also see the miniature version of the kitchens.

It’s not a cheap place to eat – maybe for a special occasion? Probably safe to say that they are not the original prices.

In one of the main squares on the city – Plaza del Sol there is a building that used to be the post office and just outside on the pavement is this marker. It is their point of centre. Every street in Madrid (or possibly Spain, if you go by the map) is measured from this point. The streets are all numbered from this square as well, so Calle 1 is pretty close and if you’re after Calle 48, you’ve probably got a bit a walk ahead of you.

Street performers are having to step it up a notch here. I don’t know how long these two people had to do this for, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the money? A bit more inventive though that the standing statue.

Once we finished our walking tour, we headed back to the tour office to meet with some more people (!!!!) to do our palace tour. That’s right – more people and you know what that means…..

I guess the one good thing about going with a group is that you get to enter through the group entrance which is generally quicker.

So this is the palace – the royal family don’t live here anymore, but they do hold banquets and royal ‘do’s’ here on occasion.

You would think though with all their dough, that they’d do something about their shutters!

There’s a massive courtyard out the front and to the left the palace looks directly at the Cathedral – so when royals get married they do it in the Cathedral and then zip across to the palace for the shindig after.

So our tour group had about 30 people. ½ Spanish speakers and ½ English speakers. Our guide did a great job of flicking between both languages however there was a lot to say about each section of the palace, and as I explained Spanish seems to take about 5 times longer to get the information across, and when she did start the English version, she moved straight on into it, so you always missed the first few sentences trying to work out which language she was speaking in.

So since we were missing most of the information and there was a lot of standing around waiting in a very crowded palace, we thanked our guide, handed our ear pieces back and bid her adios. There were English signs in each room telling you what you needed to know… The palace started off quite sedate, but as you moved from room to room it got more ridiculously ornate (that rhymes!).

The one thing that I did hear her say is that the man in the painting below had a very big nose and that’s how you recognised him. I can’t tell you who he is though.

So whilst we sat in a square nearby with a caña (beer) in hand, we wondered which room in the palace our group would be up to….

Then we slowly wandered home stopping for lunch at a place that our tapas guide recommended. It was a wine/tapas bar with a groovy vibe. People came in and stood at this centre table, had a glass of wine and a tapas plate of something, then went on their way. The turn over is amazing.

… and lucky us – we found white asparagus again, so we took our time.