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.

Talking about Tapas

One of our organised tours in Madrid was a walking tapas tour which we were muy excited about. Our guide, a lovely French/Irish chap living in Madrid who looked a little like Bradley Cooper in the right light walked us around a few different areas of the city to show us different types of tapas. I was clearly very engrossed in what he was saying or the food was so good because I didn’t take any photos!

Part of the tour took us to the main square – the Plaza Mayor, which needs a tiny bit of interesting history…

Originally, Toledo was the capital of Spain, and even before that it was a Moorish city. Madrid was just a small military outpost that the Moors set up to protect Toledo from the Christians.

Felipe II decided to move the capital to Madrid in 1561 because he thought that the church and nobility had too much of a stronghold in Toledo, and he wanted more control. Maybe that’s where the saying “Holy Toledo!” came from?

Just on the outside of the city wall there was a market where people would sell their goods and because the weren’t technically in the city, they didn’t have to pay any taxes, so King Filipe II decided to build the 3 other walls to make the Plaza Mayor a square and thus, they were now in the city and had to cough up the dough.

In the centre of the Plaza Mayor there is a statue of Filipe III atop his horse, commissioned in the 1600s. In April 1931, during the Second Republic, the statue was damaged at the hands of some antimonarchists when they popped an explosive into the horses mouth. It was blown apart, however the most curious part came next… the explosion scattered hundreds of little bones around the square and people freaked out thinking it was possibly the spirit of Filipe III, but on closer inspection they found that the bones were from little birds who had, over the centuries, sought shelter in the horse’s mouth (and belly, which was hollow), but once they flew in, they couldn’t get back out and so the inside of the horse became a  cemetery of little birds.

When they repaired the statue, they made the horse’s mouth closed so that this tragedy would never be repeated.

Anyway, back to the tapas!

We went to quite a few places that sold traditional tapas dishes. For example there was one place that sold only bacalao (cod). Two men behind a bar and one bloke in the kitchen deep frying the fish and passing out tray after tray, then the men behind the bar would put two pieces on a plate and doll them out to customers with a tall thimble of wine. People stand at the bar, eat their fish, down the wine, have a chat with their mates and then move on. This place has been here since time began…

Below is a tapas bar called “Albertos” and it was this busy the whole time we were there. The tables are tiny and not frequently empty. It’s a first in first served basis at the front part of the bar and a sit down restaurant at the back where you order full meals, but out the front is all about the tapas. If you don’t have space at the bar it can be difficult to eat and drink and hold your bag at the same time all the while you’re having to move for people trying to get through and waiters carrying plates. I have to say it wasn’t terribly relaxing, but it had the best vibe out of all the places we visited. Me Jenny and I are planning to go back tomorrow night, perhaps a little earlier before the Spanish people get hungry.

A walk in the park

Our first real full day in Madrid… What to do? What to do? We had some tours planned and wanted to try and avoid going over the same ground, so today we decided to have a little look at the Park Retiro.

But first – brekky at the lovely hotel dining room with its magnificent dome…. even the silverware had an arty flair about it…

Then it was out into another glorious day…

The park was only a few blocks over from our hotel, so the walk was lovely in the shade of the buildings, and then we had these lovely long pathways full of statues of past kings and notable people… this bloke is “Sancho – the Brave” – I reckon he might have commissioned this one himself.

The Spanish (especially the Madridians claim that this is the most beautiful park in the world and they could be right!) The park covers 125 hectares and is beautifully kept. A little like New York’s Central Park where tourists and locals come to participate in all sorts of activities. Rollerblading, sport, group activities, you can hire a boat on the lake, take a stroll or just sit with a beer and watch the world go by…

This is the monument of Alfonso the XII opened by his son Alfonso XIII.

And this is the spot where you take your selfies. There were people getting up on the pillars to do their ‘Insta-worthy, – just being natural – just sitting here and somebody took my photo – look away poses’, but Me Jenny wouldn’t be in it!

We strolled right around to the monument to get a closer look… She’s pretty big.

Then we sat on the steps and watched the boats and the ducks and the occasional fish jump out of the water.

This duck was doing a bit of ghosting….

And this one was hightailing it to get in on the boat action. “Susan! I said I DID want to come on the boat!! Wait for me!”

There is this barge boat that does a round of the lake each hour (I think) regardless of whether it has passengers…. these three people had it all to themselves.

In another section of the park there is the Crystal Palace – inspired by the one in London. It was apparently built for exhibitions and not, as you probably first thought, for people who don’t throw stones…

This was a lovely spot to sit and watch…. there was so much action. In the pond there are ducks, geese, swans and turtles then across the pond – on the path you can see in the photo below – there was a. constant parade of action – police on horses, people rollerblading, people stretching and lunging, walking groups, etc…. that’s right, I said lunging.

We also witnessed an attack on a turtle which was despicable…

The turtles were just sitting there, minding their own business in the sun when these two menacing pigeons flew in and eyed them off…

Then one pigeon just flew in and landed on the turtle’s shell! He quickly slipped right off, but still, his intentions were clear.

One final look at this tiny paradise in the middle of one of Europe’s busiest cities.

There are buskers all around the park – most of them very pleasant to listen to, except maybe one chap who was practicing a particular section of one song and he wasn’t going to move on until he got that bit right! These guys were good though.

All that walking lead us to a fairly quiet cafe overlooking the lake where we could partake in a cold beverage…

And have a chat with a local…

Just outside the park and in fact all over the city there are these statues…

The artworks (which come from a 1656 painting by Diego Veláquez called Las Meninas that hangs in the Prado Museum) is the brainchild of Spanish sculptor Antonio Azzato, who designed the sculpture and recruited a group of artists, fashion designers and singers to help decorate the Meninas, which he delivered to them white, like a blank canvas.

Here’s the original painting… Les Meninas means “Ladies in Waiting”

Everything in Spain is the oldest or the biggest or the first…. this fortress gateway is apparently older than the Arc de Triumph in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin…. probably put together!

This is Madrid’s Town Hall! It used to be housed in a fairly ‘towny hally’ looking building up the street a bit, but they clearly needed a few more rooms.

I tell you what the Spanish do well and that’s outside spaces. This walkway is the median strip between two directions of a Main Street. It’s lovely with places to sit, fountains, trees for plenty of shade…. and more importantly our hotel was just at the other end of it.

Made it to Madrid

So the good news is that we got to Madrid…. we managed to check out of the hotel, catch the train and arrive at our Madrid hotel all on the correct day! Phew!

Madrid Hotel – The Westin Palace…. they tried to give us a room with a ‘city view’, which we booked, however ‘city view’ to them actually meant ‘a view IN the city – in this case of the building across the street which was covered with scaffolding and I was having none of that. So a little chat with Elise at reception and she gave us this view of the fountain. Gracias Elise.

We got ourselves organised and then took ourselves out for a walk. I quite like a botanic garden and Me Jenny loves any sort of garden, so that’s the direction we headed.

First we passed the Prado Museum. We’re right in the centre of the cultural world here….. but I think we’ll probably give it a miss. Culture overload!

While staring at this statue and trying to work out who he is…. I offered, “Do you think he might have been a painter?” Me Jenny, “or a lollypop lady?” Who knows?

The botanic gardens seemed to be going through a bit of a transition period with about 80% of the sections needing a lot of work – weeding and cutting back and planting, etc…. I’m no gardener, but I know for €6 each there should have been a fair bit more to look at….

Here are the highlights…

It was a lovely place to sit and do some contemplating though. There were lots of people laying on benches like this reading books or eating their lunch. Perhaps they pay an annual fee to come in each day or maybe if you’re local, you don’t pay?

Me Jenny appreciating a little orchid in the glasshouse.

Then we came across the bonsai section! (Matt – I thought of you immediately) It’s a bit of a shame that they weren’t sitting against a background of a different colour so they stand out more, but there were a hundred of them. So lovely.

After our visit, we stopped off at a cafe for a quick beer and as we were sitting, watching the world go by, I noticed a woman sitting down at the next cafe with her partner. My immediate thought was that I thought I recognised her and my mind went through that whole ‘where would I know her from?’ thing. Then it hit me – this was a woman that I’ve never met in person and have only seen a profile picture on the website of the celebrant association that we both belong to. She lives in Victoria, so we’ve never met, but we have been on the same conference call (which doesn’t help to visually identify a person!). Anyway, I knew that she was in currently in Spain – to walk the Camino de Santiago, so the chances were higher and the more I looked at her, the more certain I was that it was her. So I approached and said, “Hi, sorry to bother you, but do you speak English?” she answered, “Yes.” “Are you Australian?” I continued. “Yes” she said, more curiously. “Are you Leslie from Victoria?” I completed my line of questioning to a look of total confusion as to who the hell this person in front of her was and her partner commented, “Oh for goodness sake!, she knew somebody on the bus yesterday!”

So I explained who I was and we marvelled at how small the world was and how I have a talent for recognising somebody I’ve never met from a photo I’ve only seen a small handful of times in one of the busiest cities in Europe across the other side of the world from where we both live.

I mean what are the chances of that happening? No seriously, I want somebody to do the maths.

We were all just as amazed as this chihuahua!