Our Christmas in Spain

 

olympics

Ringo World- Opening Soon

Season’s greetings to everyone. Can you believe it’s 2004?

Madrid has much to offer. It is located on a plateau some 800 metres above sea-level which results in great winter weather. The sky is blue, cloudless and sunny. No proud Queenslander would believe me but it could be Brisbane in June. It is gorgeously calm and whilst only about 10 degrees during the afternoon, is ideal for exploring the parks, plazas and handsome wide streets.

With its elevated position, central lake, and café, the Retiro is among the best of Spain’s parks. It is so well planned and relaxing that we visited twice including Christmas Day (along with a few thousand locals but not the Beckhams who, according to some girls I teach, were in Lapland). Kerry is adamant she had the best ever coffee there.

This glorious weather partly led to us avoiding Madrid’s famous museums in favour of the outdoors; no doubt also thinking of London’s grey sogginess. Near the palace we found a park hosting clusters of older men playing boules, sat on a bench and thoroughly enjoyed their banter (knowing no Catalyun isn’t a barrier), the vigorous competition and the small but powerful magnets dangling on string with which they picked up and carried their metal balls. A rustic and charming episode; which delayed our Sangria and Estrella beer whilst also proving the best entertainment is often free, local and random.

REtiro 2

We’re fans of hop-on, hop-off bus tours when orienting ourselves to new cities and can recommend these in Spain. Whilst undertaking the Madrid monument excursion I was a little surprised that the pre-recorded commentary was punctuated by music. Some flamenco maybe? Or tunes swarthy and Mediterranean to set one’s passion alight? As we drove past the Prado museum and then the 2,800 room Real Palace what were we listening to? My apologies if you willingly played this in the last month but I don’t think I can imagine a CD which contrasts more weirdly with Madrid’s architectural elegance and urban poise than the kitsch 70’s disco stink that is Boney M’s Christmas Album.

Our Spanish Christmas soundtrack reached its curious nadir in a café by the Plaza del Sol as we dined on Boxing Day. Maybe it’s just me but if you were going to record a version of everyone’s favourite, ‘Little Drummer Boy’, wouldn’t you ensure that the final edit featured, above everything else, a snare drum? Isn’t his drumming (pa-ra-pa-pum-pum) the gift he offers when he (poor little tyke) has nothing else to give? However the song we heard as we ate our pizza and salad totally lacked percussion. It was like hearing Duelling Banjos played solely on kazoos. Surely the banjo (hence the title!) is as connected to that song as the famous scene from Deliverance of gap-toothed Southerners licking their lips and eagerly loosening their trousers.

A cable-car journey across the Camp de Caso; one of Madrid’s biggest parks, was memorable. We’d avoided the park at night because our Lonely Planet told us it was quite seedy and possibly a little dangerous. So there we were Friday lunchtime when Kerry first spotted one down below. Toward one end of the park a thin road crawls through the hilly, scrubby wilderness. There they were. Long white boots, G-strings and skimpy tops. Dozens of hookers along the road making it a surreal, snaking, outdoorsy knocking shop.

guell

Many inquisitive cars quietly crept (do Goodyear make a tyre named the Brothel Creeper?) up the hill and some were parked near the trees; conceivably swaying, mid-transaction, Sandman Panel Van style. It was not many degrees above freezing and the girls were near naked so I just hoped their mums had included a thermos of hot soup in their packed lunches. Just to the north is a theme park complete with roller coasters and Tower of Terror so Camp de Caso caters for everyone’s entertainment needs. Amusement rides for the urchins and courtesy of the girls on the road, amusement rides for the office worker who has, as far as his colleagues are concerned, slipped out for a lonely lunch.

Our train ticket indicated that we would depart for Barcelona at 7:45 and in decidedly un-British fashion, that is exactly what it did. If I were to pass the rest of my days without drawing breath whilst on a bus I would be delighted. But train travel is an exciting, romantic affair. We had cosy, ample seats, headphones for the audio entertainment and a kindly attendant gave us sweets from his cane basket. TV monitors constantly updated our progress on a digital map and told the temperature and our speed which was a steady 200 k’s; quite leisurely for European trains but surprisingly quicker and smoother than a 1984 Nissan Exa. The ticket also suggested that we’d pull into the Barcelona Sants station at 1:05. We did. Splendid stuff.

Barcelona is a dynamic, invigorating city. From our motel room balcony we could see the Sagrada Familia; the astonishing church Anton Gaudi began building in the late 1800’s. He was still shaping his moderniste masterpiece in 1925 when he stepped under an accelerating tram. However the project continues with the temple’s 170-metre central steeple to be completed by 2020 (I wouldn’t book a room just yet). Therefore like much in Europe that we’ve wanted to enjoy, it is hidden behind scaffolding and green meshing. Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Athens’ Pantheon, Budapest’s Heroes’ Square and the Watford KFC are just some iconic monuments that have annoyingly been under repair when we’ve visited.

Sagrada

Kerry and I rode the funicular (it sounds like a combination of fun and tubercular which is a fair description) up to Montjuic; the mountainous site of the 1992 Olympics where we walked around the main stadium. We also peered across the diving pool and towers that have Barcelona’s cityscape as a magnificent backdrop and offer a sporting vista only surpassed by the MCG scoreboard every time Collingwood is deservedly beaten.

Apart from Gaudi’s various organic sculptures, the highlight of Guell Park was a grungy Spanish busker. Her throaty interpretation of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was a cracker despite our confidence that, whilst she was singing in English, like Yoko, she undoubtedly spoke none. But she certainly earnt the couple of Euros (coins not kangaroos) we dropped into her hat. Our Spanish Christmas holiday was wonderful.

bobby

 

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