Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My new home

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.

Madrid is a funny city.  Indeed, I have a feeling that it is not just Madrid, but all of Spain that I would feel this way about, if only I had seen all of Spain.  As it is, I have explored a fair amount of Madrid city, and some of the surrounding cities and towns when A and I take to the car for a weekend adventure.

There are things you just simply must, or cannot, do here in Madrid.  The Ten Commandments of Madrid, if you will.  Ahh to hell, I'll just say 'Spain' until I am proven otherwise.

For example.  A food related example, of course.

One must not eat a meal without a glass of wine, or beer (weather permitting).  I swear every time I eat out and order an agua con gas I get the strangest looks from waitstaff, and the occasional "vino? cereveza?"  and when I say "no, gracias" they shake their heads slightly and walk off muttering to themselves.  I get a similar response at the end of the meal, which leads me into my next Commandment...

One cannot possibly finish a meal without dessert, or at the very least, coffee.  For real.  More head shaking, more confusion, and most often - arguing with me that I should have dessert.  Explaining the dessert menu to me again, as if this will somehow change my mind and entice me to the dark, sugary side.  I understand lunch is the biggest meal of the day.  I also understand it is breaking their brains for me to pay for something I am not consuming (a typical menú del día is a set price for 3 courses plus drinks) but I am OK with that.  It is still a bargain, as far as I'm concerned, to have two courses plus drinks for around €10.

More examples...

One must not ever be overly polite and/or outwardly enthusiastic or joyful about life.  Seriously. Don't smile too much at people or you'll be treated like a leper with women pulling their small children out of your reach and others blatantly giving you the suspicious stink-eye.  Similarly, using phrases such as 'thank you very much' or 'please' or hell even too many words will garner you suspicious looks from waitstaff, in particular.  The Spanish tend to bark their orders as opposed to convey them.  In Australia: "I'll have a glass of the Printhe Riesling, please".  In Spain: "vino blanco". I say to hell with that, and usually add "por favour", because, well, I wasn't raised in a fucking barn.  It does, however, make it fairly easy for non-Spanish speakers to be able to effectively communicate their needs without learning too many words.

I really have warmed to my new home though, despite the weather doing the opposite, and find I don't really miss Brisbane that much.  I miss some things of course, the convenience of having several brands of an item available without any real searching; my parents, my cat, my mates.  But A and I have created a new life together, a new family, and I have started making new friends and enjoying Madrid for all its quirks and hidden secrets.  It is humbling and fascinating to be living in a city that is practically ancient by Australian standards; brimming with history - testaments to which can be seen in nearly every village you drive through (or visit!) in the form of 800 year old churches, thousand year old stone walls.. Europe is so old it can make your teeth hurt when you think about it long enough.  I feel I will never discover enough of her secrets, but I am content at the pace in which A and I explore the countryside, gently getting to know small village after small village.  It is a very different life to the one I left behind, but not at all one I'm unhappy about. I do love my new life, my new home, my new family.

Till next time,
M x

A weekend in Paris

Wow I have been a slack tart.  So we went to Paris end of May (whoops, it's October..) and had an absolutely delightful three day getaway together.  I booked a bed & breakfast in Bastille, and every morning at 8am we were treated to a gorgeous picnic basket full of freshly baked bread, croissants, jam, butter (OH HOW I HAVE MISSED THEE), yoghurt and fruit, ham, boiled eggs and cheese. What a fantastic way to start the day.

It was a lot colder in Paris than I had anticipated - so take note dear reader: if you wish to visit Paris in May you'll need something a lot warmer than a cotton skirt and linen jacket.  Or, you could just do what we did, and go shopping.  Gloves, scarf and trench coat later, and I wasn't shivering and shaking uncontrollably and could actually appreciate the beauty of the city.

Day one, we thought we'd walk down to Notre Dame and view the cathedral in all her splendour; I had read about her and also wanted to visit the catacombs and see the historical artefacts on display.  We quickly discovered that 10am is far too late to start heading to the cathedral, as the lines were wrapped around the whole building and then across one of the bridges.  I'm sure most of you who know me know this: I don't do queues. Unless it's Disneyland in which case bring on the hour long line to the Indian Jones ride!  So we circled around the cathedral and gardens, taking photos, absorbing the atmosphere, and then traversed one of the quaint stone bridges to the other side of the river again, and walked for hours along the riverbank, quietly holding hands and just simply enjoying the atmosphere.

One of the many things I love about A is that he's about as interested in art museums/galleries as I am, so we skipped that option and took to roaming the narrow cobblestone streets, poking our noses into little shops and getting a feel for the city outside of the tourist hotspots.  We did of course go and see the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe and many other items on the usual 'must do' list of Paris, but the moments I remember most fondly are the simple ones; the incredibly stylish Parisian woman walking past with her tiny little dog (also stylishly dressed); the girl on the bike lazily cycling past with a baguette under her arm (for real); and countless other "you're not in Kansas anymore" moments.

From the whole three days in Paris, the one thing I remember most fondly is - surprise - the food.  I had done some solid research before we left, and booked us into two highly recommended restaurants close to our hotel. They were exceptional.  One was a degustation-only menu that I will remember to the day I die I'm sure, it was that good; and the other was an intimate dining experience where your Chef is also your waiter and he is incredibly passionate about his business which of course leads to an excellent dining experience.  We ate our way around Paris, basing our daytime meals on mother's recommendations, and for the most part, she was spot-on.  We did stop off at Angelina for their infamous hot chocolate and dessert - it was a disappointment of epic proportions.  The hot chocolate had that weird not-quite-chocolate taste and the dessert was mostly whipped cream, but I suppose the thing that made us gasp the most was the price tag.  €30-something for a coffee, a hot chocolate, a water and this tiny dessert.  GOOD LORD.

Paris is an interesting city.  I believe we barely scratched the surface of what makes her tick, but I think we did get a good taste (literally and metaphorically) of her essence.  If opportunity arises in the future for us to go back and spend some more time in Paris, or broader France - I wouldn't hesitate to say yes.

Blessed Be
M x

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gym musings

I realise this is probably not a Madrid, or even Spain-specific post.. but... here goes.

I really like my gym, for the most part. It's an easy walk from home through pretty gardens and our generally lovely neighbourhood, and it has a lot of machines and free weights and barbells, dumbbells so you never really have to wait for anything for too long. The staff are pleasant and smiley and know I don't speak Spanish so make an effort to say 'hello' to me which I think is sweet. I usually get there early, and it still smells of the vacuuming and sanitiser that's been liberally applied to every (I hope) surface - because towels are not compulsory. WHAT THE HELL!? How are towels not compulsory? They're not even suggested! So many sweaty dudes are dripping all over every surface and some days I feel like slapping a dude upside the head and pointing to all the man funk he's left behind. Unless I am sleeping with you, I really do not want your sweat on my body. I thought this was a fairly universal concept; apparently I can be wrong on such things. Yesterday, I had to go ask the front desk for some sanitiser and wipes so I could clean up a puddle - I kid not, dear reader - a puddle of sweat that some inconsiderate mid-20s wannabe lothario had left behind. It took a lot of gesticulating and using broken Spanglish to get my message across, but eventually the tiniest gym bunny you'll ever see (really, she's delightful, I'd put her at around 5ft tall, a size 0 and most of it muscle, she's worked hard for every gram of it too, I'd bet on it) followed me with more paper towel that I thought was necessary and even she, who works around sweat all day looked disgusted. She thoroughly wiped down the bench for me and smiled, and I went to work doing my rows. This brings me to the topic of today's rant (yes, I actually have one):

People Who Need A Smack At the Gym

1. The sweaty dude who shuns towels
You know this guy I'm sure. He's sweating it up all over the place, dripping like he's a goddamn water fountain, spraying sweat all over the cardio machines and leaving pools of it on the benches and weight machines. Apparently towels are bad for his health, because he never even has one with him, let alone uses one. Or possibly worse - I'm not sure which is worse, to be honest - he has a towel, and it lays neatly folded at his feet, which creates this urge within you to yell USE IT! IT IS NOT DECORATIVE! ARRRGHHHH!! We have a couple of these that I've noticed at my gym, and they are driving me crazy. If I could somehow pre-empt their movements, I would make sure I was always a machine ahead. Sadly, I seem to arrive thirty minutes after them, and they've already slicked up all the surfaces I wish to touch with their man funk. Perhaps they think it's a statement of how hard they've worked? Or their virility? Or perhaps their mothers need a kick too because they're completely bloody oblivious.

2. The guy who thinks the gym is a pickup zone
I can honestly say, I have never ever gone to the gym with any intention or desire to be hit on. I really just want to get in there, work as hard as I can motivate myself to do, burn as much as I can muster, lift as heavy as I can manage, hit fatigue and go home. Most days I don't even brush my hair before I go (but I always brush my teeth before I go! Shout out to Jayvan Ruddick-Collins who knows my minty-fresh breath on gym mornings!), my clothes *barely* match and the latest ovulation pimple is on full display for the world to see. I don't even make eye contact with other gym-goers most days, because I'm really not that fucking interested in what Muscles McGee over here slamming weights is doing. If I look in the mirrors, it's not so I can flip my hair over my shoulder and smile brilliantly at any nearby males, it so I can make sure my dodgy shoulder isn't rotating forward, or my back is straight, or I'm squatting deep enough. Some mornings I see myself for the first time that day when I'm correcting my form and I think "geez what the hell is going on with your hair this morning?!" - but then I get back to working out, because that is what I'm here for. So it irritates to me to no end, that the last week I have had to deal with a couple of numpties who somehow believe my mere presence at the gym means I'm interested in them.

Guy A: So I'm running flat out on the treadmill (current cardio is High Intensity Interval Training, so when I say flat out, I mean FLAT OUT), my earbuds jammed firmly in my skull, listening to Galvanize (omg how good is that song!), and this dude who honestly looks like I could be his mother, is working on the machines behind me. Groovy. I've got big mirrors in front of me, so I'm checking my form and trying to breath properly and hit the treadmill lightly and make sure my knees aren't all wonky, and next thing I know, Chuckles here is coming over because APPARENTLY if you look in his direction (e.g. behind myself) it's an invitation. Then he's on the treadmill next to me, I see him check my speed so of course he has to match it, despite being pint-sized and having no hope in hell of hitting the speed I can with my long legs (thank you genetics) - he's one of those guys, who just has to be bigger, better. Can't let "a girl" be better than him. Eesh. Anyway, next thing he's grinning at me in the mirrors, trying to get my attention. Naturally, I turned up the volume on Galvanize and continued doing what I was doing, paying him no attention. He damn nearly killed himself trying to keep up the speed and eventually had to give up and get off the treadmill and slink to the back of the room. Really?! REALLY?! WHILE I'M RUNNING?! You think now is a good time?!

Guy B: This one just blew my mind. Again, on the treadmill, doing my HIIT, and this idiot actually came up to the mirrors next to me, did that head-raise nod "how you doin'?" thing and then lifted his shirt and pointed to his abs. I just.. I can't.. I don't even have words enough in Spanglish to tell him what a fucking idiot he made of himself. I actually snort-laughed (which screwed up my breathing for my running - so thank you for that, asshole) and almost missed a step I thought it was so ludicrous. You know how you sometimes meet someone and think "I wonder why they're single?" - I will never wonder why this idgit is single. Good Lord.

Guy C:  The follower.  He actually followed me around the gym.  Stopped what he was doing when he saw me come in, and followed me from machine to machine.  When I left, I checked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't going to continue the trend, and follow me home.  Creepy. *shiver*

3. The girl who thinks the gym is a pickup zone
HER. I HATE HER. She's making life difficult for the rest of us who are just trying to bloody well work-out and not have to deal with idiots as mentioned above. She's got her perfectly coiffed, long hair (as long as mine, the one I'm thinking of in particular) out. I mean.. not tied back/up/away. It's all flowing tresses beautifully manicured that if we were out on the street I'd think pleasant thoughts about, but in here, with her flicking it over her shoulder and smiling hopefully at the wannabe lotharios, I just want to witness it catch in the treadmill belt. Ok ok ok maybe I don't have quite so violent thoughts all the time, but really. How is that even remotely comfortable? I can barely deal with my hair out and flowing around my like some goddamn watery veil with its own life force when I am out in public and trying to look pretty for A.  She's wearing makeup, and totally cute matching outfits, from her shoelaces to her earrings (yes people - earrings at the gym), and I swear to god she's walking at a speed my grandmother would snort at.  She is the reason why the rest of us honest-to-god-I'm-just-here-to-exercise people are getting annoyed.  Although - can't the dudes see the difference between my sweaty-plastered-to-my-head (yet somehow, magically, with tufty peaks & horns sticking out the side of my head) hair, and her just-been-blowdried hair? And our outfits? I look like I'm wearing my big sister's hand-me-down clothes half the time - she looks like she's just bought the latest outfits as seen on the cover of a glossy Nike magazine.  EESH.

4.  The inconsiderates - all lumped together
I'm talking about the weight slammers who make you jump every 10 reps because the weights are too damn heavy for them to adequately handle (but don't tell their fragile masculinity that); or the dudes who somehow manage to take over all three benches when there's only two of them (!!); or the guy this morning who, when I was attempting a PB at deadlifts, came over and got up in my face and asked if I was using the bench (YES - THAT IS WHY MY STUFF IS ON IT), causing me to stop mid-set and thus not really know if I achieved my PB or not, so I could move my stuff off the bench because I thought he had some desperate time-sensitive need to use it.. only to watch him put his towel on it and then walk away to use the tricep pull-down machine ten metres away.

I tell you folks, I just shake my head.  We do have some interesting and amusing characters at my gym though, people who routinely make me smile and appreciate the variety of life.  There's a couple of guys who work out very seriously and who do it together, encouraging and supporting and spotting for each other, pushing each other to achieve heavier, faster, better.  I love those guys, I love watching them egg each other on, cheer each other.  Makes me yearn for some of my friends back home.  There's the dude who is seriously in his late 70s, who wears the most obscenely short-shorts but who has the most killer legs and thus can wear them without ridicule.  There's the girl who seems quite sweet and normal, asking me for advice on how to execute various exercises, who I wish I could see again because I think I've finally mustered up the courage to ask her out (on a friend date - settle down people..); the girl who makes these cute little snorting noises when she's doing her workout; the guy who works so damn hard at bulking up and has the most serious look of concentration on his face when he's doing his shoulder routine.  Then of course, the guy who looks like the Dude's landlord (The Big Lebowsky) including his clothing, who does his chest press with his legs crossed in the air.

All things considered, it is still a consistent highlight of my day.  Got any gym stories you'd like to share?

Lemme know!
M x

Monday, May 11, 2015

Road Trippin' - Monasterio de Piedra

The whole past week, A has been like a toddler with a secret. His enthusiasm is absolutely gorgeous, and has made me smile almost daily when we talk about the "mystery place" he's taking me to on the weekend. I had absolutely no idea where we'd be going, other than I needed to wear comfortable walking shoes, because we would be doing a lot of walking, and it involved going somewhere in his car (YAY). Friday night I found out that we would have to leave the house around 9am to embark upon our journey, which really piqued my interest, because we never get out of bed at 9am on a Saturday, let alone leave the house at that time.

Having learnt my lesson from our trip to Avila and my level of personal cold going from 'geezuz' to 'omg I think I might actually be getting hypothermia', I packed my big warm parker, gloves, and a scarf, just in case. Grabbing my camera bag I had a little frisson of excitement spiral through my chest, and as he bundled me out the front door I was practically bursting with curiosity.

We drove straight out of Madrid on the highway, no messing around with trying to find the right road, no circling the city's ring road looking for our exit.. A drove with a sense of purpose, and before I had really realised it, we were out of the city, stopping at a gas station somewhere rural. Fields of poppies lay to the side of the gas station, and remembering how much my sister loves them, I felt compelled to get out of the car and take photos. I was rewarded with not just the poppies, but Scottish thistle and a myriad of other beautiful wildflowers foreign to me.. but the piece d'resistance? Flashes of wild rabbits, hopping rapidly away from me, their fluffy white tails bouncing in and out of the bushes. They were far too quick for me to get a photo, but I did manage to get a good look at what appeared to be mum, dad and baby rabbit. This makes me happy.

We met back at the car, and piled in ready for the long drive ahead. I didn't realise (of course! I had no idea of our destination) how far we were going - we drove for two hours before A pulled off the highway. The road took us through a quaint little village, then through farmland rich with green crops shivering in the breeze, then past orchards of fruit trees, and finally up into the hills. We turned a few curves, entered one of those very European-looking tunnels in the rock of the cliff, and came out the other side to the most amazing view of a sea-green lake, the sun shimmering on the flat surface, hills dipping down as if drinking from the inviting water. It was so absolutely perfect, that moment of discovery, the hills parting and yielding the spectacular vista, that I think I actually gasped out loud and startled A a little.

Up, up, up we drove, into the hills, climbing giving us a greater view of the lake and the village of Piedra at its shores. After a few minutes we reached the car park of the monastery and it became clear to us that we weren't the only ones who had thought it was a nice day for a walk through history. There were thousands of tourists but remarkably it was reasonably well organised, with car park assistants guiding traffic and only a few idiots trying to cut the queue.

Top tip - if you want to visit the monastery, book your tickets online, before you go - do not attempt to do it in the massive queue like we did - there is no phone reception there. The line was long, and we did wait about an hour, but it was well worth it. The gardens are impressive, beautiful and filled with waterfalls everywhere you look. There are charming little streams connecting the falls together, and they pool into a beautiful lake on the other side of the walk. Be prepared for stairs though - a LOT of stairs that were carved into the rock of the cliffs by the monks hundreds of years ago, with rickety rails put in as an afterthought in more recent years. If you don't like crowds, you don't like walking, you don't like stairs and you aren't that fussed on waterfalls and a pretty park, my recommendation would be to skip the walk, visit the monastery itself and then sit under the big beautiful trees and picnic on your lunch from a lazy position on the grass - you'll still see the biggest waterfall and you won't have to shuffle along like cattle with everyone else.

The monastery is half in (very romantic) ruins, half in good order, and well worth an hour to walk around and fully appreciate the beauty and history of the building and monks who lived there. I've posted numerous photos so have a look at those if you're interested. I love that through the ruins you can see the green of the grass, dotted with the beautiful short white wild daises that are so prolific in this part of the world. There's something terribly romantic about it all.

We headed home after spending the day walking around, poking our heads in and out of alcoves, and as we were hurtling down the highway, tired but happy, A says to me "I think I know where we're going next".

Chat soon,
M x

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Road trippin' - Avila: The Town of Stones and Saints

Those of you who have read my American adventure blogs, will understand this about me: I love road tripping. I love nothing more than to get into a comfortable vehicle ("comfortable" for me equals: power steering, power windows, a functional digital radio, a reliable engine, good suspension, ABS brakes and dual airbags. I am otherwise not particularly concerned about type or size of car, or engine capacity) and hit the road. First stop - gas station for gas, water, road snacks. There's something very inviting about the open road.. some kind of sense of throwing convention out the window, embracing the freedom a motor vehicle offers, the independence of choosing your own path (literally and figuratively) to where you want to go. So it will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, when I tell you that I have expressed this love of road tripping to A, who like the lovely gentleman he is, has indulged my bitumen-traveling desires not once, but twice in the past two weeks.

The last weekend in April, we drove (yay! I was happy just climbing in his gorgeous car) to Avila, the Town of Stones and Saints; a medieval walled city built in Romanesque style, rich in history and beauty. I was completely unaware that Avila is at higher altitude than Madrid, so after sticking my arm out our bedroom window decided that a light jacket and jeans would be fine.. boy was I wrong. I stepped out of the comfort of A's car and straight into a blast of icy wind that had me tugging my scarf (thank god for bringing a scarf) around my nose and mouth and thinking to myself "shit". It was a slightly overcast morning, which made it worse of course, and as we made our way up the hill from the parking garage towards the true centre of town (and our lunch reservation) I did genuinely wonder if I would be able to actually see the city, or if I would snarf-and-run after lunch. Thankfully, three courses and half a bottle of wine later, and I was practically merry with warmth.

The history of Avila goes back as far as the 1st Century (say WHAT?! Yes, first century..) but it didn't get its impressive walls until Raymond of Burgundy commissioned them in 1088. The gothic cathedral inside the city walls began construction in 1107, and took two centuries to fully build. It really is breathtaking. Incredibly high, arched ceilings; ornate woodwork and stained glass; bronze and gold metal work inlaid into the highest points of the ceilings. We spent a fair amount of time walking through the halls and corridors of the cathedral, marvelling at the beauty and craftsmanship that had gone into building it. I had another deeply moving spiritual experience in one of the alcoves, and took many photos to try to capture the atmosphere inside.

Other than the cathedral, there are other churches to admire, and plenty of cobblestoned, winding streets begging you to get lost in. You can climb up some very steep stairs and walk along the fortified wall - which I highly recommend, as not only does it offer spectacular views of the valleys across to the snow-capped mountains in the distance, it also gives you a good angle at which to see the storks nesting on the rooftops, and a view back into the city, to see things you hadn't noticed at ground level.

We spent the afternoon wandering the walls, finding our way back to our car (thank goodness one of us has a good sense of direction..) and buckling up for the drive home. A was kind enough to show me the button for the butt-warmer in my seat (I love his car..) and after my butt had thawed to a reasonable degree, he piped up with "I think I know where I'm going to take you next weekend".

Did I mention I love this man? Dreamy.

Till 'next weekend',
M x

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why are there potato chips in shop windows?

You know what's weird? Well.. a lot of things are. But.. this.. this is particularly odd. Potato chips (crisps, for those playing in the UK) in shop windows. I mean... up against the storefront window, in some kind of glass or perspex giant box. I'm assuming the shopkeep scoops them out and puts them in little baggies for customers who say "I'll have a bag of chips please".. or "Tiene patatas fritos por favor" (check my broken Spanish!). I just find this seriously odd. I mean.. seriously odd. It seems very unhygienic, for one.. also - don't chips go kinda soft and icky when exposed to air and moisture for long periods? Isn't that why they come in those sealed bags? And.. I mean... who wants someone touching their chips? Or sneezing on them? And why chips? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

It's been a good week. I've done a fair amount of walking around our lovely neighbourhood, and the surrounding barrios. We live in Estrella, which translates to 'star', and our street name translates to 'southern cross'. I think that has a lovely bit of kismet to it, a feeling of fated paths crossing, that my home in Spain shares the name of a much loved emblem for my birth home. I've joined a gym at long last - it is a cheerful 5 minute walk across two streets and through a lovely neighbourhood garden. The staff there speak a little English, which is nice. I decided I would tackle going back to my workouts in a very typical 'me' manner, and went all in from day one. By day three I was somewhat crippled, as I'd hit my back and my legs hard on days one and two. I decided a sensible approach would be to rest on Wednesday, and resume my efforts again on Thursday. It was a good strategy, and my body is responding well to the much-needed kick.

Skyped with mum again this morning, got to see my gorgeous little furchild on camera - poor little man looked so confused as to where mummy's voice was coming from. He settled on mum's lap and gave her hand a wash, which was heartwarming to see. Apparently he'd been happily curved up on dad's lap "helping" him read a book (I can picture it right now.. LB shoving his face repeatedly in front of the book to garner more attention from Dad). Mum and I talked about various subjects.. what I've been up to, when am I going to fly to France (she's obsessed, I tell you), when am I going to fly to London to visit my little sister, Amber.. and somehow we got onto the topic of Jill's house in Ipswich. Memory is a funny thing. I remember being 4 years old - I clearly remember the toilet in Jilly's house in Ipswich.. I remember it having a floor to ceiling bookshelf, stuffed full of interesting books and comics.. I remember the pool at that house, with the palm fronds lazily skimming the surface of the water as they danced in the wind to an unheard rhythm. I remember the funny noise her cat, Shimmy, used to make, and how the sunlight would reflect off his impressively glossy coat, his perfectly triangular little Siamese face with its all-knowing eyes. I remember being so small, and watching Jill's kids Sarah and Ben, jumping into the pool sending water splashing everywhere. But I do not remember a conversation I have had with you last week, or this morning. I do not remember if I have taken my daily vitamins. I do not remember sometimes, how I got here (wherever "here" may be at the time). Sometimes I don't remember something you said to me three seconds ago. And yet.. I remember being three, sleepy in my pram as mum and Jill walked around our western suburbs neighbourhood, the sun dappling through the tree leaves overhead, the slightly bumpy feeling of the uneven footpath. I remember the phone number of the house we lived in when I was six years old - the name of the street - the way my sister used to push me down the laundry shute and sometimes I'd get lucky and land on a pile of laundry.. sometimes I wouldn't. I remember tormenting that poor male pheasant coucal with my Fisher Price kazoo - it must've sounded like a mating call from a female because he would go nuts trying to find the phantom bird. But I don't remember friends I made in my twenties, I don't remember people I knew from University (unless of course, we've kept in touch). I'm grateful for the memories I have of my young life. Not that my adult years have been something I wish to forget, but my childhood.. oh my idyllic childhood. The simplicity of being young and taken care of by good, loving parents. When I leave this mortal world, if I have nothing else I wish to remember, this is what I want to think of when I'm drawing my last breath. The warmth of the sun, the sound of my mother's laughter, my father's voice, our dog's bark; the feeling of being small and protected and loved.

Well. I got way off track there.

Surprise surprise - cooking is a big part of my life here. A is a fantastic cook, but I have such joy for it, and I thoroughly enjoy spending a day dreamily leafing through cookbooks, imagining the way things taste, putting together meals in my mind. I found a fantastic kitchenware shop in barrio Centro - as far West as I have been in Madrid of my own accord - and I spent an afternoon in there, going through every item on the overstuffed shelves until I had found the pieces I needed. A flan tin, with removable base - so I can make quiches, flans, cheesecakes. Ceramic baking beads, so I can blind-bake the pastry and avoid disaster. Measuring cups, and spoons, so my cakes don't rise too little, or too much. The kitchenware shop, Alambique, is the culinary equivalent of a well stocked, charismatic old bookstore. I could've curled up and had a nap, blissfully surrounded by my favourite things. They also have a culinary school there, so I think we both know I will be enrolling in one of their courses fairly soon. They do a traditional tapas in Ingles afternoon periodically - that sounds like an excellent idea to me. I believe they're held on Fridays, which means I can then spend the weekend stuffing A full of all the (hopefully) tasty things I've learnt to cook. It is a beautiful part of the city, so I will take a backpack and my D-SLR, and make a day of it.

The weather is supposed to be warming up, but I find myself still in yoga pants and a hoodie at the warmest part of the day. It was positively coldlast night when we left the restaurant to embark upon the journey home. As I huddled against A's lovely broad warm chest for shelter, he assured me that it was indeed a "weird spring". I wonder if this means summer will be mild? We can all live in hope.

Adios, mi amigos.
M x

Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, but you're not allowed to touch it.

Spring has sprung! The grass has ris - I wonder where the birdies is? Outside my kitchen window, as it so turns out, sitting in the tall trees directly in front of our Northern wall (kitchen area), chirping and singing and showing off their glorious feathers to me. I love the views we have from our apartment - views to the North, South and West (East is an internal wall we share with next door - two apartments per floor) are filled with trees and birds and spring loveliness.

What a lovely week I've had. Two weeks into being in Madrid, and I'm starting to get a sense of just how completely different our cultures are. For example. No, you cannot order a beer and a water at the same time, that's just bizarre. BUT you can totally order a wine and a water together, that's acceptable. It's impolite to refuse the 'free-but-not-free' bread. You can sit outside alfresco style if you want to have a drink and maybe a tapa, but it's weird to sit outside if you want to eat. 2:30pm is no man's land between appertivo and lunch. Yes, they have pre-lunch. They also have pre-dinner. It's not just drinks, it's drinks and tapa. I get accused of eating a lot you know, but when a country actively makes you eat twice for each meal - who's really to blame?

We've done several lovely walks around our neighbourhood this past week - it was Easter of course, so A had Thursday and Friday off work, giving us a four day mini holiday together. We spent it mostly at home playing our game side by side (yes yes I know), but we did get out and about each day as well. Friday we went for a glorious three (or so) hour walk, heading South in our neighbourhood so A could show me the best pastry shop our side of town.. then West up the big hill to Retiro, where we meandered for a good hour, watching families, listening to the birdies, talking to the feral cats I found. It was very pleasant, the sun gently warming our faces, the brilliant blue sky framed by semi-naked spring branches scratching young green leaves across the azure heavens. We did a loop and ended up outside Trenque Lauquen (possibly misspelling that horribly) which is the Argentinian restaurant A took me to during my visit last September. They love him there - big warm greetings and lots of smiles and affection.. I met the owner, Sonia, who reminds me of someone I can't quite place. Some spectacular empanadas later and we were refuelled and ready for the twenty minute walk back home. For such a big city, it really is nice to be able to walk the streets at night without fear sinking cold into your bones; I get no spidey sense nearly everywhere I've been. I did stumble upon an alleyway last week when I was trying to short-cut home after doing an extensive amount of shopping (read: it was bloody heavy and I wanted to get home before my arms fell off) and felt those tiny little hairs raise up, so I did a 180 and marched right back up to the main road where I immediately felt safe again. But that's been the only occasion.. for the most part Madrid feels safe, open, no danger lurking in corners, no fear of street harassment (which frankly surprises the hell out of me) or pickpockets. I know we don't live in the "gypsy district" but it has a whole different flavour to other European cities I have visited.

Speaking of beauty.. I'm sure some of you have seen the photo I posted of our garden? Our apartment complex is actually two apartment buildings, and each one has its own big beautiful garden - the exterior hedged and the interior a beautiful lawn complete with big trees and lovely flowers including roses and margaritas (daisies!).. they're idyllic to look at, and that's all you're allowed to do. Look. Each garden is fenced and has a gate that is padlocked. No, residents do not have keys to this padlock (which would make sense to me). It is literally a look-but-don't-touch garden. You're not allowed to sit in there and read a book, or kick a ball with your child, or walk your dog. These are big gardens I'm talking about - half a block each. Beautifully taken care of - but again, you're not allowed to actively enjoy/use them. Does anyone other than me find this terribly strange? Yet another Spanish oddity.

I must move, as I have goals to achieve today, and that won't happen sitting around my living room writing blogs and zoning out remembering all the good times I've had the past week. Goal #1 - find a gym I like. Until then, I'm going to continue to get to know every street, every laneway, every hill, until they're written in my memory like fine threads winding into the overall tapestry that will be my mental Madrid map. And if I happen to see some interesting shoe stores on the way, so be it.

Till next time!

M x