We celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary three days ago. Nineteen years of wedded bliss (!) living with two women, Mary Robertson and Lady Mary Burton. The first one is the world’s most lovable girl, intelligent, kind, tolerant, shy, polite – what’s not to like! – while the second one wants to be a spy, to live in a castle (preferably haunted) and to read all day and most of the night. I love both of them!

Two Mondays ago I had what turned out to be my last teaching evening with little Guillem. After four years of improving his English one evening per week, he has had to move away to be with his Mum Beti in Blanes north of Barcelona where she has a new dentist’s job. His Dad Ramon will follow on once he’s sorted things out with their flat here in Vilanova. This has meant Guillem leaving his French-speaking school Bel Air and starting at a new school somewhere near their new home. His first day was yesterday and Ramon sent us a photo of him in his new school uniform. Hopefully my tuition over the past 4 years will stand him in good stead for his lessons in English.

Guillem in his uniform

In terms of forward-planning, Mary has now told her employers that she will not be working after the summer. This will free us up to do the travelling we want to do. We haven’t planned anything for definite yet but we have a short list of places we want to see and have done a wee bit of setting up for a trip to the west coast of the U.S.A. next April. Our base will still be Vilanova and not Dundee which also means that Greg and Karen will be able to keep renting our flat on Balgay Road. They are both doing well in their jobs and Karen has passed her month’s trial at the Casino with flying colours, meaning she is to be kept on as permanent full-time. Well done, Karen. Both of them are coming out here at the end of May for a few days visit.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of our caravan and awning which, as I’ve said before, will be staying right here on our pitch over the summer and is available for rent on a weekly basis. A couple of days from now it will be advertised in Gumtree as rentable at 500 Euros per week, but readers of the Blog can have first choice on it before then. Family can have it for half that price. The caravan is a Bailey Pageant Burgundy Series 7 and our campsite is Vilanova Park, Vilanova I la Geltru. By googling both you’ll get all the details you want. Ours comes with electricity and gas included plus washing machine and British TV which none of the others have. All you need is a flight to Barcelona. I can even arrange pick-up and return to the airport for a few quid more. Trust me, if you take a chance on this, you won’t regret it. I think July 22-29 is already booked but the rest of July and August is available.

Caravan and awning

But let’s get back to our 3 days in Madrid. Our pal Darren ran us to the airport for a 9 o’clock morning flight to Madrid last Friday and by 10.15 we were off the plane and making our way to the underground station below the airport for a 20-minute ride to the centre of the city. All very smooth might I say. We were both travelling light, with backpacks instead of cases, so we were able to do a bit of sightseeing while we waited to check-in to our hotel later that afternoon.

First stop was the Plaza Mayor or main square which surprisingly for such an important spot is composed of real functioning private flats on all four sides above the cafés and restaurants. It was fairly chilly when we got there (Madrid is right in the centre of Spain many, many miles from the sea) but we sat at a café in the plaza and had ourselves a coffee with Baileys which hit the spot rather well. We people-watched for a while before wandering around and taking a closer look at Madrid’s most-visited square.

Plaza Mayor

There was as usual something there which, while totally naff, we just couldn’t resist, and this resulted in the following snaps. Please only laugh a little!

Ya dancer!

I of course just had to join in too!

Bonnie Lassie!

Following my well-honed instinct for direction, we left the Plaza Mayor and strolled down the Calle Major, eventually coming to a big junction from which we could see two other tourist attractions, Madrid Cathedral and the more famous Palacio Real. We plumped for a visit to the cathedral as a way of using up an hour or so and afterwards we took a look at the royal palace but only from the outside, having read the notice and seen that we might be able to get in for free on Saturday after 6 p.m. The Cathedral was lovely and a calm oasis in the middle of a very busy Spanish Capital. I always like to just plonk myself down in a pew and gaze around me, allowing my thoughts to go wherever they want. Generally I end up speaking to Mum and Dad. They don’t say much (nothing at all in fact) but I do get the strange feeling that they’re around me somehow. It’s like they only exist in churches now, so maybe that’s why I like to go into them.

Catedral de Santa Maria La Real de La Almudena

The Cathedral was really impressive from the outside and also quite stunning on the inside as if everything had recently been renovated. There wasn’t a dirty mark anywhere.

The centre aisle

Palacio Real

We were persuaded to turn away from the Palacio Real next door, not by big Spaniards with jaggy hats and pikes but by the rumbling in our tummies telling us it was Spanish lunch time. This meant Menu del Dia to us so we headed back up the Calle Mayor and chose a wee restaurant that seemed to be full of Spanish and not tourists. We made a good choice and soon the rumbling had ceased. This excellent meal reinvigorated us to plunge back into the Metro and sprint across the city to the famous park on the eastern side, Retiro. Despite a few spitters of rain, we grabbed an ice-cream and wandered around the park for a couple of hours, making comparisons with Versailles, Schonbrunn in Vienna, Central Park New York and Hyde Park in London, as well as les Tuileries in Paris. The boating pond was impressive, as was the Palacio de Cristal and the symmetrical English Gardens with their amazing cypress trees, so we really enjoyed our post-lunch late afternoon stroll.

Madrid’s Crystal Palace in Retiro Park

By now our feet were seriously beginning to ache but we still found the energy to cross over to the Prado Museum and check out the opening times for Saturday morning’s visit. A further 15 minutes on the Metro and we were just around the corner from our Ibis hotel, so we popped into a Carrefour over the road and bought a few snacks and things to keep us going for the rest of our stay. Getting into our hotel room was a blessed relief and it’s hardly surprising to say that we both fell asleep and only woke up in time to go to bed!

The rain announced itself as predicted early on Saturday morning long before either of us stirred. Breakfast was composed of things we’d bought at Carrefour plus a coffee from the machine downstairs. We took a brave but foolhardy decision not to wear our weatherproofs nor to take them in our backpacks and this accounted for us getting really quite wet when we first went out to walk to the Metro. Our destination was the world-famous Prado museum, a must-see for those visiting Madrid but the mile-long queue we came upon, with the rain getting heavier by the minute, came near to putting us off. Fortunately a brainwave saved the day!

Just across the road from the museum was one of those little tourist info kiosks advertising in big letters the city bus tour of Madrid. but in smaller letters we read that tickets for the Prado were also available (at the same price as in the museum itself!). So, armed with two tickets, we crossed back over and were able to skip the queue. Actually not quite, because such is the popularity of the Prado that there was a queue at the “skip-the-queue” entrance! But it was only a 10-minute wait and we were in. No photos were allowed inside but here’s a photo of the brochure showing the masterpieces on view.

Spot one of Gerard’s jigsaws!

We had a great time in the gallery and must have been in there close to three hours before we strolled down to their restaurant and had a wee paella for lunch, chatting to a French couple from Toulouse whom we let squeeze in at our table. It was still raining a bit when we emerged from the Prado but we stopped to take the mandatory “proof we were there” snapshot.

What else is there to do on a rainy Saturday?

Well actually, we did have something more to do and before you could shout “Hala Madrid!” we were standing outside Real Madrid’s stadium the Santiago Bernabeu, ready to enjoy the anniversary presents we had given each other: tickets to see Real Madrid v Valencia in one of the most famous football stadiums in the world. That’ll do nicely!

Bernabeu

We found our seats behind one of the goals but right up at the back about 100 feet from pitch level (out of the rain) giving us a brilliant view of the game. Appropriately enough, Cristiano Ronaldo scored with a header right in front of us – making him the all-time greatest European league goal scorer, one more than the late Jimmy Greaves – while Valencia equalized in the second half with a wonderful free-kick before the amazing Marcelo of Real popped up with the winner with minutes to go. We stayed behind at the end to take some more photos then headed to the loos. Was the excitement over? Yes, once Mary had used the loo roll I had to go and find for her when I gave up waiting and shouted into the ladies if she was ok, and then we’d gone down the four floors to the exit gate, found it locked, been sent back up the four floors, had an argument with a steward and then followed a group of cleaners half-way round the Bernabeu and finally out a wee private gate in the corner. Almost as good as the match!

Before the game

So, by the time we got back into the Metro system there were hardly any queues and we were able to scoot across Madrid and back to the area around the Palacio Real. In the end we didn’t go in but went to a really nice market hall where we had pizza and drinks among crowds of people enjoying Madrid on a Saturday night. By then we were pretty keen to get back to the hotel so it was down into the Metro again, a couple of changes, a wee walk, a burger at Burger King for me (fat git!) and straight to bed at the hotel. I didn’t fall asleep immediately and indeed I stayed awake long enough to see MOTD at 11.30. Typical eh?

Sunday morning was a slow start what with packing to check-out and the only thrill was the chamber-maid walking in on me just as I came out of the shower. Her reaction was priceless but at least she didn’t laugh! Our target was to go to the Reina-Sofia museum at 14.30 when we were told you could get in for free with it being Sunday. So with 3 hours to kill and the rain easing slightly, I took a chance and guided us to a couple of spots that looked interesting. One of them turned out to be quite a find, but not before we’d taken coffee in a great Irish Pub across the road. It was strange being in a place where everyone spoke English and the TV was blasting out Sky Sports! We’d kind of forgotten what that felt like.

The Post Office!

Yes, this was indeed the Post Office although it was officially the Palacio de Communication. We started off round the back where we found a beautiful indoor exhibition area with a classy undulating glass roof and then we made our way inside, pausing to pass through a security scanner. I beeped. What could that be? Oh yeh! the tin of Fanta Limon in my jacket pocket, and my set of keys, and my phone, and my specs! The security guard gave me an absolute death stare but I shrugged off the tacit criticism and went up the marble stairs. Inside, we were impressed with the beauty of the neo-classical building and eventually got to the eighth floor to access the outside of the dome, affording us splendid views of much of Madrid.

Lady Burton looking cool!

The Exhibition Hall

Inside the Post Office!

Soon it was time to take the underground back towards Atocha station, the main railway station in Madrid and the scene of the horrific terrorist attacks in March 2004. From there we walked round in increasingly heavy rain to the Reina Sofia Museum where we saw ……………. the biggest queue ever! Unanimous decision not to wait for hours and get soaked into the bargain. Back we went to visit the memorial at Atocha station. Typical! It was closed. However we did see some wonderful indoor landscaping, good enough to tempt us to have a meal there.

INSIDE Atocha Station!

We finished our first visit to Madrid with a ride on the number 3 bus which took us right through the centre and let us see things we’d spent 2 days travelling under on the Metro. The last journey was a train ride back to the airport and a one-hour flight to Barcelona where Darren was waiting to pick us up at T2.

I’m actually exhausted just writing about this, never mind doing it, but there you are. We’re back safely and all is well. I leave you today with two of the most famous Spaniards of all. Anyone want to fight a windmill?

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.