Tuesday, 20 May 2008

30th April - 6th May 2008 - Kebabs in Madrid

Regular visitors to this blog will know that we visit Madrid a lot, and, splendid place that it is, the real draw for us, once again regulars will know, is the fantastic time we have with our marvellous family based there. We never go to Madrid expecting to laze around toasting in the Spanish sun for days on end. Nor do we want to. On the contrary, four kids, all high on ‘e’ numbers and the adrenaline of youth guarantee a better work-out for us than any we could get from any gym or personal trainer. Crafty blighters that they are, the kids, realising they out-grow traditional piggy-back rides, being swung around in circles, held upside-down, etc, are constantly coming up with new ways of torturing our aging bodies. This trip introduced their latest physical punishment, innocently called ‘Dodgeball’ – a kind of tag but with missiles. The kids threw everything they’ve got and we took it all, but our most tested and abused muscle, the one that took the greatest punishment by a long way, courtesy of Ana’s cooking, the local restaurants and our abnormal appetites, was most definitely the one that holds are guts in and our trousers up. Am I complaining though? Am I hell !!

To share the experience with us we were really lucky to be joined by Lightning & Maz, who at Frank and Ana’s invitation were making their first trip to inland Spain. So at a time when normal people are asleep, we were heading to the airport with cases and bags jammed into every available space – the car’s not ours. Although it was Lynda’s birthday, it was so early that the celebrations had to be put on hold till later on. Much better to do it with Ana, Frank and the kids anyway.

Despite us having a hire car Frank still drove up to meet us at Barajas Airport, and it was great to see him once we cleared Customs. Apart from leading us back to the house Frank’s vast car also made light work of the luggage, which piled up outside arrivals must have looked like Victoria Beckham had popped back for a few nights. Painful though the early start is, the pain is completely outweighed by having a full day when we arrive, even if we were only good for eating and drinking. Back at the house we ditched our bags and cracked a few beers (and coke for Maz) on the terrace where shortly after Pablo pitched up and joined us. What a handsome and strapping young man he’s turning out to be. Bright, funny, articulate and bi-lingual – at 13 years old he already makes me sick !! Actually, all of the kids are lovely - beautiful, great senses of humour and wonderful company. But it's no real surprise really when you consider who their Uncle is.

Pablo's the one not wearing a hat

A splendid lunch marvellously prepared and served by Frank followed, after which Lynda and me went with Frank to the school to collect three quarters of the female contingent – Sofi, Andi and Carla. Three lovely girls who can look like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, they are not to be under-estimated in their capacity for fun and mischief – and long may it continue. Back home and a couple of hours of messing about with kids later, Ana turned up to make the reunion complete. The kids must have been bursting with the thought of getting into our cases, where they know from experience would be several packets of goodies for them. They are really good though, although in the past we have found them head first in the luggage.

As Ana busied herself in the kitchen later on, Pablo and I sneakily decorated the dining room with ‘Happy Birthday’ flags and banners to surprise Lynda with. Another splendid meal, birthday cake, wish-making and terrible singing later, it was into the lounge for some frenzied wrapping-paper ripping. Buying presents for the whole family is easy; they love everything you give them, especially the kids who were soon modelling their new clothes, decorating their hair or trying to jam new films into the DVD player. Frank by this time was straight into the iPhone we’d bought out for him – they’re not yet available in Spain – but rapidly discovered that despite being unlocked and checked in the UK, his Spanish sim gave him all of the phone’s functionality except for the tiny matter of making and receiving calls. More on that later.

Happy Birthday Lyndy

Lightning can't bear to look ......unlike the kids with their presents !

Nice shirt Sophie. Not so sure about the hat Lightning

The following two days were public holidays, the first a national traditional Labour Day-type thing, the second a Madrid specific day to mark the bicentenary of Napoleon and the French being lobbed out of Spain. Whatever the reasons, it meant that the whole family would be around until Monday, which was great news, and we all made the most of the time off.

Who needs an alarm clock?

Thursday morning’s breakfast done and cleared away, we loaded the cars and despite fears of Bank Holiday traffic jams we had a relatively straightforward run out to the granite palace of El Escorial, now in fact a world heritage site. This amazing former monastery in the countryside half an hour or so North West of Madrid has been the final resting place of the Spanish kings for years and years. http://www.travelinginspain.com/el_escorial.html has the details. Despite the building itself being closed – there’s logic, public holiday + world heritage site + marvellous weather = close a massive tourist attraction – the sunshine and surroundings still made for a great day out. We picnicked in the hills above El Escorial, feasting on a wonderfully improvised lunch which just kept coming and coming out of Frank and Ana’s cool box.

The weather was still glorious on Friday morning, which boded well for the festivities planned in Madrid that day and night. After spending the day running ourselves ragged in the garden with the kids, we spruced up and drove into the city to join the thousands and thousands of Madrillenians swamping the streets. Plaza Mayor was completely packed with people enjoying a re- enactment of some Franco-Spanish argy bargy accompanied by a very loud band, cannons and firework display. Overcome with excitement we fell into a bar and decided it was time for dinner. Considering how many people were around we were very lucky to get into one of chain of ‘Museo De Jamon’ restaurants for a very enjoyable selection of typical Spanish dishes, as well as even finding Bacon, egg and chips on the menu for two of our number. Have a look at http://www.boo.com/madrid/restaurants/Museo_del_Jamn for reviews and an indication of prices, etc. Full and very contented we made our way to Cibeles, one of the city’s main squares and watched a display of acrobatics, giant mechanical people and fireworks (the Spanish love fireworks and do them so well) before a pleasant stroll back to the cars, then home.

Some splendid Hams

Two more

A Saturday morning ritual at Frank & Ana’s place is a trip to the local swimming pool. There is in fact a fantastic set of outdoor swimming pools and bar only about ten metres from the end of their garden, but as these have been closed for a re-fit for at least the last year it’s been a case of heading into town to one of the municipal places. Equally excellent but indoor. Today the girls were going for a dip whilst the chaps (minus Pablo who was busilly cramming for exams) took care of the grocery shopping. So, whilst the ladies trotted off loaded with towels and cossies, we jumped in the car and shot off to a nearby hypermarket.

Despite having a reputation to the contrary, blokes are actually rather good at shopping, preffering to shop according to what they like rather than what’s needed. Ever the multi-taskers though, we managed not only to pick up (almost) everything on Ana’s list but also managed to top up the trolley with some very scrummy nibbly stuff, some interesting looking wine and a couple of cases of beer. Our return to the house coincided perfectly with the girls coming home, so after a bit of preening, blow-drying and careful application of lipstick we boys were ready to walk into town for a beer. There’s a really lovely outdoor bar/restaurant about ten minutes walk from the house, the name of which I’ve never actually found out. It has the advantage of being located between a kids’ play area and several roller skating rings, all of which observable from the bar’s tables and chairs. Whilst the kids enthusiastically skated, swung and shouted we equaly enthusiastically drank freezing cold beer. Amazingly though the kids became very tired and needed to come and sit with us just as the tapas nibbles we ordered arrived at our table !!

That evening we took another walk into town, this time for a bit of local shopping. In the Madrid equivalent of “Poundstretcher” Lightning managed to find the most amazingly tacky electronic bingo game. We just had to buy it, and that night after another superb Ana dinner, we settled down with the kids for a session. Having been a bingo caller in a former life, Lightning relished the chance to relive his past and sooner had us all whistling at “Legs Eleven” and quacking at “Two little ducks”. So much pleasure from so cheap a bit of plastic.

Ana and Lyndy reviewing the day

The fine weather continued into Sunday and after a relaxed morning around the house and a splendidly cheffed BBQ – well done Frank, we loaded the cars and drove to El Pardo about twenty minutes out of town. Former hunting land of previous Spanish kings and latterly a country retreat of General Franco, El Pardo is a beautiful sanctuary from the capital with formal and natural landscapes, stately homes and pleasant restaurants. A drink and a walk, then posing for some silly photos and we were ready for home. I usually do some small domestic chore when visiting Frank and Ana, be it cut the grass or put up a shelf or something similar. I wasn't quite prepared though for Ana's request that evening. Andi had a school project - would I help her to make a musical instrument? Stick to what you know best I thought and so having scoured the house for various components it wasn't too long before Andi had a splendid guitar to show off at school. And the verdict? "Looks like a robot" was what one of her chums thought. Make your own mind up when you see the picture below.

Real Madrid relaxing on their day off

Monday morning was beautifully warm, and Lynda, me Lightning and Maz had promised ourselves a trip into the city centre. The kids were at school, Frank and Ana at work so it was an ideal time to go for an explore. We always take the open bus rides when we go away if they’re available. Taking in the sights and being able to jump on and off as you like is a real bonus when exploring any city, especially when it's hot, as Madrid can be. One of Lightning’s favourite games though is switching the laguages on the commentary when you’re not looking. Bored with just annoying us though, this trip saw him doing the same to other passengers, including some French tourists who naturally thought the whole thing was so hilarious. I have to admit it was very funny and it tickled Lynda and me, leaving us giggliing like school kids for some time. Lunch was once more at Naturbier. I know we always go there, but it's so good. We had a great tapas-style lunch including far too much seafood platter and possibly a beer too many? The beer in fact is too good, after three I was barely able to walk to the loo!! Go to http://www.naturbier.com/en/presentacion_en.html to find out more.

That bar !!

That night was to be a special one. The kids, particularly the twixies had been looking forward for ages to 'teaching ' me how to eat a kebab properly. You may know from a previous blog visit that one of the family's favourite treats is a visit to the town's local kebab shop for a splendidly cheap and delicious meal. Truth be told, after our last visit, we were really looking forward to going. Well I needed to know how to eat one properly because using a knife and fork on my last visit had made me something of a kebab-pillock in the eyes of the girls who were now determined to educate me, Lynd, Lightning and Maz. We're quick learners and very soon our faces were decorated with garlic sauce, bits of onion and poorly aimed pieces of lamb. The girls were proud of us. They even made syre before we went out that their dresses were appropriate and made them look the part for kebab munching, and look it they did. What a really lovely evening. The food was great but the company and the laugh were fantastic.

The next day being our last we decided to do a bit of shopping. So Frank chucked us in his wagon and took us to a nearby retail park. Whilst the three of us drank coffee, discussed Plato, science and the meaning of life, and arranged a football match for later in the year in the UK, the girls shopped till they dropped, which with our girls isn't very long. They need to learn that all day shopping requires a great deal of physical training, such as in the picture below.

The manly approach to shopping

Sadly, there was barely time then to get home, pack, collect the kids, give them a huge goodbye hug before Ana scuttled home from work and we were making our way to the airport for the trip home. We'd had a great time as always with Frank, Ana and the kids. Thank you so much as ever for looking after us so well and for being such a joy to spend time with. Having Maz and Lightning with us was a real treat and for their company too we're really grateful - must do a few more trips like this soon. It's always really sad for us to be leaving Madrid, but this time we had the consolation of knowing we were going back in two month's time. We can't wait !!!

And the iPhone? Well luckily for Frank he has low friends in high places, one of which laughed at our feeble un-locking attempts and in no time was able to get it doing exactly what it's meant to. I was very relieved I can tell you - for a while I really thought I was going to have give Frank his money back !!


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