Saturday, 4 January 2014

Spain


New Year is one of my favourite times of year. Out with the old and in with the new and all that, I always have such hope in what is to come. I have found that the Europeans do it so much better than we do in the UK. Therefore, following a wonderful trip to Prague last year (which you can read about here http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/prague-2012-2013.html), me and my friend Ellie headed over to Madrid, to take part in their celebrations for this year. And it turned out to be a very informative trip.

So what was it that I learnt?

I have a really bad sense of direction.
Whenever I visit somewhere new, I always like to have a bit of a wander around first to get my bearings and to get a feel for the city. You can observe so much just from walking and breathing in the atmosphere of the place. So in this way, we were able to find lots of the main sites of Madrid that we wanted to see. We walked past the beautiful Palacio Real (and the attached Sabatini Gardens), the Almudena cathedral, various museums, through a gorgeous park called Parque del Retiro, through the plaza mayor and Puerta Del Sol, into various food/craft markets and along the Gran Via. Wherever we walked, we were surrounded by beautiful architecture that excited my nerdy brain, which I wasn't really expecting in this particular capital. But it was stunning and there were loads of buildings, statues and fountains that were great to see and photograph, I could barely walk a step without doing so.

But what we did find was that we had a terrible knack of walking in completely the wrong direction and having to retrace our steps which became a bit tiring by the end of the holiday. In the Parque del Retiro, we spent about an hour trying to escape it once we had walked through the main bit and seen the impressive Alfonso monument at the centre of the park. Our lack of direction did lead us to walk through a lovely wooded bit, over a stream and under/behind a waterfall which was all lovely. But the point still stands - we just couldn't read maps. It also made us accidentally wander into some seemingly dodgy bits of Madrid. Outside the centre, it didn't take long for the pretty buildings to deteriorate into some quite rough looking areas. And nice as it was to see some of the real Madrid, we were a little nervous. It meant that we were able to get some pretty good deals on mango juice though. The prices in those shops were so much cheaper than in the touristy centre.

My aim in life is now to become a Spanish princess.
As we were so impressed by the huge and beautiful Palacio Real, we visited it properly the following day and were excited to discover that it is just as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside. I realised that it is the Spanish equivalent of Buckingham Palace and the royal family still live in it today. The rooms were huge and all ornately decorated with massive chandeliers and exquisite artwork. We saw a display of musical instruments that were hundreds of years old, a writing desk where some old king used to write his letters and many other gorgeous bits of furniture/belongings besides. My favourite room was actually one of the smallest that we walked through, and it had porcelain figures and flowers, attached liberally all over the walls. It was stunning art work and the room was still bigger than my bedroom at home.

For the reason alone that I wish to live in a beautiful home, I have decided that I want to become a Spanish princess. Therefore I would have the run of the palace and would be able to explore the whole place, not just the tiny smidgen that we were allowed to view. I think Princess Charlotte has a ring to it.

Sitting in a child's car seat is a majorly uncomfortable way to travel if you are 6ft tall.
On New Year's Eve, we decided to escape the madness of the city and escape to the small country town of Segovia, that was 95 miles to the North of Madrid. It was a gorgeous little town, all cobbled streets and narrow alleys, and it was somewhat warmer than Madrid because it was protected by mountains on one side. Right on the edge of the town we stumbled upon Alcazar, the most fairytale-esque castle I have ever seen. The turrets and structure made it look like the Disney castle from the opening credits of the films. There was also a beautiful Roman Aqueduct running through the very centre of the town and we spent a peaceful afternoon, chilling by it in the sun, sitting up against the old stones and relaxing after we were too tired to carry on walking.

Now this surprisingly specific fact that I learnt on my final day of 2013, was gained when trying to catch a train back to Madrid at the end of the day. We made it back to the station in plenty of time for our 6.30 train but 6.45 came and went and then 7pm came and our train still hadn't arrived. With every passing minute, I was becoming more and more edgy and even Ellie was becoming worried by that time. So we searched the whole tiny (and apparently dead) station to see if there was anyone who could help us. And what we eventually learnt made me want to cry...there was another station that we had not known about where our train had left from half an hour before. The man kindly directed us as best as he could, telling us to turn right out of the station and keep walking along the road, keeping our eyes peeled for a bus station where number 11 or 12 would take us to the other train station.

We followed his instructions to the letter, determined to not miss the final train of the night, but no bus station materialised and, worse still, the road we were on became incorporated into a motorway. So we almost died, trying to cross this massive road and continued to walk along it until we came to a petrol station. It turned out we were walking in the right direction for the train station anyway, just by luck. Therefore, giving up on this ghost bus, we continued along the motorway and turned off at the roundabout like he had directed us. But apparently we had stepped into a wilderness - there were no streetlamps whatsoever. It was really hard to see, a large abandoned warehouse to our left was rustling spookily and to our right was nothing but tall grass where anything could jump out at us from. To put it bluntly, we were shitting ourselves and still not entirely sure that we were going the right way. After about 5 minutes of walking down this road, and just as we were starting to panic, a car came towards us from behind who we flagged down for directions. Andreas (as we found out he was called) offered us a lift to the station. And despite the fact that I was uncomfortably squashed against the roof of the car, in his child's booster seat, I can't complain really. Thank god we made it back in time for all the celebrations.

Wine that only costs a euro and comes from a carton should never ever be drunk. Ever
After all the stress of trying to return to Madrid, we both needed a drink and fast. We had picked up a litre each of the famous Don Simon wine and hurried back to our hostel to change and start downing it. We only had an hour before midnight so we took the remainder with us and celebrated the beginning of 2014 in style in the central square of Madrid, Puerta Del Sol. It was unbelievably crammed with people who were all waiting for the clock to chime midnight and to eat the traditional 12 grapes on each stroke. It is meant to give you 12 months of good luck but I only managed 4 (it was really hard to pull them off the stalk). So I hope that is only a superstition...or maybe the grapes from the wine I was drinking, counts. Hopefully. We then spent the rest of the night, locating nice English-speaking people from around the world to hang out with, searching for a loo, shouting at some poor hotel receptionist that I am going to pee in their corridor, peeing in very inappropriate places, drinking far too much, stealing a hat from a Canadian, dancing in some bar in which we had no idea where we were, and ending the night hugging the toilet...what a way to start 2014.

Spanish policemen are HOT.
It was not quite all fun and games during our New Year's Eve celebrations because my Iphone was stolen. Which I was absolutely gutted about as of all the pictures I had taken in Spain were on it. So I lost all of them. Hence why there are basically no photos on this blog post...the one at the top, was the individual one which survived as I had uploaded it on to Instagram as well a couple of days before. So I spent the first morning of 2014 (hideously hungover and trying not to vom) sat in a police station, waiting to get a document, reporting the theft. Not how I expected to start my year at all. But at least I had some eye candy :D

The Spanish don't like it if you sit around in a café, after you have finished your food.
Once we had finally escaped from the police station, we were in desperate need of sustenance to kick out our hangovers once and for all. So we headed to this little café that was quite close to our hotel, which offered brunch, coffee and orange juice for about eight euros. It was just what we needed and because it was raining out and we were far too tired to move, we sat there for about an hour and a half, just chatting and waiting for the headache to diminish. What I have noticed from my time in Spain is that service is generally very fast...they expect you to choose your food quickly, they give it to you quickly and your then expected to eat it then leave, quickly. Compared to in England where it is far more leisurely. So when we sat there for ages they didn't like it at all and started making snarky comments to each other in Spanish...which, fortunately for us, Ellie could understand so we left pretty quickly.

And finally, I really should learn the language of the country before I visit it
I have never felt so incredibly stupid as I have this holiday where I always had to get my friend to ask for everything or attempt to stammer something very poorly in Spanish. I need to stop assuming that everyone can speak English. So one of my goals for 2014 is to learn Spanish and Portuguese...let's see how long this aim lasts =]

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