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Reports

Thursday, 13 December 2001
--> Madrid (E) 2nd day

As you might have understood from yesterday, Anna and Juan offered me to stay a few days longer at their place.

Someway I got many invites in Madrid and other places in Spain, but many of them were submitted a long time ago. Telephone numbers have changed and email addresses are out of order. I realized that I can only use 20% of my invites (say one out of five) in Spain and to be honest, I don’t have many places to stay yet.

I do know that Belen Sagrario, my hostess of last Tuesday, is going to have her report about my stay for a day at her place, published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais next thirsday, the 20th of December. And what a coincidence, it will be my (and my brother Etienne’s!) birthday.

Until that time I depend on my small list of places to stay in Spain, with the usual waiting for some media to discover me and create some publicity for my project. Out of that I hope to conclude the reception of some more new places to stay with the warm hearted Spanish people all over the country.

Next to that I can also announce that I will take a vacation at the end of this month. I will be going offline for two weeks as my dear friends from Holland are going to drive all the way from my hometown to Barcelona to spend Christmas and New Year with me. Of course they also needed a desperate break and I am utmost happy that they choose to come over and visit me.

During those two weeks I will not be updating my website, I will spent all of that time in the privacy with my friends, without staying at people’s places, without being a guest – I can be ‘free’ for two weeks and I am really looking forward to that.

It is thanks to the father of one of those friends, that we can stay at his company’s apartment for that time – for free.

I am thankful for my friends that they offered to help me out during this festive season. You might also understand that it can be very difficult, even for me personal as well as for my hosts, to be a guest during Christmas and New Year. It’s a friends and family thing and however I can’t be with my family this year, I rather let my hosts with their own families and friends and take a two weeks break myself.

So, I stay another few days at Juan and Anna’s place in the center of Madrid and I am very pleased with that.

I am coughing my way around the last days, by the way, it might be because of the change from the sub-Saharan Africa to winter-cold southern Europe.

Today, after sleeping in a bit, I found a note on the bathroom door about my breakfast and tea and the explanation of how the shower works. In this old part of town, everything is still connected on big gas tanks that heat the house and the water in the house. To use the shower, I had to turn of the house heating.

It’s a very obnoxious thing for those living in the 21st century and you have to have the gas bottles changed every two days. Especially in this kind of cold times, the gas is even more necessary. And imagine the person who has to deliver all the bottles to those apartments with at least four floors!

But fortunately new pipes have been created outside the kitchen, so pretty soon, Anna and Juan will be connected to a modern gas connection and the whole gas bottle things will be history.

After the shower and my breakfast I met up with Anna again, who just came back for a lunch break. As she teaches English classes, she mostly teaches two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. I joined her for a quick salad lunch and updated the website with a previous report. I loved their computer, it’s just addicting – that fast it is!

After this lunch I went out for a good walk through Madrid. Anna had even given me their house keys so I could do anything I wanted to do and come back to their hotel anytime. And I was very graceful for that.

After studying the map of Madrid, a city of roughly three million people (so it is big!) I decided to walk from the Anton Martin metro station just outside the door to the well-known Plaza Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor is a big square, built centuries ago and if I am right it was a very important trading place in the past. In the middle a big statue rises up with a man on a horse. But even today it is a important trading place as a Christmas market has filled it up with all kinds of stables and exhibitions.

From the historic Plaza Mayor I walked down the Calle Mayor along the city hall of Madrid (you could easily pass it and see it as just a schoolbuilding), towards the Palacio Real, one of the biggest former royal castles in Spain. The palace is surrounded by an enormous park and in the past, everything that was west of the palace used to be the hunting grounds of the royal family. Nowadays suburbs rise from the soil, creating a new horizon for the Madrilenos.

From the palace I walked on, back into the center again and passed the Plaza España, where high rising buildings surround a big square with trees and fountains.

I walked into the wide Gran Via avenue and suddenly I recognized things here. In February 2000 (and there I go again), my friends and I visited to other study friends who were an exchange student from journalism school and they studied in Madrid for half a year. My friends and I, desperate for a break during our heavy study times (and everything we did next to studying of course), suddenly showed up at their front door off the Calle de las Minas and surprised them with a crate of Dutch Grolsch beer that we had taken along with us, all the way from Holland.

We stayed with those very flabbergasted friends in their apartment for a few days and during those days we explored the city and got more familiar with Madrid. That was also my first visit to this highly cultural, architectural, historical and friendly city and I fell in love with all its aspects.

And we also went out at night, like all the Madrileno people do. From the Calle de las Minas and the San Bernardo-street we walked along the Gran Via to a very small bar in a side street.

We were practically amazed by this little tavern. It had white tiled walls, like a bathroom, contained four tables, a bar and two fridges in the corner. That was it and more could never fit in. So you can understand we had quite some fun when we could have possession of our own our and have a great night there.

The bartender, we never got to know him because his Spanish is like a Spanish you can’t study anywhere, just let us get our drinks from the fridge and at the end of the night he would just take a look at the table and give you a nice price for everything. We nicknamed him Luis, just because he looked like a Luis, but eventually we found out that his name was just Benito. For my friends and me his known for the most honest bartender of Spain.

With me walking along the Gran Via again, I decided to find that little tavern called the Café Gran Via, again. To see if things had changed and if Benito was still there.

I walked in the place and it was like walking back in time. Nothing much had changed, this teethless little bartender behind his bar was Benito and he was profoundly discussing something with the one customer sitting at the bar. Only the wall was different. When I was there, only one part of the wall contained photographs of people who had visited this place before. At this time, the entire place was covered in photographs, even the stairs down to the humble toilets.

After gazing around for a few minutes, Benito asked me in Spanish if he could help me. I tried to explain me in my high school Spanish that I had been here before and I knew of photos taken of us. “When were you here?” he asked. “February 2000? That must be somewhere in that corner.” And suddenly I looked at this party picture of two years ago: my friends and me being drunk of sangria, red wine, vodka and Spanish beers. What a time that was!!!

Benito looked at the photo and looked at me. “Zat ies you!” he said in his kind of English and pointed at me. It doesn’t occur to him that often that some tourists from another country return to his bar, so he was quite amazed with my appearance. He gave me a coke (as I refused his vodka this time – yes I do learn...) and studied the photo of that group of Dutch students again.

He pointed at the three students that lived here for three months and told me that he remembered them very well, they were good costumers, he told me. And then he started linking the guys to some ladies on other photos and I heard stories about them that I never heard myself. Mmmm. Go on… Interesting… Really?… Hahaha.

After I finished the coke I thanked Benito and left the little but magical Café Gran Via. With only two costumers inside it wasn’t how I remembered it and I want to cherish my memories more than this short visit. But I know I will come back here one day again and get highly intoxicated like in those good old days. But that will be another project...

From the Gran Via I walked into a commercial shopping street, hopped in and out the warm Cortés Ingles warehouse (too much luxury for me, I guess) and got in the underground metro back to station Anton Martin. Next to letting me stay a few more days, Anna and Juan had also given me a 10-rides metro ticket, so I can travel through Madrid whenever I wanted to.

Back at home I met up with Anna after her second two hours of her teaching job. We watched television, I used the computer and when Juan returned home from his job as a project manager at Kristina, an Internet company, they both started to prepare dinner for tonight.

And when I talk about dinner in Spain, make it something that happens at least after nine o’clock in the evening. Preferable after 10pm, if it’s up to the Spanish. I told Anna and Juan that 10pm would be almost sleeping time for a lot of people in Holland and I was quite surprised by this change of eating times. But that fact surpised Anna and Juan again…

And I was astounded with what Anna was preparing for tonight’s dinner. With a big lump of pork in the pan, the poured one-liter of milk on it and let is cook for a while. “The milk will become a thick sauce for the meat,” she explained me.

Juan and Anna concluded that I was indeed ill, or at least getting ill. They saw it by my way of walking through the house. I just looked like a tight hump of muscles. And they were a bit right, because inside my body was just messed up a bit. Before dinner Anna gave me some vitamin pills and paracetamol that would keep me sharp for a while. I definitely don’t want to walk around with a cold!

And for dinner I only had three slices of lomo con leche together with some salad and very unbelievable to myself: I was full of it after those three. Someway the milk worked very well into the meat and I had never eaten something like this before.

The night ended with Anna and Juan reading books or watching Italian television and me being that computer guy that was trying to find some more places to stay in Spain, contacting friends and family and even people in the Spanish media. I know with experiences, that if the media wakes up, I might be able to get around a bit more. I would hate to do Spain in just a few weeks and go for another country…

Good night Madrid!

Ramon.





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