Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What a difference a continent makes

Hola from Spain !!

Well....I´ve been in spain now for a week & a bit. It´s a whole different world over here !! The weather has been quite warm with the temperatures reaching into the thirties. I´m kinda wondering why I brought all that cold weather gear. Oh yeah !!! Ireland in November !! The countryside everywhere is quite dry.

Highlights of this trip so far....

The Parker tour of Madrid, taking in all the famous landmarks, as well as all the tapas bars, beer places & coffee shops in between. A nice, laid back introduction to Madrid.

The Prado Museum....filled to the rafters with works by artists such as El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Reubens & Tiziano. About 4-5 hrs of looking these paintings was quite enough culture for me.

The Bull fighting Arena (Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventras): it kind of brings home exactly what goes on here when you see the bloodstains still in the sand & the drag marks where the body of the bull is dragged off the arena. More about bullfighting later....

The Palacio Real (The Royal Palace) is quite a spectacular place with tapestries, paintings & other stuff seeming to fill every available space. The Palace also houses: the Farmacia Real (the Royal Pharmacy) where medicines used to cure the Royal family of their ills were created & stored; the Armeria Real (the Royal Armoury) impressive collection of armours & weapons.

The Egyptian Temple of Debod: yep !! An actual Egyptian temple (complete with ye-olde Egyptian carvings) saved from the floodwaters of the Asswan Dam. It seems a little out of place in downtown Madrid but it´s interesting to look through.

Wandering the cobbled streets of Toledo, checking out the Cathedral, wandering through the Jewish quarter, checking out some of Goya´s artworks, window shopping for that two-handed sword I´ve always wanted, window shopping for a genuine samurai sword (made in Toledo with Toledo steel), window shopping for that Crusader outfit I´ve always wanted to take to the Middle East.......

Spending an afternoon with fellow Australians at a hockey match (which we got in for free), which turned out to be the final of the Women´s World Cup Hockey Tournament. Australia were playing Holland. Our little enclave of Australians, set amongst the Dutch crowd, cheered the Australian girls on but it didn´t help. Australia lost 3-1.

Wandering through the Mezquita Mosque/Cathedral in Cordoba. The Mezquita started life off as Cordoba´s mosque. It´s beautifully decorated with a veritable forest of red & white pillars & archways. In the 16th Century, after the Christians had re-taken Cordoba, a Cathedral was built in the middle of the Mosque. It looks quite strange to see the Christian centre, surrounded by this forest of pillars & archways. I have to say that the arab parts of the Mezquita are much prettier. The Arabs certainly knew how to make buildings architecturally beautiful.

Wandering through the gardens & fountains of the Alcazar de Los Reynes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs) in Cordoba. It was quite a beautiful & relaxing place to be in (lots of tourists though !!).

My impressions of Spanish culture

They certainly are different these Spanish. I had it in my head that they are like Italians but it´s not quite the same. The men & women are elegant (like the Italians). They dress to impress & they dress to be noticed. Some of the things they wear (esp. the women) you definately notice !!

I was hoping that my Italian would come in handy when speaking to the Spanish. It has in some respects but not all the time. I am struggling with the language a bit & I find that I´m mixing my Spanish (bad though it is) with Italian, in a blend I call Spaliano. The locals seem to find it amusing. I do know enough to be able to order a beer, a glass of wine, a coffee & tapas (what more do you need to know ??). OK.....being able to book a train ticket (to the right place, at the right time & day) is important too

Everything shuts down between the hours of 2-5pm for the Siesta. The siesta is a serious business here !!

They eat at weird hours (compared to Australia) & that has taken a little getting used to. Lunch for them starts between 2-3pm. They eat dinner incredibly late !! You wouldn´t be seen in a restaurant until at least 9pm (more likely 10pm). The eariest that a restaurant will open is at about 8pm (& that´s to cater for the tourists).

Bullfighting is a very serious business here. The Spanish love their brave bullfighters just as much as they love a brave bull. The brave bull will still be killed; it´s head mounted in a prominent place somewhere & a plaque saying ¨Here is the brave bull xxxxxx¨ All the bulls have names & if he´s killed any bullfighters, it´ll mention that too. Go figure !! They don´t see a problem with what happens in the arena ( least not the older generation). It´s all tradition going back a long way.

Food experiences

Where do I start ??? Firstly......Spain is not for the faint-hearted or the vegetarian (more of that later).

The main food that takes pride of place in Spanish culture is the Jamon (air-dried leg of ham). Think of it a prosciutto but different: unlike prosciutto, the leg bone is left on & the Jamon is sliced down the length of the bone (in small, wafer-thin slices). The process used to dry it is different as well. There is a whole culture around the Jamon (esp. when it is first sliced). There is a chain of shop here called ¨Museo de Jamon¨ (Museum of Ham) that simply sells Jamon, Jamon sandwiches, etc.....The smell, as you walk into a store, is something else. I´ve also seen a place called ¨El Paradisio del Jamon¨ (Ham Paradise) that is the same.

Now.....about vegetarianism. The Spanish consider Jamon as a vegetarian dish so be warned.

I´ve tried blood pudding (Burgos). Can't say that I found it that interesting to be honest (sorry B & G).

The Tapas is great...small servings of all sorts of things that is quite cheap. I simply pick something that sounds interesting & hope that it´s not kidneys or offal of any sort. Haven´t had that happen to me yet !!

There is a bull-fighter´s bar near Plaza Major that was an interesting place to eat tapas at. Everywhere you looked on the walls were bullfighting pictures (some nasty ones of bullfighters being gored) & heads of bulls.

Oh !!! Before I forget !! Can anyone tell me why the Spanish, when they serve their coffee, have sugar satchels that are twice the size of normal packaging ?? The bloody things have between 2 - 2.5 teaspoons of sugar in them !!

The eating highlight was Cafe Real. It´s a nice little restaurant that just happens to be in the Real Madrid stadium & overlooks the Real Madrid home pitch. That was a pretty amazing place to eat.

Well....that´s it for this posting. I´ve got a few admin things to do today here in Cordoba. The next time I post, it´ll probably be from Italy but will include my last few days in Spain.

Until then....take care.



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