Time to be a Tourist – adventures in Madrid continue…

So, the girls have now finished their first week at the summer school, and I have had a full week of life in Tres Cantos, Madrid. Still loving it? HELL YES. Highlights include decorating the entire terrace with paper mache (oops), visiting Madrid for the first time and going to an international intercambio, eating calamari, learning to play bridge, and cooking pancakes. Now for a quick sum up of the week… followed by a lot of tourist sightseeing photos as I explore Madrid for the first time.

Tuesday was paper mache day, my ingenious idea to keep the girls entertained for the afternoon. I even covered the table with paper to keep mess to a minimun. Unfortunately, I had SEVERELY underestimated how messy paper mache was – the flour and water paste refused to stay in its bowl and allotted table space. Two hours later there was paper mache in my hair, in my shoes, and halfway up the curtains. We did however manage to salvage a few bowls and “balloon animals” out of the whole affair – maybe we will paint them next week, if I am feeling brave enough.

That night I went with Sandra to their abuelos house. Fernando´s dad teaches people how to play Bridge, and, being intrigued, I decide to go along with Sandra to her first “lesson”. If anything, I thought it would be good practice for my Spanish, but as it turns out the class was in English. Thank goodness, as Bridge is incredibly complicated, and I barely understood in my own language. However, it was good fun, although I can see why my parents never attempted to teach me how to play.

On Wednesday I decided we needed to do something considerably less messy, so I went to the small shopping centre in Tres Cantos to buy beads and elastic string so we could make bracelets – the same activity me and Hollie were known for in Peru. It had always been very popular there, and it turned out that the girls enjoyed it too (thank god). The only problem is that while Peru sold huge bags of beads for little more than one sol, here it costs one euro for each tiny tube of beads. Which is a bit of a limiting factor. Sigh. Yet again, the beads will have to be rationed like gold dust.

That evening I was meeting another au pair in Tres Cantos, Maysie, having been put in touch through our house´s cleaning lady´s contact who has an au pair agency. What a mouthful. We were meeting at the train station in Tres Cantos, and having not been there before, Fernando drew me a map. I looked at it very skeptically and was unconvinced. However, it turned out it really was that simple. I had only a teeny-tiny hitch when I thought I might have taken a wrong turn, and asked a man where the train station was. He gave me a funny look and pointed ahead – of course, it was right in front of us. Should have gone to specsavers (and bought a pair of sunglasses and remembered to take them).

After meeting Maysie, we caught the train into Madrid, about a 20-30 minute journey. We got off at Sol, which is the “cross roads” of Madrid and therefore absolutely jam packed with people walking in different directions at 100 mph. The very first thing I saw was Topshop. I loved Madrid immediately. We walked up Calle de Carmen a little looking for a mysterious language school that we never found, and then headed down towards a bar that hosted Madrid Babel, an international language exchange. The walk down was gorgeous, there are loads of beautiful buildings and the city has so much life and “marcha” – in a way, it is a little similar to London. When we arrived, I immediately bought a Tinto de Verano that was one of the best yet! IT HAD SO MUCH MORE WINE. As the bar filled up we got chatted to lots of different people, mostly Spanish, that were wanting to practice their English with us. It was a really fun night and at the end, one of the women gave us a lift home!

Thursday I decided to attempt some culinary excellence with the kids, and make pancakes, which they were extremely keen for. In my mind I imagined effortlessly flipping hundreds of perfectly formed pancakes into a neat pile, while the kids watched in (quiet and respectful) amazement. Of course, this didn´t happen, and the pancakes refused to cook properly and stuck firmly to the bottom of the pan. When I forced the fish slice underneath, they broke into pieces. Damn. However, it seems the kids didn´t know what pancakes were supposed to look like, because they were still impressed. And the piles of soggy broken pancake were still delicious when covered in Nutella. So, I suppose it was a semi-success.

Me and Sandra then went out for our second Bridge class, which turned out to be even more complicated than the last (how on earth do you “talk” using only bidding cards?!) but I enjoyed a lot. If I go home with a new talent at Bridge, that will be unexpected. It´s certainly not something that was on my “to do in Spain” list.

On Friday I bought the girls an ice cream on their way home from school, and we rented a movie. Alvin and the Chipmunks 2. It wouldn´t have been my FIRST choice… and I most definitely don´t think I will be watching it again. When Sonia came home from work, for an afternoon snack we all decided to go to “beeps”. When we arrived I discovered it was in fact called “VIPs”… but I prefer their pronounciation. We had their speciality pancakes (again) with chocolate sauce, and although they were a lot neater than the ones we had made, it´s hard to say which were more delicious. Cover anything with chocolate and it´s pretty damn good. While Sonia took Sandra and Eva to return some clothes, me and Paula made a trip to the swimming pool with Aunt Clara and Uncle Juanjo (or however he writes his name). We swam and sunbathed until half past 8, which is pretty incredible considering in Scotland at half past 8 I´m usually cuddled under a blanket sneakily turning up the heating.

The weekend rolled around, and on Saturday we were going to meet Sonia´s twin sisters, Raquel and Monica, and Monica´s 3 year old son Marcos who had just celebrated his birthday. We were all meeting at their parents house, but before going to meet everybody we took a trip to the garden of El Capricho, which is almost completely unknown but one of the most beautiful gardens in Madrid (well, so I am told). They were absolutely beautiful, with plenty of shade as well so walking wasn´t too unbearable. We strolled round the gardens for a while before sitting down to eat slices of fresh peaches – sooooo good.

From the gardens, we made our way to the abuelos and the belated birthday party. Like the rest of the family, Raquel and Monica were lovely and after an amazing sunbathe and “swim” on the roof terrace, we had a delicious lunch, followed by the most fantastic selection of mini cakes. Whilst I tried my best to resist eating more than five, abuela tried her best to make me eat the whole tray. Nomnomnom. It was then a lazy afternoon of watching “Winter the Dolphin” (a disturbingly emotional film about a dolphin who loses her fin), a little more sunbathing and some plasticine art.

Now… Sunday. And here come all the pictures! Sunday was my first real day of sightseeing in Madrid. I had arranged to meet with another au pair girl (as Maysie had suddenly and confusingly gone back home to England). Her name was Camille, she was from France, and really lovely. After meeting at Puerta del Sol, we bought a couple of maps and made our way to Plaza Mayor, the Palacio Real and Plaza Oriente. The pictures describe it better than I can! After the walk we retreated back to Sol and Calle del Carmen to sit down and eat a frozen yogurt – YUM.

We then made our way, on foot, to Parque del Retiro. I had read about this park and it looked big on the map, but when we arrived in was enormous! We strolled towards the central lake, expected a small pool of water, which was NOT what it turned out to be. The lake was huge, filled with rowing boats and surrounding by flocks of people, food and drink stalls and people selling rows of souvenirs and jewellery (ack, always my weakness!). We immediately got in line for the boats, and spent the next 45 minutes gliding gracefully like swans across the lake… in my head, anyway. Our boat may have actually looked like it was drowning. After making our equally graceful exit back onto dry land, we headed back into the city looking for somewhere to eat, as it was now about 3pm and the frozen yogurt had been a while ago.

Being predictable fussy we turned out noses up at all the sandwich bars and expensive tourist restaurants, but it worked when we located an adorable tapas bar down one of the side streets. We ordered Tinto de Verano, of course (which came with an open sandwich tapa, quite unusual in Madrid) and raciones of croquetes and patatas bravas. They were so good, even if we couldn´t quite finish all the potatoes. We lingered so much over our meal, soaking up the atmosphere, that by the time we had finished it was a little late to visit the Prado and the other art galleries. Instead, we wandered back up to the centre of the city, explored a few of the streets (including one that only seemed to cater for tattoo and piercing shops) and shops, before Camille got on the metro back home.

I was being picked up in Madrid, so made my way up to the Plaza de Callao, on the side of a busy main road. Sonia leapt out of the car to catch me, and then we spent 5 minutes precariously trying to figure out how to get back into the car again. Eventually we managed it (“GO, GO, GO!!!”) and drove on to a friend of theirs, Anna, who had a flat with an incredible terrace with a view over the centre of Madrid. Many of Sonia and Fernando´s friends were there (some of whom I had met previously) and we had a BBQ whilst Eva and the other children splashed in the paddling pool. By the time we arrived home at 11pm I was absolutely exhausted, and fell asleep almost immediately as soon as we got back. A long but brilliant day in the city!

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