So, I haven't done much of Spain.
I spent a bit of time skiing in the Pyrenees in a tiny Catalan village in my gap yah, but besides that, it's one place that I knew I'd conquer one day but was never in a great hurry to do so.
British people love Spain. It's hot, the people are relatively friendly, and the food comes in hot pockets of deep fried heaven and/or cheese and ham. It's paradise for anyone coming in from a wet, grey place. A specific sector of British society sadly has the reputation of flocking to Spain in summer, baking themselves in the sun and going a bit mental while they do so. (Sun + alcohol + heat in large, uncontrolled quantities just doesn't fare them well.)
And that is one of the reasons I haven't really done Spain yet. The thought of buying fish and chips on the Costa del Whatever in amongst groups of Northerners on stag do's, doing unthinkable things in the streets really puts me off. Lads on Tour in Benidorm is kind of why I've always preferred France.
Well, that's changed.
There are pockets of Spain - like anywhere - that I am happy to avoid, and there are authentic areas of Spain that are still very much Spanish in every sense of the word.
I flew over there on a press trip last week, and tore around the city on a cultural detente, stuffing my face in endless, delicious platters of tapas, and enjoying throwing around my basic Spanish in the lispy fashion that it is known for. ("Grazias" is actually "grathiath." If you just go around saying "th the the the" you can honestly get by.)
After two days of work, we wrapped up and I welcomed my boys to the city for the rest of the weekend. The Brit flew in with Sebastian, and I expected to see a haggled husband stumble into the hotel with toddler pooh running down his arm, an eyebrow missing, and a squealing child in his wake. Couldn't have been more wrong. Sebby was good as gold on the trip apparently. Not even a squeak. Now, if that had been me...
It was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, so we had until Monday to walk endlessly around the city, chill out and picnic in Retiro Park, eat ourselves sick on the endless market food on every corner, and enjoy the perfect temperatures that is Madrid in May.
Damn but look at that ham.Twenty-five degrees, warm, not baking, sunshine out. It is difficult not to love a place that was climatically perfect. When you're there.
If you love shavings of artisan ham drizzled in olive oil and pepper (just try to ignore the trotter on the end of it); soft, creamy triangles of cheese, huge, bulging olives stuffed with anything you can dream of; potato 'croquetas' warm from the pan; potatoes slathered in salsa; more ham, and finally; hot, sugary sticks of dough - "churros" - dipped in a cup of molten, thick, custardy chocolate - and this is just for breakfast - then you would love Madrid. If only for the food.
They don't do a decent cuppa tea or coffee, but they know how to serve plates of delicious tasters - sometimes nine at a time - for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate and ate and ate, knowing that I wouldn't need to see another piece of serrano ham again for a long time.
I did a bike tour with my work group before the Brit and Seb touched down, which gave me a good idea of what to revisit and linger on when we had time to walk around for the rest of the weekend.
ña, the hip part of town one evening ("Shoreditchification" comes to mind), with Sebastian asleep in his buggy, and took in a live rock concert and some food, while roaming the streets with the rest of the twentysomethings on a big night out. (Followed by suddenly feeling very tired and heading home to bed. My 9pm is your 11pm, childless person.)
Mango, Zara - both Spanish companies. Lemmetellya, I shopped, and it was fucking bueno.
The Brit and I were debating this over the weekend. Hot countries have poorer economies than cold, wet countries. Just look at Europe and how it's split. He thinks this isn't the reason why, for example, the recession has panned out like it has, and actually that the property crash is to blame.
Either way, when you're sitting there in the sun under azure skies, with your chops wrapped around a bocadillo, as you take in the terracotta architecture around you, then close your shutters and have a wonderful two hour snooze in the heat of day - completely guilt free - who gives a fuck about the economy anyway.
Spain. So fuckin' chill.
Tapas with Daddy. More cheese, ham and bread than you can shake a stick at. If I lived in Spain, I'd be the size of Spain. You get me?