And Home Again

June 25th, 2014 , 16:38

So, no update for a while! We were busy. Last days of holiday and all.

Sunday night we headed out for a restaurant that was recommended by Lonely Planet, El Machichaco – turns out it was very good. Organic, local, slow food. We got mains and pudding this time – homemade ice cream!  Then back to the hotel to sleep.

Next day we head out for coffee and a last look around. No Santander badges! Then sat on the front and watched the boats until we saw our ferry coming in; off to the ferry office to check in and then out for brunch. Ended up back at El Machichaco for egg and chips (mine came with ham and carmilised onion, Joe got chorizo). Then hotel to get our bags and join the queue to board the ferry at 2pm. And wait. wait a bit more. Until about 20 past 2 we got an announcement that no one could understand, but it turned out that the ferry had engine problems (a piston in one of the engines, I think) and so it would be delayed. Boarding would be at 17.00 and the ferry would leave at 21.00. Oh and we wouldn’t be going to Portsmouth, but to Plymouth and a couple of hours later than we would have been in Portsmouth.

Not much we could do about it, so we sat in the ferry terminal and waited until 5pm boarding. Got on board, dumped the bags, made reservations for dinner, and then walked the ship.  Stood on deck for the departure and watched Santander and then Spain disappear off the stern; then into the restaurant for dinner. Not a bad dinner and slept well.

Spent most of Tuesday watching the sea and reading. Got into Plymouth around 4pm and after grabbing a taxi got to the station in time to get the just before 5pm train to London – waved to Glastonbury as we stopped at Castle Cary! Finally in London a bit before 9pm and home just after 10pm and settled with dinner at half past 10. We should have been in Portsmouth at 2pm and that’s a 2 hour train journey home! Oh well.

So today work from home rather than try to get up and off to the office. Also meant laundry could get done and things started to be put away – the very definition of the end of the holiday.

Frog Blog

Promenade Santander

June 22nd, 2014 , 18:10

Slept very late (hey, we’re still on holiday!) Finally up and out for a stroll along the promenade, with a stop in the market for a coffee and orange juice. Then all the way up to Peninsula de la Magdalena. We stopped for a drink at a little cafe near the entrance, then walked up to the Palacio and around the headland where there are wonderful views, then back down. There is an old zoo/animal enclosures, now just a few seals, sealions and penguins and sort of sad. What was nice was the pieces of art, sculptures, along the walk. In the park were bits carved from trees that had come down, so little chairs, mushrooms, birds, were carved out of the stump. We then left the peninsula and along the upper road over looking the bay beaches back to the hotel. Another 4 or 5 hours of walking in the sunshine!

We mainly just walked slowly and watched the people. Lots of tourists – this is a major holiday spot for the Spanish and this is the first weekend of summer break, so filling up. Lots of families and the beaches were pretty busy, though I can image they get even more packed. We watched games on the beach, divers coming in, people out sailing (I want a boat!), and people fishing. Just a really nice spot to relax.

Rest in the room before heading out for dinner later.

Frog Blog

Last day in Madrid

June 21st, 2014 , 21:46

So, Friday. We got up a bit later and headed out to shop. Didn’t actually do much shopping, but did do a lot of walking, again. Saw some bits we hadn’t seen before. Later that evening we met up with the IT person from the Spanish office and had drinks, then had dinner in a place he recommended.

Saturday morning up after not a very good night’s sleep (someone was watching telly with the volume right up until 2 or 3 in the morning). Checked out of the hotel and made our way to Charmartin train station for the Santander train. We were far too early but it was easier to get to then we expected. The train journey was long but interesting – they showed The Muppet Movie! In Spanish. And the scenery was lovely through the mountains.

Santander, easy walk to the hotel. I’d booked it based on location, but it was also fairly cheap. Right across from the ferry terminal and not expensive, so I was warning Joe it might be a bit down market. So we walk into a lovely lobby, all art deco and posh. We get checked in (though Joe said the man at the desk seemed a bit surprised at our room rate) and head up to the room. Which is large. We have a short hallway, with bathroom and small dressing room of it, then the room. Yeah, not that down market! Hopefully be a bit quieter.

So get settled in and then head out to walk along the front for a bit. Found a nice little Mexican restaurant and had a very good meal and now back at the room to catch up on sleep!

Frog Blog

More Art

June 19th, 2014 , 18:02

Today was a holiday in Madrid (Corpus Christi) and the coronation of the new king. We’d seen all the decorations going out all week and the recommendation was to leave the city. But us being tourists we stayed put, got up, headed out, stopped for coffee and went to the Reina Sofia Museum. Which was pretty much empty, except for a few tour groups.

Went straight to Guernica (there may have been a little tiny bit of playing in the glass lift before – perhaps going up to the fourth floor then back down), there was a tour group there, but they soon left and after a bit it was pretty empty. Which is not normal! So we had a good look at that, then started at the first room and worked our way around. Joe was a bit grumpus about more art, but he liked this museum better – all modern art, mainly Spanish. Though most of the first floor was closed off! But we saw everything we could then headed out for lunch.

We had a very large lunch – menu de dia with three courses – then headed up the Paseo de Prado to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which is a bit more eclectic. Not as many Spanish artists, but a whole mixture from early religious paintings to more modern works. Joe pretty much skimmed past the religious and early work, but enjoyed the more modern works. I loved all the impressionist works. By the time we’d done three floors we were quite tired and our legs were giving out. So back to the hotel, stopping to get drinks and snacks.

So we celebrated the coronation by totally ignoring it, which Joe says is a very British way of celebrating such things; or at leas the way he celebrates anything royal!

Frog Blog


June 18th, 2014 , 20:25

So up and off to Puerto Atocha to get the train to Toledo. We bought the tickets and figured out where to go, got through security, and had a coffee while waiting for the train. Very quick journey to Toledo, just the direct train which takes about 30 minutes – we were early both going and coming back! And the trains are nice – their Tourista class is just as nice as our first class.

So off the train, get a map, get our bearings and off we head. And up. Toledo is definitely up a hill. A very steep hill. So a short walk along the river and across the Alcantara Bridge and then we took the stairs. Up and up. We were headed for the Museo de El Greco which was across town, so we went the nifty route, just taking the small roads that looked interesting. Beautiful little city (though it doesn’t feel so little when you’re walking all over it!) Tiny little streets, twists and turns, stairs up and down, and all cobbled. Lovely. We didn’t see as much of it as I’d have liked, just the Museo de El Greco and Sinagoga del Transito. And walked all over the city so saw loads of little streets and beautiful buildings. But Joe had had enough of art by the end of the El Greco museum (actually probably before that) so I couldn’t convince him to go into any of the churches. So we missed all the Roman ruins and Arabic ruins, but did see a lot of the older buildings from the outside. Well recommended.

While walking through the city we were coming across streets with flowers and decorations and a canvas cover – it’s all the decoration and preparation for Corpus Christi which is this week. the procession starts sometime tonight I think with the main stuff happening tomorrow. We were lucky to miss it (because the town is packed during), but to see the preparations. We actually followed the route for a while, looking at the decorations and saw some of the processional statues and banners here and there.

Joe’s top tip: do not buy a drink, especially a beer, in the train station cafe. It is far too expensive. And use CityMaps 2Go, by Ulmon. It lets you down load city maps, with information, and use them offline. They come in very handy – we have Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo and we have used them daily.

Having walked all day, we headed back to the train station (where we bought drinks – thus Joe’s top tip). Train was on time and early into Madrid. We left the train station and headed straight for the Mexican restaurant we’d seen last night. Had a really lovely meal – my pollo en mole was very good. Now back at the hotel watching football though I’ll probably fall asleep soon!

Tomorrow – more art! Yay!

Frog Blog

Kathleen’s reason for being in Madrid

June 17th, 2014 , 21:12

We did art crap. Lots of art. And this was just the first day of art.

Editor :  By that Joe means we went to the Prado! And saw lots of very nice stuff. Got up early due to noise in the hotel (it’s a nice hotel, very clean and nice rooms but very very noisy, mainly due to the young people staying here – yelling at each other, watching TV at full blast, slamming doors, whistling in the halls, that sort of stuff). Then off to our usual place for breakfast and then to the Prado. Where we had to sit for about half an hour as we were early. So sat on the steps watching the swifts and swallow swoop around.

Then into the museum and off to the ground floor. That took about 2 hours, then stop for coffee and the very small second floor, then back down to the first floor to finish off. I thought we went quickly, Joe thought we took far too long.

Back to the hotel for a rest, then out to Casa Alberto for a huge and very nice dinner. Now trying to digest and it’s Toledo (and El Greco!) tomorrow!

Siesta Update

June 16th, 2014 , 16:15

So up a bit later today (just before 9) get ready and head out to the nifty places we found yesterday. Had breakfast in a little bakery/cafe – Joe said it was a good one because when we went in there was a policeman getting his coffee and pastry (doughnut?) We enjoyed our breakfast. Then straight down to the Prado to get our art ticket sorted.

The woman at the ticket desk wasn’t particularly friendly and seemed really cross that we wanted to sort the ticket out – she kept telling us it was for tomorrow. But the receipt itself said we could exchange it before the date – that way we could go into the Prado without queueing tomorrow morning. Also when we were there the ticket office was very quiet, no queues and not many people. Now we need to make sure we can use it for the other museums on different days; it says we can but then the way she was acting maybe we can’t!

Once that was sorted we headed up Paseo del Prado to the Biblioteco National. At the top we stopped for a drink, then headed back down, this time through the Parque de el Retiro. Strolled through the park while Joe took photos – stopped at the lake to watch the fish and boats, went to the Crystal Palace to see the exhibit and then watch turtles in that lake, then along and out by the train station.

At the train station got our tickets for Santander and talked about our day trip out. Probably won’t go to Cuenca due to the time/expense, but looking at Toledo and Segovia. We shall see.

Finally back to across the road from where we had breakfast to have a very large, late, Cuban lunch. Now stuffed we are relaxing for an hour or so before heading out again to the Plaza Mayor so Joe can get photos. Actual walking time was around 5 hours.

Frog Blog

Last Post Today

June 15th, 2014 , 21:02

So having had a bit of a rest after the large lunch, we decided to walk a bit around Madrid. Three hours later we’re back in the room with sore feet. There are a lot more hills in Madrid than Barcelona or London. Well, steeper hills. We walked up the road our hostel is on, to the Plaza Mayor, then around that and down the road to the Teatro and across that garden to the Palace. I said start looking for a place to sit and have a drink. But we didn’t. Well, not until we walked all the way back through Madrid ending up outside the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, then walked up the road by there to cut across to our hotel. Then on Calle de Jesus we found a nice little bar and sat and had a drink and some olives, before heading back to the hotel.

Tomorrow more walking and trade in our online voucher for our museum tickets.

Joe’s question of the day ‘why does art hurt your feet?’ To which I replied, ‘But we didn’t see any art today!’ Silly thing.

Frog Blog

5am Thunderstorm

June 15th, 2014 , 17:03

So to bed. Only to wake up at 5am to thunder. Our hotel was really nifty, all space themed, and the blinds were operated from a switch by the bed (but just not quite close enough to open and close from bed). So I had to sit up and open them to watch the lightening and rain. And Joe said ‘it’s 5am!’ Which I guessed meant ‘close the stupid blinds and go back to sleep.’ <sigh>

Up at about 8ish, tidied up and consolidated our stuff between our bags and were ready to go by 9ish. So headed out to get some photos. Ok, headed out to get photos of the dragon by the hotel. Which is a really nifty slide! Got those photos and of the park (Flickr at some point) and then back to the room to get ready to head for the train.

So to get to the platform for the train you have to go through security. So the bags get scanned, but people don’t. We’d seen this and decided to go in early as there was a cafe there to have a coffee. Then tickets scanned, like at an airport, to get down to the platform. When the train came in it was pretty full and all those people had to get out – except some moron had put a baby buggy – one of those very large ones – right smack in front of the door blocking it completely and people dithered about what to do. Finally someone just grabbed it and put it outside the door. After a while people got tired of trying to get around it and moved it further way from the train. Finally the trained emptied and we all piled on. Very nice train, very comfortable.

The journey was just over 2 hours non-stop, we were about 13 minutes early into Madrid. The journey was interesting, a woman came through the train handing out headsets and Great Expectations was played on the TVs in the carriage. I mainly watched the scenery – dry and mountainous and then green. Lots of farms. Then into the station, which is huge, so large they have the moving sidewalks to get from the train area to the front- the whole experience was like being on an aeroplane, only at ground level!

Actually found the hotel with no problems. Small room but clean and purple touches. Interesting place very near the museums. As we hadn’t had much to eat we decided to head out to find food. Saw a cafe but it was packed so carried on. I saw a tapas wine bar across the road and we decided to give it a try. Turns out it was an excellent choice – a chef’s interpretation of various interesting tapas. We got seated and chef apologised that he only spoke a little English, no problem. Then he gave his recommendation and we decided to go for that – a mixed sample of seasonal tapas for two people. The presentation was lovely (photos on Flickr – I promise!) and the chef went through each one. Then we ate. And ate. And were stuffed. So back in the room for a rest before braving Madrid a bit later.

Frog Blog

Evening on La Rambla

June 15th, 2014 , 16:34

Left the hotel and headed for coordinates given as the meeting spot. Even with the coordinates, three groups of us managed to wait in totally separate places, until Koyan appeared with a few people which coalesced everyone into a group of 13 (representing several different countries).  Luckily one of these was somewhat local (even if he does live abroad). So we dully followed the local to a tapas bar, down a small side alley off La Rambla.

Went into what looked like a fairly empty little restaurant, where we followed the waiter into a expanding space – it felt like we kept turning corners to find even more restaurant – and eventually a small room which we had to ourselves (another party came in later, but we had finished and were getting to leave by that point). The room was full of old bull fighting memorabilia, including a large bull head on the wall. Of course, being a bit of leftover IT geeks, the first thing we asked for was the wifi password (K – I think I was the only one not with a phone/device!) The place obviously catered for large groups as the menu had a per person group selection, which included a set of dishes and a litre of drink between 2 people (so a litre of beer or wine or sangria or water or soft drink – just guess what the IT people went for. No not beer, sangria). So large pitchers of sangria on the table. And following that a large plate of bread with tomato. Then a few other tapas and we started eating. Then a few more tapas. And a few more. And more. Then a couple more. Until we were playing plate tetris just to find space on the table. And the tetris music just kept speeding up. In the end we were just combining tapas onto the same plates to make space. At some later point, the tapas were gone, the sangria jugs were empty, and the plates had disappeared.

Then someone said ‘ice cream!’ and hands went up. But one person said ‘no wait! There’s a really good ice cream place back on La Rambla. We should go there.’ So the bill arrived and was settled – everyone over paid slightly so it was decided that this was ice cream money and off we headed on the ice cream hunt.

So we were lead to the little ice cream parlour, and this one was little (and empty when we got there, not so much after). We all looked at the ice cream until it was figured out that you queue in the centre to order and pay, then queue at one of the coolers to choose your flavour, and this group of 13 had not only filled the space but mucked up the system. So we got ourselves sorted, more or less, with one of us to order and pay and rest to queue up to chose our flavour. So hands up for cups? and hands up for cones? And then do it again because some of us didn’t pay attention the first time. And there was an extra cup – a man on the end of our group had joined in. So sure say we – join in! And he introduced himself, German on holiday, and we said ‘oh we don’t have a German in the party, perfect!’ And that’s how there were 15 for ice cream. Which was very good indeed (ice cream and company).

So we ate the ice cream, then started fading away as people called it a night. So headed down La Rambla losing people all the way until it was just the two of us. Went past our metro stop so backed up and found it (with loads of people heading out for a Port Vell night run) and headed for the hotel.

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