Vamos de compras y un poco de cultura tambien!

A relatively slow start to the day; a leisurely breakfast with great coffee and a plenty of choice of delicious things to eat which meant we ate far too much!
El Palacio Real was on our hit list today followed by a relaxing lunch and a spot of shopping….
It was a decidedly chilly mornng and we were not really drssed for it, but confident that it would warm up we braved it – mad dog and English girls…!
The Palacio Real is huge; we paused for photos in the gardens and fountains opposite the palace. The contrast of the clear blue sky with the white of the palace and the bright sunshine made photos difficult. The splendour of the palace compares favourably with Versailles; the decorations are beautiful, stunning colours, frescoes and painted ceilings merge seamlessly with the moulded plasterwork of intricate flowers, leaves, cherubs, animals… We were particularly struck by the way the paintings of the people hung their legs over the cornices or lounged in the corners of the ceilings! the use of the plasterwork features and the structure of the building made the paintings three dimensional.
Our favourite room was the Salon Gaspirin with its autumnal tones and relief paintings of plants and branches. the marble of the door frames blended with the browns and greens and the large mirrors reflected the colours and shapes to complete the feeling of being in awood of rich overhanging trees. The insipidness of the pale blue in the next room was all the more accentuated because of the richness of this one and was a real disappointment.
As we emerged into the daylight again and into the courtyard it was clear that despite the blue sky, the sun had not managed to really warm the day up. We hurried into the armoury where I couldn’t help thinking how much Gus would have enjoyed the amazing suits of armour – especially thoxe on horses! fantastic workmanship, the detail was unbelievable. It is difficult to imagine how much weight the horses and the riders had to carry.
We emerged to the back of the palace and an impressive view across Madrid out towards the mountains which were covered with snow. A peacock strutted his stuff along the parapet, posed for photos but refused to display his tail feathers! He is clearly a fixture of the palace and was completely unfazed by all the people trying to get his photo!
Lunch beckoned, despite having eaten a huge breakfast, so we headed towards the Plaza Mayor. We were in no hurry so we browsed the shops on the way, poked our noses into little alleyways, happened across a great little market where we got churros y chocolate,and had a wander around La Plaza de la Villa which is a delightful little square. I love the lightness of the colour of the stone buildings and we particularly lied the street signs on the buildings which are very pretty. Tapas and wine kept us busy in the Plaza Mayor once we found a sunny spot and we were surprised to suddenly realise that it was after 5pm and we still hadn’t really expored the shops!
In the next two hours we managed a rapid tour of the shops – well, a prolonged browse in El Corte Ingles and more specifically the bag section where I bought a new, bigger suitcase! Then followed a mad dash to the theatre to buy tickets for the Flamenco Ballet, back to the hotel (via an extended non-intentional route!) quick change and then back to the theatre!
It was well worth it! What a performance. We loved the dresses, but the dancing was out if this world. The passion, the colours, the vibrance, the costumes, the skill of the dancers, the shapes they made as they moved together and whirled around were fantastic! The highlight though was the lead male dancer who mesmerised us with his dancing. His legs must have burned as he tapped his feet staccato like, up and down, to and fro – an intricate pattern like drum beats. we were tired and nit vey hungry so we went back to the hotel for a copa rather than hit Madrid ( must be geting old!) but ended up sitting up late into the night chatting and eating tapas.

Viernes por la tarde. ..

Once I had had a welcome hot shower and Kate gave my feet a massage, we went out for a wander.  It was a beautiful afternoon and we made our way via several shoe shops to La Puerta del Sol where we were entertained by the many street “statues”and cartoon characters who tout for the odd coin thrown in appreciation (or exasperation) by generous tourists!
We continued on to the Plaza Mayor where we found a sunny spot in a cafe and then spent a pleasant couple of hours in the sunshine drinking wine and tasting a variety of tapas.
La Plaza Mayor is beautiful; as you walk through one of the small archways that give you access from the surrounding streets you are faced wth a huge square surrounded by high ochre coloured apartments – tiered levels with ironwork balconies that look down onto the central with a statue in the middle.  It is a delightful though busy and noisy place to sit by mid to late afternoon and probably gets even busier as the madrilenos and the tourists hit the restaurants by ten o’clock!   It is ironic that the first public event to be held there was a beatification of Saint Isidror, Madrid’s patron saint, and then it was used later by the Spanish inquisition for executions of heretics.
There are people everywhere; children running around with balloon creations made by the many street vendors, young and old couples in their own worlds, tourists of all ages; families, singletons, school groups, young and old, travellers of all nationalities, colour and creeds, exploring the world, wandering, laughing, joking, pondering the world around them, people-watching, drinking, eating, celebrating, chatting,….  The cafes and restaurants are hidden under the arches but their sunshades and tables line the square and you can always find a sunny place to sit.  There was the noise of laughter and chatter all around as well as the incessant and infuriating squeaking of one of the street vendors to whom we were tempted to toss a few coins just to send him to the opposite end of the square.  But he is part of the scenery and atmosphere of the place so we decided to put up with him! 
As the sun went down we headed back to the hotel. It has been a long day and I am ready for bed!

Espana 2013

Viernes el 19 de abril
Arrived barajas airport, Madrid, very tired, very hot and sticky afyer 30 hour flying, met up with Rebecca, Lorraine and Sandy and managed to negotiate the Madrid Metro with all our bags! No mean feat as the train was pretty busy. I was very quicky reminded of the “Metro mentality” of holding easy exit doorway positions as we endeavoured to squeeze past “door holders” who made no effort to move and make space for us – stared intently at techno devices as if we did not exist!
I parted company at Plaza de Espana to go to Santa Domingo and almost fell foul of Metro thieves; as I was riding an escalator it suddenly shuddered to a halt.  My suitcase was cumbersome and now I would have to carry it up the escalator stairs!  A young boy from the family behind me came to my aid and lifted the suitcase for me to help me carry it to the top.  “How kind”, I thought. “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias” I said gratefully.
Two escalators later, the same thing happened – this time a lady who was in front of me came to help me. It was rather awkward and I had to lift my arms to help balance the suitcase.  I felt my shoulder bag being pulled from behind and turned round to find nimble fingers pulling my glasses case and my headphone case out of my bag!  I glared at the owner of the fingers and he dropped them quickly back in the bag and said someting like he was just picking them up because they had fallen on the floor.  I shouted angrily “Dejalos, dejalos!”. The woman abruptly dropped my suitcase and the children and she disappeared into the ether. 
Shaken, I checked that they had not taken anything.  All good; my valuables had been hidden in an inside zipped pocket and the thief had not got that far!.  I had been carrying my bag over my shoulder and acroos my chest which meant it was more difficult for them to get into, but their ruse of unbalancing me and getting me to lift my arms so that the bag was exposed may well have worked if there had not been so many hidden interior compartments to my bag! 
It was a worrying and timely reminder that “No somos todos iguales” as one lady had warned us on the metro and how easily these people target their victims.  I was on my own, quite heavily laden, clearly tired and in an unfamiliar place.  They work together, build a modicum of trust by “helping” me initially, so that the second time I was off my guard. They clearly have a knack of being able to jam the escalators; at first I thought that they were just kids larking around and since escalators are notorious for breaking down, I thought nothing of it.
Anyway, I soon arrived at the Mercure to find my two beautiful sisters waiting for me.  It was so lovely to see them.  We hugged each other tightly and got down to catching up!

On my way! Me voy en Espana!

Well, I have not really had time to get excited about this trip as I have been so busy. Even the orientation day with the rest of the teachers on the trip didn’t really get me feeling that it was real. Now I am here in Auckland airport waiting for my flight and am allowing myself to get just a little bit excited about the fact that in just a few hours time I will be on the of the side of the world. 
When I was told about the Salamanca Immersion scholarship and decided to apply I didn’t want to hope too much that I would get it in case I was disappointed.  It has been a hectic and long term and I have to admit to being absolutely shattered and looking forward to sleeping as much as possible on the flight!
I am also a little apprehensive about staying with my host in Salamanca and not being able to communicate – you know those awkward silences when you can’t of anything to say or the frustrated panicky silences when you are trying desperately to finish off the sentence you have ambitiously started?  If I understand the information I have been given correctly, I am staying with a single lady which is great but also quite daunting; what if
we have nothing in common? It is often easier to keep conversations going when there are children around, with just the two of us I am worried that I won’t be able to think of anything to say…
But nothing ventured, nothing gained and I have a fantastic opportunity which I am going to grasp with both hands and both feet! I may well be more exhausted when I return than now but I know I will have learned heaps about the language, the culture and myself.
Here goes……