Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thankful Nomads!

The Senior Nomads outside our airbnb apartment in Madrid
 For the first time ever I woke up at 3:00 am and asked myself "did I blog about Bilboa? What about Madrid? Seville? And now we are in Granada!"  I talked myself off the ledge and realized this blog is just as much for us as for anyone else, and hopefully you enjoy checking in from time to time.

The Blogger Breakfast of Champions. Churros and dipping chocolate!
Now that we all agree the sky is not falling - nor is the rain, in Spain, falling mainly on the plain, here are a few notes. I did cover Bilboa in the 500 Days on the Road post. But I would write it all over again because now that we have ventured further, Bilbao and nearby San Sebastian make the Senior Nomad Top Ten destinations. 

 Last spring we spent two weeks in Barcelona and we couldn't get enough of that city. It inspired us to explore more of Spain and hopefully stay ahead of the winter weather. Mission accomplished.

After Bilboa our next stop was Madrid. A rather jarring transition from the gentility of Bilbao to this sprawling metropolis. We were back in the land of snarled traffic and graffiti. But also towering cathedrals, elaborate municipal buildings, imposing royal residences, huge parks, and magnificent fountains. And lots of very, very important men (and one queen) sculpted in bronze. Most were astride rearing stallions because if you gained statue-status, your effigy should and would be on the revered caballo. If you were particularly worthy, you would be center-stage, at the pinnacle of a large fountain overlooking a congested round-about.

One of hundreds of important Spaniards astride their trusty stallions
 We found a quirky apartment in the center of Madrid's "hip" part of town in the Malasana neighborhood. The narrow streets were filled with traditional and trendy bars (there are more bars per capita here than anywhere else in the world), vintage shops, boutiques, nightclubs, and restaurants. There was a decent grocery store nearby and a lovely church where Michael attending mass on several mornings.
Best host award goes to Enrique. He's also a talented photographer.
Here's a link to the apartment: Our host, Enrique was amazing. Not only did he haul our mammoth bags up 4 flights of stairs, he spent and hour pouring over the map of Madrid and then took us on a walk through the neighborhood so we could find "the good stuff". That's what makes the air bnb experience so great. 

What graffiti? I don't see any graffiti.
We were able to walk to most every major tourist site in the city - but we also used the very efficient and affordable metro. We are averaging a little over 5 miles a day of walking, so we don't try to hard to avoid the excellent beer taps and tapas! Side note - Spain offers excellent non-alcoholic beer. I wondered when I saw so many people downing little 'breakfast beers' - and I learned that in Spain, orange juice is an American preference, while 'sin' (non alcoholic beer) is the perfect accompaniment to a 'patat tortilla' in the morning. Makes sense! Also found the Sunday open-air flea market that stretched for block after block. Yet more opportunities to eat, drink and poke through a million things you really can't buy if you are a Nomad. And street performances of every kind...including:

Yes. This is a human being somehow suspended for hours above his bike.
Best of all - a great fresh market was a short walk away. Over 100 years ago, the Barcelo Mercado was the central market for all of Madrid. Over time it fell into disrepair, and lost it's luster. Over the past few years it was completed renovated and we arrived just 3 weeks after it's re-opening. Three stories of shiny market stalls kept me well occupied at least once most everyday.

My new 'Papa' Alasandro at his jamon stall
Just one corner of the Barcelo Market
We spent Thanksgiving in Madrid. Last year were were in Lisbon, and settled for a mediocre Chinese dinner - mostly due to the lack of traditional ingredients to make the meal. This time I was determined to find the fixings for a proper Thanksgiving dinner for two, even though I would be working with a tiny oven and two burners. Most everything I needed could be found at Barcelo. Of course, it wasn't going to be cheap. The turkey (a breast and a leg quarter) cost the equivalent of $30. And a lonely can of pumpkin puree at the American Grocery Store was $10. Never mind the many Euros I would spend buying ingredients to make a pie. And stuffing, etc. only to leave them behind. No sense hauling bags of flour and sugar around! It became clear that we may just have to go out for burgers.

But then Divine intervention came in to play. I had a question that needed translation at a fruit and vegetable stall and the nicest young man offered to help. His English was very good, and as usual we got into a rapid discussion about Madrid, the economy, Spanish politics, etc.

It turned out that Andres was very familiar with Seattle because he spent his junior year of high school as a foreign exchange student in Shelton, Washington. Really? Odd but true. He went on to University in Madrid to study nuclear engineering - but his momories of the Pike Place Market never left him. His heart now belongs to his family produce distribution business - which turns out is the largest in Spain. As a labor of love, he owns the stall where met.

Eventually, the topic of Thanksgiving came up.  His wife spent 15 of her formative years in St. Louis with her parents who were teaching Spanish and other courses at the University there. When they moved back to Madrid they brought Thanksgiving with them. Apparently Andres Mother-in-law lays out a full feast. Without even a hesitation I invited ourselves over for dinner. I would bring as many side dishes and beverages as I could carry! He only blinked for a few minutes before saying - sure, isn't that the spirit of Thanksgiving?! I was giddy and already thumbing through recipes in my mind.

Sad to miss son Christopher's first Thanksgiving turkey. Looks like I trained him well!
Unfortunately, Andres Mother-in-Law's elder sister took very ill and there was a change of plans. We still got together with Andres and his wife Paloma for dinner at a restaurant and it was a lovely evening. He worked hard to find a restaurant that served a semblance of Thanksgiving dinner. A prefix 6 course meal that was tasty - and had all the elements, just in small portions on large white plates. The turkey roullade was the size of a chocolate chip cookie. And dessert was a smear of pumpkin puree with a marshmallow quinnelle and a cherry size scoop of cranberry sorbet. No need to push back from this table. But the company was good and no chopsticks in sight.

And NEW to these Senior Nomads postings are Michael's Football adventures. He's attended several matches so far including two in Madrid, so follow that ball!

Michael has made some great connections at football matches. Here's Pablo!
That's it for now. I will catch you up on how the Spaniards celebrate Christmas next.

Madrid getting dressed up for the holidays!
Have a wonderful season filled with joy and blessings!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Real Madrid - Sell Out?

Real Madrid - In Spanish, "Real" means Royal
It was our last full day in Madrid, so I decided I should at least visit the Real Madrid Stadium before we left. After all, they are the most loved football team in the world! I found out on the website that it cost $25 just to take a "self-guided" tour. 

I knew they had a home match that night - but it was not a first division league match. It was an early round match in the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) against a small team from Barcelona called Cornella from Division 2B. Real Madrid had won the first leg 4-1 so it sounded like it would be a one-sided contest and not worth attending. But now that I knew what the tour cost, I got to thinking...

Tickets for the match started at $12.50 so why not go to the match AND see the stadium. Another factor that encouraged me to change plans was a story I had seen about Real Madrid having removed the "Christian cross" from their logo in order to accommodate a credit card sponsorship deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. (More about that later). So... I decided to skip the tour and go to the match. Yea!

We had mastered the metro system and the stadium is just a few Metro stops from the center of Madrid where we were staying. In fact, when you pop out of the Metro station the huge building looms right in front of you. It was very impressive at night!

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu - Capacity 81,000
It is impossible to exaggerate how popular this team is - not just in Spain, but worldwide. Before I tell you what happened next let me share a few details about Real Madrid:
  • They have 75 million likes on Facebook
  • 32 League Titles
  • 19 Copas del Rey Titles
  • Never been relegated in 112 years
  • Annual Revenues are highest in the football world - $800M
  • Highest value of any team in the world - $3.4B, (Dallas Cowboys valued at $3B)
  • Named by FIFA as the "Club of the 20th Century" in 2000
  • Enough star players to fill-up a soccer galaxy of their own
I think you get the idea. I got to the ticket window and was told that the match was "Sold-out" which was both baffling and surprising. How could it be sold out? I knew the team was popular but a week-night match in December against a Division 2B team just didn't make sense. On top of that I saw on the team website that some of the best players would be sitting-out the match, including their Portuguese super-star Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the top two players in the world.

Dumfounded I started circling the stadium going from one entrance to another thinking it must be a mistake. Surely the game could not be a sell-out. They must be selling tickets somewhere. I even tried the VIP entrance and the "Honors" Entrance.

Sorry - No tickets here either
When I realized I was getting nowhere I decided to take a few photos that I could at least use in my blog explaining how I tried to go to the match but could not get in. Here's one of the ticket takers I approached.
I thought they were giving me a friendly wave. I quickly learned, no photos allowed of stadium security.
By now I was thinking about calling it a night and heading home. But instead I decided to see if there were any scalpers (in Spanish they are called reventa.) At first they were hard to find but after awhile I started to pick out who was selling tickets. Before long I found a reventa who wanted 50 Euros for a ticket. Turns out he was from Iraq and his English was pretty good. I was nervous that I'd buy a fake so he invited a cop over to prove the ticket was authentic. I wondered if he was in on the scam...anyway the cop said it was good, so I went for it.

I decided to take the plunge - Here is my scalped ticket
We settled on 25 Euros, which is about $31. I made my way to my gate and slid the bar code under the scanner and voila! It worked. Yea! In I went. My seat was in Section 528 which was at the very top of the stadium so up I went. Up, up, up until I got to the very top. Wow.

My seat was 5 rows from the top but awesome view!
 I was totally surprised when I got to my seat to see that the stadium was about 20% full. Fortunately for me, there were two guys next to my seat in what otherwise was a pretty empty section and the one nearest me spoke good English. Efrain explained to me that a few more fans would show up before the match started but that most members would not show up for the match but their tickets were paid-for hence the match was technically a sell-out even though there would probably be 30,000 people there for the match. I was damn happy that I was one of them.

The match got underway and my suspicions about a one-sided match were confirmed pretty early on. RM was in complete control of the match until the 14th minute when Cornella somehow managed to get the ball into scoring position in the penalty box and the referee awarded them a penalty kick. Well, the Cornella player must have been a nervous wreck because somehow he managed to miss the entire goal and put the ball into the stands. Oops.

From then on it was all RM with unanswered goals in the 16th, 32nd, 33rd, 60th and 77th minute to take a 5-0 win to the locker room and advance to the Round of 16 in the Copa del Rey. Two of the goals came off the foot of Columbia's 23 year-old superstar James Rodriguez who you'll remember won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup. He led all scorers in Brazil with 6 goals. So even thought I did not get to see Ronaldo play, it was cool to see James stick in two for the home team.

Columbia's James Rodriguez scored twice
As I have said before, every match I've attended has been an adventure and there always ends up being a story one way or the other. I'm so glad I went and thankful that my Iraqi scalper sold me a real ticket. Note - I learned during the match that Efrain and his buddy paid 30 Euros for their tickets so I felt pretty good about my negotiating skills.

Before I go, here is the Reader's Digest version of the credit card dust-up, and my question is did they "Sell Out?" As the story goes on the Internet, RM entered into an agreement with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The Bank gets to issue a RM debit card in exchange for $3M. Apparently, the Bank requested the Christian cross on the top of the RM logo be removed in order to accommodate Muslim sensitivities . The club agreed (see photo below). The cross is an integral part of the logo since it sits atop the crown of the Spanish King. Remember that "real" means royal.

The original on the left - modified version on the right
If you want to know more, here is a link to the story.

Until Next time...