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May 19th 2008
Published: June 8th 2008
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Rach and Abi hit Madrid



It's funny how things turn out isn't it? At this time of year, back in 2000, I was just finishing a promising degree in zoology (if degrees in zoology are ever that promising..) from Sheffield University and about to embark on a career as an academic scientist at the University of Liverpool. If all had gone to plan, around about now, I'd be a household name in the realm of host-parasite interactions and evolutionary arms races and my name would be the 1st to spring to mind whenever anyone thought of creepy-crawlies (everyone needs a dream). Alas, it wasn't meant to be it seems, as here I am, sat in a shared flat in Madrid and working as an English teacher. Nonetheless, the degree wasn't wasted. I now have a solid knowledge of general insect taxonomy, I can castrate a moth in a matter of seconds and, I dare say, I know more about sea cucumbers than your average man in the street. In addition to that, in the course of learning all of these wonderful things I also met some lovely people along the way. Two such examples are Abi Gibson and Rachel Munday. Way, way back in 1997 (Jesus. That's sooooo long ago!) I arrived at Tapton Halll of Residence in Sheffield and was shown around by Abi who was a second year. Later that week I met Rach on a pub crawl in the Fox and Duck. Within moments, a marvellous friendship was ignited with both. Well, they probably both fancied me obviously, but alas that never came to fruition... (Kate: in your dreams Kris ) so they settled for living in a shared house with me in Crookes and regularly picking my hair out of the plughole. Anyway, I'll get to the point...they came to visit Madrid last weekend.

I hadn't seen them for literally years. Being world-renowned scientists, Abi has been living in Australia doing stuff with genetics and Rach has been living in America doing stuff with chemicals. Meanwhile, I've been catching rats, living like a grown-up in Leeds, oh and becoming a teacher in Thailand and Spain. Oh, we're so worldly! So who would have guessed that the next time we met would be in Madrid? Not me. But here they were. So what delights lay in store...?

I met them on Friday afternoon in the centre of Madrid - in Sol - and after an emotional reunion (consisting largely of "Ha ha ha ha! Look at your beard, man!" and "I knew you'd be wearing black!") we went and checked them into their hotel.

A train station, terrapins and palaces



On Friday we did the usual. We wandered about Madrid, ate patatas, visited the Museum of Ham (unfortunately Rach's a veggie) and met Kate round our flat as she returned from work. I convinced Rach that "The Cheapest Beer In Spain" (my own nickname for it, although I believe it should be the official slogan) - Adlebrau was, in fact, rather drinkable. Then, after feasting on Spanish omelette and sausage we headed out on the town to Sol again, drank beer, ate a variety of tapas and reminisced...

Saturday brought an exciting new adventure on the trains. We headed down to Atocha station and bought tickets for daytrip to Aranquez. In fact, we may have been just as happy staying in the station, due to it's huge terrapin pool dominating the rain forest-like centre. We spent quite a while observing their terrapin antics, before it was time to board the train for a brief 45min journey to Aranquez.

Once there we had a wander around the beautiful gardens and palace grounds of Aranquez Palace. The gardens are really interesting as at every corner you come across a new, sometimes slightly odd, statue or fountain. For example, check out the picture of the Sphinx-like statue with the ample bosoms and ironic expression. There were several of these, though others look slightly more perplexed at being half-cat, half-bare-breasted woman. I guess every sculptor has a vice.

Anyway, we spent a lovely day in A and it's well worth a visit and so close to Madrid. Nonetheless, obviously on our trip back we got the wrong train. It was inevitable really. This time our error wasn't so bad as we just managed to get on the faster, more expensive train that we couldn't ride on using our return tickets. When the ticket inspector appeared we feigned complete ignorance and spoke not a word of our limited Spanish so as to act the dumb tourist. He looked very disappointed, but clearly couldn't be arsed to try and explain further and just kicked us into the 3rd class carriage. Result! I'll try
Drinking our complimentary liquoresDrinking our complimentary liquoresDrinking our complimentary liquores

after our curry. Rachel didn't like it much!
this ruse next time something like that happens in England. "I no speaky the Ingles" etc.... ingenious. Might just get me kicked in though...


International curry (translated for all palates)



On Saturday night we enjoyed the Spanish delicacy of Indian curry. Okay, not very Spanish, but we had headed over to Lavapies and it boasts a lot of curry houses. Weirdly, you can really tell how international food is altered to suit different palates. In Spain a lot of people tend to dislike spicy food, accordingly, Indian curries are toned down. I quite happily chomped through a vindaloo when in England a similar dish would probably make my nose bleed. In England, in a Wetherspoon's in Liverpool of all places, a madras (traditionally a level down from a vindaloo) nearly killed me once. I put this down to someone slipping when adding the curry powder. Still, I got through 3 pints of lager in the process and Kate had to buy them cos I was embarrassed to go to the bar due to the watering eyes and tears rolling down my cheeks (going to the bar weeping in a Wetherspoon's in Liverpool just isn't done you see
In the cable carIn the cable carIn the cable car

They are clearly terrified
- again it will get your head kicked in). Anyway, all this made me realise that you never know what food is like until you eat it at the source. I realise I now have no idea what a genuine vindaloo or madras would taste like. What a crazy thought....


Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo, you can come too



Sunday! Another beautiful day in Madrid right? Not exactly. A bit chilly. Changeable. Rain threatening. Ah well. As we're British we made the most of it and soldiered on. We met Abi and Rach in Sol again and picked up a picnic from the Museum of Ham. Basically a take-away from the deli counter consisting of a ham or cheese bun, a piece of fruit and a can of pop or beer! All for 2 Euros. Bargainous. Though the ham-loving proprietors were slightly thrown by Kate and Rachel's orders of cheese sandwiches. Just cheese? What's the point of that?? Indeed.

With our rations safely bagged up we headed to the edge of Madrid and the sprawling parkland of Casa de Campo - second trip on the cable car on the cards. The car, that takes you
Rach playing on the parkRach playing on the parkRach playing on the park

at Casa de Campo
from the very edge of the city to the middle of the park (see previous blog!) remains a little unnerving in my opinion. Even Rach agreed, despite her initial bravado and mockery of me for saying that I thought it was a bit scary. It swings too much when the wind blows if you ask me...

Once in the park we walked and walked and kept an eye out for wildlife and prostitutes. Apparently it's quite a red light district in the evening. We didn't see any such goings-on, though we did eye any lone males with intrigue and suspicion. Then, we decided a trip to Madrid zoo, located in the parkland, would make for a perfect Sunday afternoon. And it did! It's cool! And huge! Among other things such as those non-descript antelope things that zoos all have...we saw gorillas, lions, tigers, wolves, turtles, sharks, orangutans and bears. The sunbears were our favourite. They did a little wrestling match for us and we egged them on. I'd quite like a pet sunbear. I've decided.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - Rachel was attacked by a gorilla. It's not where you expect to be attacked by a gorilla
Lemurs at the zooLemurs at the zooLemurs at the zoo

Weirdly, they had the faces of Rachel, Abi and Kris. One even had Kris's crotch as a face...
is it? On a weekend trip to Spain? Anyway, no harm done. But one particularly arsy male took offence at Rach's prying eyes and suddenly charged at her, planting a punch on the glass wall of his enclosure just where her head was. How rude. Quite impressive though. Thanks for acting as bait, Rachel!

The other notable occurrence at the zoo was that of an odd man who was annoying the primates. A man who was much more worthy of a kicking by a gorilla than Rachel ever was. It all started at the orangutan cage. A big orangutan was slumped against the bars...so this bloke,perhaps trying to impress his girlfriend, jumped over the safety barrier and started pushing peanuts into the ape's mouth. I couldn't quite believe what was happening. What an arse! It was like a prelude to one of those tragic home movies where the guy is suddenly grabbed and has his arm ripped off. Sadly, this didn't happen. The orangutan just regarded him with a certain amount of amusement and superiority and happily let him go. But didn't end there. At a monkey enclosure further round the train he actually began doing monkey impressions at them. You know, like a little kid might. Jumping up and down and scratching his armpits and shrieking like a maniac so everyone looked. He even started slapping the plastic screen with his hands. He seemed to find this hilarious and the most comical, original thing he could do. We literally had to change our route so we didn't have to walk round with him. Maybe he riled up that gorilla before Rachel drew it's wrath.


Let's make the next reunion sooner next time, Drs Gibson and Munday...



After a lovely day at the zoo and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in general, we had a farewell drink back in Sol and bade Abs and Rach a farewell - agreeing that we wouldn't leave it so long next time before we meet! They said they might come and see us in Bournemouth in the summer and I hope they do! No excuse - we'll be in the same country and everything. Thanks for coming you two. It was fantastic to see you!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep in touch!!


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Freaky statueFreaky statue
Freaky statue

It's a cat with a woman's face and breasts
Another weird statueAnother weird statue
Another weird statue

it seems to be a person picking his feet
Although now a teacher, Kris still shows his entomology rootsAlthough now a teacher, Kris still shows his entomology roots
Although now a teacher, Kris still shows his entomology roots

admiring beetles on a plant at Casa de Campo


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