Madrid 1, Spain

3 – 7 November 2016, Madrid (via Palencia).

Cathedral, Palencia. Noble against the Persian-blue sky

I travelled by bus from Carrión (where I left the Camino for the second time) to Palencia (the main town of the Palencia region of northern Spain). I had space to walk around and see some sights, as well as spend an age in a phone shop. I bought a little, old-fashioned mobile phone from home so that I could use a Spanish SIM card for texting and phoning when I was there, and it was really useful.

Manolo, my host in Santander, had kindly taken me to get it sorted out, but getting it topped up, when it was initially registered in his name, turned out to be tricky. Afterwards, I sauntered back to the bus station with 20 minutes to spare, only to realise that I had left my charger in the shop. I ran as fast as I could, with my enormous backpack bumping around on my back, severely disturbing my previously calm morning, and risking missing the bus, only to find the place had shut for lunch. I did make it back alright, but not having the charger meant I spent a good deal of time borrowing from other people in the weeks to come!

Plaza San Pablo
I believe that this sculture is a monument to the University of Palencia, the first university in Spain, founded by Alfonso VIII
St Paul’s Convent, Palencia

Alice (my eldest daughter) arrived that evening from Scotland, and we initially stayed with Elisa. It’s a complicated relationship but here goes: my mother’s cousin, Angela (who I stayed with in the New Forest, see blog post 1) has a daughter, Sophia. Sophia has a Spanish family on her father’s side, and Elisa, her cousin, offered to look after us for 2 days. Elisa showed us around, cooked us meals, and was an overall great host.

Elisa and Alice in El Retiro

Here’s an example –  Alice did a lot of research before she came (she’s like that, well-organised, and she’s very interested in food), and when she said she was interested in trying sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup), Elisa upped and made it, showing Alice how to cook it into the bargain. Like many of the women I met in Spain, Elisa has a strong connection to her parents and grandparents, and she often cooked with the delicious ingredients from the kitchens and garden in the mountains outside Segovia from where her family originate.

Later I was telling them I had been served gulas at Rosa’s in Santander (blog post 3). (They are imitation Angulas, baby eels, which are now an expensive delicacy), and next thing I knew we were being served them too – delicious!

El Retiro park, Madrid


Glass houses, El Retiro

Another Shiatsu contact (see many of my other blogs, significantly #2) came from Rebecca for Bélén. How lovely to be able to meet up with a kindred spirit in the middle of a foreign city, somebody I had never met before, and be taken to see interesting sights, hearing all the while about the Spanish Shiatsu scene, its personalities and habits, and be bought the first sherry (jerez) I had drunk in years!

It’s a great way to discover a place, to wander around in company with a local; and when we met up later with Elisa and Alice, we continued altogether visiting the covered market, Mercado San Miguel, with its pescy delicacies, and any manner of ‘street food’, full to burst with foodies on their lunch breaks, in their smart working clothes.

El Retiro has many aspects: formal gardens, wide and sandy paths for walking, and ornamental ponds with ducks and fountains


We walked around the magnificent El Retiro park the next day, admiring the peacocks, discovering the famous red madrono fruit trees (symbol of Madrid), until it started to spit with rain.


We retired (sorry!) into the glass house where there was a sound installation, but drops became sheets, and, poorly dressed as I was for this weather, I became soaked through to the skin on the way to the restaurant. There I divested myself of my wet trousers and attempted to dry them under the hand drier in the Ladies. Damp, and with a necessary and warming red wine (Alice had vermouth and now has a taste for it!), I was introduced to another strong, interesting woman, Amanda, and there followed fascinating conversation and enormous plates of delicious pulpo in their own ink – it’s not often I have eaten black food.

Look at the size of that (free) tapas!

Alice had booked an airbnb flat for night 3 onwards, and it was in a brilliant choice of area. Late on Saturday afternoon, after normal British closing time, we squeezed our way through shopping streets as crowded as the last shopping day before Xmas on Princes Street (Edinburgh), to Calle de Valverde, much quieter and with an admirable selection of excellent wine bars and, I think they are called, eateries!

That's a madrono tree which the bear is leaning against.
That’s a madrono tree which the bear is leaning against.

We had a very, very late and enjoyable night catching up on each others’ news and sampling many types of wine and tapas, martini, tea and oh, so much more. We liked the Ribiera Garcia Viadero, which was a dry white, but not as dry as the Nivarius Rioja tempranillo, and didn’t go well with cheese; whereas the the third white, Sauvignon Arbeor, had honey undertones (we agreed), and was delicious with the manchego we were offered (it turns out there isn’t just one sort, as our supermarket packets would suggest, but many types of Manchego).


Sunday was street market day! The El Rastro is amazing, with street after buzzing street full of cool dudes selling hippie gear, affordable but original jewellery, and all manner of anything you might need or fancy, like new desert boots and leather purses decorated with Frida Kahlo. The side streets were full of shops selling vintage and antique furniture and clothes, and all the cafes seemed to be offering deals for 12 or more (acceptedly small) bottles of beer, which we saw a couple with a child ordering and drinking their way through.


After the rain, there were spectacular, more blue than blue, skies.


And the next day we toured the well-known sites of Madrid – see blog to come Walking without a donkey 17: Madrid 2

Recipe for sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup). Replace the chicken stock with vegetable if you don’t eat meat.



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