Campeones España

When we planned our trip to Spain, we weren't thinking of the World Cup. We picked our return date of July 12th, somewhat randomly.  It was only after I had booked that we realized that the World Cup Final would be on July 11th and that we would be in Madrid and that there was a very good chance that Spain would be in the Final. So from that point, it was very much a case of believe and it will happen. That said, the first game we watched, still in Canada at this point, at Vancouver's Cafe Barcelona, left us a little shaken - losing to Switzerland? But from there, there was nowhere to go but up.

Having watched a few games in Spain, we were cautiously optimistic, but by the time we hit Segovia and watched the Germany Spain semi-final, it was clear that we were on the right track.

So as we reached Madrid, the mood was great and everyone had their party clothes on.


The morning of the final, we got up early enough and headed to the Retiro, Madrid's beautiful park. Apparently this is a Sunday tradition for me. My dad used to take me here every Sunday, when I was a child and we lived here for a few months. I love that everyone comes here. The old ladies, the young hipsters, the loud-mouthed youths, the families. It's a beautiful park with acres to walk and lots of shade to keep cool in.  This Sunday was different only in the displays of yellow and red and the sound of the vuvuzela which started early.


Being our last day in Spain, we hit the Corte Ingles one more time to see if there was any last minute shopping we could avail of.  Near the Puerta del Sol, the fans were out in force, even Mickey Mouse, who everyone knows is Spanish, was there.  At this point, I was somewhat weary of the Vuvuzela and game time being still several hours away, I had serious doubts as to the lasting power of some of the more ardent fans.


For the match itself,  I'll be honest, and just tell you that we wimped out of going to Plaza de la Cibeles, a short walk away, with the thousands of fans and opted for the cool, air-conditioned comfort of our hotel bar.  The atmosphere was still very lively with lots of fans and we were close to the action, in Plaza Santa Ana. Our own group consisted of myself, Super G, my friend Jay who lives in Germany or (Yeik as he is known locally in Spain...more on this later), my sister and her fella plus one of her former work colleagues and his wife who are both Spanish. So we had a nice little international but clearly pro-Spanish contingent.

The match itself was kind of difficult to watch, with attrition setting in pretty early, the Dutch clearly determined to stimy Spanish efforts. But with Iniesta's late goal, the atmosphere exploded and the fans went mad.  After the match, there was nothing to do but hit the streets and join the party!


We joined the action for a while and then headed for a meal, at a local pizza place nearby.  It was perfect, simple and just what was required. The partying continued long into the night and even by morning, there were still a few stragglers around.


The next day, our flight was delayed by two hours, which delighted us because it gave us another couple of hours to enjoy in Madrid. When we finally did go to the aiport, we learned that the Spanish team would be arriving around 3.  We didn't expect to coincide with them, but as we were taxiing for our flight, the captain indicated that the aircraft carrying the Spanish Team was on our right hand side.  (I think this also explained our long taxi and why we were making a runway change at last minute...)  I have to say, this was a pretty cool moment, and everyone on the aircraft started to clap at this announcement.  It was the cherry on top of a beautiful and memorable trip.




When I was in about grade eight, we had a social studies text book and  on the cover was a picture of the aqueduct in Segovia. For some reason,  I always imagined it to be out in the country somewhere but the reality  is that it sits right inside and is part of the fabric of the city

It's fitting that we started our journey with Gehry and Gaudi and we are now here in Segovia with the Romans. Surely if these guys hadn't figured out that arch thing, it's unlikely that the others would have been able to achieve what they've done.  And both are equally spectacular.


We left Galicia at about 4 o'clock and had a lovely drive to Segovia out of the main heat of the day.  We arrived to our hotel about 5 minutes before the Spain / Germany Semi-Final of the World Cup so we headed straight to the bar for the first half.  Spirits were high and compared to the other places where we had watched previous matches (Galicia, Basque Country, Catalunya, who have their own national identities) there was considerably more favour for Spain.

We left at half time to go into town as we hadn't even seen the aqueduct at this point and we wanted to be in heart of the action.  We landed at a small bar which had a relatively tiny 36 inch flatscreen outside on the terrazza.  But the atmosphere was great and of course when Spain scored the crowd went mad.

Later, there were lots of celebrations in the streets and a dance festival, presumabably planned earlier and independently of the World Cup was going on at the foot of the aqueduct.


This was truly one of our most memorable days in Spain and sitting there in the moonlight watching this amazing performance in front of this incredible structure, it was hard not to think we were in a dream.

The next day we got up early and explored the town a bit and visited the 16th Century Gothic Cathedral. All the flying buttresses you could want!


Come on over to my friend Frank’s…

On the Road Again It's Tuesday.  We left Barcelona yesterday and now find ourselves in Marqués de Riscal, near the small town of El Ciego. For those of you who have not heard, Frank Gehry designed a small hotel here. Even if you aren't an architecture fan, you may have seen it if you followed On the Road Again, on PBS. So this is somewhat of a 'station of the cross' on our way to the Guggeheim in Bilbao. For me it's a definite Pilgrimage having been a Frank Gehry fan for some time.

The initial part of the drive out of Barcelona on AP2 - is fairly boring. You hit the A68 and then head for Zaragoza, Logrono.  Lunch time happened in a roadside cafe service station. Delicious. We kept it simple, bocadillos of chorizo and spanish potato omelette, tortilla. Mmh, mmh good! In Spain, even fast food, is good food.

The countryside changes as you come into Navarra and La Rioja and becomes very lush and green, rolling wine country. El Ciego is just inside the border of Pais Vasco aka Euskadi to the Basques.

Marques de Riscal

There is no point in me describing the marvel that awaits you when you arrive at Marques de Riscal.


Actually - I do want to talk more about this...but I need to get organized with pictures etc to do it justice so expect a follow up but suffice it to say...I LOVE!

Wine Tour There was  tour of the winery starting right away so we jumped on board. The hotel was described as having been designed by the 'Canadian Architect Frank Gehry' which of course he is, but it isn't always mentioned so we puffed up our chests a little bit with pride! We toured both the modern winery and the two older ones which are used only for storage and some aging. The older wineries were really impressive, beautiful buildings. It was really what you expect an old world winery to be. They only make Reds in El Ciego - no Crianza - just Reserva and Gran Reserva. This is of course, Rioja appellation. Marques de Riscal do have another winery in Rueda where they make a Verdejo and some other lighter whites.  Of course we tasted both.


Tapear Having had our palates whet with a lovely Rioja 2005 Reserva (a very good year apparently), we headed up to the terrace to gaze out on the view and try to assimilate the information hitting us via every sense and of course sample some more wine. We settled on a beautiful rose which was just perfect in the heat of the day.   The view from the terraza is stunning, overlooking the town of El Ciego, with its sandstone Church set on a backdrop of the Pyrenees. This is a situation where you literally do not know where to look. Architectural marvel on one side, picturesque village and vines on the other.  Getting a bit peckish I think…so more tapas….these were 'posh' ones…Sardine terrine  & fried idiazabal cheese stuffed with quince paste. The sardine was tasty although not my favourite…as for the cheese. Divine. Words cannot explain. Sorry.


Regroup Having barely spent anytime in the room, we headed up to refresh and just enjoy the space.  It feels less like a hotel room and more like you are staying in your very cool friend Frank's house. He just happens to have left you a bottle of wine and some complimentary water. We are staying in the Gehry wing and our room looks out over the vines and the winery as opposed to the town of El Ciego. (view mentioned earlier). Super G says it's the kind of place you could write a novel in.

The Futbol Spain and Portugal fought it out with Spain emerging victorious after a goal in the second half. We watched this from the comfort of the hotel bar which again, is much more like your cool friend Frank's living room than a hotel bar.  There were only a handful of fans, but everyone was fully committed which is what matters most. So Spain hang on and we can continue our journey as well.

Dinner By this time it is 10:30 so we go light and opt for the traditional restaurant (as opposed to the Nueva Cocina version). For the first course we share a gorgeous salad with tuna and red peppers - always a delicious combination - and the house croquettes, creamy béchamel chicken and ham. These may be the best I've ever tasted.  For second course, we all have fish - merluza - aka hake except for Super G who opts for patitas de cordero. Lamb's feet which were explained to us as lamb shank with some feet as well. Here's the thing. No shank. Just feet, mostly knuckle grisly bits. But the sauce was delicious.  Bad ordering not bad food.  Dessert - I have Flan, described on the English language menu as 'egg yolk pudding' which I suppose technically, it is.  As a Spanish speaker, I insist on getting the Spanish language menu whenever I am in Spain, because I find the English translations often either confuse me or do nothing to whet my appetite.  Case in point - 'Clean pig's foot', 'lukewarm shrimp'….they just don't fly in English. The highlight of the dinner was definitely the wine - 150 Anniversary Edition of Marques De Riscal Rioja. Super velvety and yummy. The crowning glory on a magnificent day.