Wednesday, April 26, 2006

[The Life of Shaun #45] ¡Amo Madrid!

As a brilliant philosopher once said, "¡Amo Madrid!  Pero odio salir de Madrid", or "I love Madrid!  But I hate leaving Madrid." 
 
Russ and I arrived in Madrid (dead sober, if you can fathom it) to a ridiculously huge, ridiculously nice, ridiculously empty airport.  We rode for miles on the train from the gate terminal to the baggage terminal, to wait for our luggage.  And wait and wait.  Finally the luggage came and we made our way out through customs.  Or attempted to.  Again, the airport was so massive we felt like we were in Poltergeist -- for every step we took towards the exit it got two steps further away.  But eventually we overcame the demon and got out.  Two cash machine attempts later, euros in hand, we headed out in a taxi with a cute boy from Brighton into Madrid.
 
Right away the city amazed us.  It's so gorgeous; I had no idea.  Even out by the airport, where less image-savvy cities pile up acres of hideous projects & council estates, there were beautiful villas and tasteful stucco apartment blocks.  Only once on our way in did we see a concrete development of the type London is so fond, and including that I only recoiled at three buildings I saw the whole time.  Madrid is big, regal, and gorgeous.
 
But I don't understand it at all.
 
We'd heard about the famous lateness of Madrid, so we tastefully showed for dinner at 10:30 for 90 minutes of dining, followed by a good night out.  Madrid is gorgeous, and this time I am referring to the people.  It's a little ridiculous, actually.  I feel sorry for Calvin Klein et al, throwing millions of dollars into advertising with models strewn about on posters, just to be ignored because, in Madrid at least, the people on the streets are the ones you notice.
 
But back to going out, we always had a great time and found some good bars (Sunrise!) and some bad ones.  Only hit one club, Cool, which I quite liked.  I failed in my plan to secure a new, hot Spanish boyfriend, but I did meet a cute English boy, which is nice in its own way.  What confused us was this: we'd be at a nice bar, very full, people having fun; decide to try a new bar; have one drink there and decide to go back to the first; it's been emptied, closed and shuttered up!  So we're suddenly alone on an empty street wondering where everyone went.
 
The other peculiar thing in Madrid is how long the days are.  I went to bed three separate times on Saturday, with full-on doings in between each.  How do they get so much time in one day?
 
And thus we spent our days and nights, wandering, eating, drinking, going out, leaving in a happy frame of mind.
 
But you can't visit a country as passionate and hot as Spain without some drama, can you?  We learned upon arrival that there's a strict 55-minutes-before-the-flight rule at Madrid's airport.  We learned this by showing up 50 minutes before.  And not being allowed on the plane.  Or rebooked on the next.  Or the next.  Since our tickets were considered null & void since we'd missed the first cut-off time.  End result: we got to pay €260 (£180, $323) each for a flight back on EasyJet.  This should provide a nice bit of ironic humour to those of you who remember we decided to go to Madrid instead of Athens since the flights to Athens were so expensive.
 
So, as was said:
 
"¡Amo Madrid!  Pero odio salir de Madrid."
          - Shaun Coley (1974 - )
 
Russ left yesterday morning and I miss him already.
 
Next stop: Bologna, 11 May.
 
Cheers,
Shaun

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

[The Life of Shaun #44] From light into dark

Ah, Wednesday! Wednesday's an extra good hump day when your only work days are the Tuesday and Thursday surrounding it. I've returned from Manchester for a little bobble here in London before heading off to Madrid for the weekend coming. I also noticed today that starting from last week I have short weeks every week through to the week starting 15 May. Not a bad situation.

Russ arrived in town early Friday morning; I met him at Euston and we boarded a train heading North. Just under three hours and a bottle of vodka later we were in Manchester (via Birmingham; I saw the Selfridges - very cool!), the Gem of the North. This was my and Russ's third time to Manchester and we were excited to see how it compared to our memories. We went there before "Queer as Folk", the original, made it (relatively) trendy to go there and we hoped it hadn't changed too much.

It hadn't! There was some new development, it was busier, and even a Manchester "Eye", but the essence of the city remained unchanged. We quickly settled into our hotel room, directly on Canal Street, and set about reacquainting ourselves with the city we love.

I have to set out, Manchester is not glamorous. As soon as you leave the city centre its blue collar roots betray. Nor does it have any "wow" like London, New York or any It city. But what it does have is the loveliest, warmest, lightest character I've ever come across. I don't know how, but everyone in this city in the middle of England's depressed North seems to be happy. When you go out to bars, there will be a silly pop song that could only be popular in Britain playing and everyone, I mean everyone save me and Russ, are doing the moves to it. This would earn you a stare of derision in any mecca on the gay travel circuit, but here no one has a hint of attitude. Everyone just seems so happy and is having a great time. I love it.

So that's what we go to Manchester for, and despite the climb it has made since our last visit, its heart is still the same and we spent a very happy weekend there.

An added bonus to this trip was an excursion Sunday night to the famous English seaside resort town of Blackpool. It was a bit cold (read: freezing) to be on the beach, but we rode our £9 roller-coaster (the tallest in Europe, we were told, and if so this continent is severely lacking in amusements of the park sort) and went to Funny Girls, a great drag cabaret. It's not the typical drag one-act, but a series of acts about 20 minutes apart overnight, and serious ones with dancers and all. Well worth the price.

So with contented hearts and minds, we settled back onto a train, new bottle of vodka in hand, and returned to London to celebrate Russ's birthday before heading to Madrid this weekend.

We decided to celebrate at Dans le Noir?, a new branch of a Paris-based restaurant on Clerkenwell Green, just 'round the bend from ours. Its concept is this: you eat in complete darkness; you cannot see a thing. All the waitstaff are blind, they lead you to your table, and you must rely on them if you have to get up for the restroom. Sounded like a cool experience. And it was.

But that's all I can say good about it. The food? Was terrible*. When the whole point of sight deprivation is to heighten your other senses, you'd expect the food to have a certain kick to it, something interesting, or at the very least, be good. But bland chicken and mashed potatoes? A spinach filo thing? And you'd think they'd pay attention to the texture since, for the most part, you're eating with your hands.

My poor flatmate ordered the surprise menu and had no idea what was on order. What she got was some large, flavorless mass with acres of overdone spinach on the side. Even the desserts were mostly a bust (though I quite liked mine). And it all was so terribly expensive. Dinner for four (with two bottles of wine and one of champagne, of course) was £280 ($490). Not at all a ridiculous price if the food were good, but since its quality was sub-par even to my £2 canteen lunches at work, we felt gorged and betrayed.

A side note, the London Times critic was there and Natasha got talking to him when she left the table early out of disgust for a cigarette. His assessment of the experience: "Blind people eat shit food." Look for his review this Sunday.

Looking forward to the weekend ahead; Madrid's an unknown entity to both Russ and me. Hopefully we'll stumble on some gems and some trouble. But regardless what we encounter we'll get to in the company of the Spaniards and their lucky, lucky genes.

Cheers,
Shaun


*Thanks for that construction, MD, I couldn't think of a better way to say it!

--
Shaun Coley
scoley@gmail.com
http://www.friendster.com/profiles/shaunism
London, UK

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Monday, April 10, 2006

[The Life of Shaun #43] The Gherkin on Friday

It's a small pic, but it really was a lovely view... this is from Friday when I was walking home as I was crossing the Blackfriars Bridge looking east towards The City and especially the Gherkin (the pickle-shaped building), my favorite (tall) building in London.

Cheers,
Shaun

--
Shaun Coley
scoley@gmail.com
http://www.friendster.com/profiles/shaunism
London, UK

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

[The Life of Shaun #42] Back in the Big Smoke

Hey all,

Just letting you know I got back to London safely, albeit 8+ hours later than planned.

In Miami, after boarding, we were informed there was a hydraulic leak that was being looked at.  After nearly an hour we were told the plane was being put out of service and we had to deboard the plane and go to a new gate for a new aircraft.  This, of course, was enough of a delay to miss the connection to London in New York.  They put us up in a hotel, in theory, but when we got to the hotel they sent us to there were actually no rooms available.  Nice, eh?  While waiting for a shuttle to go back to the terminal they found one room with two beds and I shared it with another stranded passenger on his way from Miami to Budapest.  Got the first flight this morning and here I am.

Lovely to be back, but I am tired.  At least I didn't have to fight staying awake my first day back!

Cheers,
Shaun

--
Shaun Coley
scoley@gmail.com
http://www.friendster.com/profiles/shaunism
London, UK
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