Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The rigours of Spanish hospitality

The relief of knowing we wouldn't be consigned to the impersonality of a hotel or hostel with nowhere to cook and a big hole in our lifestyle leaking euros is hard to quantify. But it's big. Our rescue from that fate by Cesar and Belen dramatically improved our moods and outlook and even better than that, we got our revenge for the nocturnal phone-call by turning up at their flat while they were still in their dressing-gowns. Given that they are a handsome pair, we were pretty pleased about that. Apparently, if we'd turned up five minutes earlier we would have caught Cesar doing the vacuuming while in the nude, but you can't have everything.

After some restorative caffeine, we were back online busily pursuing the various website links friends had sent us for accommodation in Madrid. Being a dizzyingly efficient type, Theo had whacked off about thirty emails and phone-calls before I'd finished exchanging news with Belen and after a certain amount of faffing about with lost PIN numbers (Spanish mobile phone) and form-filling (Spanish social security) - untangled with the help of Cesar's Spanish - we were back in Sheena and on the way to a flat viewing.

Our first stop was the social security office at Delicias, but we were too late to go in and sort out our numbers for the Spanish system, so we resigned ourselves to returning first thing on Wednesday morning (Tuesday being los Reyes - the big Christmas present-giving holiday in Spain). Our next mission to recharge the Spanish mobile phone involved almost half an hour's queueing and an impossible conversation with the sales assistant (owing to the mutual non-existence of each other's languages). A helpful customer who could speak a little English took pity on us and it turned out we could have recharged the phone in two minutes flat using a machine by the door, which included instructions in English. Still, we know for next time.

The flat in Mendez Alvaro left us slightly giddy with its purpose-built luxury - something many Spaniards take for granted, but they are much better organised when it comes to high-density living than us and our "Englishman's home is his castle..." approach. Fully detached isolation, preferably surrounded by a garden (with hedges) seems to be the apex of most British people's home-making ambitions. It's a right pain if you deliver the newspapers, I can tell you. In Spanish towns and cities, it's not uncommon to find large apartment blocks with underground parking, door security, a shared gym and swimming pool as part of the deal - and indeed, this is what we encountered here.

As well as the swimming pool etc., this particular flat came equipped with a tall Spani
sh IT specialist (Alex); a sporty Brazilian hotel-worker (Jorge) and an English-teaching DJ (Pete). The fact that it was also across the road from Estacion Mendez Alvaro (a hub for bus, metro and city rail links), two stops from the centre of town and within easy walking distance of the shops only increased its charms. You can get rooms in shared flats cheaper than €550 per month, but they rarely allow couples (this one did); often don't include all bills (this one did) and you'd be lucky to get all the parking and swimming pool stuff thrown in as well. We put on a major charm offensive and told Alex and Jorge we could move in immediately, if they thought they could live with us. We left with fingers crossed.

During the flat viewing, I got a phone-call summoning me to a job interview in an English academy. The chat seemed to go promisingly and the hours would tally well with Theo's timetable, so fingers crossed.

Back at San Sebastian de los Reyes with Cesar and Belen and they'd organised a los Reyes eve get-together with some Venezualan friends, Natalie and David, at a Chinese restaurant. This being Spain, the table was booked for ten pm. But if you think that's late, our friend Jero called to invite us to a party with him after he'd finished a meal with his friends. When our meal was finished at midnight, we rang him to see where he was. They were just sitting down to eat.

Instead, we were invited back to Natalie and David's apartment for drinks. As two a.m. came and went, Theo began to sink into a doze on the sofa. I don't think his internal clock is really cut out for Spanish-style socialising. Whether it will adapt remains to be seen. In the end, we were back at Belen and Cesar's and in bed just before three. Jero and his friends were probably only just on dessert.

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