Saturday, May 20, 2006

Better late than never...

It's time to talk about Spain! Gran Canaria was Gran Canaria. We did the usual sort of stuff, I went up to Las Palmas and we went to Mogan, and I managed to stay in control of my eating. This was the big thing. I'm not saying that it was perfect, but it was within the parameters I'd set myself of staying vegetarian if possible and making sure I got my minimum of 5 portions of fruit and veg. I was a bit worried about the first because my dad is very much a meat man. Without even really bothering about the two veg, most of the time! And in terms of fruit and veg, almost all the restaurants seem to focus on meat and chips, with maybe a lettuce leaf or bit of tomato. Not to mention that veggies don't seem as common over there, so it can sometimes even be hard to find a salad.

I suppose this shows how my priorities are changing in this phase of the journey. It's fairly likely that a chicken salad is "healthier" than a vegetable pizza. But the vegetable pizza fits better with my current goals, and when I'm on holiday it's nice to allow myself a bit of slack anyway. Sometimes pizza was the sneakiest way to ensure I stayed veggie. When going out to eat with my family it was more likely that we'd all find something we liked in a pizzeria than in a tourist restaurant or even a traditional Spanish one. It was planned pizza, and it was controlled so I'm not going to get worked up about it.

Then on to Madrid, which was absolutely fantastic. I'd never been into Madrid before (although I've been through the airport a few times), and I'll definitely be having a stopover again. My hotel was fantasically located and I had a balcony overlooking the Puerta del Sol (one of the main central squares). It was shabby, but cheap and you definitely couldn't complain about the location. (Other than the impact on my sleep from the people going backwards and forwards all night - Madrid is very definitely a late night sort of place! And then the roadworks started early the next morning...). This is the view from the balcony.

Also in Madrid, the food choices opened up somewhat. Although the traditional Madrid food is more offal based than anything, being a big city there was a huge variety of choices. Armed with my trusty Time Out guide I plotted and planned my route round places that seemed like they'd offer me a decent choice of vegetables rather than just the option of gazpacho and tortilla. There are all signs of changes, that I'm searching out places, even where they're off the beaten track, rather than going for the tourist options on the main squares. That I'm actually valuing the quality of what I eat enough to pay extra for it and go out of my way to get it.

Something strange happened with my eating. I realised how much more adventurous this vegetarianism has forced me to become. In the past I'd have picked a meal on the basis that I know I like everything in it. If in doubt I'd resort to chicken and chips, after all, that can't have anything suspicious in it. But now, and particularly when I'm operating in a different language, I'm just starting to order stuff and see what arrives. Of course there's still an element of choosing which one I think has more things I like in it, but I'm not worried that there might be a rogue ingredient that I hadn't counted on. I'm more willing to try things, even if I know they're there and I don't know whether I like them. I even deliberately picked up some cauliflower from a salad bar to give it a try (verdict: not bad).

This is huge progress, and a real vindication of my decision to cut out meat. If it hadn't been for that decision I'd never have tried half the stuff I've tried over the past three months. I feel more open to trying new things, and more willing to experiment a bit than I ever did in the past.

But also on food, in Madrid they have these things called chocolaterias. I think you can guess what they sell... When in Spain you have to eat chocolate and churros. No, really, you do... Although (heresy coming up), I was actually a little disappointed with them. They weren't the gorgeous, knee weakening experience that I remember. I even started to wonder whether it wouldn't be nicer to dip strawberries in the chocolate than the churros. I will be expelled from Madrid and never allowed to return!

My other Spanish vice would have to be the alcohol. And to go with the alcohol, the tapas. I found, in Madrid in particular, that I could sit in a bar, on a lovely square, enjoying a glass of wine and a plate of olives for under 2 Euros. And that they'd charge me pretty much the same for a bottle of water. Can you guess which option I went for? I was rescued a little by the habit of some bars of serving meat based tapas, which I was able to resist, but I'm developing a serious taste for olives. They were another of my "I don't eat those" things, but they're definitely not on that list now!

The other fab thing about Madrid was that it was the San Isidro festival. The actual feast day was on Monday, and I flew home on Sunday evening, but on Friday night and Saturday night there were parades which were really enjoyable, complete with some of the locals dressed up in their traditional outfits. There were also farmers market type places which gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my Spanish. I can now taste a number of bottles of wine, say which one I prefer, and discuss which bottles I'm going to buy. I knew that these lessons would come in handy!

Seriously though, I spoke loads more Spanish in Madrid than I ever need to in Gran Canaria, and I was impressed by how much more confident I was at doing it. I may not have actually learned a great amount in my Spanish lessons so far because of what I've picked up over the past few years, but I have managed to get the confidence that I know that what I'm saying's roughly right, and that makes a huge difference.

And last, but most certainly not least, clothes. There were the clothes I took with me, which were almost without exception size 12, and which looked fab. Even the cheap Primark stuff looked good, and I started to really believe that it was the confidence of the person wearing them (me!) rather than the quality of the clothes that did that. I wore a size 12 bikini in public! (and got slightly burned in places that had never been exposed to daylight since my mother made me run around naked on beaches). I didn't try to hide myself away, I wore short little mini skirts and teeny weeny tops, and I felt like I actually had the right to wear this stuff now.

But as well as the clothes I took with me, there were the clothes I brought back. Yup, I found the Mango factory shop. And I found more branches of Zara than even I can cope with. And Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Desigual. The list could go on and on. And then on and on a bit more. And the best thing? That I could walk into them knowing that there was stuff in there that would fit me. I bought some fab tops, a new suit, new trousers for my Zara suit and various other bits. I don't know whether the clothes are any better than what I could find here, but I just have more time to shop which must count for something!

And finally, the introspective bit. I've always liked going on holiday alone, for two almost conflicting reasons. Firstly it lets me get to know myself a little better. But also, it lets me be someone else. I can sit at home every weekend doing little more than playing on the internet and watching tv, but on those weekends when I travel Europe alone I feel like a different, more adventurous, more impressive person. I can walk around a city where nobody knows me and escape my normal life for a bit.

But in Madrid I realised something. I wasn't trying to be anyone else any more. I was being me, because that was who I wanted to be. I was confident, and I was enjoying myself, and I was thin. I was me in Madrid, but I was still me.


Blogger Lainey said...

The holiday sounds fab and so does the clothes shopping!

I'm very impressed with the success of getting 5 portions of fruit and veg in. That's a challenge at the best of times on home ground.

Hope work isn't frazzling you too much.

6:00 PM  
Blogger M@rla said...

That was like a fairy tale with a happy ending! Thanks for sharing.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Xena said...

*sigh* Your self-discovery sounds LOVELY! Welcome to You.

8:04 PM  

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