Andy Mossack is a full time travelwriter and broadcaster and his stories can be read in national press, regional press, magazines and websites.
He is the founder of the travel site www.tripreporter.co.uk and he is the Travel Guru on BBC Radio's Late Show where he presents 'Where in the World is Andy.'
His professional website is www.andymossack.co.uk
Or you can visit his work at www.tripreporter.co.uk
New Year’s Eve in Madrid. Cava, Grapes and a Mexican Wave.
It was 9pm on New Year’s Eve in Madrid’s old town and I was really
starting to panic.
Like all best laid plans, ours fell apart almost as soon as we
arrived in the city, the upshot was we had no restaurant reservation for the
busiest night of the year.
“Told you to confirm it” my wife said knowingly, as she
casually looked down the list of available Panini’s at a bar about to close up
for the night. She often had this irritating habit of declaring her superior
intellect in hindsight moments such as these. An intellect, that for once, I
was determined to prove fallible. It’s at times like this though, when you
think you’re done for, that you realise things can’t get any worse, so you
might as well make the most of it. Somehow using that logic, the thought of standing
for hours in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s
traditional New Year’s Eve gathering place, with a plastic cup of warm Cava
(the Spanish version of champagne), a stale ham and cheese Panini and the
requisite traditional twelve grapes in hand, didn’t seem all that bad a deal.
Then again, the thought of a night full of hindsight intellect was more than I
could bear, so I said “I just need more time”. “You’ve got 10 minutes” she said
“then I’m grabbing a sandwich and heading for the square”. And so I fled,
deeper into the old town’s warren of side streets on a mission of redemption.
And so it came to pass, that through sheer chance, I fell
upon Senor Fonsela in the foyer of his Restaurante Riazor There he was, standing guard by his makeshift
till taking money hand over fist from a queue of diners forming an orderly line
outside his restaurant. Quite clearly this was a man who’s done it and worn the
shirt many many times previously, but an opportunity for me to redeem myself nevertheless.
“60 Euros each” he told me. “Everything included”. Under the
circumstances, regardless of the quality of the food, it was an opportunity for
a triumphant victory over female hindsight, so I grabbed it with both hands. Well,
to be more accurate, he actually grabbed my 120 Euros with both hands while I
smugly went off to collect my wife who by now had commandeered a tiny corner in
the Puerto Del Sol behind what seemed to be nearly a million people.
“I had to beg for this spot” she told me as I triumphantly
walked up to her “this table had better be real”. Returning to Restaurante
Riazormy wife now in tow, my sense of
impending doom returned. Had I completely lost it? I’d handed over 120 Euros to
someone without getting a single bite, let alone a guarantee that he really did
have a table free in the restaurant, or that the restaurant was even his in the
Hastily forming plans B,C and D in my head as we approached,
I was thankfully greeted like a long lost friendand shown inside a restaurant packed to the
rafters with locals who were already well on the way to their own New Year
celebrations.We had a window table
ready-laden with party paraphernalia, a small bottle of Cava, red and white
wine and a packet of 12 grapes each. The grapes are an essential part of
Spanish New year celebrations more of which I will tell in a bit.
Sunrise on New Year's Day in Madrid (c) Andy Mossack
Our fully laden table had calmed my beating heart and
looking over at my wife, who by now was wearing a pointed paper hat and blowing
a curly horn at a child on an adjacent table she had clearly banished all
thoughts of making my life a living hell.
What followed was nothing short of a miracle. No less than
seven courses were laid in front of us, a veritable feast by any stretch of the
imagination and it was all joyously wonderful. I think at that moment I was the
happiest man in the world. Here I was with the woman I loved (who by now had begun
her second bottle of red and was simultaneously wearing two party hats)
surrounded by local Madrid citizens who seemed to have accepted us as their
temporary family. It was an extraordinary coming together of perfect strangers
celebrating a great evening together as the clock ticked towards midnight. As
the wine continued to flow, I suddenly felt compelled to do something to
further enhance my local bonding and, given the amount of alcohol I had already
consumed, a Mexican wave around the restaurant seemed, at that moment anyway,
perfectly reasonable . My wife’s two hats had slipped down either side of her
cheeks, but even she was up for it. So I stood up, threw my hands in the air
and shouted out “Ole!” Time stood still then as a multitude of Spanish
faces turned to us in bewildered astonishment. “try again” she slurred from
somewhere below my chair, so I gave it another go. “Ole!” I cried and a
gentleman on the table next to us who was clearly no stranger to The Bernabeu
caught on and did the same and in minutes we had a fully fledged Mexican wave
swirling around the room replete with Ole’s at every turn. It was a moment that
will live forever in my mind, English and Spanish in perfect harmony!
Midnight approached and for those in the know of things
Spanish, grapes on New Year’s Eve are de
rigueur so to speak. It is a tradition handed down over the centuries that
requires dexterity, aplomb and perfect timing, none of which I have in any
abundance. The trick is to ensure that with each chime of the clock at
midnight, you pop a grape into your mouth. You have to time each grape
insertion with a chime, to ensure you have a healthy and sweet year ahead. As
the hour grew near, the large wall mounted TV was switched on and there under the
clock at the Puerta del Sol were the
milling throng that no so long ago could have included us wedged into our
Suddenly, it was midnight and the grand clock chimes rang
out and I was ready with my grapes and a glass of Carva. I popped in a grape
and took a slurp suddenly realising that these grapes had pips in them. I never
eat grapes with pips. This was a whole new grape, chime, slurp combo that now
included spit out pip before next grape enters mouth. Needless to say, my first
experience of Spanish New year grape tradition did not go as planned and I was
still popping in grapes and spitting out pips well into 2011.
We said fond farewells to all our new found family and
pretty soon we left the warm embrace of Restaurante Riazor to join the throngs
in Madrid’s busy centre to party the rest of the night away.
Madrid really does come out to play on New Year’s Eve after
all, for many there it is a full week’s holiday leading up to Three Kings Day on January 6th
or Fiesta de los tres Reyes Mages, as the Spanish call it. It is as important as Christmas if not more so,
particularly for kids because that’s when they get their presents!
For us though it
would be for another time, although I suspect Senor Fonsela is already cunningly
planning his menu and readying his till for another family bash....