Monthly Musings (September 2020)

Greetings from Madrid!

Summer is all but over, Autumn is almost here and Spain is continuing on the path to ‘the new normality’. The return to school this coming month will be the biggest test yet for Spain in this post-lockdown world, in which everything hasn’t gone exactly according to plan of late with more and more outbreaks flaring up during the last month. 

I’ll try to avoid mentioning the dreaded virus too much over the course of this post, though it has obviously had an effect on things, especially as we experienced travelling together for the first time since the pandemic started.

On that subject…

Where I’ve Been

Sarah and I started the month off in Porto, the first leg of our summer holiday in search of slightly cooler climes than Madrid. We spent two and a half days there, taking in the sights of one of my favourite cities and eating copious numbers of pasteis de nata. On the Saturday night of our stay, Porto were playing Benfica in the Taça de Portugal final, which they won to complete the double. Needless to say this went down well with the locals, who despite not being able to attend the game, celebrated by taking to the streets in their cars, horns blared well into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Part two of the trip took us north to Santiago de Compostela, my first home in Spain and a very special location as it was there in November 2015 that I met Sarah for the first time. This was the shortest part of the trip but arguably my favourite as we showed each other around the places we visited when we lived in the city and marvelled at how little the place had actually changed in the time we’d been away. Also, I think the hotel here was my favourite of the three we stayed in. Just a shame we didn’t have a bit more time here really.

Finally we moved on to A Coruña for the final leg of the tour where we had three major disappointments, we missed the exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Estadio Riazor by a day, we couldn’t go to the Estrella Galicia factory tour as it wasn’t open again until the day we were due to leave (a particular blow as our hotel was right next to it) and tickets for the Torre de Hercules were limited due to the ongoing Covid situation, so we weren’t able to go inside Coruña’s iconic lighthouse. 

Despite these setbacks, we still had a great time, going back to some places familiar to us and some new ones as well as a much needed afternoon of relaxation on Praia de Riazor on the Tuesday.  

After all that, it was back to Madrid and here we’ve remained for the rest of the month.

It was interesting to observe the differences in Spain and Portugal while travelling. Portugal was not affected as badly by Covid-19 as Spain was and as such, the regulations were slightly looser. Masks were still required on public transport and indoors, but not while walking on the street. Whereas in Galicia things were even stricter than in Madrid! In one café the owner reminded us we needed to wear our masks at all times unless we were eating or drinking because the police were known to do spot checks and issue fines.

Most Popular Post 💻

August turned out to be a bit of a Portugal-themed month on the blog!

Aside from the regular Monthly Musings and a look at the Estádio do Dragão museum, I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the blog this month. There’s not been a huge amount going on with some Spanish teams getting their pre-season underway behind closed doors and very little progress until later in the month on restarting lower league football. 

So onto to this month’s number one. With the Champions League taking place in Lisbon, there was something of a revival of interest in my post focusing on my two visits to the Estádio da Luz in 2016 and 2019, which I originally published back in May. I actually felt it didn’t get as much love as it deserved when it was originally published, so it was nice to receive a few positive comments on social media, particularly from Benfica fans, who enjoyed it. 

Game of the Month

Still starved of actual in-person football, it’s just been TV matches for this month’s picks.

The Champions League and Europa League final tournaments in Portugal and Germany threw up some exciting matches but nothing quite as earthshaking as the quarter final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the German side inflicted Barcelona’s worst ever European defeat, the 8-2 final scoreline making their second leg surrenders in Rome and Liverpool in the last two seasons look respectable in comparison. And it sent such shockwaves through Barcelona that it was the final straw for Lionel Messi, who shocked the world by telling the club he wanted to leave this summer.

Dramatic that might have been, but for me, it doesn’t hold a candle to Coleraine’s historic Europa League tie away to Slovenian side Maribor.

After beating La Fiorita of San Marino the week before, Coleraine weren’t expected to do much against a side which played in the Champions League group stages as recently as 2017. But they made it through to half-time unscathed and then took the lead just after the hour through a wonderful strike from James McLaughlin. Maribor got a scrappy equaliser a few minutes later and with nothing to separate the two sides in 90 minutes it went to extra time.

Maribor missed a penalty in extra time and Coleraine dug deep to take it through to a penalty shootout, where after eight successful kicks, goalscorer Pozeg missed for the hosts and Ben Doherty earned himself a place in Coleraine history with the winning kick, sparking wild celebrations in the stadium (and in a small flat in the north of Madrid).

The draw for the second qualifying round could have pitted Coleraine against AC Milan, Spurs or Galatasaray but only the end it was a home tie against Motherwell that was drawn out of the hat. Not quite the glamour tie many were dreaming of, but one that will certainly be intriguing.

Book of the Month 📚

Here’s another one from the Kindle backlog, but it’s one I really feel I should have got round to reading a lot sooner.

Oliver Kay’s Forever Young tells the story of Adrian Doherty, a young footballer from Strabane who was rated as good as, if not even better than, Ryan Giggs in the youth teams at Manchester United but ultimately failed to make the grade due to the consequences of a serious injury.

Doherty was far from the typical footballer, and Kay’s book paints a picture of an intelligent, inquisitive young man, totally at odds with the alpha male stereotypes which dominated football at the time and in many ways still so today.

Doherty’s love of literature and music set him apart from many of his peers and the book even records how he would go busking in central Manchester and on one occasion, spent a summer gigging in New York.

The book goes on to chronicle his brief attempt to continue his career at Derry City and then his life after football until his tragic death in the Netherlands aged only 26.

Doherty’s story is a fascinating and at times heartbreaking one, brilliantly told by Kay. If it hadn’t been for this book, I doubt I would have ever heard of it.

Food Glorious Food 🥘

This is going to be a big entry this month!

In Porto we went to the famous Café Majestic for breakfast, not going for their €30 breakfast menu, but a more basic (and affordable) offering of coffee, scones and a pastel de nata, Another Porto highlight were the empanadas we had as a quick lunch across the road from the Mercado be Bolhão –  again great value, €6 for two empanadas and a drink (why is it so easy to find different flavours of iced tea in Portugal, while in Spain it’s pretty much just lemon everywhere?) and we also visited my favourite restaurant down by the river, Chez Lapin, which I’ve now eaten in on all three of my visits to Porto! And yes, we got more pasteis de nata, from Manteigaria, which was probably our favourite of all the places we tried in Lisbon last year, yes, even ahead of the famous one in Belem.

On to Santiago and our first port of call was my favourite café/bar in the old town, Camalea, tucked away in behind the cathedral, for one of their chai tea lattes – thankfully the temperatures in Galicia were conducive to drinking warm tea! Then it was on to La Tita for some of their tortilla, beloved by many as the best in Galicia and some raxo, a particular favourite Galician tapa, which is really hard to find in Madrid, even in supposed Galician restaurants! The following morning, it was time for more scones, this time at American bakery café Lusco y Fusco, which apparently existed while I lived in Santiago, but I was totally unaware of.

Finally, in A Coruña, we had a feast of budget tapas at O Sampaio in the city centre, a favourite refuelling stop of mine pre and post Depor games in the past. There we had tortilla, raxo, zorza and croquetas all for just €12,50! On our last night, we found ourselves out of the main restaurant area and stumbled upon Ribera y Cia almost by accident, but were rewarded with another great tortilla, homemade croquetas and some soft Galician cheese. 

What’s Up Next?

Well, mostly more uncertainty. Although schools in Spain will start up again over the next couple of weeks, as I write this I have no idea if I’ll be going back to work this month or not. English Academies seem to be governed by slightly different rules to public schools, so at the minute it’s just a case of waiting and seeing what happens. I would like to go back to work though, I’ve not taught in any capacity since finishing online classes at the end of April and I do miss it.

The other thing I miss is, of course, going to football. The September internationals and opening fixtures of La Liga this month are obviously out of the question as they will be played behind closed doors, but with lower league football returning in October, I’m hoping that there might be the opportunity to go to a couple of pre-season friendlies this month and experience football in the ‘new normality’ at long last.

Until next time,

All the best,

Andrew

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