I AM sipping a Spanish rose wine, the faintest colour of blood, which is apt, as I am perched among Spain’s largest collection of bull fighting memorabilia, staring down several mounted angry bull heads. But this is not a gory story, but one of love. It’s a crisp, damp November evening in Pamplona, in northern Spain, and I am crouched around a table with Senora Maria del Carmen Tahoces. While I ask clumsy questions, and the beautiful Senora attempts to answer them, my tour guide Francisco Glaria Baines, is tasked with the toughest job of all, translating our conversation which swings from bulls, to love, to loss, and life itself.
I am on a 10-day Novelties of Northern Spain tour with Collette Vacations and while my fellow travellers have since departed Maria’s home museum, which pays homage to bull fighting and her husband Marcelimo who died 10 years ago, I have asked to stay on. To dance with the bull. To find out more about this enigmatic woman who lives among these creatures. While Maria speaks no English, and I, no Spanish, we both understand the language of love and loss.
Before she met Marcelimo, Maria never went to a bull fight, she wasn’t interested. He was a doctor and on their first date they ended up at a ring. She admits she didn’t love bull fighting, or indeed her future husband at first sight, but both passions grew. That was back in 1967 and by 1970 they were married and had moved into Pamplona’s most famous bull running street, where the bulls turn a sharp right at Dead Man’s Corner and head straight for Pamplona’s bull ring. She lives there still.
When he died 10 years ago, Marcelimo left behind two children, six grandchildren, and a deeply heart-broken wife. But his love of bull fighting lives on. On this particular day, and for the first time in her grieving journey, Maria has opened her house to our tour group. Behind this unassuming entry lays Spain’s largest collection of bull-fighting memorabilia. There’s those bull heads mounted on the wall, a replica bull ring crafted by her husband, magical matador capes and even a Salvador Dali painting. It’s a huge step for the Senora to open her house to strangers – these artefacts are usually only reserved for Spain’s bullfighting community – and both her courage and grief are palpable.
I want to tell her how sorry I am for her loss, but I do not possess the Spanish words and it seems trite to communicate this through Francisco. These are words that are too important to be lost in translation. Instead, I tell her she is beautiful, for indeed she is.
“When my husband was alive, this was an open house for the bull world, you didn’t have to ask to come in,” she says.
“After he died, for two years, I could not do anything. We had everything in boxes for a renovation and I needed to put it out again.
“In the beginning, today was very stressful, but once I saw your reaction, I calmed. I was worried you would not like bull fighting.
“Bull fighting is not just what is in the arena. People only centre of the blood part. You need to make the decision to go for the human or the animal.”
While I don’t entirely understand bull fighting, I understand love. I clutch at small talk, and tell her my family are graziers in country Queensland. I know a little of El Toro. But not enough.
I ask Senora Maria whether she still goes to bull fights, but she says she can’t yet return to the one in Pamplona.
“I cannot go in Pamplona yet as it makes me sad,” she says.
“We always went to the same seats, me going alone, I cannot go there.”
I finish the interview, knowing I’ve already prodded deep enough around this woman’s grief. On the way out, I hug Senora Maria and thank her for sharing her story and her home. She tells me, through Francisco, that I am welcome to bring my family to visit and stand on her beautiful balcony during the Running of the Bulls. Sometimes you don’t need to speak the language to connect. It’s raining as I step out into the cold, night air and stroll along the empty, cobbled streets of Pamplona. I think of Senora Maria and her love story and a smile graces my face as I pluck my way back to the warmth of my hotel, walking the route of those running bulls and a love story which endures.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette
Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
IT’S a wonderful warm day and I am ambling along La Rambla, Barcelona’s beautiful and bustling pedestrian street, before pulling up a perch for a sultry Sangria and some prime people-watching. I sashay on, in Spanish style, arriving at a teeming Tapas bar, all colour and life on this glorious day with customers politely pointing and seemingly shouting for these tasty treats. Dinner and a show? You had me at rioja. I have arrived in Spain’s sexiest city earlier this morning, having flown in fashion aboard Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900 aircraft from Brisbane, via Singapore, with a brief touch down in Milan, before my final destination…Barcelona. And I immediately fall in love.
This jaunty journey for me begins before I even leave the ground in Brisbane. Last September, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on the competitive airline food market, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. And I have done just that, booked the cook, a few days prior to flying pre-ordering a main meal from a selection of options with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. I had the privilege of taste-testing these delicious dishes on the ground last year, but I had never tried them at 30,000 feet. According to experts, you lose 30 per cent of your ability to taste at altitude, so would the dish I chose stack up?
But before I board, I am ushered into Brisbane’s SilverKris Lounge, a place I last passed the Duchess of Cornwell, Camilla, who was in town earlier this year for the Commonwealth Games with Prince Charles. Camilla, bless her, took one look at me and sighed, just as it occurred to me from where I knew this familiar face flanked by police. I may not be a blue blood, but I am treated like royalty in the lounge, with staff remembering me from previous visits, enthusiastically encouraging me to try “every dish on the menu”. “But I’ve Booked the Cook onboard,” I plead. I defer and munch my way through the lounge’s Asian-inspired delights including delicious dim sum and some Aussie treats with a twist as well such as mac and cheese infused with truffles.
Sated, I take my Business Class seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR aircraft, bound for Singapore. Singapore Airlines is the launch customer of these beautiful birds, taking delivery in late-September. In October this year, Singapore Airlines used this aircraft to launch the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York, covering 16,7000km with a travel time of 18hours and 45 minutes. By comparison, I have around 8 hours on which to sip creamy Charles Heidsieck champagne, before ordering a full-bodied 2015 Bordeaux to accompany my lunch. I’ve pre-booked the lamb and it’s as plump and juicy as I remember trying on the ground. In fact, I could be at a five-star restaurant. The other great thing about the Singapore Airlines’ afternoon flight from Brisbane is that it’s a meal, movie, a nap and snack before you are touching down at Changi Airport. On board, the Business Class service is so impeccable, the crew fold and tidy your bedding whenever you rise to stretch your legs, meaning you come back to a fully-made flat-bed every time, something I’ve never experienced on any other airline.
In Changi, I am ushered to the First Class Lounge and it is a first-class affair with a swanky bar where the bar man mixes your drinks and delivers them to you, and food is cooked to order, before again, being served to your seat. On this connection to Europe, there’s time for a shower with pristine facilities and thoughtful toiletries you’ll need for the next leg, before boarding, just before midnight, to Barcelona (via Milan). On the second leg I’m in Premium Economy which is a great, affordable alternative with the same service and meal offerings you receive in Business Class. Here, the seats remind me of the first-generation Business Class seats favoured by airlines before flat-bed became the norm. The only quirk in this entire journey was the refreshment served between Milan and Barcelona which fell short of Singapore’s impeccable meals, with my tuna, mayo and lettuce sandwich tasting less like tuna and more like mayo and lettuce. The young Aussie girl in the seat beside me, who raves about Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy because of her long legs, says the same about her vegetarian roll, which is simply some soggy eggplant plonked onto bread. I note on the sandwich packet that it’s an Italian caterer, and may be something for Singapore Airlines to review, given this airline is excellent in every other way. I arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, and am ready to amble along La Rambla with a Singapore spring in my step following my flights.
My journey home, from Munich to Brisbane, via Singapore, is in Economy Class and is again, effortless. One of the reasons I personally book Singapore Airlines is that even in Economy Class, you are still granted that Singapore smile and service. There’s refreshing hot towels, speedy service, and on both of these legs, Singapore has taken the trouble to ensure every Economy Class passenger has a spare seat between them. This is something I’ve never seen any other airline do, preferring to let guests battle it out for space in the air. It’s little wonder this airline continues to win awards. In February in London, Singapore Airlines was awarded three top awards at Cellars in the Sky including the coveted Gold Medal for Best Overall Cellar. In April, it was crowned Best Airline in the World in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And in July, it was named the World’s Best Airline in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. And it’s easy to see why. Any airline can fluke good service once or twice, but you cannot fake that consistently supreme service offered by Singapore Airlines, regardless of which class you choose to fly. Consider booking your next trip with Singapore Airlines and treat yourself to an upgrade, particularly if flying long-haul. You, too, will disembark with that trademark Singapore smile.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
Hola from Spain! I am currently on assignment in Spain courtesy of Collette Tours and Singapore Airlines, and about to take a week of R&R in Prague and Germany, to catch up with family and friends. I’ll be back soon with some more tantalising travel tales. In the meantime, please follow my travels on Instagram @aglobalgoddess