The place where I will marry

Today was a special day. Today we visited the place where we're going to get married.

It was the second time we'd stepped through the heavy wooden doors of Finca Casa Esquileo. But this time, with the bloke's parents with us, it felt official.

Like old pros we showed them the pretty garden that'll make a great place to hold the welcome cocktail. Then on to the rustic old banquet hall, with the 18th Century graffiti on the walls. And the old preserved house where we can do the family photos.

Because we're actually going to do it. We're going to get married, and we're going to do it there.

And even though we're in the grip of winter and your breath freezes in front of your face and your toes are icy slivers in your shoes, I see it as summer with my heart's wet eyes.

I can see the tables all laid out, with place names for all the people I love most in the world. I can see my Dad stood up at the top table, thanking everyone for coming. I can see us swaying across the dance floor, taking tentative steps into the next chapter.

I can't say that I was ever one of those little girls that daydreamed about the day I would get married. In fact, at one point I thought I would just never bother.

But now it seems like I can think of little else. I'm prone to letting my mind run away with wedding thoughts in spare moments, or searching online for details I can steal. And it's only two months down the line, what's come over me?

One thing will stay with me from today. On the way back to the car after checking out the cute little church close to the venue, there was a group of Japanese tourists taking a photo. I waited patiently for them to finish, but the guy with the camera said "pasa, pasa" (ie - you can pass)

I thought to myself, oh, they think I'm Spanish. As as I continued on my way, to where the bloke and his parents were waiting, I realised - I sort of am. I'm marrying a Spaniard, I work here, speak the language - I've built my life here. This is home. I will always be proud of being British, but in some respects I am Spanish.

And that's a great feeling indeed.


New York part four: Al Pacino, limos, helicopters and butterflies

Day six - Thursday

Wake up to glorious sunshine. Decide to abandon our Statue of Liberty trip altogether as there are no tickets left that would allow us to actually go inside it and up to the crown (if you want to do this book well in advance) So instead we decide to do a helicopter ride, which will allow us to fly over the top of it and get a really great view.

the bloke rings up to sort it out over breakfast and we're booked in for a 3.30pm flight. That gives us time for a little more shopping back in Soho. We find the Burton shop and while the bloke checks out the clothes I fall in love with Charlie, a tiny little chocolate coloured poodle who belongs to the manageress of the shop. He's got a security tag on his collar so they'll know if he goes outside. (Or if someone tries to steal him.) He's so friendly and when I pick him up for a cuddle he smells of flowers. Looks more like a little teddy bear than your typical poodle. Decide I want a poodle too.

We get in a taxi and zoom down to lower Manhattan to Pier six where the helipad is. As we're queueing up outside we see a bride and groom arrive. They're about the sixth pair of newlyweds we've seen on the trip. they're everywhere. The first ones we saw, the bloke shouted "viva los novios" (sort of 'long live the bride and groom') and the bride nearly jumped out of her skin. It's a nice thing to do if the couple speak Spanish. If not, all you've got is a mad spanish bloke shouting something at you that you don't understand.

I start to feel nervous as I see helicopters taking off and landing. But my nervousness soon turns to boredom as we wait, and wait and wait. the helipad is so badly organised, with several different companies all operating there. People who turn up off the street without an appointment seem to be jumping the queue. And a family of four who are booked in for a 4.00pm flight get to go ahead of us as there's four of them, so they'll fill a helicopter. It's annoying but apparently the place gets more chaotic as the day goes on, so if you do want to do a heli ride, book for early in the morning.

Two hours after we arrive we finally are led onto the helipad to do the flight. My heart is doing the river dance in my chest, but the bloke is calm - he did about 60 heli rides in Alaska when he was heliboarding, so it's nothing new to him. We're in with two other couples - one German, one Spanish.

We put our headsets on and the pilot introduces himself. then Just as I'm busy taking photographs the helicopter takes off. What a rush! The next 15 minutes were incredible. We fly over the Statue of Liberty and up Manhattan, over Ground Zero, Central Park and the Yankees Stadium. When the helicopter turns it feels like it's about to go upside down.

Too soon it's over, but the wait has been worth it. The sun is just setting as we come in to land so we get some amazing pictures of the Statue of Liberty with the burning orange sun behind it. And even though we're not really supposed to, we ask the Spanish couple to take a photo of us standing in front of the helicopter. it's one of my favorite from the whole trip.

We walk up to the financial district - something totally different from everything else we've seen. We get pizza as we're totally starving, then go to check out Wall Street and the Stock exchange. There are people in sharp suits everywhere and there's even a Tiffany's - good lunchtime shopping for the rich types. There's a suit standing shouting into his phone about a business deal - looks like he's a cliche who's been put there specially for us.

We finish our tour by going to Ground Zero, which - although it's basically just a building site at the moment - is very humbling. Hard to believe the two towers used to stand there. There's a plan up of what they're going to build there - a memorial featuring two illuminated pools of water. I wonder about the controversial mosque that's supposed to be being built somewhere around. Will it go ahead?

I leave the bloke for a little while and go to Century 21, discount designer goods shop. it's a little mental inside - you really need to rake through to find what you're looking for. But the accessories section is mazing and I get some good DKNY stuff that'll make great Christmas presents for the family back in Durham.

Back at the hotel it's more cocktails. By this point the bar staff are getting to know us and I've found my favorite drink - a Tres Chic. It's a champagne cocktail which has pear flavored vodka, St Germain elderflower liquer, framboise and is garnished with an edible candied hibiscus blossom.

After we've had a few we grab the camera and decide to go on the rampage in Times Square. On the way there we walk past the theatre where Al Pacino is appearing in the Merchant of Venice and see there's a massive queue of people waiting outside the back entrance.

We wait around to see what's going to happen, then all of a sudden people start screaming, and Al Pacino walks out! We push as far to the front as we can and take some pictures. Can't believe I'm actually standing a metre away from Al Pacino - one of my favorite actors of all time. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. The guy next to me is just repeating "Oh my god it's Al Pacino, oh my god it's Al Pacino" over and over.

He does look like crap - straggly hair, horrible beard (which i guess he had to grow to play Shylock) but he's still got such a presence. he spends a good 15 minutes chatting to people and signing autographs, then he jumps into his car and speeds off.

After that we're on a total natural high. We go on a mission to get our photograph taken with as many cops as possible. Most of whom are absolutely lovely and chat to us about Spain, offering up their own story of how they've been there, or know someone who's been there, and really would love to go there.

One cop even lets me sit on his bike and gives me a big hug. And there's a queue of people waiting behind me to do the same. How do these guys actually do any work? Not that they seem to mind though.

after spotting some Navy Cadets and grabbing them for a photo we have some sambucas in a bar just on the corner of Times Square and I chat to a Canadian waiter about how hot the weather's been this week. We've been so lucky. but it's going to be cold tomorrow he says, so I'm glad i brought my winter coat.

We walk towards Hell's Kitchen with the idea of finding somewhere to eat, but all that goes out the window when the bloke spots a limo parked outside a hotel and the man he thinks is the driver.

After a spot of cheeky negotiating he hires the limo for an hour for 100 dollars, and we do an amazing trip around Manhattan, sipping champagne and generally feeling like we rule the world.

He drops us off at our hotel an hour later and by that point we're staving and quite tipsy. nothing for it but drinking about ten gallons of water and getting more room service before we pass out.

Day seven - Friday

No chance whatsoever of getting the bloke out of bed early, so I let him sleep and go for a manicure. Find a nail bar on 9th Avenue run by a Chinese lady and her daughter. As I settle down to get my nails painted a hot pink colour she attempts to make conversation, but I have a bit of trouble understanding her.

Her: You go party?
Me: Party? Oh yes, probably
Her: How long party?
Me: Erm, I don't know how long. Until I get tired.
Her: No, How long party?
Me: Errr...
Her: How long. Candy. Children. masks, ghost.
Me: Ah, Halloween!
Her. Yes. Howlwon.

from what I can figure out, everyone seems to have been coming in to get their nails done for Halloween. The two girls who come in after me get theirs purple and black. Then a man comes in to get a manicure and it takes me by surprise. Can't imagine Brits or Spaniards doing the same.

It's ridiculously cheap - $13 and looks great so I tip the lady $5 after my nails have been dried in the special uv light drier. I know it's probably too much, but I don't care. The two girls look at me like I'm a total idiot.

Back at the hotel finally manage to get the bloke out of bed and we make our way to the Natural History Museum. Before we go in though we have a 3 dollar breakfast in the form of a hotdog from one a roadside stall. Covered in mustard and ketchup - it tastes like heaven.

Once we're inside we go straight to the butterfly enclosure, which is a glass area that's heated up to tropical temperatures. Inside are about a hundred exotic looking butterflies. All fluttering around and occasionally landing on people. They're just beautiful. A few of them look a little tatty, and the guide tells us they're getting to the end of their lives - the butterflies in here will live for about two weeks, no more. That comes as a surprise.

After a long time in butterfly land we leave and try to find the auditorium, where they're going to show a documentary about the hubble telescope. When the attendant I ask for directions hears my English accent he freaks out, and gets me to repeat words like potato and steak, saying they sound much better the way I say them.

Another attendant comes over and tells us we should hear this guy's Michael Jackson impersonation, so we bully him until he sings Heal The World. He does sound amazingly like the King of Pop. He tells us to type his name Jameil and Michael Jackson into youtube and we'll see some videos. I make a mental note.

The hubble documentary blows my mind - especially the bit where it shows some of the images the telescope brought back, of stars being born, millions of light years away. I feel very small and insignificant indeed.

This continues as we go to the Rose Ceter for Earth and Space to see another installation at their IMAX-style auditorium, this one a Whoopi Goldberg-narrated one called Journey to the Stars. Did you know there are about 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars or more out there? Where do they even get that number? i'm pretty impressed but the bloke falls asleep

We spend the rest of the time looking at some of the permanent collections, including my favorite - the dinosaur skeletons. And we got a cheesy photograph taken, with both of us pretending to be scared by some dinosaur fossils.

We stay till the last possible minute then are ushered out with the rest of the museum goers. Outside it's freezing - the temperature has dropped at least ten degrees since yesterday. I'm struck by how lucky we've been with the weather.

Despite that, we really feel like a walk, so we set off, walking past the famous Magnolia Bakery, where people are queuing to buy cupcakes. For once we opt out - I've pretty much overdosed on wheat by this point. We also pass a street that seems vaguely familiar, then i work out why - it's the one Carrie's from Sex and the City's house is on.

Close by we find an amazing pet shop that has a pick n mix style counter full of Halloween-themed biscuits. Even doggies can get in on the action too. The bloke is delighted when we find a magazine shop that has a wall full of fishing mags. He buys a whole ton.

We finally get back to Hells Kitchen and find a lovely Chilean restaurant, Pomaire, to have dinner in. Before the main course (lovely chicken stew) has even arrived the bloke is best friends with the manger, who keeps putting on a fake mustache and hard hat - dressing up as one of the liberated miners.

A policeman comes in to say hello, and afterwards he tells us how Hells Kitchen used to be a real dump, full of whore houses and drugs. now it's not like that obviously, and the increased police presence obviously helps. there are a staggering 40,000 cops in Manhattan, he tells us.

After sharing an enormous jug of sangria and a having a Frangelico each, we stagger back to the hotel. It's a choice between packing or cocktails, and you can guess which one wins. at least we've managed to check in online. We'll sort the rest out tomorrow.

Day 8 - Saturday

Wake up very sad that is's our last day. Boo. Head over to Soho to meet up with my old school friend Jenny, who's now living in New York with her American husband. We meet them at Nolita House - cool little cafe that has a live band on.

Spend the next few hours trying to catch up on the last, what - ten years? Can't believe it's been so long. She fills me in on the people in our old group I've lost touch with, and I do the same. jobs, marriages, babies, etc. When did we all get so old?

I do envy Jenny her glamorous life, living in New York. but her job sounds horrendously stressful. She works long days as an accountant, and only gets 10 days holiday a year. And most of her workmates frown on her for taking those. I'm glad things are different in Spain.

We go our separate ways, promising to meet up at Christmas. (We'll both be in Durham) And off they go to finish their Halloween costume shopping. She's going as her husband, he's going as her. they both agree that Halloween is a major deal over here.

Back at the hotel we set about taking all the tags off our purchases and trying to fit everything into two suitcases. it's difficult, but with the bloke's superior packing skills, we manage.

Then we take one last walk around Times Square and I buy myself a tacky 'I heart NY' hoody. Think it'll look pretty cool back in Madrid.

We check out, then spend the last hour of our time in New York in the hotel bar. By the time Martin, the travel company driver comes to pick us up I am slightly tipsy, and very sad. We don't want to leave.

New York was just magic. It exceeded my expectations - blew every other holiday I've ever had out of the water. I'll never forget it. Thanks so much to the bloke for making it happen, it really was a once in a lifetime trip.


That's the holiday weekend completely ruined then

Something unthinkable happened this weekend. Spain just completely ground to a halt on puente weekend - one of the biggest holiday weekends of the year.

Most people had five days off work. Even me, oh joy! But for any poor suckers who had to catch a flight it all turned to shit, as Spanish aerospace completely shut on Friday evening, just when most of them were setting off to leave.

And it wasn't because of the cold weather, there was no snow or anything like that, oh no. The 2,400 Spanish air traffic controllers - many of whom earn in excess of 700,000 Euros a year - went on strike, throwing the country into complete chaos.

The controllers - who are the highest paid in Europe - have been in dispute with the government for over a year about the privatization of Spain's state airport authority AENA.

A private organization will not tolerate their work monopoly, they think (yep, got to agree with them there) so it's something they've been wanting to avoid. So imagine their horror when on Friday the government approved the sale of 49 percent of the AENA and put a cap on the number of hours the controllers could work per year.

So what did they do? They booked a conference room in a hotel near the airport, and at 5pm staged a completely unannounced mass walkout, saying they'd already worked over the maximum hours this year. The result: Spanish airspace was completely closed, royally ballsing up the whole weekend for everyone.

What followed was total chaos, and highly annoying. If you've ever had a plane cancelled, you'l know what I mean. you feel like you want to stab someone in the eyes, and everyone is blaming everyone else. Well it was pretty obvious whose fault things were here.

but hang on a minute. If the government had an inkling of what would happen when they signed this new agreement, why the hell did they do it just before puente weekend? Couldn't they have waited till next week?

The Spanish economy is in such a bad state right now. By making this new agreement, the government are just trying to bring down last year's budget defect of 11 per cent. With their new capped wages, the controllers would make much more reasonable (by who's standards?) 200,000 Euros. Clearly that's not enough for them.

The bad thing is that our biggest industry is tourism, and this will be hitting it badly. And may put off any prospective tourists from coming here. Maybe Portugal is a safer option?

Now Madrid is in a "State of Alert" for the first time since our new Consituation was signed in 1978.

The military have been sent in, and the controllers - who have signed in to their shifts, but are refusing to work - have been threatened with prison if they don't go back to work. One tearful worker on the news said men with guns had marched into their headquarters and told them to get back to work.

"What kind of atmosphere is that to work under?" she sobbed.

Now I don't have much sympathy, but she does have a point. These people have lives in their hands. if they mess up, they could wipe out two planes in a second.

Would you want to fly knowing the person guiding your plane safely along was emotional and liable to make mistakes?

Luckily, me and the bloke are skint, so going away was not an option for us. but in my group of friends, many have been affected. PB can't take her plane to New York, meaning she's missing out on the trip she's been looking forward to for months. Science Chick is stuck in England, as is Jim. And the bloke's parents can't spend the weekend in London. Anthony, my work colleague is stuck in Bulgaria.

You just have to log into Facebook to see more and more angry people posting their stories.

The Public Works Minister says it'll take 24 to 48 hours for air traffic to return to normal - by which time everyone's holiday plans will be well and truly ruined.

Science Chick's other half The Director posted the following on Facebook: "If I ever meet a Spanish Air traffic controller I won't be held responsible for my actions."

I wonder how many people in Spain are thinking the exact same thing?