THE KAERU KID: It’s plain no rain in Spain

Your reward this month for being a reader of this column is information on how to receive a free week’s vacation with lodging and all meals paid at a four-star resort in Spain.

What’s the catch? You must meet some simple requirements. You must pay your own round-trip fare to Madrid. Second, English must be your native tongue and, even if you know Spanish, you will only be allowed to speak English.

A very prestigious and expensive English teaching language school in Spain gives their students an opportunity to have unlimited access to native English speakers from around the world. They could be from Great Britain, Canada, India, the U.S., Australia or any other country where English is the primary language. These students are highly motivated, and they are the ones paying a tuition that covers the room and meal costs for you.

The name of the school is Vaughan Town and their Website is www.vaughantown.com, which offers complete information on requirements, availability and applications. Richard Vaughan is quite the entrepreneur.

My week spent with them was at the Hotel Puerta de Gredos with very nice accommodations, good food and wine. It is located in a beautiful setting with distant snow-capped mountains, rolling green hills, and a meandering river. The closest town is three kilometers (1.9 miles) away; called Barco de Avila, it has a well-preserved castle. On the way to Gredos, the bus stopped outside the town of Avila, which has the best-preserved ancient city walls. Choose a location like Salamanca if you want to see more Spanish culture outside of the resort.

The Hotel Puerta de Gredos

If you do decide to go, there is a party and talent show at the end of the week, so try to think of something you can do for the talent show. This is not a requirement, but the more participation with the group, the more fun and closeness will be achieved. An inexpensive souvenir for everyone would be greatly appreciated. It could be just postcards of where you live or chopsticks or something similar. Again, this is not mandatory and just my personal suggestion, but everyone will remember you with fondness. The party will feature salsa dancing, so you might want to practice your moves.

My trip was combined with a visit to Bilbao before the classes. Frank Gehry had not yet designed the famous Guggenheim Museum when I had visited Spain years before, but once it was built, Bilbao appeared on my bucket list. Bilbao is the largest city of the Basque region and noted for its excellent cuisine. I also made a trip to the Basque coast to Portugalete because it is a world heritage site noted for its unique transporter across the bridge. Unless you have a special interest in this type of engineering, it rates as one of the most disappointing world heritage sites.

Madrid was very active and appeared prosperous in spite of reports of economic problems. My stay was with a couch surfer, Alejandro Palomar Canto, who told me he was a “gato.” It means cat, but the slang refers to someone whose family has lived at least three generations in Madrid. He told me his grandfather was on the team of the famed bullfighter Manolete. When we visited the Madrid bullring, he proudly pointed out his grandfather in the group sculpture.

Each night we would go out for tapas, small pieces of food served with your drink. It is a fun and addicting experience. All the places I visited were very crowded. The Spanish economy may be in the doldrums but the explanation was that this nightly ritual was such a part of life that spending was cut back in other areas. If you used to buy two pairs of shoes a year, you now bought just one, for example.

Alejandro took me on a walking tour of the center of town and a few days later, I took a commercial bus tour. His tour was not only more complete but also more informative.

There is a free shuttle to an out-of-town casino — and it being free should be a clue as to your chances of winning. Again, there is just no place like Las Vegas.

Be sure to visit the world-renowned Prado Museum in Madrid. Naturally, the great Spaniard painters Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and Murillo are well represented. The most famous painting is Diego Velázquez’s (1599-1660) “Las Meninas,” noted for its use of light effects. My favorite from art appreciation class at UCLA is the Flemish Hieronymus Bosch’s (ca. 1450-1516) “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” The Reina de Sofia features more modern artists and houses Picasso’s most famed work, “Guernica,” that is an absolute must-see. Dali and Picasso have museums in other Spanish towns worthy of a visit.

Barcelona is just a few hours away on a high-speed train and — depending on the time of the year — beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean such as Marbella might entice you. There are many other interesting places such as Seville, Toledo, Valencia and the Alhambra in Granada.

I read James Michener’s “Iberia” years ago before my first visit to Spain. Unlike “Hawaii,” it didn’t keep my interest very well, but I was impressed with his observations on the minutest details. You will be rewarded if you read it and even more so if you are accepted as a volunteer at one of the Vaughan Town resort locations.

LAS VEGAS TIDBITS

Cirque du Soleil keeps pumping out new productions, but the quality is suffering. Their last effort with Criss Angel called “Believe” is expensive and on the bottom of my list of Cirque shows to see. They have come up with a new effort at the Aria Hotel with a theme show “Viva Elvis,” featuring videos of Elvis while Cirque performers cavort in front of the huge screen. It’s okay if the prices were lower but not worth what is being asked.

A recent musical called “All Shook Up” with an Elvis-like character and featuring many of his songs was presented at the Summerlin library for a very low price. I enjoyed that more and asked why it wasn’t on the Strip; the answer is that Cirque du Soleil has a clause with Priscilla and whoever else controls Elvis material that no other competing Elvis show can be on the strip while theirs is running.

The Kaeru Kid writes about his various adventure travels. He lives in Las Vegas and includes tidbits about the city at the end of each article. He can be reached at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.

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