My adventures in Madrid (part one)

Sun 5 – Sat 11 Oct

I arrived in Madrid on Wednesday (miercoles) and I have had a really good time. The flight was OK – a normal, busy Squeezy Jet flight from Gatwick. I had checked at work on Tuesday Madrid’s metro system so when I got to Barajas airport I simply took line 8 to Nuevos Ministerios and walked from there. It took about 25 mins to get to the hotel and I had to make my way through loads of little kids as I coincided with the end of the school day – grrr. I was exhilarated and nervous at the same time as I had never been to Madrid before. But I decided to look at it as the excitement of finding my way around a new city, one of the great cities of Europe.

My hotel is fine. It is part of the Accor group (a French hotel company) and is perfectly adequate for my first time here. I deliberately went for a hotel near to Chueca – the gay area of Madrid. After dumping my stuff in the room, I went for a walk around Chueca keeping my eyes open for the obvious signs of ‘gay culture’ though not before I had a glass of wine at one of the many cervecerias; I sat at a pavement table, drank my wine, admired the sites, and absorbed the atmosphere. Using Google maps and the little gay map I had I soon found my directions. One of the first places I found was a gay cafe called Mama Ines. Cute waiters, nice drinks and food, pleasant environment – I decided this would be one of my holiday bases. I then stayed out for the rest of the evening. Madrid has some great architecture – exactly how you would imagine a European city to be with loads of lovely apartments above shops with beautiful windows and wonderful balconies. I ate¬†burger and fries, not very Spanish though there are lots of classy burger restaurants around and Spanish diet is very dominated by meat. From there I explored some of the gay bars. I suppose I was a bit disappointed that they were not busier but then I was in holiday mode and had forgotten it was only a normal Wednesday night for everyone else. Back to the hotel and into a nice semi-drunk sleep around 12.30.

The morning of jueves (Thursday) I woke around 7.30. Spaniards are very much late night people. This may partly be explained by Franco putting the country on the same time as Germany in an attempt to curry favour with Hitler. The result is that it really does not get dark till quite late (between 8 & 9 in autumn) so people stay up late but in the morning it is dark until about 8.30. I woke in darkness and went out for a coffee before continuing to Mama Ines for breakfast – nothing too extravagant, simply coffee and croissant. The weather had turned and there was a definite threat of rain though it was not cold. For my first full day in Madrid I decided to go to the world famous art gallery, the Prado. 14 Euros to get in but ‘wow!’. Spanish art may well be the best in the world and I feasted on a selection of beautiful paintings by two of my favourite artists, El Greco and Velazquez. Both in their style light years ahead of their time. It is amazing to see a picture for real that you have only seen in books and be blown away by how fucking amazing it is. This was true for me with Las Meninas (look it up on Google if you don’t know it) – a beautiful court painting that turns all other similar paintings on their head and is full of mystery as to why certain people are included. I was also surprised by Goya’s ‘black paintings’ (very dark and mysterious forerunners to twentieth century art) and Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’; he certainly had a vivid imagination to come up with some of the things in that picture.

The Prado really is too much to do in one day, it’s like sensory overload (and my legs were aching with all the walking and standing). Coffee and lunch in the very small and crowded cafe gave some respite but I had arrived at 10 when it opened and by 3.30 was really knacked. There was one main wing I did not have time to see and my plan was to come back one evening in the free entry slot 6-8pm. To Mama Ines again for a nice glass of rose wine. I note Spaniards don’t seem to drink this much, their main drink seems to be beer (cerveza) – perhaps it is for warmer weather? Whilst I had been in the Prado, very heavy showers had started. And I mean serious downpours. I pottered about and was quite hungry by 7.30. Eating this early would be anathema for most Spaniards but I found a very nice pizzeria open and had a great pizza. My busy day had caught up with me and I returned to my hotel. My plan was to re-energise myself and go out but I was too tired and I crashed out around 10pm.

So much for my wild holiday – my first full day and I was asleep by 10.30. I thought I would not sleep through the night but no such problem. I love city centre hotels partly because I love listening to (and occasionally being annoyed by) the sounds outside. I slept intermittently but well. And I awoke properly around 7.45 so having had 9-10 hours sleep. I checked the headlines and saw the dreadful by-election results. I love Madrid, I love Europe – there is no way I want to be a part of Britain if it is separated from the rest of the continent. One of the things you realise about Spain is how Franco held it in a timewarp whilst the rest of the world progressed and I think a right wing government involving UKIP in London and us out of the EU could have the same effect.

So viernes (Friday), out to the nearby Starbucks and then onto Mama Ines for a breakfast croissant. Today I decided to check out the Reina Sofia modern art gallery. I got there when it opened and glad I did as it got very busy. Not as big as the Prado, only 8 Euros, but still another ‘wow!’. I started with the very contemporary collection which was a mixture of disturbing (like the 1955 film about the Nazi concentration camps, by Alain Resnais?), and abstract stuff I do not really understand. Then I worked my way down to the modern art of the earlier twentieth century. I did not realise but Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ is there and it is very impressive. And the surrounding galleries contain an exquisite collection including Picasso, Gris, Miro, and Dali. All the second floor is divided into separate rooms so you keep coming across new rooms containing amazing selections such as the work of the Cubists – one of my particular favourites.

I was at the Reina Sofia until into the afternoon. The cafe was nice though very busy (they needed more staff). And I then took a winding stroll back to my hotel stopping at Mama Ines for a light lunch. The weather forecast had been for rain all day but it was actually quite pleasant. By evening time, the streets were busy and I joined the weekend crowd. I went for another stroll around Chueca absorbing the frenetic and fun atmosphere. A few glasses of wine and tonight I ate Greek which was nice though a slightly disappointing simple grilled chicken. I decided not to go crazy and ended up at Mama Ines which was nicely busy. And there I sat watching the world go by, especially the hot Spanish men, and tucking into coffee, cake, and wine. Back to my hotel for around midnight. I did not go to Madrid for heavy partying but laid there with the hotel room window open listening to a world of Friday night madness outside which I found comforting as I fell asleep.

A decent enough night’s sleep and I enjoyed being woken now and then by the sounds with them playing in my head as I was half awake and half asleep. Up around 9 on sabado (Saturday) and out for a slightly different routine, visiting the cafe across the road for an ensamaida and coffee before striding out for the National Archaeological Museum. I had seen this recommended and it was again a pure pleasure. Only 3 Euros to get in and not only wonderful exhibits but also beautifully laid out so you are taken on a journey from prehistoric up to modern Spain. Spain has had an amazing history and some of the galleries were very impressive not least those showing Spain before the Romans came with its fascinating Greek and Phoenician/Carthaginian societies especially. Several themes came across: the importance of societies being connected so they can develop as well as humanity’s striving to understand death but also its creativity in making things. One of the saddest things is the way Iberian, and indeed European culture, became so obsessed by religion in the Middle Ages to the extent that all one sees is pictures of the crucifiction, trinity, nativity, death of saints, etc. I wonder if in the future others will see money and capitalism having the same bleaching effect on our culture? I stopped¬†off for the menu del dia at a restaurant near my hotel. Paella followed by escalopes ‘al jerez’. I thought this might have meant cooked in sherry but it seemed to mean more like cooked in dripping – very meaty and the sort of dish my mum (or anyone who lived through the war) would have adored. Back to the hotel for a siesta then out for wine, cake, and coffee before hitting a gay club. Chatted to some interesting people and got quite sozzled – I think my Spanish gets better as I drink LOL. Crashed out back at the hotel listening to the comforting city sounds.

On a week of such a big event, it seems a bit churlish to consider what happened before I arrived in Spain or how I measured up to my development goals but such information should be recorded. In terms of fitness, I managed a session at the gym on Sunday morning and a session with Sara the trainer on Monday morning. I did something to my right shoulder and my left achilles was playing up so the Monday session revolved a lot around not trying to aggravate these. Work before I went away was relatively quiet – clearing the decks as I will not be around for a week. But it was busy socially with Monday afternoon spent with mum to make sure she was OK before I went (the bloody thermostat has gone wrong so I have had to arrange for that to be repaired and will need to be there when the Trust’s repair people come). Then on Monday evening I met up with two old friends, James and David (aka Daisy), which was pleasant with not too much retrospection on the ‘good old days when we were young’. And on Tuesday I went out with a friend who is on a very exciting countdown to retirement and moving to Spain in about two years’ time.

In terms of reading, I have been doing lots with the travelling and holiday time – wine and a book, what more could you want? I selected a range of books to tackle on my holiday and have been working my way through. I finished ‘Under the Radar’ which was a pleasant read about the time after the war when the UK still had its own nuclear bomber fleet and was trying to keep up with both the US and the USSR. There was a gay theme but it was not heavy and gently woven into the story of a crew member. Overall, a good read and well written. My next book was a ‘classic’ gay novel – ‘Adam’ by Anthony McDonald. Classic in that it is very gay and written about the key gay period of a young person’s life discovering they are gay, first love, first sex, etc. It was written in 2003 and is of its time, perhaps representing the last flowering of this type of literature before gay culture became more mainstream and accepted. It’s very idealistic and a bit silly in places but also clearly shows what gay men aspire to in terms of how they would like the world to be. Uncomfortable in places in terms of writing and content but overall certainly not a bad book and I am intrigued to read the sequel he wrote. I have moved onto a Catalan book, in translation, ‘Lost Luggage’ by Jordi Punti. This is a good book about four men who discover they all had the same father. To date it has been about the father’s early life and what it was like to grow up in Franco’s Spain. I am also interspersing these novels with a collection of short stories by Paul Bowles which are diverse, inventive, disturbing and readable.

Obviously around Languages my concentration has been on Spanish, trying to do daily sessions with Duolingo and taking advantage of my surroundings. I think it is really true that you learn a language by being in the nation i.e. looking at captions in galleries and museums and daily instructions as a way of learning new and reinforcing known words; empujar (push) and tirar (pull). Digital – nothing to report but my current concentration is books and languages until I return to the UK.

Websites of the week:

Wonker of the week: Got to be Nigel Farage for his vile comment that the UK should not admit migrants with HIV. Such statements re-stigmatise people living with HIV and fails to appreciate how they can lead healthy lives contributing enormously to society. I wonder if he would say the same about migrants with diabetes, cancer or a disability? I doubt it especially if they are rich. It’s clear to see that all UKIP is interested in are ‘normal’ rich white people – truly a party of blokes in blazers and merchant bankers.

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