Paul and I went to Madrid for Easter. Weird how that happened – the original idea of going to Russia fell through, so as a last-ditch random effort, Paul's said “How about Madrid ?”. I couldn't think of a compelling reason why not to go, and so before we knew it we found ourselves waiting for a bus to Luton airport at 3:45am. Amazingly (although with no help from the bus company) we managed to board our flight on time and actually make it there, which as far as I was concerned was the hard part.

Friday we primarily concerned ourselves with wandering about the place looking at stuff. We had few other options, as our Spanish was virtually nonexistant (outside of “dos cervezas, por favore”), and aside from the fact that they'd had an inquisition at some stage I knew next to nothing about the place.

Highlights from day 1 include establishing the amusing, quasi-anatomical nature of our nearest underground stop – Moncloa…

We happened across a pretty cool random photographic exhibition by Chema Madoz. I think we arrived 20 mins before closing time, and then we had to negotiate our way through the hurdles of having all these Spanish art gallery people telling us where we had to go to collect a ticket, that we didn't have to pay, that we couldn't take our cameras or bottles of water in… or maybe the camera was ok but the water wasn't ? I forget – I just left everything behind and went and looked at the freaky pictures of one commonplace item merged with another, but in an unexpected way. Simplicity and seamlessness – I was well impressed by that, and we'd just arrived in Madrid !

Another highlight was the first tapas bar we strayed into – brilliant, cos we couldn't speak a word of it, and after Paul ordered something we thought we understood the name of, we were presented with something completely different, which was probably the barmaid's polite attempt at giving us something palatable to our foreign tastes instead of the medley of bird eyeballs or whatever we'd invariably asked for.

We caught the cable car (a lot like a snow gondola, which I also haven't gotten around to writing about yet…) across the big park thing & checked out the view, we wandered in amongst historical buildings of which we had no understanding of the significance of, we visited bar after bar and nibbled on the fine offerings around us…

We saw possibly the silliest hat ever worn anywhere by anyone. It must surely be steeped in tradition – it's the only explanation for a hat like that.

That evening we met up with one of the more colourful characters of a holiday I've ever encountered, the Chairman of the Wellington Society, for a historical and cultural tour of some of the finer points of Madrid. As it was Good Friday we were weaving around the Easter Parades which take place, where groups of people wearing black robes and hoods march solemnly preceeding a huge edifice of the Virgin Mary, carried by penance-seekers inside it. From certain angles it looks like The Luggage from Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magick… but I digress. The Chairman pointed out historical places of significance, described the deeds that were done there (and his distaste for the rule of the Hapsburgs was evident), and peppered these facts with his own anecdotes. Inbetween soaking up the rich claret of culture we took the opportunity to soak up some actual rich claret, along with more tapas, and the finer things available in Madrid. At each successive place The Chairman was greeted by the proprietor, who tried to impress on us that we were with The Best. It certainly was a unique evening. We stopped in a tapas place off the Plaza de Mayor, which was like a historical shrine to bullfighting greats, where we learned about The Great Manolete. There was one particular photo on the wall of this place of a bullfighter being gored by an angry bull, and just above the matador's head is a small spherical object that almost looks like a spot on the negative or something… and then you learn that it is in fact one of his testes. Yeah. So anyway, about 1am the merriment subsided, and Paul & I set off in search of Madrid's legendary night life. By 3am we'd conceded that we'd either missed it, or were wearing the wrong shoes to meet it, and began the arduous search for a cab who knew where our hotel was…

To be continued.

2006-04-30 : Knee deep in back-blog.
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