Sunday, August 28, 2011

madrid mania

As promised, the Spanish edition of KPPG travels has landed! It is a three part series, one for each city, here is part one on our brief stop in Madrid.

Our arrival in Madrid coincided with that of some 200,000 pilgrims for World Youth Day 2011. Combined with the searing 38 degree heat, this made finding the way to our hotel a little more challenging than we had anticipated! Dave however, was unphased and within minutes of arriving at our hotel, he was back on the road to retrieve pre-booked tickets for a bullfight and navigate his way to La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in the east of Madrid. Defying all odds, he made it to the bullring with a few minutes to spare. His decision to book a sombra/sol ticket (half shade/half sun) proved to be a sensible one as the sun was still up when the event finished at 9pm. He was quickly befriended by a group of locals who happily shared their esky full of beers and dried sunflower seed snacks (pipas) with him. During the bullfight, they guided him through the order of proceedings, formalities and applauding etiquette. Curiously impressed by his solo attendance and enthusiasm, they presented him with a traditional straw sombrero as a souvenir. He later described the bullfight to me as an incredibly confronting experience which he will unlikely seek to experience again. It is however, steeped in tradition and maintains a strong local following in Madrid (thought it has been banned in some Spanish cities). As one of only a handful of foreigners in the crowd, it is without doubt an “off the tourist trail” experience he will not lightly forget.

Given my previous life as a vegetarian and generally weak stomach, I opted not to attend the bullfight. Instead, I spent a few hours enjoying our very well appointed hotel room, Room Mate Alicia, overlooking Plaza Santa Ana. I can highly recommend this new chain of Spanish boutique hotels (30-40 rooms) which specialises in minimalist, “no frills” luxury in superb locations. After the modest offerings of our Edinburgh B & B, I was very appreciative of a few creature comforts :)

I won’t go heavily into the details of our nocturnal adventures as I mostly covered these off in my previous entry. I must however mention the immense popularity of terrace dining during the Spanish summer. Whether it’s on a footpath, plaza or rooftop, outdoors is the place to be, and be seen. In our evening travels, we discovered that finding a highly coveted outdoor seat can be quite difficult as once secured, they are not surrendered lightly! I was also intrigued by the fierce competition between nightclubs for weeknight patronage – even on a Monday. In some of the busy nightclub districts, it is impossible to walk more than a few steps without numerous offers of free drinks/shots. I queried with Lupe whether this attention was reserved for tourists but she assured me that was not the case. Needless to say, we took advantage of the generosity of several establishments, but did not stay much beyond our free beverage! I expect many punters adopt the approach of moving between bars offering free/discounted beverages. One has to wonder how so many venues are able to survive.

With only one full day in Madrid, tens of thousands of pilgrims on the streets, searing temperatures and late night antics, we unfortunately didn’t make it to any of the galleries or museums this time around - I did do a very comprehensive tour of them when I visited with Anna and Camille five years ago. That said, we definitely left feeling as though we received a decent dose of the Madrid lifestyle.  


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