Grey, sunless skies, spewing forth sheets of torrential rain onto its miserable-looking inhabitants- I had hoped for a much brighter first impression of Madrid. This was far from it. Of course I’d known what all but certainly lay in store for me, after consulting my phone for countless weather updates, but I had remained cautiously optimistic up until our arrival. Now, I could see I had been foolish.
As this was my first time in La Capital, my list of things to see and do couldn’t have been longer. Getting through all of it in just two days was out of the question, so after some painful but necessary crossing-out I managed to whittle it down to just four things: seeing the Royal Palace and its gardens; El Bernabeu; El Museo del Prado, and watching the world go by in Madrid’s multicultural zone of Lavapiés.
The latter was to be the first box ticked off the list, owing to our fortune in securing free accommodation for the night via the services of Couch Surfing. Our host lived there. However, after our arrival and a subsequent phone call, it transpired that our host hadn’t realized that there were two of us, despite as much being made absolutely clear in the request sent three days earlier. As a result, we now found ourselves without a roof over our heads on the Friday of Puente weekend, and it was forecast to piss it down all night.
We nevertheless enjoyed a lunch that we both agreed, despite its shortcomings, had probably been just about the most traditionally Spanish plato of our time here. Paella for starters, pollo asado con patatas bravas for mains and an entire bottle of vino tinto that would make Aldi’s cheapest wine seem like a vintage Don Perignon in comparison.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent aimlessly wandering the enchanting barrio, as planned, where all races and ethnic principles fuse brilliantly into one great big multi-cultural melting pot. I could quite happily have spent the rest of my day there, but that niggling issue of having nowhere to sleep just wouldn’t stop niggling, and the longer we left it the less likely finding somewhere with space for us would be.
So, we begrudgingly headed for the swarming city centre aboard the impressive metro-link system. What followed was possibly the most wretched and unfruitful four hours of any trip ever had by either of us. Not a single hostel we asked at had beds for the night- our worst fears were fast becoming a reality. All we could do was just keep trying, and eventually, a receptionist advised us that if we were to find a room at such short notice, the best place to look was in Lavapiés…
At least I’d now get to spend the rest of my day there, I thought. Back we plodded, desperately hoping the receptionist had been right, and as luck would have it, we finally found a grubby little one-star hostel a couple of km away from the area’s metro link. We were overjoyed. Checked-in and at last feeling able to relax, we set out in search of one of the barrio’s much-hyped curry houses.
It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for. Suddenly, we found ourselves promenading Madrid’s very own curry mile, along which there were countless Indian Restaurants, each boasting jaw-droppingly good deals; what’s that? Six beers for €5!? And six ‘curry tapas’ for another €5? We’d hit the jackpot. Two hours later, after an exceedingly generous helping of either indulgence, we waddled/staggered back to our musty abode to rest our sleepy heads. There was much to be done the following day!
Naturally, we overslept, and were awoken by the noise of our door being pounded on rather angrily. The one doing the pounding was the hostel owner, who had made it quite clear the night before, through his eyes-on-the-floor/‘I’ll growl instead of speak’ approach, that hospitality wasn’t really his thing, and he was now discernibly irked. We paid and left, without saying a word. No love lost.
Fortunately, we’d had the foresight to book a bed for the following night in a more centrally located hostel the previous afternoon, and fancied getting there pretty quick. We found our way, checked in again and set about exploring the city for the day, despite the continued downpour.
First up on the agenda was The Royal Palace, which we did eventually see, but not before coming across a most welcome distraction: El Mercado de San Miguel. The food on sale here was amazing. There were enough bocadillos, fresh-fish tapas and paella to keep you nibbling all day long, though watch your spending- we somehow managed to spend €10 just on olives. But by God were they worth it.
After tearing ourselves away we hurried along to the Palace. The rain had waned slightly, but the skies were still a thick canvas of grey. We felt the exterior of the Palace blended in quite nicely. It was big, and worthy of a spot on the to-see list, but not a smudge on the architectural treats of Barcelona, Seville or Granada. Guess we’re pretty spoilt down here.
At this point it occurred to us that we were in actual fact only a few minutes’ walking distance from El Templo de Debod- an ancient Egyptian temple donated to the city by its constructors in 1968, after Spain helped save the country’s doomed temples of Abu Simbel following the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam. Three stone-built pylon gateways stand in a line in front of the temple, creating a superb mirror-image with the still water surrounding the monument.
The day was wearing on and we were forced to concede that it would now be impossible to see both the Prado Museum and The Bernabeu. No contest. Off we went to the stadium of the so-called Galacticos, unaware that there was in fact a game to be played that very night. We arrived and the realization of what may have been about to happen quickly dawned on us.
“€55” replied the cashier.
Ballbags. Not what we had budgeted for, but this was Real Madrid we were talking about. Would I ever have the opportunity to see them play again? Yes, I would, I decided. I know that this blog post would probably have been far more exciting had I let folly prevail over sense, but on this occasion, I kept my moneys in my pocket. I had already bought a ticket to the Granada CF game the next day anyway, so that was enough justification, right? Whatever. We walked briskly away from the stadium before folly mounted a counter-attack.
That night, we signed ourselves up for one of those pub-crawls designed for tourists who want to make friends. The €10 participation fee was a tall order, but we figured it would be worth it. Nope. Not even the slightest bit. Our ‘pub’ crawl started in a cramped, sweaty disco-bar which was playing music of the makes-you-want-to-sew-your-ears-shut variety. We had our ‘free’ listerine-flavoured shot and then faced one of three options; 1) Buy a €6 drink, remain inside and wait for our ears to throw up. 2) Go outside and stand in the pissing rain for an hour while we wait for those who opted for the ‘€20 with free-bar in first bar’ fee to consume as much alcohol as humanly possible, or 3) Fuck off.
So off we fucked to an Irish Bar, where we spent the rest of the night berating the ‘Madride Pubcrawl’ and watching some pretty woeful live music. Better than options one and two though, we agreed.
Next day, our bus pulled away from Madrid Station at 11am. The rain had now reached the point of beyond ridiculous. Five hours, that bus journey was supposed to take. A burst riverbank along the motorway ensured that it took just over seven instead. But it wasn’t Madrid’s fault. In truth, one requires a great deal more than just two days in order to explore the city properly so I’ll be back… on a considerably dryer day I hope.