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Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4729 Madrid (in rainy season)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!

 Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4736 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4739 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4740 Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4742 Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4754 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4756 Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4768 Madrid (in rainy season)“How much?” we inquired.

“€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.

img 4772 Madrid (in rainy season)

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.

img 4761 Madrid (in rainy season)

img 4773 Madrid (in rainy season)

Granada: A Stroll Through Town

As this is my first proper post, I thought it only apt to dedicate its contents to the enchanting abode in which I live. I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s actually taken me over a year to properly get off my arse and have a thorough wander around the place I now call home. Of course I’ve always known what treats and feats lie inconceivably close to my doorstep, but it only dawned on me recently that while I may in fact live here, I’ve never really afforded the time and appreciation that such treats and feats undoubtedly deserve. So, this weekend, I abandoned all other plans (in truth there weren’t many anyway) and, armed with my camera, dedicated all my free time to exploring this glorious city; a very, very wise decision indeed.

Exploration commenced in my own hood of El Realejo. It is without doubt one of the city’s most visited areas and one is sure to find themselves stuck behind gaggles of ambling tourists along the narrow pavements at least once a day (if you live there of course). Having said that, the area exudes such ambience that such irks are less than frivolous. My walk took me along the bar-congested Campo de Principe, back along the sleepy Calle de los Molinos, onto the narrow Calle Sta. Estolástica and eventually to Callejon de Santo Domingo, where the grand church of the aforementioned saint towers imposingly above its surroundings. The square was typically packed with Spaniards, laughing and chatting eagerly to one another after afternoon mass.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

View of the steps ascending La Cuesta del Realejo

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Tourist-packed bus heading to The Alhambra

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Calle Sta. Estolástica Granada: A Stroll Through TownSanto Domingo Church

After the inevitable photographing of the fountain atop which sits the much-papped Isabel La Catolica, I found myself side-stepping through the crowds on Puerta Real, where there happened to be a 200-strong Brazilian themed drum band dancing their way along the road. It was cool, though not exactly something out of the ordinary for Granada. People seemed pretty excited about it anyhow, content to stop in the middle of the street and stare through the lens of their videocameras. Everyone was having a great time. Except motorists. They didn’t seemed impressed at all.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

La fuente de Isabel La Catolica

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

The Noisy Drummers

Further ambling led me past La fuente (fountain) de Las Batallas and down La Carrera de Genil, the pedestrianised concourse that runs parallel to Acera del Darro, where one can buy any piece of jewelry or adidas hoody imaginable. The passage culminated before yet another of Granada’s spectacular fountains, this time La fuente de los Gigantones. More frenzied photographing ensued before I wandered back up to Puerta Real and headed for the La Catedral. Unlike most other cities, Granada’s Cathedral is actually rather difficult to find, seeing as how it is tucked clandestinely away among scores of other buildings. As a result, one won’t actually even manage a glimpse of the face of the giant edifice until the final corner of the street running adjacent to it is turned. Sunset wasn’t long off by the time I arrived and the shadows of the facing buildings could be seen creeping up the front of the staggering monument.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Fuente de Las Batallas

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Fuente de Los Gigantones

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Rio Genil

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Kids skateboarding in Plaza Gracia (I thought about asking them if I could attempt a kickflip but decided against it for fear of being considered a… well you know)

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

La Catedral de Granada

Ten minutes later, I found myself meandering through the bustling outdoor markets of Plaza Bibrambla, where, if I had wanted to, I could have bought just about any kind of cheese thinkable, all sorts of chocolatey things and joke-sized loaves of bread. There was also a lovely collection of masks with creepily-real-looking eyes glued inside them, even more jewelry than on La Carrera de Genil and lots of colourful Gypsy things, with no clear purpose. I bought and demolished a huge palmera in seconds. Lovely.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Plaza Bibrambla

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Cheese! And lots of it…

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Massive chocolate covered doughnuts.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Bread, anyone?

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Masks.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Next day, my afternoon was for the most part spent collecting samples of some of the city’s finest urban art (coming soon in next post ;)), but there was still much of Granada that remained unclacked. Having carefully made sure that I avoided peak tourist time, I strolled blithely into the perpetually remarkable Plaza Nueva, where the lower reaches of The Alhambra can be easily clacked. After some more aimless wandering about the square, I set off for El Mirador de San Nicolas, taking in the striking colours and unique character of El Albayzín as I went. The winding and cobbled streets are crammed with teterías and Moroccan Shops. You’d be fortuitous to pass through without stopping to buy anything. Unlike in actual Morocco, though, you are neither harassed nor followed en El Albayzín.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Plaza Nueva

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Plaza Nueva

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Bright and beautiful hand-sewn dowry fabrics.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

From whence just came

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Panting like a hound-chased fox with cotton-mouth, I finally made it to El Mirador. The views from the famed lookout never cease to amaze; The Alhambra looms emphatically on its green-shrouded hilltop; the rooftops of Granada glisten in the sunlight and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada emanate on the horizon to complete a magnificent sight to behold. That’s why I live here.

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

The Alhambra Palace

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

Granada

 Granada: A Stroll Through Town

The Alhambra Palace