It’s a little after 8:30pm on Friday night as I start organizing my thoughts about this trip report. I’ve just landed at Barajas Airport in Madrid, Spain. My first observation is that the airport is bigger than the country I just flew here from. Walk, train, elevators, walk, and finally arrive at the baggage carousel.
Several of my co-workers are there waiting for their luggage. British Airways had a special on that everybody snapped up. The flight cost Â£9 each way. With taxes and all the other malarkey the entire tab came to less than Â£60 ($120) roundtrip.
I grabbed my luggage and said goodbye to my co-workers as we all went on our separate ways. The taxi driver asked me in Spanish where I wanted to go and I told him I was staying at the Grand Versalles Hotel. “Eh?” he replied. “Covarrubias quatro,” I informed him. “Ah, si, si. Covarrubias.” I felt much better.
I checked into the hotel without hassle. The room was nice but not extravagant. Pretty much what you would expect for a 3-star hotel. It had a bed, a mini-bar, a television and a shower. That’s pretty much all I needed Friday night as I was completely spent from the previous week. I spent the evening watching The Bourne Identity in Spanish.
I got a late start on Saturday morning. I headed out from my hotel near the Alonso Martinez metro stop towards Grand Villa. As I strolled down Calle Hortaleza I was treated to a complete metamorphosis. I started out in a decent neighbourhood and then more and more buildings were riddled with graffiti. It felt a little dangerous but there were enough people out on the streets that I didn’t feel any immediate threat.
A little further along it got the gay. At first it was the butch looking chicks and then guys doing the full on butt massage arm around each other stroll. I wasn’t sure how the street would morph again but it was sure to be interesting.
Eventually the street opened up to Grand Villa. I strolled around the shops on Grand Villa as a light sprinkle started up. Not wanting to start shopping at the first stores I came across I went back to where Calle Hortaleza had emptied out into Grand Villa and kept heading south.
Not soon after passing McDonald’s the streets became lined with arcade style casinos and bingo parlours. In the doorways stood women wearing too few clothes and too much makeup. In case there was any doubt about their profession several of them made kissing sounds as I walked by.
What really struck me was that in a country renowned for beautiful women, these were some of the ugliest women I had seen since touching down the night before. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that with all the career choices available to unattractive women these ladies decided to fight the odds and go into a profession dominated by beautiful women. The courage that must have took is inspirational.
I continued on my journey as I pumped my fist in the air and shouted “You go girls! Keep up the good fight!” For some reason Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful hummed in my head.
The street finally dumped out near the Sol metro station. There’s a big shopping area there so I used the opportunity to enjoy some things that I can’t get back in Gib; namely selection. Wow, not only do they have more than one shoe store in the entire country; they have more than one on one street! I couldn’t believe the disgusting display of wealth and commercialism.
I purchased two pairs of shoes.
I was a little disappointed in my shoe shopping experience though. I had gone to the trouble of finding my European size (43) so I felt pretty hot-shit when I walked into the Foot Locker and asked to see the a particular pair of shoes in the best Spanish I could muster up after completing a ten week course. In perfect English he responded “You want to see these in a 43?” Yeah, 43, jerkoff.
It had been misty all morning but now it began to rain a bit. Out came the umbrellas. Now, the Spanish are somewhat famous (to me) for not paying a great deal of attention to the space around them. Personal space means something completely different to them. Anyway, when you combine Spaniards, rain, umbrellas, and a crowded shopping area the potential for eye damage goes up dramatically.
I decided to arm myself so I could at least poke people with my own umbrella. I found a Chinese lady selling crappy little umbrellas for about three Euros. She drew my attention via her yelling “Para el agua,” as if there might be some confusion about the proper usage of such a device.
Loaded down with the spoils of my shopping and soaking wet from the rain I headed back to my hotel.
I went up to my room, changed into something dry, and went down to the hotel bar for some tapas and cervezas.
Spain is a late night country. Some nightclubs don’t even open until 11pm. So when I left the hotel bar and headed across the street to Blood Brothers at close to midnight I was part of the early crowd.
I took a seat at the bar and ordered a pint of beer. As is the case when you’re sitting there alone in a bar and there’s no sports on I found myself want of something to occupy myself. I picked up a freebie magazine they had and began reading through it even though it was in Spanish.
Even though my command of the Spanish language is limited to what commands a dog might understand, I was actually able to read most of the articles. You piece together enough words you know and you can guess the one’s you don’t. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the reading comprehension of the target audience must have been about twelve years old.
After two pints I decided to switch to something with a little more kick to it. I ordered a Jack and coke and took notice of the looooooooong pour of whiskey. I had noticed that before in La Linea but for some reason a rush a hatred filled me at those cheap Gibraltar bastards who measure every pour down to the drop.
I stumbled home to bed at some god-awful hour of the morning and caught some more wonderful American television dubbed in Spanish.
Sunday morning I vowed to make it down to Plaza Mayor. I took the same route as the day before and saw the same dodgy neighbourhood, the same gay neighbourhood, and the same impromptu red light district.
Many of the same girls were out there but now there were some African girls out on the street. One of them yelled out to the guys walking ahead of me “Hello, baby!” I couldn’t pinpoint their exact country of origin (sounded Scandinavian) but the one guy looked at his friends and (in English) said, “I can’t believe those whores think we’re Americans.” I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.
I eventually made it down to Plaza Mayor. I walked around a bit and then hit the flea market.
I meandered around a bit and then went back up to the hotel.
I decided to get some tapas in the hotel bar again. The Formula 1 race was on and I watched some guys go round a track really fast. Before the chequered had been dropped the bar started filling up. Something was going on.
Turns out Real Madrid was playing was playing Mallorca with the league final on the line. This was the big one.
The place went dead with Mallorca scored within the first 16 minutes. Real Madrid just couldn’t get anything going even with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in the stands cheering on David Beckham with his wife Victoria.
It took Real Madrid over an hour to get a point on the board but once they did two more came quickly.
When the match was over all of Madrid exploded. It was about 11pm when the match ended and the hotel bar was trying to wrap things up and close. I walked out onto the street and there were fireworks going off all over the city. Cars going up and down the street kept honking their horns as the passengers hung out the windows waving Real Madrid flags, jerseys, and anything else with a Real Madrid logo.
I decided to head down to Grand Via to where it was likely to get really crazy. I took my regular route and was surprised that at night the gay part of town got even gayer. Transvestites were walking the streets, hanging out windows, and pouring out of nightclubs.
I finally made it down to Grand Via. Police had blocked off one side of the street and fans who had been at the game were just hitting the Grand Via metro stop. Endless streams of people came out of the metro shouting, screaming, and blaring megaphones.
It was a charged environment to be sure but everybody was cool. I mean, sure they were drunkenly yelling random stuff in Spanish coming down the streets in gangs of fifteen or twenty but when one group passed another group it was all smiles, high-fives, and a psychotic exchange of screaming.
I just took it all in. I stopped off here and there for a beer but mostly just I watched this spectacle unfold.
I went back to my hotel about 3am and they were still going as strong as they were when they first started. I woke up a few times during the night and glanced at my watch at 5am and 6am and I could still hear fireworks going off.
Monday was the Queen’s birthday which they don’t much celebrate in Spain. Go Freddy Mercury!
One of my favourite quotes (which I’ll paraphrase) is from Jack Handey who says that you should get the president’s birthday off. Unfortunately though, it would give an unfair advantage to any candidate who was born on Dec 26th or July 5th.
Monday was also my last day in Madrid. I had a 9:20 pm flight out that night so I went down to the Prado Museum so I could claim to have done something cultural during my stay.
When I got to the Prado a lady said something to me in Spanish and I kept walking. She then asked me if I spoke English. I replied in the affirmative. She told me that the Prado was closed today but would be open tomorrow.
Catching tourists on their way to a major temple or palace is a well known scam in Thailand. These guys will wait around outside the Grand Temple and tell you it’s closed or won’t open for another few hours. Then they strike up a friendly conversation and mention another attraction you might want to see. They’ll even sketch a map in your guidebook to show you how close it is. Then they’ll hail down a tuk-tuk and tell the guy in Thai where to take you. What you don’t know is both the guy and the tuk-tuk driver are in on the scam. The tuk-tuk is going to end up taking you to some gem shop and then to another and then to another until you either abandon him or begin to get really, really angry.
I thought I was getting a similar con here so I blew her off and headed down to the main entrance to the Prado.
It was closed for the day.
I took the backstreets to get from the Prado to Plaza Mayor then wound my way back up Grand Via and then back to the hotel.
I still had a few hours to kill so I went to the hotel bar for some beers.
When time came to leave, I asked the desk to call me a taxi which they did. The traffic was unbelievable. Seems Real Madrid was making a visit to the open court near the Sol metro stop and it was the biggest thing going on in all of Madrid.
I arrived at the airport with about an hour until my flight. Remember how big I mentioned the airport is? Yeah, well, I had to haul ass across this massive airport to get to my gate. You know it’s not going leisurely stroll when the sign pointing to your terminal says that it’s a 22 minute journey from where you are.
I made my flight and now I’m back in Gib.
On a side note: I actually did have on my agenda to go to the casino in Madrid and play a little poker. Unfortunately, I had scheduled that Sunday night when Madrid was going crazy so I changed my plans.