Our next stop, Madrid, the capital of Spain! Like most capital cities (with the exception of Canberra) Madrid did not disappoint – majestic architecture, bull fights and flamenco. We had to quickly accustom ourselves to the loud and screaming ways of the Spaniards. Conversations we initially thought were fights between strangers – were nothing more than a happy and joyful greeting between friends. Of course there are the hand gestures and body movements that may suggest otherwise, but once you immerse yourself in some paella, sangria and futbol you realise that the people here are just extremely passionate! It was refreshing…
Our taxi driver from the train station to our hostal must have been an ex tourism official – he loaded us up with maps, coupon books for the best restaurants in town and lots of information. He explained the buildings on our way to the hostal and told us:
“Madrid es bien viejo, si no fuera por los autos estariamos como los romanos – montando caballos” (Madrid is very old, if we didn’t have cars we’d still be like the Romans – riding on horseback).
The hostal was right on Gran Via which is the main road in Madrid. We’d booked into a B&B on the 6th floor of a gorgeous old building. Luckily there was a lift, the only catch was it didn’t work! So Gus (my hero) ran up six flights of steps to get up to the hostal, while I minded the bags. I don’t know what happened up there, but when I got up via the service lift our host Char was scared. She asked if I spoke Spanish and when I said yes, she explained that she was desperately hoping that the lift would work because she was scared of what Gus might do to her if it didn’t.
“Su cara..Dios mio” (His face…my god!)
Gus explained that he was merely a bit tired and probably a bit red from the run up the stairs! Lost in translation…
The Bull Fight: One of the many things our taxi driver told us about was the Festival of Bull. It’s only on from mid-May to mid-June and bonus for us we were there right at that time! We got our tickets from a road in the center of Madrid called Calle de la Victoria and headed off to Plaza de Toros the next night. The Plaza de Toros is amazing, we were so excited to see it. The area was packed out with people proudly wearing their Spanish flags, we could smell peanuts being roasted and the atmosphere was just electric. You couldn’t get more excited – we paid two Euro for little cushions to sit on as the seats in the arena were all concrete and we wanted to enjoy the show!
I’m not really sure what we expected to see when we got there, maybe a little dance with the bull, perhaps some “Oles!”? Gus spent the whole two days working up his hate for the bull and ate steak everywhere we went. It still didn’t work and if you’re a die hard animal lover, I would skip this part right now.
We knew as soon as the fight started there would be six bulls fighting. Basically the bull comes out (already drugged) and then is tested to see how strong it is by three or more “wanna-be” matadors with the cape. If the bull struggles to run or falls, then the crowd go crazy and scream for another bull. Which I thought was great, because it meant the mother and fellow lady cows come to collect their son. I thought the bull would be saved by its fellow cows, but alas no bull is spared! They are only taken to the back to kill it!
If the bull out runs these “wanna-be” matadors and can go to the next level – the Picadores – who come out on horses. Their job is to stab the bull in the back with two spears and hope his horse doesn’t go down in the process. We were both amazed by the horses who are blindfolded, so they can’t see the bulls. The horses were lifted by the bull almost every time and didn’t do anything. They may’ve been drugged too.
Once the bull has passed this level, then come the Banderillos which is another “wanna-be” matador, who throws another spear at the bulls back. As you can imagine, the bull is pretty pissed off at this stage, not to mention half dead and very tired. It’s only then that the real Matador comes out and finishes the job.
We were both traumatised by the carnage and going for the bull. There was a point in the night, when one of the matadors was attacked by the bull to which the whole crowd went silent and Gus was the only one screaming “That’s what you get! That’s what you get for messing with the bull!”. Needless to say, we were the only ones applauding the bull attacking the matador and we left soon after. That night we had chicken for dinner.
I don’t think either one of us will ever attend a bull fight again. It’s part of the Spanish culture and maybe there was a time when a herd of bulls attacked the nation – but it’s just plain cruel now. If you must go, maybe visit the Plaza de Toros.
The San Miguel Market: Our lovely host Char gave us the tip on the San Miguel Market and it was so good we went back the next day for lunch. Much like all markets, its produce was fresh, cheap and delicious! You can find everything here from steak to antipastos such as cheese, ham, olives and the delightful churros. When our whole lunch came to 15 euro, we decided to go back the next day! Its great food and it gives you the opportunity to eat like the locals do on their lunch break -although I’m sure they only have the one meal as opposed to five! Great for foodies or just a quick and delicious snack!
The Flamenco Show: We booked our tickets a day in advance for this show. The show was at a bar called Las Tablas and was brilliant. We got there a bit early, 9:15pm and the show didn’t start until 10pm. But we got a great table right at the front and you could almost feel the tapping of their shoes in your face!
The show was simple, but very entertaining! Two guitarists, two singers (with very loud hand clapping skills) and two dancers. The dancers were amazing, very fast tapping with their feet and the music has inspired me to learn Spanish guitar while Gus wants to take up Flamenco dancing! He’s also learnt how to clap excessively loud, which comes in handy for clapping those street performers every now and then. A win for all and definitely something you should do when in Madrid!
El Palacio Real: El Palacio Real is the Royal Palace in Spain. We have made a rule that we must go see something cultural at every stop we make and this was it for Madrid! The Palace is beautiful, but if you do go – make sure you get the audio guide. It makes it easier when you walk from one gigantic room to the next. The gardens of the palace are free to visit. Unlike, other palaces in Europe, the King and Queen of Spain still use this Palace – we couldn’t find them though so best of luck to you if you try and look.
Madrid was a great stop for us. It was where the Spanish Revolution started and I believe still is going strong! Great to see some city action after being in the quieter regions and the perfect place to practise our Portugese…onto Lisbon!