Word of the Day
Oh hi blog fans! I enjoyed my two week sabbatical but it’s good to be back. Allow me to explain.
With my recent lack of activity the default assumption seems to have been was that I was still in Bilbao practising the YMCA with Vissi. In fact I had made the 4 hour drive down to Madrid, ‘hosting’ my journey on Bla-Bla-Car, a ride sharing service, which was great fun.
Once in Madrid I enjoyed the city so much that I changed my plans and just stayed there, Gump Method style, for an extra week. I half-wrote a couple of blog entries but didn’t get around to posting, so this is a 2-weeks-in-one-post extravaganza. I’ll keep it snappy.
My time in the Spanish capital was, for the most part, pretty wholesome – visiting museums and galleries, signing up for Spanish language school and finally getting back into the gym at Raw Madrid.
While I of course sampled the nightlife, the addition of routine into my days, with early morning gym trips and afternoon language classes, gave me a sense for living in the city rather than just travelling.
I wasn’t the only person to notice the lack of travelling. Realising that I would soon be relocating to a less accessible continent, Mama Jones made a pit stop in Madrid to give her big little boy a hug. We had a lovely couple of days, and when I added photos of our mini family reunion to Instagram one amigo back home saw an opportunity:
“Jonesy, can you confirm you’re still classifying being in Spain with your mum as ‘travelling’? I’m driving my mum to the station this afternoon – stay tuned for the blog”
Touché. I won’t mention his name but he lives in Portsmouth and has big goggly eyes.
Despite the cultural and climatic differences Madrid, more than any other capital city I have been to, felt like home: a more compact version of London with a familiar buzz and layout, plenty of green space and the welcome addition of consistent November sunshine.
So, with thanks for your patience and apologies for the lack of mileage, here is a quick highlight reel of my time in Madrid:
1. Watched Some Football
My first stop in the city was the Santiago Bernabeu stadium – watching Real Madrid on home turf was a genuine bucket list item. The ground and the atmosphere were incredible but, as is often the case when Cristiano Ronaldo is present, the evening was all about him.
He was the best player on the pitch, but while his teammates revelled in a comfortable 3-0 victory, Ronaldo’s inability to score resulted in a series of hissy fits from the 32 year old, whose three children would struggle to throw a better tantrum. Despite his short temper the man is still a football genius and even watching him get increasingly disgruntled was strangely compelling.
2. Looked At Some Art
Madrid has an impressive collection of art galleries and museums, most of which offer free entry for a couple of hours at the end of the day.
The Museo Nacional Del Prado houses an enormous and impressive collection of masterpieces gathered by Spain’s 16th- and 17th-century monarchs. More to my taste was the Reina Sofia, Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, which houses Picasso’s master of all masterpieces – Guernica.
This wall-filling monster, nearly 8 metres across, was painted after the Nazi bombing of Guernica to raise awareness and cash to fight the fascist Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has since become a global symbol for peace and might be the most impressive and powerful piece of art I have ever seen. It certainly beats queuing for hours to squint at the Mona Lisa.
(I got in trouble for taking this photo 🙂 Full image and explanation here)
3. Cycled Around Town
While cycling in Madrid is really just a series of near death experiences (another similarity to London) I found it an enjoyable way to get around the city. Madrid’s idea of a cycle path is to paint a bike symbol on the 6th lane of a superhighway, and drivers are not sympathetic to the cyclist’s plight, ducking between lanes and leaving a few centimetres of space if you’re lucky.
With the odds stacked against them Madrid’s cyclists have fought back with a powerful trump card: the bikes-for-hire are electrified. Boris bikes have got nothing on these bad boys – stick them into assistance level three and the electric motor whizzes you around at high speed with minimal pedalling. The scheme is called Bicimad for a reason as they are completely mental and great fun – regular cycling will never be the same again.
4. Learnt Some Spanish
A key objective of my trip to Madrid was to “brush up” my Spanish before travelling to Central America. I had massively overstated my ability, and after 12 hours of high quality group lessons at Inhispania I felt like I’d taken a toothbrush to clean up the elephant enclosure. A shocking 19 years had elapsed since my GCSE Spanish results (A* obvs) and I had even forgotten how to say the number one (apparently it’s not ‘uno’). I was the worst student in the class but really enjoyed it and feel I will get there with (a lot of) practice.
Here is a picture of me with my classmates on my first day at school, looking like a 5 year old with learning difficulties – a fairly accurate description.
5. Went Out And Stuff
There were many people I enjoyed nights out with in Madrid from the one and only El Coco (hi Jimmy) on arrival, to multiple jaunts with my language school buddies (hola amigos), to some very welcoming Madrileños I was introduced to (hi Alvaro and Iñaki) and another rendezvous with the Chilean I met in San Sebastien (hi Stifmeister). From tapas bars and sangria to salsa dancing, clubs and a very weird 7am underground afterparty I got a broad taste of the Madrid nightlife and absolutely loved it.
Goodbye Europe, Hello Proper Travelling
My experience in Madrid has added to my belief that there is something uniquely enjoyable about ‘travelling’ in cities where most people are not on holiday. As I heard somewhere recently, “work isn’t supposed to be fun, that’s why they have to pay you for it” and after 2 months I have found not working to be pretty good, consistent fun. Doing what you want to do every day is fun; even sitting in a classroom is fun when you’ve chosen to be there.
With my time in Europe at an end it will be interesting to see how the fun, and the travelling, evolve. I have rented out my London room for the next 7 months meaning I am now a fully committed nomad. As I move on to tourist destinations where I am no longer in the minority, the proper travelling starts here.
Next stop: Costa Rica
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