Madrid & Barcelona, Spain

Posted on January 3, 2011


My only impressions of Madrid came from Atletico and Real but embarking on the eight-hour bus from Bilbao with Sami, we were soaked in sun as soon as we left the city.  Arriving in the evening to the welcoming Maria, dropping off our bags and heading straight out for sushi – Guillermo (or Willy, as he likes to be called), one of Maria’s friends, explains how to get tickets for the Real Madrid game the next day against Racing Santander.  10am came and went (the time I was told to get there for a good seat), I got there past midday and queued among the rest of the tourists and fans for half an hour and find tickets in the rafters for €45, decent seats for €75 and ones down nearer to the pitch for €126 – mid-range is fine with me and after crouching to speak into the ticket booth and work out where I was going to sit I take my flimsy paper-ticket and try and get a scale of the city before kick-off in the evening.  Trying to see everything the place has to offer, you wouldn’t leave for months.

The streets around the Santiago Bernabéu are packed as I get the metro in, lots of stalls selling some less than acceptable football paraphernalia:

The match itself felt a bit distant, as if Racing Santander just turned up to get paid rather than give their fans a game.  Ronaldo (the younger, less fat one) got four, running amok and adding to the total of six for Real Madrid, Racing Santander chipping in with one of their own goals to at least show they knew what an away goal was.  Throughout the game the guys either side were there talking like you’d expect in a bar, not paying great attention to the game, all the while munching on sunflower seeds, taking them apart with Madridista precision and speed:

I reunited with Sami and Maria – since football is strangely not their favourite past-time – and the next day took a wander around, getting food (paella of course!) and burning time on the lake trying to manoeuvre away from other boats.

The next few days I relocated to Mad Hostel while Sami returned to Bilbao for work, and met a few people including a couple of guys from Turkey with some useful advice for travel there and a little bit of history to give me some perspective on Kurdistan and other bits.  Although not keen on tour groups, I got lunch with a few people from the hostel with a few drinks on the small ‘tapas tour’ thing they organise most days, settling at the last place until they closed, giving us free food everytime we bought a drink.  Opening times take a little getting used to in Spain where lots of places close for a few hours in the afternoon and make it seem like a Sunday, but the relaxtion is welcome when the weather is as warm as it was.

The last couple of nights were enjoyed clubbing with a huge group from the hostel until 6am, dancing away with new found friends, until me and Canadian Corey were the last standing.  The last night found us walking down a street of club-pushers and hookers until we found the next bar.  Morning came, a few hours sleep, we trapsed over to La Mallorquina, a cafe/bakery Corey had seen before – basic upstairs but it doesn’t matter with breakfast as good as this.  First image take from GoMadrid.

Madrid sped by, ‘una cerveza por favor!’ was over-used and Barcelona was next:

One of the better hostels I’ve stayed at, the Alberguinn was fairly cheap and full of people travelling Europe, staying there with intention to live in Barcelona and others for the huge anime/manga conference nearby that weekend.  Myself and Yann from Mexico headed up the road at 1am to get some food at one of the typically small bars (thin and long) owned by an old couple with home-made food, a beer and ice-cream for €8.50 whatever time of the day – staying open late for those like us who eat and drink on strange schedules.

Like any good Englishman, I spotted a tiny bit of sun in the sky and headed straight for the beach to catch up on some reading (Salinger’s Franny & Zooey, thanks to Corey), then on to La Sagrada Familia, but after being warned on the bus by a Bangladeshi guy who’d been living in England a few years I decided not to take my camera.  Silly mistake as my phone doesn’t do it justice.

Later on I got a shot of the city with the huge church in the distance to the right.

Adorned in huge posters with the Pope on advertising his imminent arrival, the building towers over everything as renovations make it difficult to work out how old it really is or what part hasn’t been touched in however long.  Half an hour of walking around and finding a sign that reminds me of where I used to live is enough.

The water-front, boutique stores and restaurants nearby to it are nice to walk around, before heading off for the views over the city and a soon-to-close exhibit.

One of the highlights of Barcelona was the Pipilotti Rist installation at the Fundació Joan Miró, a decent walk up a hill and cutting through paths to find cats and flowers on the hike up.  Friendly Game – Electronic Feelings is a mixture of Rist’s work with varying results – some had us entranced for long periods, involving you lying on your back with cushions to help coerce you into the film projected onto the ceiling, repeating videos with altered sound, timing and colours to evoke thoughts of well-spent youth and open sexuality.  Playing around inside:

Bob (from West Brom, living in Budapest) requested black absinthe, so the night before leaving Barcelona, I hunted up and down the streets connected to Las Ramblas – where all the tourist-restaurants and entertainers ply themselves – to find alcohol was refused sale until the morning due to time restrictions.  In the morning, the largest bottle was bought, buried deep in my bag among jumpers and t-shirts to prepare it for the Vueling flight.  Spain I liked, but didn’t treat it as a place to be a tourist but to enjoy it as I would anywhere I was with friends.

Posted in: Spain