Photographic travelogue of my time working in Madrid in 2004, 2007 and 2008

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Having left Hong Kong at the end of October 2003 i had taken a chance and elected to stay out of work unless a UMTS contract came up. In February 2004 i arrived on an initial six week contract for Siemens that eventually would be extended to five months. I had never been to Madrid before and did not speak Spanish. You'll find below all of the places i found, all my favourites plus a few tips and stories about living in Madrid.

Hostal Miguel Angel
I was booked into a hotel in Tres Cantos 20km north of Madrid and close to my office and the plan was to use those nights to search for somewhere to stay. Work was too busy and on my third night in Madrid i arrived in the centre of town with my small backpack to look for accommodation close to the Alonso Martinez metro. In two days i'd learned just enough Spanish to ask to see a room in a few hostals and get the price etc. For some reason i rang the bell of the Miguel Angel 2 star hostal in Calle San Mateo. Great place, friendly people, en-suite room for 27 Euros a night, so i stayed here on and off for two months. The street was quiet during the day but on Friday and Saturday nights several nightclubs opened for business which made it a lively spot. The Boomerang Spanish restaurant and the Troja kebab shop around the corner were regular haunts of mine. Two Portuguese friends of mine have also stayed here.

madrid bear
This is one of the symbols of Madrid. You saw this bear and the orange tree all over the city and the tourist shops were overflowing with souvenirs of them. If you visit Puerta del Sol, on the sunny side of the square is the El Corte Ingles superstore. The bear is one block to the right. If you walk to the end of the pedestrianised street, you come out at Callao on Gran Via. If you walk up the next road then it's Calle de Monterra which has prostitutes most of the day and night.

No stay in Madrid is complete without the trip on the Telerifico from Arguelles over to Casa de Campo. Its a cable car system that gives you a different view of Madrid and delivers you into the garden of the city. Casa de Campo is popular with bikers and prostitutes depending on the time of day. The park also contains the zoo/aquarium and the fairground. If you take the Telerifico, only buy a single ticket as you will be returning by metro on the other side of the park.

La LAtina
This was the first place where i saw widespread use of painting to create these kinds of optical illusions. There were many examples (some better than others) but, this one was my favourite. I first saw it on my way to the El Rastro street market close to the La Latina metro. Complete with shops, people watering plants and broken shutters, i had actually walked past it before i realised what it was.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is the tourist magnet of Madrid. I arrived just before Carnival in February and a stage had been set up on this side of the square. It was cold and people were staying in the sun to keep warm. If you are looking for the buskers and the portrait painters, you'll find them here. The painting on the building between the towers was made in the early 1990's. Both the short sides of the square have open air restaurants and on Sundays the arches around the square host dealers and collectors of currency, stamps, bottle tops, playing cards, cigar wrappers etc. It's serious business. You'll find more photos here later in the travelogue.

Palacio Real
To take this picture you will be facing the Palacio Real and behind you is the Opera. The first week of March saw warm sunshine filled days but, the evenings cooled off after 9pm. It made for great sunsets.

Parque Del Retiro
The first week of March and the boats came out on the lake at Retiro Park. Possibly my favourite place in Madrid, when there was still snow on the ground in Prague it was nice to see the Spring flowers. The park comes alive on Sundays when many families come here. On the Atocha side of the park is the regular book fair. On the Ibiza side there is an entry that leads to a path which leads to the monument on the side of the lake. The monument has excellent accoustics and draws a regular crowd of drum players. This is also the area of the park where you'll find people selling cannabis.

Don Quixote
Plaza de Espana is a welcome break from the concrete jungle called Gran Via. Dominated by the central monument in front of which stands the bronze statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It was another three years before i bought the book. The police used to arrive with horse boxes and exercise the horses on the square.

The Prado Museum
The Prado was my favourite of the big three art museums (Prado, Thyssen, Reina Sofia). I was already a fan of Jan Bruegel and Velazquez but, the Prado inroduced me to Herronimus Bosch (El Bosco) and Goya. I visited six or seven times during my stay in Madrid sometimes at the weekend and sometimes on a weekday. Free entry on Sundays. Three euros on other days.

A Prado Artist
As i worked late hours I was able to visit galleries and museums early in the morning when there were less crowds. This was especially good at the Prado where in the mornings you would see accomplished artists who had been given permission to make a whole or partial copy of the paintings on display.

ETA Grafitti
March 11th 2004 started out as just another day. I walked to the metro at 0745 and walked into a local cafe for breakfast at Fuencarral. Obviously something was wrong as the TV was on and a picture of the Atocha railway station was in the background. Thirty minutes later and the horrific events of the last hour were just making it onto the internet. At 0930 it was reported that more than 60 people had died. It would rise. As i went home via the Fuencarral metro i saw a guy spraying graffitti on the side of a car park being watched by two policemen. ETA was suspected but, there was a huge debate roaring as they had never done anything like this before.

Office Memorial
The following morning all employees and consultants received an email to stop work at midday and gather outside their offices to stand in silence for 15 minutes to show Telefonica's support for the nearly 200 victims killed and more than 1500 wounded. It wasn't until i got back to the apartment that i realised it was not just Telefonica and it was not just Madrid, it was just about everybody in Spain.

Atocha Old Station
This is what most tourists come to Atocha to see. The main hall has been turned into a gigantic conservatory and it is a very pleasant place to sit down a have a cup of coffee. I had come for a different reason.

Atocha Outside Memorial
The following week i came down to Atocha to see the memorials. On this occasion i stayed outside. At this time there were not many photos of the victims but you were aware of the different flags of countries like Ecuador, Colombia and Peru who have large communities in Madrid that had been affected. A phrase which i had not expected to learn, became seen everywhere "Decansa La Paz", Rest in Peace.

Atocha Inside Memorial
The following Saturday i took a walk down to the Atocha railway station to look at the inside memorial. I did not know exactly where it was so i just walked around until i found it. I sensed the smell of the candles first and then at the top of the escalator i was hit by a wave of heat as i came out on the upper floor. The picture really does not do it justice. This is probably only half of the number of candles there at the time. The memorials at the rear included many pictures of the virgin Mary, statuettes and A4 letters. Towards the middle it became almost all letters and pictures. At the front you saw hundreds of business sized cards underneath the candles, mine among them. This last group appeared to be not directly affected by the tragedy but felt the need to light a candle to support the victims as everybody could identify with someone who had died. I have a strong memory of a birthday card sent by children to their dead father.

Victims' Names
Three weeks later i went back again but, the large memorial had now been reduced to a token 10 or so candles. Many of the posters and candles had been transferred to another part of the station that could be accessed from outside. In their place stood a canvas wall poster with the names of all the victims.

First News Photos
Details of some of the victims appeared almost immediately but others took time. The 20 minutos newspaper was publishing details about one victim everyday that included a fairly in depth history of their life and dreams. Others like the one above published photos and basic facts for each person.

More news clippings
The first pictures of the bombings were horrific. I remember a fire at a football stadium in England where the cameraman seemed to be unaware of the graphic pictures he was taking. So too in Madrid as on the day of the bombings the TV was showing raw and unedited footage of blasted corpses, bodies cut in half laying on the railway track and even on top of one of the trains and platforms. This poster at Atocha took some of the clippings and asked many questions.

This sign was seen everywhere for the rest of my stay in Madrid. "Paz" or "Peace" was often seen with "Por que?" (Why?), or "Basta Ya" (i've had enough). Several posters at Atocha. were from school classes where each child appears to have left imprints of their hands with white paint. I don't know what it means but, it has considerable significance for the Spanish.

Arabic Support
Anti-muslim sentiment went through the roof in the weeks after the bombings as people came to terms with the ferocity of the attack and who was apparently responsible. This poster is from the "young muslims of Madrid". The top phrase reads that "this barbarity has no place in our religion or culture". Further down you'll see "No Terrorism in our name".

Black Ribboned Flags
This was the scene on thousands of shops, offices and homes in Madrid in the weeks after. A Spanish flag draped with a black ribbon. So much culture in this historic city, so many great people. I was witness to a nation in shock suffering like a generation had not known. Even my experiences of the London bombs in the early 1980's was nothing to prepare me for what happened here.

The headquarters of Jose Aznar's "Popular Party" was close to where i was staying. On Saturday 13th March two days after the bombings and one day before the election, the building was beseiged by hundreds of people wanting answers from the government. Immediately after the bombings the government issued information that pointed strongly to ETA but, many including myself could not believe that such an event could have been caused by Spanish Citizens. The next day the news broke that a van at the Alcala de Henares train station had been found to have Arabic language documents and maps. Security services were looking for Moroccans. The government party nominee Marian Rajoy denounced his own governments handling of the affair. The government lost the election and the rest is history. The banner reads "with the people, with the constitution and for the destruction of terrorism".

Santa Anna
Plaza Santa Anna was often a meeting place for our evenings out. On Saturdays you would sometimes see a market shown above which was pretty much a craft fair. A theatre is at one end and a Tryp hotel at the other. Both sides are lined with restaurants and bars. The best Sangria i ever tasted was from the bar next to the theatre. At the time of my visit if you turned left at the bottom of this square you would pass "O'Neils" bar which i visited a few times. At the end of this street if you took the next left you'll have found my favourite kebab shop "Bosphorus" (now closed) about 50 metres on the right. The next street over to the right contains "El Buscon" (one of my favourite bars in this area).

Botanical Garden
This is a picture from the Botanical Garden. I had a couple of early spring visits when it was cold but the sun was shining and it was nice to see the Spring flowers when Prague was still covered in snow. This building also serves as a small art exhibition centre with halls left and right.

Espejo Cafe
The Espejo cafe in Paseo Castellana opposite the National Library is a great place for a coffee. It is a fine example of Art Nouveau architecture with it's wrought iron work, wooden ceilings and chandeliers. In the Spring i would sit outside in the sun but, as Summer started i had to go inside where the airconditioning makes it more comfortable.

Espiritu Art
One of my regular stops was at J&J Books and coffee. Run by Jamie and Javi, it was a used bookshop (now closed) with a bar and a great place to meet people. On my way to the bookshop i would pass through a small square that during the day would see the older residents out in the sun and after dark it became a meeting place for kids playing street football. The picture is of a window at the end of the square. It had originally been bricked up but, one day the whole wall was decorated with white tiles and then painted with this fruit design.

A little sanctuary in the heart of Madrid. About 75 metres down from the British Council building is the Museo Sorolla. It was the Madrid home of luminist artist Joachin Sorolla. I saw some of his sketches in the Reina Sofia Museum and decided to visit the main collection. His style was essentially Impressionist but, he added variations of use of paint to show light which was then known as the style of Luminism. The house has not changed much, only to accommodate tourists and school classes. The picture shows one of the water features in the garden. Many of his pictures are of the garden and his family.

Gran Cafe Santander
Finally, my regular stop for breakfast and often dinner as well. Un Cafe con Bollo (coffee with a pastry), or una tostada (toast grilled on a hot plate with butter) or croissant plancha (grilled croissant) of course with zumo naranja (fresh orange juice). It would get the morning off to a great start. Occasionally i would have a "menu del dia" (menu of the day) but only if i was very hungry as generally the starter could be considered a main course in most countries. On my way back from a bar i'd often drop in for "Pincho Tortilla" which is a piece of Spanish Omelette and a bread roll and a "cana" (small beer) to wash it down.

2007, 2008

alonso martinez metro So it's been three years and three months since i was last here. It is now the Autumn of 2007 and i've arrived for another contract in this great city. The last time i was here i was just beginning to learn about UTRAN but, after three years i've returned as an "expert" (i hate that word). So this travelogue will undoubtedly include many of my favourites like the Prado, Gran Cafe Santander, James Joyce (formerly Kitty O'Sheas) bar, Retiro, El Buscon, La Panza es Primero, J&J's bookshop, Petras bookshop, Atocha and many more. I thought i might make this a bit more of a practical travelogue to help people coming here as the last travelogue from 2004 was of course dominated by the train bombings. Even now the bombings are in the news as the verdicts on the defendents were delivered the week before i arrived with convictions of 21 of 28 people (some of the others blew themselves up in Getafe a couple of weeks after the bombing). 50,000 years of prison sentences were handed out but, in Spanish law you can serve a maximum of 40 years. Nothing much else changes, ETA bombed the new airport earlier in the year and it's always interesting to watch the weekend demonstrations. There are elections in three months (March 2008), i've been here before i think.........

So my first impressions of Madrid after 3 years away. My favourite kebab house (Troja) and one nice restaurant i used to go to had closed. Apart from that and the public transport system being a bit more expensive really not much had changed in central Madrid. My two closest friends in the city (the owners of the J&J bookstore) were awaiting the arrival of their second baby (little Sofia was born two days after i got here). The apartments i was staying in were charging extra and the number of Irish Bars appears to have doubled. My aim here (apart from the money) is to increase my technical knowledge about my job, learn a bit of Spanish for holidays etc and generally do all the "Spanish" things that i never got around to doing last time.

So people that know me know that i like to read and so i am naturally drawn to at least three places in Madrid. By far and away the number one place for me for a regular night is J&J's bookstore and coffee shop. On my last contract i practically lived here during the day when i was working nights. It has a lot of great books and attracts my kind of crowd so i'm comfortable to go there anytime. Second on my list for a bar/bookshop is Bacchus (Arguelles) that only recently opened but, gets a good crowd for a beer (although the books are not that great yet). Third on my list is Petra's in Santo Domingo which is only a bookshop and so has reduced opening hours. It is a great place for used books in various languages. Lastly there's "Pasajes" in Calle de Genova (just off Alonso Martinez). Only open until 8pm during the week so i only get a chance to go in on Saturdays when they open 10-2. Pasajes is a great place for English language translations of Spanish authors. It also has an extensive collection of books in Spanish, French, German and English. You'll find recommendations for bars and restaurants throughout this travelogue.

Gran Cafe Santander 2007
Yes, i know what you're thinking. That Cafe Santander picture was in the last travelogue. Well yes it's the same place but the pictures were taken three and a half years apart. Quite simply i got off the plane and went straight to the Alonso Martinez area where a good friend of mine (Caesar Hinojosa) had kindly had got me a reservation in an apartment house. I couldn't check in until after 8pm so that gave me an hour to kill and i chose to spend that hour just down the road at the Gran Cafe Santander. Even after 3 years, nothing has changed. This is the place in which i have more breakfasts and dinners than anywhere else in Madrid.

J&J Bookshop
My second home in Madrid now unfortunately closed was the J&J bookshop and coffee shop located at Espiritu Santo 13 close to the Noviciado metro station. I found this place after seeing an advert in a magazine. On entering, my first impressions (apart from the smell of wet paint) was of a small secondhand bookshop, nothing more. After one beer and chatting to the bar staff (who turned out to be the owners) i had changed my mind to this being a small friendly bookshop where i could get a beer or two. There was one theme night (quiz night was on a Friday) and that was why i had come here. As it turned out it was only the second quiz they had done as i found out that the place had only opened just before Christmas. We won the quiz that night and a month or so later i became J&J undisputed chess champion for a whole week. I got to know J&J (Javi and Jamie) pretty well over the next few months. We had some nice Mexican meals and i was privileged to be invited to Javi's parents for a meal before i left. Now i'm back and apart from a bit of redesigning and repainting it's still the same. A regular "Cheers" bar where you can go and people know your name and the current bar staff Dave (manager), Scott, Art, Katrina and Robert certainly know mine. You can see J&J's website here.

por que no te callas
Por que no te callas. The phrase that launched a million t-shirts. The week i arrived King Juan Carlos was at a Central-American summit at which the Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves was giving the Spanish priminister (Zapatero) some stick. The Spanish King had enough and leaned over saying "Why don't you shut up!". It took about a week before i started seeing t-shirts, badges, scarves etc with the Spanish phrase. Evidently the status of the royal family here has received an immense boost from the King's comment. If only Prince Charles would show some "cojones" with President Mugabe.

La Panza es Primero
La Panza es Primero. I didn't even know what the name of the place was in English until a friend of mine translated it as "The Stomach is First". I couldn't agree more. I visit here once a week and have three favourites. For a light meal i go for the "taco loco con pollo" (spicy chicken taco). For a heavier meal i have the "nachos con guacomole" (huge plate of nacho chips mixed with refried beans and topped with fried cheese, guacomole, onions, tomatoes and fresh jalapenos). My third favourite is the drink and here i only drink frozen Margarita. Ahhhh!!. This is one of two chains of Mexican restaurants the other being "La Mordida". You pays your money and you takes your choice and my choice is La Panza.

Mahou Tiled advert
The Language. Whenever i go to a bookshop or bar i am invariably the only person there not fluent in Spanish. This bothers me a bit because you can't really get into the conversation. However, my basic Spanish is coming along fine. I carry the Berlitz tourist phrasebook everywhere and when i get more time i use a book by "Adrienne" called Spanish in no time - The basics in 32 lessons (ISBN 0 09 1334616). It's a good book for me because it does not set unrealistic targets and does not assume that you are a 17 year old student i.e. you have a tough job and a family life as well as trying to learn a new language. She walks you through the language introducing vocabulary and verbs at just the right time. All she asks of me is that i use what she teaches so, esperemos (we will wait and see). Something that i've only seen in Madrid is the "intercambio". Largely it is one or more nights of the week when a pub or bar advertises that people wishing to swap language info can meet there (and buy a beer etc). Mainly it's tourists and expats trying to pick up a bit more colloquial Spanish and for Spaniards to practice their English. All good fun and it helps you keep up to date with the modern language i.e. all phrase books have it but, nobody says "i caramba" here anymore. The picture is of a common advertisement here for Madrid's most popular beer.

Apartamentos Perseo
Alonso Martinez. When i first arrived in Madrid i was scheduled to work in any one of three places. By drawing a line down from metro line 10 to where it met line 4 i found myself looking to stay around this area. During the week it has a reputation for nice cafe's and restaurants, a meeting place for demonstrations and generally a safe place to walk around at night. From Thursday to Saturday the clubs between Alonso Martinez and Tribunal attract hundreds of kids through their doors. Normally if i'm on my way back to the apartment between 2am and 3am on Saturday morning then there'll be groups of kids sitting down drinking coke and wine (they're called botellones) watching illegally parked cars being towed away. Around breakfast time at the weekend you'll hear the car engines running and people asleep inside. The picture is of the Apartamentos Perseo at Alonso Martinez. It's basic but, very central and pretty cheap compared with other central places and you can pay by the month (many apartment owners in Madrid want you to sign at least a 6 month contract and pay two months deposit).

Let me try and describe the eating and drinking order of the day. Breakfast: no fried breakfast here, around 8am i would more or less be sharing the local cafe with some nightclubbers or the real Spanish early birds. The Spanish would have a sweet pastry and a coffee or a tostada (thick slice of bread served with jam and butter) or a croissant (sometimes grilled, it's called croissant a la plancha). Later in the morning i.e. 1100, you'll find more people eating the "barrita con tomate" which is a bread roll cut in half and toasted on which you put fresh blended tomato and top that off with olive oil and some salt. Oh! and don't forget about the orange juice freshly squeezed from the pile of oranges at the end of the bar. "En mesa" means you add a table service charge and "en barra" means you sit at the bar. Average breakfast cost 3 Euros.

Lunch: Many places don't even display the lunch menu until 1pm. Unless you are going to a specific place to eat then you'll find yourself wandering around looking at the offer. Depending on how hungry you are there are many choices. Most popular is the "menu del dia" (menu of the day) which is normally a "la primera" - first course, a "la segunda" - second course, "postre" - dessert plus a "bebida" (drink). Many places offer the dessert or coffee and the price range is usually between 8 and 11 Euros. If you're not that hungry then you'll be looking at the "Racciones" menu which are normally served meals the whole day. You can have a full plate of racciones or a half plate. The menu pictured contains most of the usual offerings in the smaller bars and restaurants. Some of my favourites missing from the board are "Boquerones" which are like big anchovies and can be served with oil or fried, "albondigas" which are meatballs and "macaronnes" which is a type of pasta like penne. I recently acquired a taste for "Huevos Rotos con Chorizo" which is egg and chips with fried salami. Average lunch cost 10 Euros.

Dinner: Many times I've wandered into a restaurant at 8-30pm only to be told that they "weren't open yet" and returned at 9-30pm to find it completely full. Most small restaurants will close after 4pm for their siesta, reopen at 9pm and stay open until the early hours with table reservations recommended. The Spanish generally eat in large friendly groups or as extended families so expect a lot of tables and chairs being moved around to make large sittings. Secondly, children are generally welcomed in the restaurants and as the Summer months approach and more people eat outside later into the evening then even more kids and small babies make an appearance. With large groups of people the eating style is that of a tapas restaurant in that many small dishes can be ordered giving the group the maximum amount of choice. Generally a meal is not served to one person but, is placed on the table so that anybody within reach of it can try it. Wine is always ordered with the meal with children being offered a heavily diluted version using a mixer drink called "La Casera" (kind of lemonade). Adults will generally mix a red wine with a small amount of La Casera to produce a "Spritzer" type of drink (nobody questions mixing table wine but, at the higher end of the wine scale it's not done). Average dinner cost 20-25 Euros.

Bilbao No reason for including this picture other than I rarely see streets closed on Sunday so that kids and their families can ride bikes and play without fear of being knocked down. This street also contains three or four cinemas showing mainly Spanish films and my local Citibank branch. On my travels I regularly walk from Alonso Martinez, through Bilbao and San Bernardo to Arguelles (it's about a 20 minute walk). Pleasant area day or night with many small bars and from San Bernardo it's a 5 minute walk to both bar/bookshops (J&J and Bacchus).

The Prado. My last trip to Madrid said it all. One trip to the Reina Sofia Museum, one trip to the Thyssen Museum, one trip EVERY WEEK to the Prado. I waited until my wife arrived on a trip to Madrid before coming here again. The "Jeroninmos Building" extension was opened late last year (October 2007) and provides a lot more room for displaying art works and a much bigger cafe/restaurant area. Of course everything has been changed around. You used to enter via the first floor main entry. Now you buy your ticket at the ground floor entry and walk around to one side of the Prado to enter. People wishing to start with the pre 18th Century painters Goya (black period), El Greco, El Bosco, Reubens, Bruhegel etc should enter by the "Velazquez" door. Everything after this time is better accessed via the "Jeroninmos" door. During this visit there was a special exhibition of "Velazquez's Fables" so the normal place of the Velazquez paintings had moved from the first floor main gallery to the separate exhibition room on the ground. Even after 4 hours here we had still not made it into the new extension so i'll leave that for another visit. Now it seems that some of the museum may have to be closed as the floor is breaking up. Apparently the stone from the mountains of Colmenar (close to where i work) isn't supposed to be walked on by thousands of people every day (actually it's something to do with the cleaning liquids or something).

El Rastro
El Rastro. Or in English "Steptoe and Son meets Notting Hill". Like all open air markets there are a few little treasures buried under a heap of crap and unless you know what you are looking for or you just want to take pictures of old metal junk and Chinese ming copies etc then consider spending less than an hour here. The easiest way to describe how to get here is to take the metro line 5 (green) to La Latina and then follow the crowd about 50 metres to the Plaza de Carracos where the market starts. Then go down the hill to your right (Ribera de Curtidores) on the right side. On your way down be sure to try each road on your right as some of these stalls are more interesting than the main road (look out for the olive shop if you like olives). When you get to the bottom you can turn around and come back up through the middle. My tips: 1) all the interesting stuff is on the sides (including the side roads) and all the stuff in the middle is for tourists. 2) same stuff is cheaper down the hill. 3) Real bargains are to be found one street over from Curtidores. WARNING: pickpocket area. Take great care especially when walking down the hill as the crowds and all the bumping is perfect cover for pick pockets.

El Buscon
One of my favourite bars in Madrid. It's buried in the centre of Sol which would normally turn me away but, i like to stop here if i'm passing. When there are friends or visitors in town i always head for here. You get a good mix of people, the music is great (this is where i first heard Manu Chao) and you get excellent tapas. The beer glasses are small so you can end up drinking a fair amount. If you like a glass of wine my advice is to ask for anything labelled as "Ribera del Duero" i.e. not all Spanish drink "Rioja". A quick story: from 2004 I remembered that there used to be a parrot in a cage by the front door but, in 2007 he was gone. I asked a Spanish colleague to ask after the parrot and we were told that the owner took it home as it was getting stressed. And then, as we must be old customers (which technically i was), the barman gave us a free beer and more tapas. If this place is full then next door is the Alhambra which runs along the same lines as El Buscon with good beer/tapas and a good crowd etc but, i've never found the music to be to my taste.

La Fragua de Vulcano
One Saturday night I had gone out to J&J's for a beer and one of the barstaff had friends visiting. They had also met friends and one of them was living in Prague which sucked me into the conversation. After an hour we walked to Plaza Santa Anna and just off the square is the La Fragua de Vulcano. The place was packed and we had no reservation but, this is not a problem in Madrid. You merely tell them how many of you there are and then you wait at the bar to have a few beers. Later when your table is prepared you go through to eat. One of the specialities of the place is Gambas (Prawns) which are served either grilled (a la plancha) or fried with garlic (ajillo). On this occasion we had ajillo. Also on the table were some dishes that I didn't know plus albondigas (meatballs) and a whole tortilla (potato and onion mixed with egg and cooked like a big cheese). On other visits i've also had the grilled prawns, paella and the croketas.

Anybody interested in art grafitti is invited to take a look at a separate travelogue showing many examples of grafitti art around the centre of the city. The full grafitti-art page is here.

El Burgado
There are always shops, cafes and restaurants opening and closing in Madrid. In my first two weeks back a cafe/restaurant opened close to J&J's in Espiritu Santo called El Burgado (the snail). Here you have to understand that a sandwich is like we would have in the UK i.e. two slices with a filling. In Madrid they also have a "Bocadillo" which generally is a long hard roll. They have 7 or 8 options for fillings but currently I've only tried the chicken (pollo) and the tosta hummous (with sliced courgette) which were both very nice. I also stopped here for a "menu del dia" which again was very nice and left me completely stuffed. As it is in the Malasana area you can expect very artistic decoration and vegetarian options. Oh! and they are always happy to see English speaking visitors so they can practice the language. Further up the road is a decidedly non-vegetarian option called "Home Burger Bar". Stopped here once and although it was delicious, I do like beef to have at least been in the kitchen before serving i.e. they like it to be on the rare side of medium-rare.

Reina Sofia
The Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia) museum is one of the most popular in Madrid for modern art. Most people head for the front door and spend all their time in the main galleries of the old complex i.e. the location of the Guernica and all the Miro and Picasso paintings etc. Not so many know that there is a huge modern extension at the back of the building which contains the temporary exhibitions (often free on Sunday) and the new cafe/restaurant.

Lavapies Sundial
Walking through the Lavapies area which is generally known as more of a place for chic bars and fashionable small restaurants, i came across one of my favourite sights, a painted wall. Anybody who wants to see this kind of thing on a grand scale should take a look at my "Lyon 2005" travelogue.

La Zapateria
Curious that in the whole of Madrid, two of my favourite places are in the same street. El Buscon is opposite and a bit further down the street from here. I first came here late in 2007 after getting a recommendation from a friend. The menu is in Spanish and is not extensive containing maybe 10-12 meals. This is a tapas bar so there is no "starter" or "main course", you just order and eat how you want. It was here that I had "huevos rotos" a basic meal of chips with a broken fried egg on the top and mixed with Jamon or Chorizo. At other times I've also had sepia (squid), chorizo in wine, pimentos (cooked peppers) and kebabs.

Rias Baixas
I like boquerones (whitebait) in a vinagrette and in Spanish it's called "boquerones al vinegre". I'd been told that some of the best seafood restaurants in Spain are in the northern region of Galicia so when a group of guys decided to go out for a meal after work one day it came as a pleasant surprise to find we would be going to a Galician restaurant here in Madrid. The speciality was "Pulpo" (octopus tentacles sliced and served with biled potatoes) and was backed up by numerous dishes of Galician Tortilla (mixed with ham and red peppers), boquerones, empanadas, roasted meats, boiled pork (called Lacon) and and one dish called "un pimento los otros no" which was a plate of grilled small green peppers with the idea that one of them was hot and the others not.

Plaza Chamberi
Surrounding what is basically a big road junction is a small area called Chamberi. The plaza is a nice place to stop at any time of the day. In the winter months it attracts people to it's many benches and seats just to sit in the sun. It has a couple of nice restaurants and cafes, a bandstand and a kids play area so there is always a good mix of people. In the Summer months it still attracts the same people but, usually much later in the day.

Plaza Olavide I imagine that at some time in the past a main road ran through to what would have been a local roundabout serving the smaller access roads. Then somebody had a brilliant idea to route the main road underground through a tunnel and replace the roundabout with a pedestrianised area comprising of two childrens playgrounds, lots of benches, flowers, bushes and trees, a water fountain etc i.e. great idea. The place is ringed by restaurants and cafes and it is very pleasant to come here for lunch as i live just down the road. A common lunch for me at the cafe Casa Puebla would be a "tosta" (toasted baguette cut in half) with a topping of either boquerones/anchoas (whitebait and anchovy) or foie de pato (duck pate).

As much as i like the city it is plagued with petty crime. If people think that Prague has issues with pickpockets and broken car windows then Madrid has real problems. In successive weeks I was present within two separate bar/cafes when a computer bag and a purse were stolen and on another occasion i was sitting next to people when their friend came in to tell them that their computers had been stolen from their car. The lesson here is to pay close attention to your bag i.e. don't leave it hanging on the back of your chair and if you are driving, lock your stuff in the boot.

Flowering Cabbages
Madrid has a temperate climate which allows for palms to be able to survive the whole year round without special treatment. In February you see a sight of apparently large beds or purple flowers. Actually at this time of year in Retiro the recognised flower is the "Pansy" which can withstand the occassional light frost and is either purple or yellow but, many beds have another purple flower which surprisingly for me turned out on closer inspection to be a cabbage. Nothing to shout about but, it looks great at this time of year.

I first saw this in Retiro Park but, have since seen it in other places as well. It took more than a few minutes to figure out exactly what I was looking at (instructions are in Spanish). It turns out that these are all exercises for older people i.e. the cycle peddling machines by the benches exercise the legs, the large round wheel performs one revolution of the shoulder joint, the cylinder performs up/down wrist motion and the vertical cable requires two 180 degree revolutions of your wrist from bottom to top. There's even an exercise for your fingers.

I guess that all large cities have their share of demonstrations but, it seems to me that Madrid goes in for it as a vocation. On average i bump into protests about once a week. I've seen protests against ETA, protests against forcing motorcyclists to wear helmets, protests against people held in prison, protests against the opposition party, protests highlighting abuse in Sahara (area of Morocco) and protests against the government for a variety of reasons. I've never seen any trouble, the demonstrations are always well policed and cleaned up afterwards hence, my chosen picture.

As i've explained earlier, lunch in Spain is an institution. No quick snack here. Lunch here tests the limit of my appetite and questions whether i would need any other food for the rest of the day but, surprisingly around 8-9pm I find myself thinking that i could have "something small". Something small on this night saw Joao (a Portuguese colleague) and myself try a "bocadillo con calamares". Around Plaza Major there are many places offering this meal which is simply calamares in a bread roll much as we would have a "chip butty" in London. We were drawn to the "Bar La Ideal" which seems to have existed here forever by the looks of many of the clientele. I liked the fact that everything was served fresh and there were no empty seats when we first went in. Fifteen minutes later after devouring our dinner along with a cana (small beer) we were off again on our exploration of the city.

In 2004 the only bar/bookshop i knew was J&J. By 2007 a second one had opened not far from where i'm staying called Bacchus located between Arguelles and Moncloa. Bacchus is now a regular stop for me on a Wednesday night when a guy called Mike does a regular quiz night (we even win sometimes) and I'll stop by at any time of the day for a coffee with whoever is working there which when this was written would be Mack, Josh, Rachael or Julia. Very popular with language teachers and people passing through. A funny story here was before Christmas when I was walking from Plaza Espana to the bar when a total stranger stopped me in the street and, showing me his mobile phone, asked for directions to "Melendez Valdez". Are you going to Bacchus? I asked. The guy was somewhat surprised to find that I was on my way there too especially as i had been the only person he had asked for directions (and it's a busy street). Picture shows Julia on the left and Josh on the right.

Atocha Official Memorial
The official memorial to the victims of the 2004 train bombings. Immediately you enter you get the feeling that this is so right and that things like the Diana fountain in London are so wrong. As you leave the well lit ticket area of Atocha station you move into a darker area with an entry door to the memorial which is actually an airlock. The names of the people killed are immediately on your left in alphabetical order but, this is not the memorial. As you pass through the second door you enter the open "blue" space, immediately you see the light and are drawn to it. You look up into a huge cylindrical object made of glass with a plastic inner membrane held up by the air pressure of the room hence the airlocks. Written on the membrane are the outpourings of grief and support which were originally on the thousands of cards, posters and walls of the station (some of which are on this page) in many languages. It almost hurts to look up into the cylinder as it is so bright in the Madrid sunshine. So bright that it brings tears to your eyes, people are crying and they don't even know why. A perfect memorial, I doubt I'll see a better one and I feel this experience is now complete.

Caixa Forum
The Caixa Forum. The building renovation began in 2003/4 so when I last saw it, it was an empty shell. I, like thousands of other tourists, have visited since it opened earlier this year and I'm confident to say that the best thing about it is the staircase. I forgot that this is not the "Caixa Museum" or "Caixa Gallery", it is a forum so many of the rooms are meeting rooms and not exhibition rooms. When I was there they were hosting an exhibition of Italian religious art (not my favourite) and nothing else. The restaurant/cafe at the top is worth a stop but, apart from that the most appealing part of the complex is the outside wall pictured left.

Book Fair
Every year commencing with the St George celebrations in late April (Catalans mark it with a regional holiday), the Madrid book fair starts. It is located between Recoletos and Cibeles on the Paseo Castellana. Bookshops mostly from Madrid but also including many othe Spanish cities congregate in a long line of purpose built kiosks. You'll find lots of outdoor booksellers all over the city during this time. There's a lot of stuff here that you can pickup at most "discount" bookstores the whole year round but, there are many "collectible" books, cards and posters available if you know what you are looking for.

My first bullfight. Everything I know about bullfighting I learned from Ernest Hemmingway in his book "Death in the Afternoon". There's far to much detail to put on a page like this but, his advice was to see a "Novillada" as an introduction. Having now seen one at the Madrid bull ring called Las Ventas, I agree with his reasons. "Novilladas" are where matadors-in-training i.e. learning their trade are really introduced to the public. Their techniques are well advanced but, they can make mistakes as one of the matadors did when I watched. It's not sport. Hemmingway describes it as a tragic opera which has a set sequence of events before arriving at the conclusion. The sequence is roughly 1) Get bull a bit tired and weakened. 2) Matador performs very close to the bull. 3) Bull dies. Now how well the sequence runs depends on many factors but, believe me if things are not going right the crowd will let the matador know for sure. The difference between a "Novillada" and a "Corrida de Toros" is the age and size of the bulls. At the Novillada they are around three and a half years old weighing 480 kilograms. In the Corrida de Toros they will be between four and five and weighing in closer to 600 kilograms. You have to know your stuff as Hemmingway explains, Death in the Afternoon doesn't always mean the bull.