Madrid

Word to the wise, if you want to stay central when visiting Madrid, book early! On the contrary, do as ourselves and venture out a little. We stayed in Coslada, a interesting municipality with its own identity and strangely youthful population. Away from the tourist eye, it provided early respite before heading into the busy capital. However, it’s also a town where you can’t apologetically bumble your way through the simplest of transactions with broken Spanish and God knows what else. In the local bakery which became our first stop each morning, asking for a coffee with milk wont cut the proverbial (you will end up with 20% coffee, 80% cold milk). We quickly found out that a ‘café con leche’ was the way to go.

A quick ride on the overground brings you into Madrid’s Atocha Railway Station. It had 10 years since I last visited the city, and though it was largely unrecognisable, there was the returning sentiment of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The streets are alive with art and the building awash with culture. The parks, *sigh*, numerous and resplendent, and a telling example of what Manchester is so desperately missing. With each capital city visited, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that magnificent public squares and parks are mere manifestations of past oligarchs and monarchs. The famous ‘Parque del Retiro’ is a perfect example of this, only becoming publicly owned in the 19th century, after it began to fall into disrepair.

Madrid Park

Jardines de Sabatini

Japan solved its demand for residential space in constricted areas by building upwards rather than outwards. Perhaps Manchester can adopt this approach to combat its lack of green space. The ‘vertical garden‘, created by Patrick Blanc, serves as a permanent art installation, tourism spectacle and free shower when the intermittent irrigation system kicks in (a feature which would be unrequired in my hometown). Above all else, it adds an extra dimension to an otherwise uninspiring facade, a former power station nonetheless.

Green wall

Blanc’s Green Wall

If travelling to a place where you can’t speak a word of the lingo is bad enough, imagine doing it in the aftermath of a Brexit vote and Leicester City away fixture. Here’s two fingers to your union. You can stick your fucking churros up your arse. Gibraltar is ours, etc. Needless to say it was a tough act to follow, but I think we succeeded in our attempt to keep up with the Jones’s.

Here’s a handy survival guide which helped extinguish some of the animosity:

Restaurant etiquette

“May I have the bill, please” – “La cuenta, por favor” (invisible cheque scribble gesture not essential but encouraged).

A pot of olives to share” – “Una olla de aceitunas para compartir”

Excuse my ignorance, my country is still clutching to a frayed sense of imperialism” – “I didn’t trust the Google translation of this one so decided to leave it out”.

Which way is the bathroom?” – “Donde esta el inordoro?”

Though I couldn’t get tickets to El Clasico (much to Ali’s disappointment), we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the city on the same day Real Madrid hosted Barcelona at the Bernabau. Heading to a bar to watch the match with the locals seemed like the mandatory thing to do.

El Clasico

El Clasico

Madrid had a chance to extend their lead at the top of La Liga, in a game which would have all but wrapped up the title, so watching Lionel Messi single-handedly tear them apart in the presence of Real fans was a bittersweet experience. Whether you judge a player’s success on silverware or prodigious performances, it was a prodigious performance then did not result in silverware. Although the result put Barcelona at the top that evening, Madrid went on the win the league a few weeks later, and the GOAT debate rolls on.

Crisis in the Middle East seems to have hit the capital in the same manner as other mainland European cities. The council have made their stance clear, with a giant ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner hanging from City Hall, and a general tolerance towards the influx of street sellers in high-tourist areas. The sellers display their items on large square blankets, with string tied to each corner, meeting in the middle. We marvelled at how quickly they could make a quick exit at the first sign of trouble, turning their wares into a sack with one tug of the string. They moved together in scores over the parks and streets, bringing the extent of the problem to light, but their actions were relatively innocuous and this is not the time for a Giuliani-style clampdown.

Refugees welcome

Refugees welcome

After two full days in Madrid we made our way back down to Atocha for the 3 hour train journey to Seville. The Renfe Operadora, Spain’s State-owned rail service (emphasis on state-owned). had all the hallmarks of a Virgin Train first class experience, but cheaper per mile, more spacious and with airline style service. That’s all I have to say about that.

Mars

What’s the big infatuation with Mars? Talk about running away from your responsibilities. Have we sniffed out some oil? It’s hundreds of millions of miles away, takes months to get to and hasn’t been proven to sustain life. Not to mention it’s pretty dull. Very dull, actually. There’s probably not much to do after drawing dicks in the dust. Billions of dollars spent on exploring a curiosity perpetuated by 19th century Scientific falsehood. A nation’s infrastructure in tatters, a healthcare system on its arse, and they blame the Mexicans! Mars is America’s HS2, or that really big leafy bridge in London which may or may not be built. We’re in too deep, needing to find answers to make it all worthwhile. What a strange priority to be shooting for, just to remain relevant on the world stage.