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The blog of a travelling psychiatrist and football lover. Who happens to be a halfway decent photographer. Takes a cynical view of the world

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Reflections on 24 Hours in Madrid


Central Madrid is a fascinating place and full of fascinating people. In some regards it is like Amsterdam in that one can walk to most places with a little bit of planning. Despite daytime temperatures being as high as 16 degrees celsius, many locals dressed in warm coats suggesting that Madrid was a suburb of Antarctica. Smoking was it seems obligatory with no actual need to buy cigarettes as breathing the air in certain places would contain just as much nicotine. I am surprised that there these many cigarettes left in Madrid. Getting from Madrid Barajas Airport is painless taking around 20-25 minutes and costing in March 2016 a fixed fare of €30 and the taxi drivers do not seem to expect a tip.

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Epidemic of smoking in Madrid

The one thing to get used to very quickly is that Spanish locals tend to push and shove more than other Europeans and I doubt a word exists for ” to queue” in the Spanish dictionary. A nice facet was that many locals did not or chose not to speak English, meaning that it was essential to at least try and convey questions in Spanish. I like this. Why should we expect the world to speak our language and make little attempt to speak theirs?

The day seems to start late for most citizens of Madrid and the streets and parks are almost empty at 11 am which makes early visiting a good option. A downside is the plethora of mostly dreadful accordion players and other “musicians” making a fearsome noise totally unwanted, then waving various sized containers in your face for money. I would happily donate to stop them playing but that seems a little mean.

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Parque Del Buen Retiro

Madrid is a busy city and most pavements and walkways even in the parks are crowded and  do not expect the Spanish to be fast walkers. Plenty of cafes and bars, and various eating places. There is another curious Spanish habit, in that they do not like their food hot in temperature. Even when food starts hot it is often served on cold plates, such as my omelette in the hotel this morning.

Madrid does seem to be divided into two very different parts. The city centre shopping area in and around Gran Via is incredibly busy and in fact I can only recall the pavements of Hong Kong being busier and almost impassable at times. Everyone carries it seems a dozen shopping bags and the entrance to Primark looks like a football crowd. In contrast the parks may get busy but are essentially beautiful places to walk and very relaxing. At the end of Gran Via however one reaches Plaza Espana with some interesting monuments and areas of grass to relax on. One statue has to be seen from a couple of directions to avoid giving the wrong impression of what is intended to be conveyed, which is the pouring of water!

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Very easy to get the wrong impression of this statue in Plaza Espana

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Plaza Espana

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The Dark Horses look like Ring Wraiths from Lord of the Rings with reflections

 

There are so many places to visit that a simple article cannot begin to make many recommendations, however I would make two specific ones:

  1. To avoid Gran Via, in the day unless shopping or the need for food outlets like KFC, MacDonalds and Burger King, are on your Madrid agenda, as the place is packed. Nightime it becomes a place where there are lively bars, with many choosing to sit out on the pavements.
  2. Spend a morning walking around Parque Del Buen Retiro on the Eastern side of central Madrid. This is a huge park with many avenues and monuments, and a large lake, making it popular with walkers and runners. The earlier you visit the less crowded it will be, and with a plentiful supply of cafes a few coffees and ice creams may get consumed. It may be a better and cheaper option also for breakfast, as I paid 19 euros for my hotel breakfast ( which was a less than astounding meal option, and in my opinion an extortionate price).
  3. Take a nighttime walk to see some of the many monuments lit up

There are three things that almost automatically appear on the table here in restaurants. An ashtray, orange juice (freshly squeezed) and a bowl of crisps. What appears less often is a waiter to take the order, it is true that a certain degree of Mañana does pervade Spain, and such thing as a ” quick meal” almost certainly also will have no specific word in the Spanish dictionary.

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Essential Spanish Meal Ingredients

Just walking around you will see many curious sights, and the price you pay in cafes is generally mostly determined by the ” people watching” quality of where the cafe is sited. While having lunch today a young well dressed male, maybe 18 years, stopped at one of the lunch tables and tore out the middle pages of the drinks menu. It occupied me for 10 minutes trying to fathom what his purpose was, and in fact I will never know as he scurried off in a furtive manner clutching his piece of paper. Small kiosks exist to sell drinks and sweets generically all over Spain, but here in Madrid there are also specific kiosks to sell cigarettes. An older woman was inside and when a customer came up she opened a small window to conduct her business, the window was maybe the size of a cat flap. Curious behaviour.

The general feeling of Madrid though is of a happy and relaxed place with no immediate visual sign of any work actually going on. Are there things I do not like about Madrid? The plethora of the fast food restaurants in nice areas is a little irritating.

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KFC along Gran Via. Not the pavement cafe of choice for everyone

On the other hand prices are mostly very low by UK standards, for example this beer at a pavement cafe in a street just off Gran Via cost    €1.65

IMG_2387Two favourite places emerged to visit when I return to Madrid. Parque Del Buen Retiro is an essential walk and stop for coffee, and Plaza Espana at the end of the day when the sub starts to set to see the monuments and the water grace the views. The reflections are simply astonishing.

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One of the many walks in Parque Del Buen Retiro

Night time is when Madrid really seems to come to life with numerous bars and restaurants and a good time to take a walk to see some of the sights by night when they convey totally different impressions.

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Plaza de la Independencia at night

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Plaza de la Independencia

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Plaza de la Independencia in daytime

At the entrance to Parque Del Buen Retiro is Plaza de la Independencia, as seen above in the day and by night. For Spain it is surprisingly easy to cross these huge wide roads around the Plaza without too much fear of death.The Plaza de la Independencia is a central square in the Spanish capital, Madrid. It sits at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá, Calle de Alfonso XII, Calle de Serrano, Calle de Salustiano Olozaga, and the Paseo de Mexico, making it the single biggest area for busy traffic that I came across. One word of warning is that the restaurants around the Plaza seem enticing but are highly priced in comparison with those even 50-100 yards away, and of course in Madrid as in most of Spain, the price you pay relates mostly to the views and people watching and has little correlation with the food quality or service. To pay  €17.50 for an average hamburger is excessive. As this was one of my favourite areas adorning the entrance to Parque Del Buen Retiro , a little history seems reasonable. The square was opened in 1778 during the reign of King Carlos III and has survived rather well in the interim.

Eating fruit in Spain is always a good option and the small shops that sell frozen yoghurt with toppings always have a good selection of kiwi, strawberries, pineapple and mango.

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Fresh Strawberries in Spain

 

24 Hours in Urban Madrid 


Spain is one of many countries that I love and regularly visit . I always leave with a sense of wonderment as to how so many old men survive into later years to smoke their cigarettes and drink their beer.

A recent short trip to Madrid strongly brought this home.  There are few countries and recently I can only mention Switzerland where cigarette smoking is common. Here in Spain most streets smell of tobacco and piles of people are commonly visible outside their places of work puffing away. Even I was caught by surprise and maybe a little horror to find an ambulance parked in a Main Street and some of the paramedics and maybe a medic even openly smoking away.

 The alternative way to die young might be through some of the strange fast driving that seems obligatory here. Even the taxi drivers give a good impression of the Indianapolis 5000 and their are plentiful taxis everywhere.


 Madrid I am told is a beautiful city but I was reminded that even beautiful cities have urban areas that cannot be described as delectable. My hotel is described as being near the city centre which translates into a 30 minute metro trip I was told . Although this does seem rather long .

Lastly I was reminded of a few of the quirky things that are common  in Spain. Serving lukewarm coffee seems the norm brewed for extra strength overnight and lukewarm food. None of the breakfast items could truly be described as hot food.

 

 

This is Spain and this is what they do. I love coming here and hope one day to see some of the more beautiful architecture for which Madrid is renowned .


 For now some of the more interesting urban architecture will have to suffice. The large office shaped block with an interesting spiral external staircase and the block of flats with colourful balconies.

  Making even this urban area look interesting. Finally a Mexican restaurant caught my eye as I was searching for street graffiti and graffiti art of which curiously there was none. The first European city I can recall for some time where these are absent. A large painted mural advertising La CheLinda. No idea what the Spanish version of Mexican food might be like but would be tempted to try based solely on their external efforts.


Benalmadena Costa. No signs of unemployment here in Spain.


Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish conservative prime minister, is duly announcing to those who will listen that despite unemployment rates of 27%, that rise to 57% amongst the youth, that the worst is over. What this translates to is that unemployment will fall to 25% by 2016. Not overly encouraging. Although not an expert on the economic aspects of Andalucia I have to report based on a week in Benalmadena that there was no evidence of massive unemployment. That observation has to be caveated by the fact that I was hardly looking for unemployed Spanish youth whilst lounging on the beach. There was a single eastern european beggar outside Mercadona ( the Spanish Tesco equivalent). What was obvious though was that there were far fewer British expats and tourists there than before, a linear annual decline. Fewer English type restaurants and bars, and where these had closed down they were replaced by Spanish bars. As a consequence presumably of all this, less tourists and more indigenous Spainish, prices have fallen considerably. A beer would cost 1-2 euros. In the best bar along the beach side Palm 5, a beer cost less than 2 euros. Glass of wine, and thats of a proper size, was 1-2 euros.

The only clear evidence of economic recession was the absence of building of flats and apartments. But frankly the rate they were building 5 years ago was ridiculous. Benalmadena costa may be a nice place but not that nice. But it is not Monaco! Outside our apartment there is a crane towering over a half finished block of apartments. This in itself is not exciting but when put into context that I have taken the same photograph now for 5 years. That crane has not moved in 5 years. The half finished block remains unfinished and I imagine will look just like that next year.

 

Benalmar Playa

Benalmar Playa

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Benalmadena Costa

Benalmadena Costa

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