Madrid: Street Entertainers, Lottery Booths and Ham Museums

I was surprised with myself that I’d never visited Madrid. After 10 years of learning Spanish, I guess I’d just never got around to it. I had in this time taken three trips to Barcelona but Madrid had never happened. So I felt a sympathy for Madrid before I even boarded the plane from Lisbon. Madrid turned out to be a pleasant surprise and an arty and bohemian yet smart and classy city.

Having said goodbye to Hannah in Lisbon, I was travelling on my own for the first time since I was in hospital in Bangkok and it felt really strange! On one hand, it was easy to just trundle around but on the other hand, I was yearning for someone to point out the street entertainers to. Street entertainers. That’s something they’re not short of in Madrid. There’s the good kind – my favourite was two men coated in gold, one of whom appeared to be floating on top of the other. Then there’s the Winnie the Poohs and Bart Simpsons and Spongebobs. I’ve never seen so many! They hover around La Puerta del Sol and the parks waiting for photos to be taken with then and cash to be handed over. I don’t have a problem with this, everyone has to make a living, but some of the costumes are just awful!

They don’t directly approach you, or maybe I just didn’t look like the type who wanted a photo with Woody Woodpecker. I was, however, approached by a couple of Eastern European deaf and dumb girls with a clipboard of “donations” who I’m sure I encountered once before in Paris. Pleasure to see them again.

There’s also a lot of ‘Once’ lottery booths, which although they make for pretty urban photos, did look a little shut most of the time. I have a feeling I remember studying about the Spanish lottery at A level and I’m sure I remember it’s a big thing, but perhaps only at certain times of the year. Do you know?

Other than the obvious choices of the Reina Sofia and Prado museums (both of which have free evenings on the weekend – a great time to visit Madrid!) I had been recommended by Hannah to visit a Museo de Jamón. This translates as Ham Museum. I’m not a big meat eater but I followed her advice and entered one of the infamous ham museums one lunch time. I didn’t regret it! With rows of meat, strip lights and mirrors, the place looked like it never ended. And with a ham baguette for just 1 Euro, I was onto a winner! I sat casually at the bar as if I knew what I was doing and ordered myself the 1 Euro sandwich advertised.

“Señor? Señor, can you cut it into two, please? Gracias.” A thick American accent questioned over my shoulder, “Dos, por favor? Gracias!”

With a mouthful of ham and bread, I turned to smile at him for using Spanish. I think he interpreted that as me being Spanish because he and his friends seemed a little taken aback when I asked where they were from in a rather British accent.

Another favourite from Madrid was visitng El Rastro flea market early on Sunday morning (see, I told you the weekend was the time to visit!). Just like Marrakesh, El Rastro is a place to visit when you’re buying your first house. Full of quirky antiques, toys and comic shops it’s a real delight to meander your way through as it gets busier, before diving into a cafe for some churros for breakfast.

However, I think my absolute highlight was the terrapin pool in Atocha train station. I didn’t have to take a train, but being drawn in by the awe inspiring exterior, I felt it rude not to take a look inside. The terrapin tank proved it a worthy venture!

Overall, Madrid won me over and I think it’s a shame so many people come to Spain and don’t see it. Madrid shows a very different side of Spain to that of the other cities I’ve visited in Spain and that’s what keeps me engaged about this country – the sheer diversity. Every region, every city has it’s own story to tell, and they tell them well.

Have you visited Madrid? What were your highlights? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

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Slightly Secondary Seville

Granada is amazing. So wherever we went after Granada was going to have a lot to live up to. Wanting to make our way over to Lisbon, me and Hannah headed to Seville once our Lorca dreaming days in Granada were over. I was excited about Seville! Oranges, bullfighting and more flamenco! How very stereotypical of me. However, personally, Seville was just another city, really. It didn’t grab me the way that Granada did. Sure, there are a few cool sights and I enjoyed our tour of the bullring, the Mirador, Plaza de España, the Alcázar and all of the other must-sees. I just didn’t “feel” Seville as a city.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re visiting Andalucia, or even just Spain, Seville is still worth your time, and I have spoken to people since who said they preferred Seville over Granada! Shock horror!

Our first day was spent wandering by the river and gradually heading inwards to the city. We soon stumbled upon the Plaza de España, which is a very impressive building built for the Expo in 1929. Currently being used as Spanish Government offices, the huge structure encompasses little nooks for each region of Spain with a mosaicked image of the area. My favourite thing about this was seeing a woman lounging beside the Canary Islands nook!

We made our way across town and ended up visiting the bullring in the heat of the day. Now, I don’t agree with killing animals for ‘sport’. However, having spent an afternoon in Indonesia at a cock fight, I feel it’s sometimes part of a culture and something that I’m prepared to see once, form an opinion on, and move on. There was no bull fight on the days we were in Seville though – I think, in all honesty, we were both slightly relieved about this. We did opt for the tour of the bull ring though in an attempt to understand more about bull fighting. The tour was really informative and worth the 4 or so Euros.

Something that costs a little more than 4€ in Seville is Isla Mágica! A reasonably sized theme park that Hannah decided to treat me to for my birthday! Is it good? Well, without looking at my photos, Isla Mágica is where the majority of my memories of Seville lie. So, yes. Especially   Indígenas contra alienígenas (Indigenous vs. Aliens). I know, right?!

Writing about it now, and revisiting Seville in my mind, maybe I was a bit harsh at the start of this post. Maybe I would have felt the same about anywhere post Granada. I take it back – Seville is cool.

Have you visited Seville? What did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Grand Granada

Back in July, my friend Hannah and I took a bus all the way from Morocco to Granada in Spain. Due to the fact it was Ramadan and all ticket holders for the early morning buses had been transferred to the lunchtime ones, we didn’t arrive until 4 hours later than expected. Considering we were originally due in at 2 in the morning this was actually a welcome delay. Arriving about 5.30am, dawn became daylight as we walked into the city from the bus station desperate for food. There’s not a lot of choice for breakfast at 6am on the streets of Granada. Churros and chocolate it was then. Shame, eh?

Our hostel, White Nest Hostel, was a great place and very easy to find down a side street from the riverside cobbled road. We were able to leave our bags there until check-in and even allowed to take a shower after our long, long bus journey. We headed out for the day thankfully clean and fresh! We’d been told about a free walking tour (well, tour for tips) of the city that started at 11am. Hannah is a lover of free city walking tours so we opted in. I’d never done one before but the guide was very interesting and knowledgeable, and clearly a huge fan of Granada so we even decided to rejoin him that evening for the Sacromonte Caves tour, which was a great move! After a rather filling 3 course €8.50 Menú Del Día and a stroll around in 40° heat, we met our guide again that evening and he took us up and away above the city to places we wouldn’t have dared to go as tourists. We were even allowed to visit inside one cave and speak to the residents. Unfortunately, the Spanish government is trying to evict them.

On heading back into the city, we decided to go the whole hog on the gypsy front and managed to bag ourselves the two last tickets at Le Chien Andalou, an authentically styled Flamenco bar. Arriving for tickets moments before the show, we were able to grab 2 reserved but uncollected tickets, which meant we found ourselves right on the front row. Although I wouldn’t recommend risking it on tickets until the last minute, as we got really lucky getting those tickets, I would recommend the show at Le Chien Andalou. The Flamenco dancer and band performed in a small cave shaped room, with the audience crammed onto rows of benches and the alcohol flowing. The atmosphere and the performance were absolutely fantastic – the dancer’s skirt swished upon my lap many times! It was exactly what we wanted from a Flamenco show. It was intense, intriguing and intimate. The perfect introduction to live Flamenco!

That first day was jam-packed, but it was nothing compared to our next day visiting the attraction in Granada: The Alhambra. The Alhambra is so sought after, that tickets need to be bought online via Ticketmaster. We opted to collect our tickets at a ServiCaixa machine in Spain, often found outside CaixaBanks. The online process felt slightly ‘unofficial’ so we were glad when we had our tickets in our hands!

We’d spent the previous day oooing and ahhing at the Alhambra which dominates the view from the city, however, that didn’t compare to seeing it up clopse and personal. The Alhambra is a real highlight of Spain, and dare I say it, Europe. Compared to the big sights that everyone knows about such as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben, the Alhambra remains to feel slightly secretive and personal. Shh, don’t tell!

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Granada itself is one of Europe’s best kept semi-secrets. It really is a gem of a place, memories of which linger long after leaving.

Have you visited Granada? What did you think? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts! 🙂

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