I just ate a whole jar of cookies. Don’t ask me what type because i don’t know. They were spanish. They were delicious. So delicious i dug another pack out of the cupboard ate them too. I have a great host and a good friend in Manolo. Salute!
The first impression i got of Madrid on the express shuttle into town was that the city was strong, based on an arm wrestlers forearm and built like a spanish toro. Many of the buildings, palaces, arches and monuments are boss, built like brick shithouses, a city created as if born to dominate. A bit like the football club Real Madrid CF (personally i barrack for atletico but that’s another story). There’s fountains everywhere, some used as roundabouts for pete’s sake, monuments all over the joint celebrating past rulers and royal members. The fanciest thing we have on a road back rome is skidmarks and burnt rubber. I find the vibes here quite alluring, drawing me in like a bull to a red cape. The general consensus in europe seems to be you either like madrid or you like barcelona, because they are two very different cities, with two very different vibes, although they are both of spain, they may as well be two different countries. If that’s the case, I guess that makes me a Madrid man.
Spending my first few hours wandering around after a breakfast of jamon (for those of you not aware, there is many delicious things in this world, and iberian pig is one of them. Think prosciutto, but multiply taste by 100. That’s jamon) on tostades (toasted roll) with tomate (a small bowl with crushed tomato) another thought occured. This city is life. It’s lively everywhere, everywhere man! Not in the busy sense, in the social, being alive sense. People say hello, they smile and they laugh. There is an energy here in Madrid. A really lovely, engaging energy that envelops you and incorporates you into its lively soul. You become part of the city, this city that lives. Everyone here is really friendly and happy, and they show it, it’s proudly worn like a badge and the people own it.
After my siesta (hey, when in rome man), i wandered off to the parque el retiro, which hosts the palacio de cristal, the monumento alfonso xii and a few other bits and pieces. I spent the afternoon wandering about in the park, watching the falling, floating leaves deposit themselves on the ground, gifting the entire park an everycolour carpet. The reds on the trees surrounding the palacio were roasting red, like someone had a barbie burning underneath the long boughs. Glorious in the sunlight. The palace was now starting to turn purple and pink, made of glass, it’s a great spot to be getting colourful reflections off the sun and sky, when the sun pulls it’s lazy sandman act. As with every sundown, i found myself in a good spot to watch the sky change, the trees my only company, and with bon iver singing serenely in my ears, it was yet again, another peaceful, perfect afternoon.
I made it a mission to clock through all the touristy places at night, for the fact that i knew there would be much less, if any, people taking 2,765,831 selfies on their extended dildo poles at the particulars. It makes for a more engaging experience in my opinion. If Madrid is life by day, then it is the 2.0 version by night. The city froths with locals and visitors alike at the tapas bars, restaurants and cafes, socialising over savoury tapas of boquerones (white anchovies) or bacalao (cod fish). Anyone with a sweet tooth were digging the churros en chocolat, which can be found virtually anywhere across the city. I strolled past Plaza Mayor, which decorated in a christmas theme, is lit up with pick-a-colour fairy lights hanging over small stalls lined about and the streets are dressed neatly (as they have been in every european city so far) in hanging stars drawn over the width of madrids streets like fairy curtains.
I sort of stumbled on Catedral de la Almudena (a granite and marble baroque cathedral started in 1879 and finished in 1993, apparently built over a medieval mosque) by accident around 9pm-ish, south side. So massive it reminds me of those badass citadels you see in the movies where the dragon lord is hatching his master plan of death and destruction. Finally, something with a bit of attitude. It doesn’t look like a religious stop in the slightest until you actually look at the main doors, or venture over to the north face, next door to the Palacio Real de Madrid, the largest royal palace in europe by floor area. With very few people about, i had plenty of time to wander about and enjoy the Plaza de Oriente (Monument to Philip IV, essentially a dude on a horse) which conveniently sits in front of the Teatro Real (Opera House), and makes for a good photo. Further on the road, i finally got to the mecca of the night – Templo de Debod. An ancient egyptian temple, moved from Aswan and rebuilt in a park near Malasana. Lit up warmly, you could feel those old vibes attaching themselves like a moth to an old streetlight.
Trying to buy a ticket on the Renfe train website is a royal pain in the arse. It’s like leading the 100m sprint final at the Olympics and then falling smack on your face in the final metre. So, that said, after numerous attempts of online purchasing, and smacking of thy head, i raced down to the Atocha station first thing the next morning, to buy some tickets to Segovia, lest i get a later train and run out of daylight. Speaking in my shithouse, hand-gestured spanish to the sheila at the info desk, she pointed me in the direction of the ticket exchange desk next door. After finally making my purchase, the ticket vendor serving me put the closed sign up and went to break. I then preceded to my platform at the end of atocha station, got my bag x-rayed and hopped on the train with a minute to spare. Keeping things to a close shave is how i roll. I mean, i always try to be on time or early for things, but somehow, i end up about 3 hours late for everything. My friends and family can honourably vouch that this is a typical, classic trait of mine. They’re probably quite appreciative that i turn up at all. Must be the old charm. However, my victories keep adding up agaisnt old murphy, and I was on my way to picturesque, historic Segovia in the north.
A UNESCO city, (it seems between spain and portugal, they may as well be entire UNESCO countries instead) you can feel the air of old dripping down the walls. It’s fantastic. Built on a hill, the streets are winding, cobblestoned, predominately yellow and do they serve the best cochinillo? Gods. Vegetarians turn away. Wood roasted baby piglet, from 1 day to 21 days old, usually roasted in butter and water. I ordered a quarter piglet and a quarter lamb, because i’m just a greedy, hungry bastard. They aren’t as big as one thinks, but they sure as hell are alot tastier, succulent, crispier, melt in your mouth, fall off the bone, arousingly good. I say that with no shame. The lamb. Not a cochinillo, still amazing, tender and tastier then your most dreamed about fantasy though. Washed down with a good half litre of wine and some rice pudding, i rolled out with a full stomach, and began my ascent to the Catedral of Segovia.
Another Gothic styled cathedral, it’s located in the main square of Segovia. And it’s magnificent. Giant vaults, and the miniature spires all over the facade, make it quite a mesmerising sight. Paying the 3 euro entry, i wandered in and was greeted by a grossly tall golden organ. “Hello organ, my name’s Dutchie” was my first thought. Then you look up, you realise the place is even bigger from the inside. Chapels spread all over the joint with tall entry gates to every chapel, i just stopped for a second to soak in all in. Food for the imagination. Great sweeping arches and sculptures decorate the ceilings, i feel like i’m walking on a gothic chessboard stepping on the checkered tiles. It’s… well, it’s cool. There’s a smaller courtyard attached to the wing of the cathedral, unfortunately the gate to the garden outside is locked, but it’s a nice little step of exploration into the old tapestry rooms, where regal tapestries are displayed. Segovia is cool man.
The Alcazar. I can see exactly what they say about old Walt Disney getting inspiration for cinderellas castle from here. It definetly looks magical from the ground, or if you, like me, have excitable legs, the opposite hill. For me the only enthralling thing inside was the “new” torre (it gives some killer views of the old city walls and cathedral between the stonework) and views of the Alcazar itself from the nature walks on the opposite hill. Speaking of said hill, and my love of hills, i climbed back down the tower and practically ran down the exterior stairs next to the entry of the alcazar. I can’t help it, i get really excited when i see nature trails. It’s like free beer. So after charging up over white rocks and around flora, i find a great viewpoint of both the alcazar and cathedral, where i kick back, full of pig, lamb and wine, and relax like an old man. The simple things.
No good adventure is what it is, without its mishaps. After taking i don’t know how many wrong turns on the trail, i ended up out the back of whoop-whoop. Couldn’t tell if i was arthur or martha. With all daylight gone, and a small torch at hand i began the search for a way out. Remembering to trust in my legs when in doubt, because they have never failed me yet, i finally made it after a long stretch of “oh shit’s” and “better not go down there’s” to the outskirts of town. From there i just followed the cars to the centre, and lo and behold, the roman aqueducts presented themselves! Right at my bus stop too. Perfect. Two levels of 167 arches of 1st century perfection and after dreamily gazing at the aqueduct, i know i’m rooted, and it’s time to go home. Oh, and one other thing. I’ve learnt this repeatedly on my solo journey so far, because i’m a world wonder at messing shit up, i practically need a permanent minder – everything will always be ok no matter what. Shit happens – No worries.
Now let’s all remember the bitch i had about the renfe website earlier. Wait for it. I get on my train at 8.45am, on the day, because once I began travelling, i forgot about days and just remembered dates. There’s not a weekend, because every day is a weekend, so mayhaps you can see how easy it is to lose track of time. Anyhow. I get a comfortable fast train to Granada, noting i have to switch for the coach at Antequera to get to Granada. I get off at Antequera, and as the train departs, i wonder where i’ve left my very expensive, everything proof Kathmandu jacket. Toodle-ooo jacket, it’s on its way quick smart to Malaga… Oh well, I shrug, laugh at myself and wander off to the station for an espresso and a jamon sanger. I strike up a spanglish conversation with the bloke inside the ticketing office, and after about 6 phonecalls, and alot of bueno’s, gracias’, vale’s and si’s he comes back with a thick spanish accent “de tren controllar has your jacketo. He will take de jacketo here for you on de way”. See what I mean, everything sort of just works out in the end. “Mile gracias, mile gracias” I thank the gentleman profusely (mile gracias – a thousand thankyous) and with a smile he returns to his conversation with his amigo, and i go back for more coffee waiting on my pushed back bus transfer. Topping things off, the guy gets on the bus after everyone has boarded, looks for me, hands me the jacket with a big smile and we have a silly laugh about it. A very fond memory. It’s the people you meet…
I was speaking to a friend in Barcelona the day I arrived in Granada. Sidney was saying that i was going to stick out like an extremely sore thumb, because no one else in andalucia, has a long, santa clausey, hippy looking beard hanging off their pretty jaws. Deep spain she said. Taking that on board, i casually walked up the road to meet with another acquaintance to show me to my apartment. I met stares, looks, gawks and ogles. The local student base were flipping tits. The sounds of jaws hitting pavement were continually more impressive. Smack. Thock. Whump! Every girl i looked at was surveying me in x-ray mode, whether that was due to the fact that A – either i’m really good looking or B – i looked like an old smelly bummy fisherman, in my dirty boots and oversized woolly jumper. Either/or, i was famous man! Famous! Well, i told myself that anyway. Entering town late, I didn’t get up to much mischief except buying some groceries. Never ever go shopping when hungry. I ended up with a healthy box of oreos and milk for dinner. This is why.
So the next day brought with it the almighty alhambra (again unesco), the huge palace i had been wanting to see for quite a while, that houses a mix of moorish (nasrid) and christian palaces, gardens and forts, pre-dating the reconquista. It requires a short hike uphill, which is extremely pleasant in the most, as it had just turned winter so the leaves are as everywhere else I have been – multicoloured in yellows, oranges, reds and greens. The whole walk up is covered by a tree canopy extending their arms over your head, laying out a thick rug of wealth, abundant in colour over the rest of the brush. I wander about, through the lower gate, past the huge doors yawning at me as i wander through. Instantly I can image old victorious armies marching up the ramp through these gates, to cheers and shouts, petals floating down from the heavens adorning the victorious in vivid colours. There’s a certain… magic in the air. You can feel it all around you, like the wafting smell of fresh cooked garlic and aceite. Gah. So good.
Climbing up the first set of stairs i see, i find myself in front of Charles V Palace, a Renaissance building built after the reconquista. I wander inside and find an dual level inner patio, circular in shape, reminescent of the roman empire. It is charming sure, but I didn’t come to view the 16th century palace. After a cheeky wander out, i copped a good view of granada city, laid out like a whitewashed model. To my left was the Alcazaba, a 9th century citadel, and to my right was the pride, the gem of the entire place, the Nasrid Palace. Awaiting my 2pm entry, yeah, there is an entry time to the palace, and if you miss it, your buggered. I sat down on the edge of the wall, and chomped down some dark chocolate, admiring the view of albaicin and the surrounds of the granadine land, and enjoying the 17 degree sunny weather.
The Nasrid palace, was everything I expected it to be, even in winter the area was still busy with tourists wandering about the palace, so i can’t for the life of me, comprehend what it must be like here in summer in the hot andalusian sun, peak season for all the punters. The interior of the Nasrid Palace, i think would take so long to describe that i will endeavour to try and shorten it. Arabic is inscribed on the walls, everywhere you look. With such detail and repeating patterns, it boggles your brain a bit to know it was done by hand a thousand years ago, in this age of technology. Ceilings and domes are honeycombed (muqarnas), which looks similar to stalactites but to a honeycomb effect. There is fountains everywhere inside, big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, with tiled channels running onto the next fountain, and the next fountain, so they are all linked together. Arabesques adorn windows, like minutely acute carved headboards that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, colours of browns, greens and whites whiled and mixed in with calligraphy. The oppulent richness of the handiwork on the timber is soothing and majestic, something very different to the european christian palaces i’ve seen where they have a more dominating and intruding, gold lined effect.
Wandering around the generalife gardens, which in essence are blocks of gardens stretched out every which way, great trees line the paths to get around and between each separate garden. These paths that lead to gardens, also lead to a few more smaller palaces, and at one point i came across sets of stairs leading up, with channels of water running down both sides of the accompanying handrests all the way up the four flights of stairs. Really impressive. I could’ve just pulled out a hammock and a bottle of wine and spent many an afternoon just whiling away the time ogling over the numerous gardens and views of granada. It’s a beautiful place, tucked beneath the sierra nevada, and i found a most rewarding view of both the alhambra and the snowy topped sierra nevada from the Mirador de san Nicholas church across the city. It was much worth the day i’d lost in Antequera waiting for my jacket.
Last but not least, we cannot forget about the food, because food is one click of the key to happiness. So without further ado… tipped off by a source, I located the little hidden bar off the beaten trail, just off centre of town. You wouldn’t have gone down there if you hadn’t known what the street harboured. Graffiti in abundance and poorly lit, the street leading up to the bar was a little misleading. I made it inside, and saw the menu special – 14 euros for a bottle of wine and 7 tapas. Asking the barman for the special in spanish, he swiftly uncorked my selected red wine and the tapas began flying out to me. 2 types of tagines with bread, chicken pastry, cheese pastry, olives, spiced lentils, lemon and herb spinach, kebbe… not to be outdone i ordered more tapas – a kebap and a schwarma. 9 tapas later, i was full of this delicious mix of moroccan/spanish tapas, something new that i’d never tasted before, and was definetly going to miss once i was gone. It made my stomach a little sad.
Last stop on the iberian peninsula was Sevilla. The best of the lot. I could spend much time in Madrid if it wasn’t such a densely populated city. Segovia was good as a day trip or possibly few days. Granada i could a spend a week. But Sevilla… i could live here. The lifestyle, the people, the city itself. It’s beautiful here. Where am I supposed to start? Triana? It is it’s own country inside a city. Work that out, amazing. Flamenco, which is a big passion down here. Sangria. A bull ring. The royal alcazar (not as in depth intense as the nasrid palace but still groovy). The liberal plaza Alameda de hercules where the smell of weed will wander up your nostrils and you’ll get to see and meet some interesting characters. Rio Guadalquivir. The touristic, but stunning, ceramic Plaza de Espana. Parque de Maria Luisa. Plaza de America. The cathedral. The tapas bars. Torre del Oro. La Giralda. The goodness never ends here. Oh and the oranges. Orange trees in parks, roads, footpaths, palaces, houses, shops, law firms, cars, stadiums, books, banks, fire stations, shopping centres… Oranges everywhere.
I feel like Sevilla is a city that i could spend months in, if not years living here. I’ve just scraped the surface, if that, and I regret only having 3 days to spend here. The whole journey through spain has been a mega experience, and although now i am tired and worn down somewhat from being on the move more often then i’d like, this is definitely a country I want to come back to and experience more of. I wanted to get more of a taste other then just the catalan part of spain i already knew before i got here. There is much more to see, so I am resolved to come back for a much longer stint. If anyone has life worked out, its the spaniards. An amazing array of food, architecture, siesta’s and a kickass social life to boot. The expresiveness and passion with which people live with here in spain is epic to experience. I could go on and on, but i’m hungry and i had a tip off from one of the locals about good tapas bars, and i have a early flight to Rome sweet Rome in the morning. Adios amigos.