My daughter having just taken up a post as Language Assistant in Madrid, we did what all modern, over protective parents do and went over for a week to make sure she had enough toothpaste and bread in her cupboard etc.
Since we were located in the centre of the city, there was no way I could take the bike which was just as well as the traffic was scary (taxis have their own lane which also means their own laws apparently). I noticed immediately on arrival that many Madrliñeos ride folding bikes. Why were these bikes so popular? I was to find the answer to this question a little later on in my stay.
Not having the chance to cycle did not prevent me from exercising. I packed my running shoes. We were situated close to the amazing Retiro park, an enormous garden area with lakes, fabulous glass houses and black swans.
However in early morning it was less of a park and more like the Olympics with hundreds of runners lapping one another, their headphones blaring. I soon discovered you have two options when you run in Retiro: do your own thing or run round the lengthy perimeter wall hard. On my second day I chose option two and raced round after a small spanish gentleman with beveled legs. The effort nearly killed me as I clung on. We were belting round so fast we nearly had a multi-national incident with a lady and her pram who crossed our path looking for her tiny dog!
These morning work-outs at Retiro set me up nicely for a day of indulging in Spanish food. My only difficulty with eating in Madrid was when to do it! Restaurants don’t usually open till about 8pm and are really busy by about 10 by which time I’m usually in my bed. Everything is later. Getting used to Madrid time does have its advantages, namely, Tapas – a multitude of snacks or racionnes as they call them which you can indulge in throughout the afternoon…Patatas bravas, Tortilla, Chorizo, Salchichón and empanadas…all brilliant but deadly for a cyclist on holiday mindful of his weight.
Although I was off the bike for the week I did manage to visit the two biggest bike shops in Madrid – Calmera and Karacol, both located in the Atocha area of the city. Between the two shops I would say they had 1600 square metres of floor space for bikes, components and clothing. Wandering round these shops was the next best thing to cycling. I also managed to contact one of the Madrid cycling clubs with a view to cycling with them in the Spring – I better start training for it.
Without doubt the biggest highlight of Madrid was the city’s extraordinary and unrivalled Art collection. For someone like me who has pretentious tendencies, having the Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia all within walking distance was a fantastic opportunity.
I wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica and it was very moving to stand before this mighty canvas. It was a painting I’ve known since early childhood and I have a copy in my classroom which pupils enjoy discussing. To actually see it was an ambition realised. Its power to reveal the horror of war will never fade with time. I felt the same seeing Goya’s 3rd May. But Goya and Picasso aside there were several other paintings in the galleries which surprised me even though I knew the paintings well.
Las Meninas is an extraordinary painting when actually seen with its detail in the dresses and the perspectives it contains. But the painting which captured me the most was the least expected. Edvard Munch is known mostly for his Scream painting but the Thyssen gallery has one of his earlier works entitled Late Afternoon. I stared at it for fully fifteen minutes. There was something in those eyes which I found very emotional.
The week passed too quickly but we managed to cram a lot in and enjoyed the wonderful city of Madrid. I even managed a bit of teaching in a Madrid school which I loved (kids are the same the world over). Oh and those folding bikes? Easy to carry on and off the metro and then start pedalling which is what I better do to shift all the churos!