Madrid, one of Europe’s grand old cities, and what better place to spend a few days exploring and feeling the first real bit of warmth of the year. Like many Spanish cities I found Madrid great for walking and exploring, there was no grand plan just some vague ideas and this approach works for me as you tend to come across things as you mooch, you have the time to take the temperature of the city and get a feel for it with the hassle of thinking I need to get someone by a certain time or to see a particular thing. Much as great cities have fantastic places to see, it’s people that make places so getting a feel for them and the beat of the city is equally important as far as I am concerned.
Also, like when I was in Barcelona last year, it seems to be very easy to get away from the cram of tourists who follow a very predictable trail. Walk a couple of streets away in any direction and you are in a different Madrid, one that’s much more to my liking. I stayed right bang in the centre, in a great little flat that was my first experience of using air B & B and I couldn’t have wished for better. If meant that I could step out of the door and be right in the heart of things but could stroll half an hour in any direction to explore some of the different areas.
I’d been to Madrid before a few years ago and I wondered how it would feel in light of the serious impact that the recession has had on Spain. For me the city remains as warm and welcoming and as clean and safe as you could possibly hope for. This time in the city I seemed to spend a lot of time in the markets, each area that I visited had one and they really were astonishing places and could really teach my home city a thing or two as it ponders how to ‘regenerate’ the city market. For me the most astonishing was Sunday afternoon in San Fernando market in the Lavapies area. I stumbled across this by poking my head through an entrance and the first signs were not promising, stalls with the shutters down, the odd one or two with a couple of people sat at. However music could be heard so we ventured in and lo and behold the world changed. In the middle of this covered market a hundred or so people were in full swing dancing away to latin music pumping out as DJ’s played the tunes, surround the central area, a labyrinth of packed stalls selling tapas, beer and wine kept the crowd fed and watered. It was mesmerising and the atmosphere was so good it just made you feel alive. We found a fantastic little wine place, drank what was recommended and just soaked it up. I want to spend every Sunday doing that, it was perfect.
I was chatting to someone from Lavapies about the market and he said that a few years ago it was dying, just a couple of stalls remained but slowly the community has brought it back to life with events and activities and placing it back into the heart of the community which has brought new stall holders and businesses in. A fantastic success story. Round the corner I also stumbled across a great little bike shop and bought the local cap, I found out that they have only made 100 and the money is going to help run the community cycling club. They seemed amazed that some guy from Leeds wanted to buy one of their caps.
Little adventures and experiences like this happened across the few days we were there as we wandered about. Yes we saw the main squares, Guernica, the parks, Churches, Palaces etc but it was the neighbourhood bars, markets and vibe of the city that I enjoyed the most. Can’t wait to go back.