Thursday 25 October 2007

What I Did On My Holiday, by Scott, Aged 30

Ah, Madrid. A city I had never previously been to, and one I knew very little about, other than it was probably going to be warmer than the Wirral in October. So the BF and I boarded our EasyJet plane and made our carbon footprint even larger so we could get a little short break action.

And, as it turned out, some International Supertarting. I couldn't help myself. Mark Ovenden's fantastic Metro Maps of the World book ( had said that the Madrilenos were obsessed with their Metro, and it's true. My travel guide was only a year old, but the map of the system was out of date already - about a dozen new stations had been added to it.

So I had to collect the stations. It's a disease. To try and minimise the inconvenience to the beseiged other half, I only collected them when we were forced by connections or missed trains to loiter on a platform, which didn't happen that often over the course of the five days; it is a very good system. I'm forced to apologise, therefore, for the lack of Opera, Atocha Renfe, and Goya, despite all of them being graced with my presence; sorry stations, but you had your chance. Goya was actually particularly disappointing. Baker Street, on the London Underground, is tiled with images of Sherlock Holmes; while on Merseyrail, as we saw, Aintree's one big Horse of the Year show. I expected a long mural of Goya's works along the platform (perhaps not his Black Paintings; descending underground and having Satan Devouring His Son welcoming you there could perhaps induce a few more one-unders than intended). Instead it had a tiny little portrait as you hit the platform - impossible to read as it was at the foot of a flight of stairs, and commuters harrassed you constantly - and that was it. You could say, yes, but look at their huge expansion projects and excellent transport links, but I don't care; I want portraits of befuddled royals while I wait for my train!

Santo Domingo: location of our rather lovely hotel, and also the location of a less lovely red light district a few hundred yards away. Being naive homos, it took the searching glances from a good few scantily dressed whores before we realised we were in that kind of area (go for a night out in Birkenhead and you will see girls wearing a lot less and not even charging for it). We beat a hasty retreat, finding refuge in a decent looking restaurant to escape the prostitutes. I have nothing against sex workers; I'd just rather not see it, ta.

We seemed to spend half our life going through Banco de Espana. Partly this was because we fell for the massive Parque del Retiro, and wandered through its leafy environs on a couple of different occasions. Also, it's convenient for the Prado, which we visited one day, but were seriously disappointed by. They had run out of English-language guides, which unfortunately meant that we had no idea what we were looking at; as a result it sort of descended into a melange of stern looking 15th century aristocrats and various pictures of Christ and the Holy Family. It all became a bit wearing, frankly, and we ended up rushing off. There wasn't even a decent shop.

(Insert hilarious bowel related reference here). Colon is ugly, I'm sorry. It's one of those 70s developments where everyone was tremendously excited that they had invented concrete, and so used it all over the shop i.e. it was now used as a vast skateboard park.

O frabjous day! Callao! Callay! (You really cannot have too much Lewis Carroll). Callao was the location for our local El Corte Ingles department store, a Spanish national treasure. Actually, one of our local El Corte Ingles, because at the other end of the street was another one. I had a cup of hot chocolate in the cafe here, and when I say hot chocolate, that is literally a description of what it was. Pure, melted chocolate in a cup. Why not just inject it into my waistline? It was also the location for a number of large cinemas - sort of like the Leicester Square of Madrid.

The big gay station of Chueca, hub of Madrid's big gay scene. I'd love to say that this district was superior to Canal Street, or Old Compton, but it was just a bit... well... tawdry. Of course, all homo districts are - the huge sex shops tend to lower the tone - but we'd actually walked through Plaza de Chueca and dismissed it, thinking that nowhere that downmarket would be the centre of the city's queer zone. On the plus side, the station literally empties out into the Plaza; Old Compton Street is yet to get its own stop on the Picadilly line, so one up for the Spanish I feel.

Lawyers have advised me not to mention anything involving certain illicit substances here, so I won't. We were only changing trains anyway, so I have no idea what entirely legitimate practices were going on above my head.

...And so, we head back. Lovely modern station, and huge too. By this point I just wanted to be home, as you may be able to tell from my thousand yard stare. Madrid was very nice, and it's certainly a great plus to wander around in a t-shirt in mid-October; but it just didn't do it for me, not in the same way London and Paris and Amsterdam and Berlin did. It just felt a little bit... small. The capital of one of Europe's great nations should have been more than it was. It didn't feel impressive enough. But its Metro is lovely, and they should be given every round of applause under the sun for realising that a good, efficient, clean underground system is worth every penny you can throw at it.

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