travels part 1: madrid

in the morning we broke fast with wheetaflakes, which are quite delicious, and rode to gatwick. except it was more complicated than that, with the evil ticket machine at london fields station that tried to eat laurence's card (thank cripes for quick thinking and manicure sets) and swallowed a tenner of mine. i'll get it back. but there's no post office at gatwick airport and i was stuck with the package i was carrying for ruth.being the first of may, we'd looked into what international worker's day celebrations/riots there were planned, and found a gathering at 6 in a square to the south. what with arriving, dropping bags off at the hostel and coming out again, it was gone seven when we got there; a rather nice area with plenty of ethnic restaurants. there still some police loitering around. so we thought we'd head out into town on foot and try and catch up with the fun, wherever it had gone. we meandered all the way up to gran via in the centre of town, and approaching a square, heard whistles... but it was just traffic police. there was to be no riots today, or so we thought... we went to a recommended veggie restaurant, el estragon, which must cater for tourists and or backpackers like us mostly. we sank a couple of bottles of wine with our food (onion soup, cannelloni and veggie paella. i should have had something fake too, you go to spain, you get spanish food, even if it's only a veggie equivalent, right?) i think we wound up back at home, drank with some other hostelers until lights out. we went upstairs to our room, where we admitted to each other we weren't ready for bed, and headed out into the night, beer in hand courtesy of the drinks machine in the lobby. walking round a couple of streets, we came across a line of police in front of a monument. being too stupid to hide my beer, they wouldn't let us past. i finished it off and we headed past them, and found a massive street party.streets were clogged for hundreds of metres. we walked up through the crowds until they petered out; many people looked very punk. we headed back into the crowd and bought some cans of beer off a street vendor, and soaked up the atmosphere. eventually some cool kid started talking to us, we let on that we didn't understand but it's ok cause everyone speaks english. he told us not to stand in that alcove because people were pissing there, then bade us come and drink the local cocktail with him, a mix of red wine and cola. we chatted to him and his friends, who liked football and music. they told us the party was in honour of some napoleonic defeat, some little girl who stood up or something. we steered them away from football - which in spain, it seems, even indie kids like - and chatted about the libertines a bit and stuff. one guy played us some tracks by his band, and they were really rocking. i wrote a couple of band names down for him. after a while of this joy, we needed the toilet, and the night changed. as we were rounding a corner - we were thinking of not going back, and were wandering fairly far to piss - their was a bit of a surge of people coming our way, of the type that made other people want to get out of here quickly. he went up another road and found a square, pissed in a shop doorway; when we tried to go back round the corner, we couldn't because the police had moved up on our position. it was turning proper; lines of people lobbing stuff at police, police charging and falling back like some adult version of 'what's the time mr. worf'. laurence was so happy.after a while, the crowds moved on, skips were rotated, bins thrown down, all good fun, but eventually the mass was dispersed and we skirted round the edges looking for any more action. we got to bed at a time i forget.

in the morning we walked around where the carnage had been and it was clear as day. the monument that the action was around was some arch of triumph with a statue underneath it, and a plaque to the effect of the story we'd been told the night before. we walked down the road that leads up to the prado, a beautiful boulevard (there should be an o in there somewhere), lined with palm trees and semi-permanent book stalls. there was a massive queue at the prado, because, as we found out when we got to the front, being a national holiday, it was free entry. brilliant. we started in the basement to see some glorious hidden treasures, a weird collection of basilisk jugs and goblets with nymphs and faeries for stems, paintings made of rock and crystal.. next we went to the top and worked our way down. the top floor is the smallest and mainly consists of goya's early, happy pictures of children playing. laurence wondered what all the fuss was about this goya fellow. the next floor down housed, among other things, the black paintings. the brightness and joy of the early pictures is the only thing that can prepare you for these, and it's not every day i can tick something off my life to do list. they are terrifying and distressing. full size you can see the vagueness and pain in every face. after these, there were lots of genius artists but they seem to get lost in a confusion of royal portraits and jesus paintings, until you hit bosch; again, something it's worth going there to see. we've all seen his masterworks, but full size they're breathtaking, and too big to make out all the detail on. i've a gap now; the next thing i remember is making pasta in the hostel from rough and ready ingredients. we made too much and a nice german guy helped us finish it off. he was staying one night only, on his way back from 6 months in south america. we spent the rest of the evening playing cards with him and an odd australian fellow who didn't really know what he was doing. the german lad taught us skat, not an easy job indeed, and he had to leave to catch his train before he'd really finished. we headed out for a bit to see if anything was going down tonight, but it wasn't. bed.

the next day was another art gallery day - the rein sofia. it was big. everything was big. guernica is massive, but i didn't find it particularly moving. why is that? it was full of lots of very modern art, much of which looked like wall paper to me.laurence pointed out two american girls who were wandering around at the same speed and direction to us, who had been doing the same in the prado yesterday. we even got in the lift with them, but didn't make more than polite gestures. we wandered around til we found somewhere for lunch, and got a couple of plates of racione in a bar - cheese, potatoes, mushrooms. that day we did some absolutely insane walking. we went and got pudding in plaza sol (the centre of madrid, currently a building site for a new subway station) from a patisserie, and ran into those american girls again. i wanted to stalk, but laurence took us another way - west towards the palace. it began to rain. we walked around another interesting area, to the south west, windy climby stairs and eventually came to an old balconied square which is supposed to be quite famous. we then walked north again, back through sol again but carried on in the direction that them girls went, up through the massively tall commercial streets. we didn't find them, but went for a drink in a smart, possibly gay, bar, then started hitting the tapas trail. most recommended places in the guide book were unfindable or closed or just didn't look that good, so we just found somewhere for grub, ordering two vermuts and a egg-and-potato dish, which turned out to be fried egg and chips. checking out the guide book again, we realised the best place to head was south of gran via again, where an impressive run of tapas bars lived. we took ourselves inside la zapata (or something, ask laurence) for a jug of sangria and some burnt salty veg. checking the book again, we forsook the nearby outlets in favour of a little walk down caller del huertas (earth street, if i'm not mistaken) to a veggie place. it wasn't there, but we found a really cool bar - conspiratorius or something - with awesome music - they even sold t-shirts of themselves. we had another oily potato dish, delicious this time, some more vermut and a beer. then walked home, not a short undertaking from the southern old quarter to our northern hostel.

te next day was friday, our last in madrid. we went to cafe commercial for an excellent coffee, croissant and delicious buttery potato tortilla, then to the train station. negotiations were tricky across the language barrier - i had become the designated talker, preparing stock phrases in my head, getting them out fine, but having no idea of the reply. we got two tickets to valencia, but not until 8 o'clock. realising this was the case, we spent the rest of the day leisurely in the parc real, playing chess with the pensioners (until the parky closed the games house for no apparent reason), eating ice cream, another cheese bagguette, looking at the cool trees and lakes, and playing uke. with a couple of hours to spare, we went back into town for supper and happened by complete chance to find a completely brilliant veggie buffet, which charged by weight. nice hot grub, which a dog tried to steal off me while we were sat outside, sending ukelayle and water bottles flying. so then we went for the train, satisfied. the train station had had the platforms moved three hundred metres further along the track, leaving the main concourse empty, so the authorites filled it with tropical plants, needing constant spraying with water and heat. it was more like an airport, and laurence bought dirty porn comics for some reason*. baggage checks and videos on trains.

we got into valencia and it was lovely. madrid is a quintessential industrial midlands town, but in spain and quite old. it's pretty rocking but not very scenic for the most part. i don't know what we'd have done with any more time but go to more galleries and museums, or head out to the surrounding towns which apparently are fabulous. we got to our hotel about midnight, a truly bizarre building with uneven floors, garish wall paint, pointless rooms and furnitures, and windows that look between the corridors. fantastic. then we went outside again to see if maybe we could get some food or drink, but the only place open was the noisy, cheesy, cafe madrid, pumping out far-too-loud house and revellers under our window. never mind, we slept well in our buckled double bed.
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