Things Madrid Loves and Hates

I’m on holiday in Madrid right now, if you hadn’t guessed by the title of this post. It’s a pretty cool city, lots to do, lovely people, a nice atmosphere. I’d definitely come back again for another visit in the future.

If you know me at all (or you’re die hard into this blog, clearly even more than I am since I don’t post for a year at a time, and you remember the Roaming Rome posts) you’ll know that I like to go for short city breaks in the holidays between my actually pretty okay as far as jobs gosuper stressful secondary teaching job. With that in mind, and the fact that I might as well write a new blog post at some point and why not now here is a brief list of the things that Madrid, as a city in General, Loves and Hates.

Please note that this list is purely observational based on the things I’ve seen and witnessed in three days in the city. It is by no means an actual representation of Spain’s capital city.

Madrid loves: Ham

This city is obsessed with Ham. Literally. There are shops filled with only ham products. There’s a museum of ham. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape. Now, I knew that the Spanish diet had a lot of pig based products in it being an avid lover of chorizo, but even for me to have shop front after shop front proclaiming your love for ham (or jamon as they call it) is a bit much. Still, it makes Madrid a charming and weird and wonderful city even if it is a kosher mans nightmare

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Madrid Hates: Wheelchairs

Very few of the tourist attractions in Madrid that I’ve visited have wheelchair ramps and even fewer of the shops do! Some places have lifts and are accessible, but if you want to go up the tower in the Bernebau stadium, you’re fresh out of luck!

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Madrid Loves: Talking rapid Spanish to people who clearly have no idea what’s going on.

This is a slightly more personal one. There have been many times already on this trip where I am met with a barrage of Spanish from locals and tourist guides alike, even after I’ve asked a question in a different language. I love that different cities I go to have different languages and would never criticise someone for speaking their native tongue in their own country yes you would, you’re doing it right now you useless old sod but if I’ve asked if you speak English, please don’t reel off what sounds like half a Spanish dictionary and expect me to reply with more than “que?”

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Madrid Hates: Saying “excuse me”

Right, this isn’t just a thing for Madrid, it’s happened in almost every European city I’ve been to (Paris was the worst by far, but my lack of feeling for that city is another post for another time.) people will not say excuse me if you’re in their way. They refuse to. I know full well it’s in your language because it tells me in my guidebook how to say it so stop pretending these words don’t exist (for reference, it’s “perdon” in Spanish, just in case you were wondering). Instead of uttering this simple word/phrase, people will walk inordinately close to you in order to squeeze past in the tiniest nanometre of space that appears, or worse yet they hiss at you. I am not a stray cat taking a steaming hot dump on your lawn, please don’t hiss at me like one. I’m just trying to experience your city!

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Madrid Loves: Football
It’s everywhere in the city. The Real Madrid kit is in every tourist shop. Players loom over you from billboards and advertising hoardings and you just can’t get away from it. You can even tour the stadium for the princely sum of 19 euros (well worth the trip actually!) and have your picture taken in the grounds and green screened in with a current member of the team. Lots of fun and lots and lots of history there! It was a great part of my day today!

Madrid Hates: Cheap Hotels

They just don’t. You either get a proper hotel for the price of both arms, both legs, your first born son and thirty camels or you have to stay in a “Hostal” where you then have to also cater for every meal. I’m staying in a Hostal and it’s actually pretty nice, if a little spartan. There’s a kettle thou but it only has devils tea green tea so bring your own or find a shop!

Madrid Loves: Bears

The symbol of Madrid is a bear eating fruit from a tree. They have a statue of said bear in the main central plaza. They have this bear on almost every postcard, manhole cover, bus, wall plaque, you name it, they’ve probably got a bear on it. With all this in mind you, like I, may be thinking that there must be a fantastic story to go along with this bear and fruit tree iconography. That maybe the city was founded and one day a hungry old bear meandered into town looking for something to eat, saw the fruit trees in the then symbol-less village of Madrid and decided to chow down on some tasty tasty fruit. Nope. There’s no story behind it. They just really like bears (who doesn’t to be honest) and there used to be a lot of bears around Madrid in the past. As for the tree, there’s literally no reason for it. No-one really knows why it’s there, they only know that it’s there (sort of like why U2 are still a thing that’s happening, or why Bob Geldof is famous still). Not even Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, is sure. There’s a bit about how animal feed was passed on to the ownership of the clergy and as celebration they added the fruit tree but that’s as close as Wikipedia gets. Trust me. I checked.

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That’s all from this post. I think we got through that quite painlessly. I might be back again with another post but who really knows at this point. I’ve said that before and not followed through with it. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime… Maybe not. Probably though. Ish.

Post credits scene! Yes! Just like in all the Marvel Movies!

Madrid also loves DC. The comics. More on that soon…

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Roaming Rome Days 4 and 5

Before we begin, a quick sidebar. I realise that it has been nearly three months since the last part of my Rome diary and that’s why, in the interests of getting this over with as quickly as possible, I’ve thrown the last two days together in a single post. Enjoy!)

Day 4 – Capitoline Hill

Day 4 in Rome saw our first chance to indulge in a lie-in. This was the first day that we were not booked to look around one of the major tourist attractions that Rome has to offer and so we decided to take a leisurely approach to the morning before wandering into town to have a look at the Musei Capitolini.

This museum houses some of the more famous works of art that can be seen in Rome, including The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Venus, The Capitoline Wolf – symbol of Rome itself, and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, to name a few. It was absolutely breathtaking to wander through the museum and to see all of the lovely pieces of art – leading me to question whether the same level of skill is still present these days or have we evolved into the realm of calling strange unmade beds art?

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IMG_1865 Top: The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius  Bottom: The Capitoline Wolf

The afternoon was spent wandering around the city and visiting such places as Tiber Island, the Pantheon and Villa Borghese which was unfortunately past closing time, so we ambled back through the Borghese Gardens which have now become one of my favourite places because they’re just so pretty and relaxed!

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Day 5 – Homeward Bound

Ok so Day 5 was a bit of a cop out day. We got up late, we had breakfast and then packed and checked out of the hotel before heading back to the Borghese Gardens to read some books and magazines and while away the day until it was time for us to grab the train back to the airport.

Once at the airport, we had the usual deal of wandering around aimlessly until our flight was called, before heading over to the departure gate. Which was miles away. And you had to be taken there by a little train. Which didn’t turn up for ages.

Needless to say, this did not do my panic and stress levels any good. As you may know, I’m a bit of a panicker if I haven’t got everything organised and under control (not organised as in tidy, I’m a very messy person), so the fact that we were having to fast walk (we couldn’t run due to Ali having no grip on her boots) to the departure gate was not my favourite moment of the trip. Despite this however we made the flight, belted in and jetted off home after, quite frankly, one of the nicest holidays I’ve had in a while (Okay, it was the only holiday I’ve had in a while but still!).

So there we have it, the culmination of my Rome Diary, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and if you haven’t already been, I hop it’s inspired you to take a trip to what is truly a fantastic city. I know I’ll be going back as soon as I can!

 

Roaming Rome Day 3 – Stairway to Heaven

Waking up Monday morning, my sister decided to push through the pain and swelling in her tooth and stay on in Rome, mainly because we hadn’t yet seen the Vatican! After yet another delicious trip to the breakfast buffet we decided to go and ask at the front desk where exactly we might find a supermarket. Much to my relief and annoyance, the very helpful receptionist told us to turn left at the end of the road and keep walking and we’d see it about 5 minutes away. All this time and there was a supermarket right on our doorstep, and here’s the kicker: it was open until half 8 on Sunday night! We could have solved all of our problems!

Anubis was always my favourite Egyptian God

Anubis was always my favourite Egyptian God

Hercules stands tall in the Vatican Museums

Hercules stands tall in the Vatican Museums

After a trip to the shop to stock up on the essentials (we finally had water, I was so happy) we were hopping on the metro and heading out to visit the Vatican museums! After going through the security scanners and waiting in line for quarter of an hour, we were on our way up the stairs and into the Vatican museums, opting out of the short itinerary route provided and instead taking the longer route through the exhibits.

The Vatican museums are huge. I mean seriously huge. There’s so much on show and it’s all from different cultures. There’s an Egypt room, an Ancient Greece room, the Raphael rooms which he and his apprentices frescoed and of course, the Sistine Chapel. Also, for all of you geographers out there, there’s a map library which, I’m not going to lie, wasn’t quite as impressive as I had been led to believe but it was still impressive to see the detail put into these old maps.

The geographer inside of me got very excited by these maps...

The geographer inside of me got very excited by these maps…

After a good few hours of wandering through the exhibits (you could easily spend a whole day in there!) we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel, which was absolutely breathtaking. The work of Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the chapel was absolutely incredible – although I didn’t realise how small the section with “The Creation of Adam” on it was, I thought it was huge but it turns out it’s actually not that big and forms part of an artistic patchwork over the ceiling. I tried to get a picture of it, but I got repeatedly shouted at by the Vatican security guards and, not wanting to be escorted out of the Vatican, I put my camera away.

Me, in front of St Peter's Basilica

Me, in front of St Peter’s Basilica

The afternoon was spent in St Peters square where, the day before, the Pope had given his last mass before retiring. You don’t realise how huge everything is until you’re standing in the centre of it all. It was also really warm outside, so it was lovely to enjoy the gorgeous Roman Spring weather before coming back to the eternal chiller that is England.

Of course, my sister and I felt that we couldn’t visit St Peter’s Basilica without making the climb up to the dome to get the panoramic view over the city from up high. The climb up to the Cupola as it’s called is roughly 550 steps unless you take the lift up to the first roof (we didn’t take the lift) where it will be only a mere 320 steps until you reach the very top. Let me just put it this way, those stairs are windy. And narrow. In places, they’re pretty diagonal too where the curved roof of the Cupola slopes over the top of you. The final steps to the balcony at the top are extremely tight and instead of a handrail, there’s just a long piece of rope dangling from the top for you to grab on to. It’s worth the climb though, the view was stunning although there were a LOT of people crammed onto the balcony – there could be a queuing system put in place quite easily to limit the number of people up there at one time (or maybe that’s just my overwhelming Englishness coming out yet again).

You see that little bit at the top of the big dome? That's where you climb to.

You see that little bit at the top of the big dome? That’s where you climb to.

After making it down, we witness the changing of the Swiss Guard before heading back to the hotel for some much needed downtime and then spent the evening in an absolutely fantastic little ristorante in Piazza del Popolo called “Il Brillo Parlante”. if you’re ever in Rome and staying near Popolo you should definitely visit this place for dinner – their pizzas were absolutely delicious and such a reasonable price!

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel looking forward to our first day in Rome where we didn’t actually have anything planned, so we could indulge in that brilliant treat the next morning – the lie in!

 

Roaming Rome Day 2 – Ancient Rome and Adventuring Alone!

This is the second part of my Roman Adventure travel diary and as such it picks up right where we left off last time. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first one, you can do so here: Day 1. Go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back.

Sunday morning rolled around far too quickly for my liking and after getting ready we were down in the breakfast room, ready to fill our bellies and start our day: one of the busiest on the schedule. Before I go on I’d just like to take a moment to say that everyday of the trip, the breakfast buffet was absolutely delicious! Pastries, croissants, cereal, toast, coffee, tea, yoghurt, you had the whole lot to choose from and it was all fantastic. Getting back to the point, we made sure to swipe a few rolls and some prosciutto and cheese to make ourselves a quick lunch as we still hadn’t been able to find a shop that was open past 14:30 on a Saturday – that’s the trouble with visiting a Roman Catholic country!

After our breakfast crimes had been committed we were hopping onto the metro and heading off in the direction of the Colosseum, our first destination. On the way, we decided to try and find some form of shop as we had realised that we had no water for the day. Stumbling upon a small kiosk shop just opening up we were lucky enough to grab a few bottles to last us the day and headed back to the Colosseum to go and pick up our tickets.

In true Italian organisational form, you have to turn up an hour before your pre-booked tour in order to pick up your tickets in enough time. Luckily, this gave us a chance to wander around the Colosseum and take all the pictures that we wanted, removing the need to have to “Snap and Run” during the tour. My first thought, and one that continued throughout the whole day was “Oh my goodness this place is absolutely huge!”. It’s shocking to think that the Romans managed to build this before mechanisation, in an age before the smartphone and twitter, and blogging. Just look at what we could do if we got rid of all of our distracting technology!

The Colosseum is absolutely huge!

The Colosseum is absolutely huge!

There were also exhibits of sculptures and artefacts found in and around or relating to the history of the Colosseum on display on the upper floors. Again, it was absolutely astounding to see what a single civilization could achieve, albeit over a large period of time!

In time, our tour rolled around and we were treated to a lovely potted history of the Colosseum with some interesting facts being conveyed to us, such as the historically innaccurate repairs made to a section of the seating by Mussolini during the fascist regime. All in all, it was a breathtaking experience and if you’re ever in Rome, this has got to be on the top of your to do list! No exceptions!

Gladiator carvings adorn the doorways

Gladiator carvings adorn the doorways

After stopping for lunch, we headed to the Palatine, one of the Seven Hills of Rome and previously a key area of Roman culture. Adjoining the Palatine area, the Roman Forum looms tall, along with the Arch of Septimus Severus, emperor of Africa and the old Roman senate house. All of this is absolutely huge, and there’s plenty to see, including the grave of Julius Ceaser, just a short stroll away from the area that he was murdered and betrayed.

If all of the history in the forum area isn’t enough for you, you can do as my sister and I did and wander up into the Palatine area which includes the temple of Romulus, Augustus’ house and the House of the Vestal Virgins. You could easily spend all afternoon pottering about this place, admiring the stonework and the vision that went into creating such a civilisation. I know a lot of people rave about the ancient Egyptians but I think the Romans are definitely my favourite ancient civilisation!

Unfortunately, despite witnessing firsthand the splendours of Ancient Rome, today was the day that the trip started to take a turn for the worse, with my sister succumbing to intense pain in her tooth and gum, which began to swell up quite badly. This prompted our late afternoon to be spent walking to a 24/7 pharmacy in search of some strong painkillers and possibly some antibiotics. Again, unfortunately, my sister suffered so badly that she didn’t even want to face walking to the metro line and then to the pharmacy so after taking her back to the hotel and much convincing her, I set off alone into the centre of Rome armed only with a few translated phrases and a pocketful of “emergency euros” (Yes, we are THAT prepared).

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m not particularly adventurous. I was never a climber of trees and I’ve never felt the urge to travel to exotic and far flung reaches of the earth just to see what they’re like. I’m quite content to sit at home with a good meal and a good book and a nice cup of tea. In fact, the best way to sum this up is with this quote from The Hobbit:

…No use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

Fast forward just under an hour and I strolled happily into the hotel with a bag containing some strong painkillers, and the recommendation that if it gets any worse we should go back and talk to the pharmacist again.

I felt a lot more confident in myself after this solo jaunt. I had successfully navigated a completely alien city and by the time I was hopping on the tram to come back to the hotel I was moving about the place like I’d been there for years, not just about a day! In that moment, Rome felt more like home to me than London ever has, I suddenly realised that I loved everything about the place and, even though I am a country boy at heart, I could quite happily start a life living in that city.

The rest of the night passed pretty quickly with us popping to the ristorante across the road and getting to indulge in my all time favourite pasta dish: lasagne. All I can say is phew! Do those Italians know how to cook or what!?

After a tiring and surprising day, it was time to flop back into bed, hoping that Ali’s tooth would feel better by morning and wondering what tomorrow would bring with our next action packed day trip looming!

But you’ll have to wait until next time for that, I’m afraid…

Roaming Rome Day 1 – Hotel Hassle and Landmark Locating

Currently, I am sat on a plane, flying back from Rome. I have just spent a fantastic five days in Italy’s capital city and I thought that I would write up my trip in my own little travel diary. Don’t worry though, these wont be the only posts that I put up, I’ll milk this for all it’s worth space them out over a couple of weeks, with some of the other ideas that I’ve had. For once I seem to have a fair bit to blog about!

So a while back my sister asked me if I would like to go on a five day, four night trip to Rome as she had found an amazing deal online and it was, in all honestly, pretty damn cheap for what it was. I agreed and soon enough the day rolled around and we were waking up at the ungodly hour of 3am to make it to Heathrow for our flight. After breezing through check in and enjoying a travellers breakfast at Heathrow Costa we were on the plane and off to Italy.

Arriving at Fiumicino Airport we quickly realised that it may have been a good idea to learn at least some Italian, as we struggled our way through buying a ticket for the direct train from the airport into the central station in Rome, though we managed in the end (albeit after sitting and watching a few groups of people first) before we knew it we were disembarking at Termini, smack bang in the centre of the city. After finding a kiosk with an assistant that spoke English we had bought our weeks metro and tram travel card and descended into the murky underworld of the Roman Metro. Actually, that’s being unfair; the Metro in Rome is exactly like the London Underground – except it’s clean (I know, novel right!). Disembarking further north at Ottaviano we managed to find a bus that would take us up to our hotel, passing ‘Stadio Olimpico’ on the way.

After managing to walk right past our hotel the first time we tried we spotted it and finally pushed open the main doors and walk through into the hotel lobby only to be greeted by what can only be described as DIY SOS: Hardcore Edition an ongoing refurbishment. After chatting to the receptionist we were told that our booking had been moved to another hotel in the chain, despite us previously being told twice that we were indeed staying at Hotel Number 1. We asked the receptionist for directions and instead of being helpful, she merely suggested we go and find a taxi outside. Needless to say, she has earned herself a place in that oh so special of hells, reserved for murderers, paedophiles and those that don’t clear their own tables at Fast Food Restaurants. I hope she enjoys it down there where Mick Hucknall and The Cheeky Girls are on repeat 24/7 and the only shows on TV are The Only Way Is Essex and Toddlers and Tiaras. Good grief, that’s a fearsome place.

Cue montage of worried wandering around Rome until we finally chanced upon a kind pair of security guards at a massive electronics and hardware store who very kindly ordered us a taxi, because apparently you have to be some kind of wizard to find a cab in Rome. Anyway, much later we ended up at our NEW Hotel, hot, grumpy and footsore but finally able to relax. At least we had somewhere to sleep for the night AND we were MUCH closer to the centre of town, only a ten minute wander from Piazza del Popolo.

After a very hectic and stressful morning we decided to grab a map and head out into the city to explore and try to find a few of the famous landmarks we had heard about. Hopping off the metro at Barberini, we decided to go and find the Trevi Fountain and although we set off in the fit direction we somehow managed to end up walking straight past it until we found ourselves at The Spanish Steps instead. Instantly I was overwhelmed at how busy it was, a Saturday afternoon of sightseeing in Rome may not have been the most ideal of plans in hindsight.

Busy times at the Spanish Steps

Busy times at the Spanish Steps

Climbing the steps we decided to saunter back and find the Trevi Fountain and after a brief pause on the Steps to take some pictures of the crowded, bustling shopping streets we were accosted by what seemed to be the entirety of Rome’s gypsy community, all trying to push a rose into our hands to then charge you money for. Quite honestly I have never seen such ruthless harassment on the street before and it was quite an experience with more than a few of them having to be told to back off numerous times before they finally got the message.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Eventually we made it to the Trevi Fountain and it was absolutely beautiful. I think it will go down on record as my favourite fountain, the sculptures adorning it were carved so masterfully, it really was as good as everyone had told me, and of course we both threw the customary coin backwards over our shoulder into the water to ensure that we would one day return to Rome. It was in front of this fountain that we tried our first true Italian delicacy, Gelato. All I can say is it was FANTASTICO!

The Italians really know how to do food!

The Italians really know how to do food!

"Angels and Demons" fans will recognise this landmark...

“Angels and Demons” fans will recognise this landmark…

After the Trevi Fountain we visited many other Roman landmarks including Trajans Column, the temple of Hadrian, Piazza Navone which hosts the absolutely fantastic Fountain of the Four Rivers sculpted by Bernini which, if you are a Dan Brown fan you will remember being on the Path of Illumination (No, I didn’t really get the Da Vinci Code either, but boy does Brown write one hell of a book! Plus, Angels and Demons was much easier to understand!). We also managed to make out first visit to the Pantheon, though we were unable to go inside as it was being used for a holy mass, it is after all a fully functioning church.

After a busy and tiring day we wanted nothing more than to eat some gorgeously fattening food and head back to the hotel so we ducked into the McDonalds (I know, it seems like a crime going to Italy and then going to a McDonalds but bear with me on this one) which just so happened to be the oldest and fanciest in Italy, boasting a separate McCafe and having some Italian options on the menu, such as a focaccia bread based burger.

After a busy night we managed to find our way back to the hotel where we proceeded to collapse into bed and by half 9 we were both asleep, absolutely shattered after our first day in Rome, but eager for our next busy day in the Capital…