James and I arrived in Madrid on a hot May evening. Our hotel, Praga, was just south of the Rio Manzanares. For miles in either direction, the banks of the river were finely landscaped. Kids rode bikes. People were rollerblading. Lovers walked hand in hand. Dogs played, chasing soccer balls or play fighting. The city was alive!
James was quick to spot the electro scooters that were able to be hired. We jumped on and headed into the traffic of Madrid.
After walking every day for 5 weeks, it was exhilarating to smoothly zap around the city. As James said at one point, “walking is for losers.”
What we quickly learn is that Madrid is a city of parks, amazing parks. We discover the Parque de El Retiró with its palaces, grand boulevards and lake full of row boats.
James indulges in some shopping. Apparently workwear is a thing amongst the young folk. James is very excited at Carhartt, which is basically King Gee modelled by cool people with piercings and tats.
We keep scooting around the city. At times we walk. We were still wracking up days where we walked well over 10km. You can take the pilgrim off the Camino, but you can’t take the Camino out of the pilgrim.
It was hot, high 20’s. We enjoyed cold beer, Mexican food, quiet mornings and crazy busy evenings. Madrid is a great city, very easy to get around and enjoy.
One morning we scoot and walk along the river to the Casa de Campo. James had looked online and saw that it had a gondola. Cue the James Bond theme. Yes, a gondola. We had to have a ride.
The Casa de Campo is an enormous parkland right next to the heart of the city. It has lakes, bars, restaurants, an aquarium, a theme park, hundreds of kilometres of tracks and trails.
The city was busy. As we walked around we noticed many different languages and accents. People rode hire electric bikes, scooters and electric Vespa type scooters that are also available for hire.
From 2:00 until around 5:00, many businesses close for siesta. Some days James and I would find a cool place in the shade in one of the many parks and just chill out for an hour or so. Even with all the parks, grand buildings and boulevards, Madrid is still adding to or upgrading its open space. The roads around the palace are largely closed to traffic as are many other roads around the city. There are many tunnels under the city. Sometimes you would be walking in a park and a car would appear from a grass mound. The tunnel entrances and exits were so well landscaped, they blend in with the parkland.
There was one place that I was intrigued to visit, Las Ventas, Madrid’s famous bullring that was opened in 1931. I won’t weigh into the debate about whether bullfighting should continue or not. All I will say is that it is woven into the fabric of Spanish culture. James and I saw bullrings in Pamplona and Sahagun whilst on the Camino.
I was a little shocked to learn that we were in Madrid at the start of a full month of bullfights. I did check, all fights were sold out.
Hemingway had this to say about bullfighting – Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.
From our tour, it is clear that there is still an intense pride and love of bullfighting. But there are also those that see this as barbaric and antiquated and out of step with modern Spanish culture.
We visited the museum where there were portraits of many of the the great matadors, both men and women. These included many of Goya’s series of etchings on bullfighting that he prepared and sold in central Madrid over 180 years ago. There were also many outfits.
James noted that many of the matadors honoured in the museum were killed by bulls, very sobering.
From Las Ventas we scooted through busy and highly dangerous city traffic back into the city centre for one last time. Hey, I had to add a sense of drama after visiting the bullring!
Our time in Madrid and in Spain was coming to an end. What a great city. What a great country.