Ole Days

Death in the Evening


Sunday 17th August 2008

Despite crawling into bed (only because it was on the floor) at 2am last night we were up and having breakfast by 9am.

There wasn't a vast choice on offer at Hotel Arosa but if we had woken up having turned slightly Japanesey then we could have had miso soup or noodles for breakfast. Actually, what was available was very tasty and I especially enjoyed being able to dress my toasted bread with fresh chopped tomatoes and garlic infused olive oil. Whilst the coffee was diabolical it was still a breakfast worth getting up for.

Edifico Metropolis Gran Via Madrid

We stepped out into our first Madrid morning and headed down Gran Via. It was a beautiful sunny day.

Having spent the last three months of the British summer getting wet and miserable this was more than just a beautiful sunny day. It lifted our spirits putting a spring to our steps.

It was one of those "feels good to be alive" moments.

Gran Via was quite an uplifting street and at the end, where it met Calle de Alcala, stood its grandest building, a Madrid landmark, the Edifico Metropolis.

Edifico Metropolis Gran Via Madrid
I thought it must have been a former palace or of some royal patronage, (usually the only source of excessive funds), but instead it was a spectacular statement of power and success commissioned by an insurance company in 1911.
Plaza de los Ciebeles Madrid

In no time we arrived at Plaza de Cibeles. It would have been nothing but a busy crossroads were it not for the city's grandest and most attractive fountain, Fuenta de Cibeles.

Cybeles, the Greco-Roman goddess of nature, looking like a young Queen Victoria, sat on her lion-drawn chariot, looking towards the centre of Madrid. This would have been the route by which all Royal processions would enter the city. All the way down Calle de Alcala to Puerta del Sol then Calle Mayor to the Palacio Real.

A slight uphill walk to the ceremonial gateway of Puerta de Alcala marked the eastern boundary of the old Madrid.

The spring in our step had began to slip by the time we reached the gateway. The warm weather that had lifted our spirits earlier was now causing us to sweat quite profusely; and it wasn't even midday yet!

We paused for breath on a shaded bench at Plaza de la Independencia looking at the granite archway, wishing we had an ice cold beer in our hands.

Our prayers were answered when we turned into Parque del Retiro and a small vending booth appeared like a mirage. Surprisingly we behaved rather sensibly and chose ice cold mineral water over the beer. A bottle of San Miguel and we would ended up sleeping on a park bench for a few hours!

Puerta de Alcala Madrid
fountains Parque del Retiro Madrid

Parque del Retiro was a welcome respite. Strolling along the shaded paths with the soothing sound of splashing water was very pleasant.

We weren't the only ones taking advantage of the tree given shade. For every two ambling along at a gentle pace there were six thrashing about as if they were being chased by a herd of bulls.

I've never understood the benefits of jogging. They all look like they're doing themselves more harm than good. Of all those who live to a ripe old age of 115, not one of them claim jogging as their secret to a longer life. Tortoises and hares my friend, tortoises and hares.

Not far from where we entered was a large boating lake where fathers fail to impress their families by rowing their hired boats around in circles heading on collision courses towards the Olympic rowers in the fast lane.

Sharing the lake were literally thousands of goldfish, jumping over themselves with excitement as they were being liberally fed by young kids. No wonder they were huge monsters!

There was a lovely atmosphere in the park and a saxophone busker on the corner was a vital part in adding to this ambience. Now there's one instrument I'd love to learn to play. There's just something sexy about the sound of a saxophone that can transform the blandest melody into something cool.

Monument to Alfonso XII, Parque del Retiro Madrid
fountains Parque del Retiro Madrid

The backdrop to all this fun was the Alfonso XII monument, an overblown testimonial to the King that brought the end to Spain's first short-lived Republic in 1875.

By the time we reached the south end of the lake it was time to take another break. It was certainly getting hotter so we sat down on a park bench and people watched for a while.

We had only seen a fraction of this enormous park but it was time to leave and find ourselves the sanctuary of a museum. We couldn't have been better placed with the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia, three of Madrid's premier museums within a short walking distance.

We didn't want to waste the whole of this glorious day inside so we chose to do just the one and with its focus on the Spanish greats of Goya and Velasquez it had to be Museo del Prado.

Parque del Retiro Madrid

We left Retiro through a beautiful "park within a park". I found its trimmed bushes and manicured hedgerows strangely beautiful.

(I can't believe that I said that? I'll be visiting the Chelsea Flower show next?)

Parque del Retiro Madrid
Perhaps it was a mild case of sunstroke? Perhaps I was hallucinating when I thought I had seen trees like broccoli?

Casa del Buen Retiro, Museo del  Prado, Madrid

I even marvelled at the exit, Puerta de Felipe IV. I thought it was a striking piece of arch architecture!

Opposite Felipe Felope's gate was Cason del Buen Retiro.

It claimed to be the Museo del Prado which confused me slightly but it turned out to be an annexed wing of the museum. It used to house Picasso's Guernica but that has since moved to the modern art museum of Reina Sofia.

The building itself was apparently one of the few remaining parts of a royal palace which existed at the Retiro during the 16th century.

A short walk later and we popped out at Prado's back door near the church of San Jeronimo el Real. (Is he really the patron saint of Red Indians?!!?)

Velasquez, Museo del Prado, Madrid

We were about to stride into the museum as we thought it was free on a Sunday but we were sadly misinformed. We had to pay €6 each because the free-on-a-sunday was only true between 5pm and 8pm.

Before we lost ourselves amongst the masterpieces we sat down at the Prado cafe for a snack. I had a Mallorcan Ring which whilst sounding like infectious disease was an absolutely delicious doughy bun filled with a sticky substance.

Mmmm. Yummy.

After recharging ourselves in the air conditioned haven we made a start.

Goya, Museo del Prado, Madrid
Our first port of call were rooms 66 and 67; Goya's 'black' paintings. They weren't at all easy to find even with a floor map but we got there in the end.
Goya, Saturn,  Museo del Prado, Madrid

There was one painting in particular that I wanted to see. The manic and disturbing "Saturn Devouring One of his Children". The mythology goes that Saturn, in an attempt to prevent a prophecy that he would lose be deposed by one of his children.

So, in his infinite wisdom, he decided to swallow every child his wife bore.

The wild crazy eyes of the ruler of the universe disembowelling his child was quite graphic. In fact all the paintings during this period of Goya's artwork was quite dark and sinister.

Amidst all of this gloom and doom one painting caught my attention. It was a dusky orange with a little dog in the bottom. It was the most colourful painting in the room yet it still had an unsettling undertone to it.

Goya, Perro,  Museo del Prado, Madrid

I stood in front of it for ages. There was just something about it that made me imagine Goya painting it and his state of mind at the time.

We systematically covered all three floors of the Prado ticking off the masterpiece highlights on a kindly provided list. One in particular I was excited about was the family portrait of King Carlos IV by Goya. It shows the royal family in 1805.

Goya, royal family portrait,  Museo del Prado, Madrid

What's interesting is how Queen Maria Louisa (his wife and first cousin) dominates the painting taking the central role with the hapless Carlos pushed to the side. She was apparently ruthless and the true power behind the throne (as well as being a raving nymphomaniac by all accounts!)

Who was the princess turning away from view? It was as if she looked the other way just when the photograph was taken! Why did Goya paint her that way? Was she gloriously ugly or painfully shy? And who was that lurking in the shadows?

As I stood amongst the crowd contemplating these questions (and many more) out of nowhere I heard this loud blurt of annoyed Spanish. I didn't realise that it was directed at me until I took my gaze away from the inside of my camera lens.

The museum official was quite polite about it but she was equally stern and loud. I didn't know there was a strict "no photo" policy.

It was all rather embarrassing!

Museo del Prado, Madrid
Museo del Prado, Madrid

I had walked in with my camera swinging around my neck without being challenged and I'm sure there weren't any visible signs. Thankfully a sincere apology was enough to stop security from frog marching me straight out of the Prado.

I behaved myself for the remainder of our visit ending up in the museum shop before we left so that we could buy postcards of our favourite paintings that I couldn't photograph.

It was now time for a spot of lunch. As we didn't fancy another bout of Mallorcan ring we headed out to find something less contagious.

Museo del Jamon Madrid We needed to be at Plaza del Colon by 1:30pm to pick up some tickets so we walked down the tree lined Paseo del Prado slowly back towards Cibeles.

Along the way we passed a memorial to those fallen victims of the 2nd May uprising in 1808, (painted so graphically by Goya).

We could have entered the park but we decided against loitering. Our hunger moved as along.

In no time we had reached the "square of the colon" (surely colon means something else in Spanish?).

Well, obviously it did!

The modern high rise block and the fountains had nothing to do with the colon but the Plaza was in fact a tribute to Christopher Columbus.

The Italian born explorer whose expedition to find the New World in 1492 was funded by Spain. He had already gone cap in hand to the royal courts of Portugal, Venice, and even England but it was Ferdinando II who stumped up the cash for his Carribean cruise.

It was his new found best friends who called him Cristóbal Colón; hence the name Plaza del Colón.

Plaza del Colon, Madrid

Perched high up on Colón's column was the man himself, looking west, hoping to see a way to India.

When he returned from his epic journey he didn't exactly deliver on his promise of untold riches. He was more renowned for introducing the potato, tobacco and syphilis to the old world. At least one treasure he did deliver was the opportunity for Spain to claim, conquer, colonise and pilfer these new lands.

Christopher Columbus, Plaza del Colon, Madrid

His claim to fame is of course discovering the Americas but he even failed in getting the continent named after him.

Possibly it was because to the day he died he still believed that he had reached the east coast of Asia and not a whole new continent.

A year after his death in 1506 a popular map maker Waldseemüller published a map naming the new continent America after a Florentine explorer called Amerigo Vespucci. He had followed a few years after Columbus' historical voyage but he demonstrated that these new lands couldn't possibly be east Asia.

monument to Christopher Columbus, Plaza del Colon, Madrid

We were looking for a ticket office located on Calle de Goya, which is the north side of Jardines del Descumbrimiento (the green space on Plaza del Colón). As I'm a vegetarian it may come as a shock that we were actually collecting tickets to a bull fight this evening.

I now feel I must justify myself. I wouldn't wish hypocrisy upon my head. (Aargh .. too late!)

I believe that all death is abhorrent yet I've paid money to witness the murder of a proud animal. I must confess that my desire to write about the experience was slightly stronger than my conscientious objection. The ego wins again.

But also and I do mean this quite sincerely, (although this may sound like a kop out), I felt it was an opportunity to put my vegetarianism to the test. My meat abstinence began as Julie's idea which I rolled with and have sustained it for 14 years; mostly because of how my beliefs have developed since. A dalliance with Buddhism fascinated me and taught me not to accept what I'm told to believe nor what I think I believe but to test my belief through experience. Then and only then will I know it to be true.

I may find myself getting caught up in all the excrement ... uh I mean excitement. I certainly do when I watch boxing. When Joe Calzaghe steps into that ring my persona changes and I'm in there rooting for him to knock his opponent's head off. I'm baying for blood. There must be a primeval core to us all. I'm interested in discovering if my caveman urges are more powerful than my self-imposed values. It will be an insight.

We eventually collected our tickets once this old guy talked at us at a rate of thousand Spanish words per minute. Three and a half thousand words later all I could say was "OK".

I don't think "Just give me the bloody tickets." would have gone down well.

To be fair he was only trying to explain everything but I'd already guessed by the 19:00 horas NOVILLADA PICADA SOL on the tickets that we were going to be sitting in the sun watching novices at seven o'clock this evening.

It was now 2:00pm and desperately time for lunch. Luckily the Hard Rock Cafe was right on the corner. I had heard that it's very popular with the Madrinellos but I didn't realise how popular! It was packed to the rafters. We were fortunate to get one of the last remaining tables in the back room.

Our waiter who disturbingly looked like a young Ricky Martin, (long hair and bandana phase) came and said "Hi, I'm Ricky! " I almost laughed out loud. I thought to myself "That's not your real name is it? You've just told everyone to call you Ricky because of your fixation with livin' la vida loca."

"I'm your waiter, anything you want just call on me" and off he salsa'd.

Hard Rock Cafe, Madrid

When he returned we put in our order for two veggie burgers, a portion of fries and a bowl of cheesy mash potatoes.

"You do know there's no meat in them, right?" he asked.

I turned to Julie and pulled an "eh??" face. The only sort of face you can pull when someone says something stupid. I couldn't believe that he felt he had to explain.

Do they actually get people complaining there's no meat in the vegetarian burger?!?

I also ordered a mojito. I was waiting for him to say "You do know there's rum in that, right?"

The food arrived remarkably quickly considering how busy it was and all was delicious; especially the refreshing mint infused mojito. It was the first time I had tasted the Cuban cocktail and it won't be the last!

When Ricky came to collect our plates he asked if everything was OK with the meal. We told him that it was very very tasty. He replied with a shocked squeak "Really?!?" He obviously didn't have much faith in the HRC veggie burger!

monument to Christopher Columbus, Plaza del Colon, Madrid
Back out on Plaza del Colón, whilst Julie sat in the shade of Christopher's column, I hotfooted it across the square to a couple of large concrete blocks.
Before I reached the modern memorials to Christopher Columbus I passed beneath what must have been the world's largest flag. Mi Dios! It was the size of Andorra! I would love that for my flag collection but I just couldn't imagine myself scampering up that flag pole to appropriate it.

I stood in front of the etched blocks trying to find any significance in the markings. From a distance they reminded me of the randomness of woodworm tracks but I don't think that was the artist's intention.

monument to Christopher Columbus, Plaza del Colon, Madrid

Or was it?

Perhaps there was there a subliminal "You don't know where you're going" taunt in there somewhere?

It was time for a siesta so we made our way back to our hotel.

There was a metro station beneath us here somewhere but despite the baking sun, for some inexplicable reason, we decided to walk back. We soon regretted not heading underground. It were as if the city had the characteristics of a storage heater, absorbing the heat and getting hotter. We struggled up Gran Via hill.

At the point where we would have emerged from the metro we turned down calle Montera hoping to find a convenience shop for some water. All we found were a string of sex shops and women leaning on every available lamppost. It was enough to make a poor country boy blush.

By the time we finally made it back to our hotel we were really exhausted. We fell into a deep sleep and, no matter how uncomfortable the bed was, we found it very difficult an hour later to peel ourselves from its embrace. It wasn't enough time to recharge.

We almost decided to call it off but I strangely wanted to go.

This was not my first bullfight. I was eleven years old when I first witnessed Spain's traditional pastime. It was 1978 and everyone who was anyone were spending their summer holidays on the Costas. My father was no exception and took me and my brother on our first overseas adventure to sunny Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol. I loved every minute of it (except for a terrible bout of the classic Spanish tummy!)

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

On one of our trips we visited the Plaza del Toros in Malaga.

There wasn't a spare seat in the bullring. We must have had one of the last; the cheap seats high up right at the back but even so I couldn't help get caught up in all the excitement, joining in with the "Ole!".

I thought it was the most thrilling spectacle I had seen. It beat sheepdog trials hands down! I wasn't upset either. In fact I clearly remember being fascinated by the ritual of the slaughter; the three acts, the Picador, the Banderillero, the Matador. I marvelled at their skill and bravery.

I wondered how different I would react this evening.

We caught the metro from Puerta del Sol which was a convenient five stops away from Las Ventas. We were cutting it fine to be there for 7pm.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Before going inside however we took our time to gaze at the beautiful Moorish architecture of Plaza del Toros de Las Ventas.

It's surprising to learn that it was only built in 1929 in a style described as neo-mudejar, aka mock-moor.

We made our way to our seats on tendidos 7, seat no. 7 & 8, front row. We couldn't get any closer to the action. I didn't know if i was pleased or alarmed!

Although to call them a seat would fail the trade description act. It was more of a concrete step. It only became a seat when we placed a leather cushion beneath our bottoms. These cushions, made from bull hide no doubt, were an extra few Euros but worth every cent. I wouldn't wish to add piles to my list of holiday illnesses.

It wasn't anywhere near full capacity this evening. I guess that's what happens when it's the novices turn to have a go.

The shaded side of the corrida was pretty well-represented by those in the know but our side, the ones wilting in the surprisingly still warm sun, only had a sprinkling of people.

We had just made it onto our cushions in time as all the performers of this elaborate sacrifice strutted out into the ring and made their way towards the presidential box for Caesar's approval. With a wave of his very important hand the adoring public were then given their opportunity to show approval as they circled the ring with an arrogance that only bullfighters and boxers seem to possess.

Having completed a full cycle of the ring the cast left the stage leaving behind only those who carried a bright pink cape. Decked in lycra and sparkling sequins they pranced around in what I can only by described as some air-bullfighting.

When the band tooted up they took up their positions.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Up to know I was enjoying the show but the harmless entertainment didn't last.

The gates opened, in tottered a hesitant bull and my stomach dropped. Poor Toro Bravado wasn't so much the fierce angry beast but a very insecure animal. He didn't know which way to turn. He just nervously stood in the centre of the ring, his head darting from left to right and back again. Then he shat himself.

I felt an immediate empathy.

"Run back inside and hide!" I felt like shouting but I managed to catch the words in my mouth before they slipped out.

Before the crowd got restless at the inaction two muppetdors in front of us edged their way into the ring, waving their pretty pink capes and shouting "Cooeey" at the bull.

Toro didn't like that one bit and soon forgot about his stage fright by charging for the camp clowns. The men in tights turned on their heels and scampered back to the safety of the barriers.

On the opposite side of the ring another two pantomime caped crusaders ventured out and hurled verbals at the bull. Off he flew, nostrils flaring, but by the time he had reached them they were safely tucked away behind the wall.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid
Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

This game of hide and seek continued until the bull was breathing heavily.

Then with Toro completely shattered two fat horse riders rode two blindfolded armoured horses into the ring. They held in their hands a lance, a long pole with a very sharp point.

The matadors guided the gullible bull towards the nearest horse. He stood six feet away. He seemed compelled to launched himself at the horse as if he was confused by the yellow and red tunic.

I had difficulty stopping the words "Don't do it!" from escaping.

My lips moved as I muttered to myself like a demented old man.

The picador was twisting the lance in and out with some vigour yet despite the weapon lodged deeply between his shoulders the bull continued to push hard against the side of the half-horse-half-tank, lifting the horse at one point.

What immense strength he must have to be able to do that. Back in the old days the horse wasn't protected at all and was often shockingly disembowelled.

Toro was having a good go.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

The matadors all gather around to encourage the bull to stop thrusting into the side of the horse and to chase them instead. This he did, but there was no chase left in him anymore.

With the his neck muscles now shredded and his black hulky frame heaving heavily it was now safe to get a bit closer, confident that the bull wasn't going to move quickly.

The difference was remarkable.

Minutes earlier the young bull was hurtling about like a beast possessed but now tired and injured he had become nothing more than a puppet controlled by the swish of a cape.

His more laboured movements were now restricted to charging at the empty cloak. He was made to look the fool.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid
Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Why does the bull charge the cape and not the man? I know it's nothing to do with the colour because they're colour blind.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

The second phase began when the banderillieros, armed with long sharp sticks, ran towards the bull, aiming for the gaping wound already gauged out by the picador.

The first one failed to connect but the next two stabbed their arrows into the vulnerable shoulders. Within a minute the fluffy white length of the banderillo was soaked blood red.

The crowd were entertained by the novice matador practicing his moves with a few "Ole" rippling around the bull ring.

"Go for the legs" I muttered, mouth moving like a demented old man; but the bull seemed incapable of doing anything else than chase the cape. Another "Ole".

Gravely weakened it was time for the final phase, the dance of death, as the executioner swapped his magenta pink cape for blood red, and collected a sword.

The Toro just stood there, loosing blood, hypnotised by the matador's peculiar wiggling and shuffling movement, only attempting to attack the cape when instructed.

A succession of swoops and step asides continued as the matador assessed the bull.

Before long the brave and fierce animal was now broken and humiliated. His head hung low, his eyes were gone. He stood inches away but made no attempt to charge.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid
Even when the matador had his back turned whilst arrogantly lapping up the applause, there was no will to fight anymore from the bull. It was time for the kill.
Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

A new sword was collected and at the same time the matador smeared his genitals in blood. Not directly on his bits and pieces but just in the general region of the nethers, if you know what I'm saying. What was all that about?

He stood directly in front of the bull and took aim at the critical spot to deliver the fatal incision deep into the heart and bring about a quick death.

He lunged forward and missed completely. The bull hadn't moved much but you could sense the fear in the matador's expression. At this close quarters, despite the bulls handicap of deep wounds draining his life away, the matador could still get caught by the bull's horns and be fatally wounded.

Death was imminent. My heart was pounding.

His second attempt was more decisive but the sword didn't penetrate as deeply as it should have. The brave and fierce Toro was now clinging on to life, still standing but hardly aware of anything. This was a slow and painful death. I was overwhelmed by the emotion. I felt sick and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried.

We all waited for the suffering to end but he was still holding on, refusing to take his final breath. The matador had to retrieve his sword and finish him off. This time there was no need for stealth nor bravery. He could simply step up to the bull, place the tip of the sword at the back of the head, and thrust it in.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Toro Bravados immediately fell to his knees. A banderillero administered a dagger through the skull to finally put him out of his misery. By now I was visibly shaking. This was the most barbaric act I'd ever witnessed. What were we doing here?

"That was terrible," said Julie "Are you OK ?"

"No, I feel sick. I don't think I can watch another one"

It had taken half an hour to kill a bull. How many do they go through in an evening? Three horses dragged the body out to a celebrational trumpet and fake whip crack accompaniment.

It was a remarkably quick turnaround. As we sat there in stunned silence another bull was sent rushing out into the ring. We should have left but we didn't.

This young bull (they're usual around four years old) was feistier than the first, with much more fight in him. He caught the pink capes a few times, caused the picador to struggle and was certainly livelier when the matador went in for the kill. He even managed to catch the matador and briefly trampled him underfoot.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

I thought my reaction would be to root for the bull and shout "hoorah!" but instead I was genuinely concerned about the twat in the sequins.

Plaza de Toros, Las Ventas, Madrid

Of course, despite all his strength and aggressiveness, his destiny with death was inevitable.

Perversely his courage brought about a more gruesome end to his life. After being trampled underfoot the hesitant matador got up and misplaced the fatal strike.

A little to the side and too far back the blade missed the heart, piercing the lungs instead. Within seconds blood came gushing out through the mouth, knees buckled as he staggered forwards in a final attempt at a charge. He ploughed his way into the earth, rolling over slightly, legs flailing in the air whilst a red fountain continued to spew out. He continued to struggle, drowning in his own blood, before the dagger through the skull brought it to an end.

"Let's go now" I said.

With our cushions tucked under our arms we made our way to the exit. We weren't the only ones leaving, there was a steady flow of people, traumatised tourists probably, or those who didn't appreciate the artistry, the passion, the glory and the tradition of the bullfight. Now I'm not going to attempt to persuade anyone differently.

All I can do is explain my own experience and my own conclusions and I personally feel it's time to stop this cruellest of sports. It is time to ban the bullfight. To perpetuate evil because of its tradition is no defence. It was once traditional to feed Christians to the lions, to publically execute the aristocracy or to hunt tigers to the point of extinction. As a race we are evolving but the bullfight harks back to a darker age of medieval values.

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Putting aside my belief that it's wrong to kill an animal to simply satisfy our greed, no matter how humane and cuddly the methods used, I don't think anyone could argue that torturing the bull to a slow and systematic death is a better way to die. To argue that the bull has been given the opportunity to die a glorious death is just ridiculous. As a blood sport a bull fight is more barbaric than any other banned across Europe. And to think that this is deemed entertainment enough to be televised as a real contest between man and cow. I'll stop now.

A little subdued we returned to Puerta del Sol.

Tio Pepe sign, Puerta del Sol, Madrid
Puerta del Sol, Madrid
It was such a beautiful evening we decided to sit outside a bar called Armenia and watch Madrid mooch by. A few beers and a bowl of nuts later the sun had set and our thoughts turned to tapas. Despite having researched all the guide books for places to eat we decided instead to ignore their guidance and wander the streets aimlessly.
 Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Venturing down a quiet side street called Calle Correo we sat down outside the first restaurant we came across. It looked really nice but we didn't stay long; surprisingly there wasn't any fish on the menu. That's a first because it's usually the awkward vegetarian most restaurants don't cater for.

After the embarrassment of doing a runner before the waiter returned to take our order we gravitated to the familiar bustling street of Calle de la Victoria.

We walked from door to door of the countless tapas bars checking their menus. They basically all had the same fayre on offer. There was nothing to choose between them.

Where the streets Victoria met Cruz we decided to stop at a tapas bar called Fatigas del Quirer. It was a wonderful little bar, with a lively atmosphere, great flamenco music, friendly waiter, (although he did think himself a bit of a cool dude; but that was more humorous than irritating.)

After ordering our food I went for a walk towards the back of the bar to take a picture of the band that was filling the room with this infectious music. I soon had to pretend I was looking for the toilet when I realised there wasn't band here at all. The crystal clear p.a. system had me fooled. I could have sworn it was live music!

(I do hope nobody notice me enter the toilets with a camera!)

tapas bar, Calle de la Victoria, Madird
tapas bar, Calle de la Victoria, Madird

When I returned to the table a whole tortilla Espanyol was waiting for me. When I say "whole" I mean the full frying pan, a complete circle of potato omelette. It was a huge serving.

I had munched 270 degrees of my tortilla by the time Julie's portion of prawns arrived which was another generous amount. This was certainly the place for healthy appetites.

Similar to last night the sequence the food arrived at our table was completely random. Once I had cleared my plate of omelette the Patatas Dos Salsas arrived. A delicious bowl full of fried potato with a spicy tomato sauce (bravas) and the garlic mayonnaise sauce (alioli).

"We should have ordered two of these" said Julie, not wanting to share. It was so delicious and comforting we could have eaten this all night.

I wasn't finished though. The final dish of Tostas Quesos Curado Quejas then arrived. It was a cheese similar to pecorino on toast and was really tasty.

I felt full and tired which was not a good combination for when I had to run down Calle Cruz to Plaza de Canalejas to find the nearest ATM. The Fatigas del Quierer did not accept any cards. Considering the portion sizes, the quality and that it was €10 less than last night it was exceptional value.

We made our way back home, stopping along the way at Bar Armenia for a final drink before getting to our hotel by 1am.

Before we got to sleep Julie was struck by a severe stomach pain. So bad was her pain we almost considered phoning for a doctor. Whilst we joked that it was probably wind, we were both quite worried. Fortunately Julie's fatigue was stronger than her pain and we eventually fell asleep.

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