I’m currently in Madrid, whilst the GF transacts “important business”. I don’t ask, but it seems it gives me a fair amount of free time, as I’ve been banished from the hotel until Sunday whilst she studies.
I chose a nice Tryp on the Gran Via (the Tryp Menfis), and apart from the fact that it seems to be full of smokers, it’s not bad. We’re up on the eight floor, with a nice view over some rooftops and a market. Decent size room and a gym completes the offering.
First of all, let me say that the Android phone has proven itself to be a capable travelling companion. It was there for me with music, communication, email, internet hotspotting and GPS throughout the voyage. Yes, when you’re bluetoothing music, downloading emails and GPSing the battery only last a couple of hours, but I connected it via cable to the Mazda’s Parrot and off we went, without a hitch. In fact, I’m currently posting to you via a portable inbuilt hotspot that it’s emitting here in the hotel.
And it’s a godsend when you get lost in the city. It even coped with Madrid’s horrendous tunnel system, switching almost seamlessly from GPS to mobile mast triangulation to keep telling me where we were. If I were better at taking directions, we wouldn’t have gotten lost once. Even I couldn’t blame the phone for me missing the exit and hitting a nasty traffic jam at a critical moment.
It’s been a few years since I was last in the capital city, but I was looking forwards to a few days there. I used to enjoy flying up on the weekends and spending a few pennies out on the lash with mates.
Now, I’m not sure if Madrid has changed, or if I have, but somethings are certainly different than the last time I was up here.
For a start, I don’t remember quite so many beggers, thieves and whores on the street. It’s like some sort of epic fantasy capital, loosely based on 16th century Europe. And once you leave El Corte Ingles, it gets even worse in the street.
Seriously, in one trip around the menswear department, looking for the Pedro de Herrero section, I was accosted six times by different salesgirls desperate to help me. This sales technique, in my case, is counter productive, as it meant I fled empty handed.
Near the Puerta del Sol are some four or five El Corte Ingles buildings. All of them have those large rows of push open doors. Every second door had a large African dressed in rags, opening the doors for people, bowing their heads and holding out a folded newspaper whilst whispering “¿tienes algo, señor?” Off putting, to say the least. Plus, the whole street was absolutely full of beggars. I must have counted upwards of 50 beggers in three streets, despite the huge police presence (they’re everywhere).
Striking up from the Gran Via, I started to hunt for a restaurant I was advised to visit, in the streets just behind Gran Via. That is, in the centre of the city. At, I hasten to add, about 5:45 pm.
I first realised something was strange when a woman, who I suspect wasn’t born a woman, casually leaning against a lamppost chatting to a friend, broke off her (his?) conversation to give me a large wink and a husky “hola, guapo“. Yes, I admit it was impolite to stare at her moustache, but rarely have I ever seen a person who so closely matches the short fat cross-dresser in Little Britain (the one with a large brown mustache, you know).
Coughing I pushed onwards, but quickly noticed more ladies of the night -most of them, from the flesh on display, really were women- spotting a potential target and homing in on me. Must have been 5 or 6 after me. Fortunately, I had my umbrella cum walking stick on me, and scattered them like chickens.
Heading round into a main avenue that leads back to the Gran Via, I found a tearful woman explaining to two coppers exactly how the nasty man on a motorbike had stoled her handbag.
And round the next corner, a small child tried to sell me a map. Hah! I remember, over 10 years ago, being with some friends, probably in the next street, and one of them almost losing his mobile and wallet to the same scam. The child pushes the maps at you, whilst at the same time relieving you of the contents of your pockets. My trusty umbrella quickly sent her off in tears, empty handed.
Finding an old bar on the corner, full of old men, I entered and ordered a quick one to calm the nerves. I got chatting to the owner, who was also the chap behind the bar, and from the looks of him not only remembered Franco’s days, but the time before Franco’s days.
He spotted I wasn’t a local, and asked where I was from. We got chatting.
“Strange people out there” I told him.
“I remember” he replied glumly, “when las putillas out there were discrete. My mother, god bless her soul, could walk up and down that street, a good catholic woman, and not see a thing to shock her, but they were there, and they were polite. It’s only in the last 10 years that these immigrants have turned up, scaring away good decent Spanish women, and they aren’t good catholics”.
I’m not sure if buena catolica means something else in Madrid when applied to a lady of negotiable affection – does prostitution and catholicism go hand in hand? – but he seemed to know what he meant. He sighed, spat into a spitoon in the corner, refilled my plate full of crisps and went off to moderate a dispute in the domino game.
Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, Madrid’s Gran Via tourist traps are still much cheaper than Mojacar. A beer, with a nice tapa, is €1,35, at a touristy place on the Gran Via. Go one block back, it’s €1,10. Amazing. I not sure about the prostitutes.

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