Young Pretenders & Old Masters

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November 8th 2014
Published: November 9th 2014
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There were transport choices for the return leg to Madrid. The price of the Avanza bus secured it's nomination and the fact that the Estacion del Sur Bus Station was closer to our hostal destination near the Grand Via than the "Sean Martin" Rail hub in the north of the city. The bus pulled away from Avila along the empty motorway and made the descent down from the altitude to the capital. The European contribution of funds seems to have created a vast network of very superior motorways, which the majority have either no interest in or no money to use. Traffic built on the outskirts of Madrid, before we disappeared into the tunnel system that is the western by-pass. I was pleased I wasn't driving. We emerged near a huge El Cortes Ingles, before submerging into the Bus Station. I made a move to put my wallet in a front pocket now we were in the big city. I thrust my hand further into the empty pocket in search of the offending article. It was gone! I could have dropped it, but I put my bet on the two characters in the queue behind me at the ticket counter in Avila Bus Station. The good news was that it only contained a 5 Euro note, a couple of loose pound coins and a few random pieces of paper. I now also have a man looking after an Iceland loyalty card too - and I wasn't that loyal. They are probably still trying to use it as a credit card.

After the disappointment of the loss, we boarded the Metro for Grand Via. The hostal was on the 4th floor in a large square 5 minutes from the Metro and just off Calle Hortaleza. Cale Hortaleza was a sea of humanity at all times of the day and night and a permanent traffic jam. It was a draw for bar life and alternative shopping, way from the usual chains that lined the larger streets. We waited a few minutes for the room to become available deposited our stuff and checked out the view across the Square. Do You Want to Sleep With Me? was the slogan emblazoned across the otel on the opposite side. The cold and damp weather of the last few days had disappeared and it was arguably too hot, as we made our way out.

Madrid seemed unrecognisable from our last visit in 1999. It somehow didn't feel familiar at all, except for the fact that great portions are just faceless office buildings or Government departments. We set of on a self guided walking tour with the ultimate idea of being at the Prado for the free entry time. We ended up in Parque del Retiro, the largest green space in the city area and inside a couple of satellite art spaces being sponsored by the Reina Sofia. The Prado opened it's doors for free at 6 pm so we were in plenty of time to get a reasonable place in the queue at 5.15. The late comers grew increasingly agitated as they walked past, as it had grown 5 fold by this time. A Prado member of staff tapped her computer as she walked down the line, suggesting it might take sometime to get all the numbers inside before closing at 8 pm. If the good people in charge of tickets at Chamartin Station were on the counters, midnight would be a reasonable bet! I passed the time talking to a man from Mexico, doing Europe as the say, in between visiting his son a few times in Amsterdam where he was now in charge of a marketing world for some corporate.

The speed of entry was a surprise and we soon inside viewing the many masterpieces. I paintings are your thing, there is no doubt this is a must see not just in Madrid but in all the world. You ar bombarded from room to room with all the greats. I came out still thinking I prefer the odd Lowry. They somehow just mean more, when you've seen industry most of your life. We retreated back to base to change and were soon people watching with a beer and a snack just off Hortaleza. The bargain drinks of Salamanca were but a distant memory, although the huge plate of free food in the El Tigre bar on the main drag more than compensated for the 2.50 Euros beer price. We bought a large bottle of Mahou and watched the world go by from our balcony ............. and believe me it goes on quite late.

The next day we took an alternative self guided walk in the direction of the Royal Palace. We stopped for a coffee in the backstreets of the Malasana area behind Grand Via. This is the Shorditch of Madrid, with lots of Bohemian looking people, street art and interesting coffee bars. We watched a drive refix his front bumper into place as thoug it was the most normal of things to do on yor way to work. The shops were unusual and obscure and we discovered that Madrid's population ar happy to pay silly prices for dog coats to keep their pooch warm in winter - many different sizes available.

The mime artists were all out in force by the Royal Palace. Gangs of young kids were trying to pull distraction tricks in the park nearby. We moved on towards Plaza Major, which was inconveniently coated in scaffolding. Once again, it was no Salamanca. We tried to recollect the bar where we'd spent an evening on the previous visit without success. Sol, a few minutes away, is now Vodfone Sol. The El Cortes Ingles here is a bit of a jumble sale. A different day a different free museum. We caught the Metro to be closer to the Reina Sofia when it opened it's doors for free at 7 pm. We nipped in the Atocha Rail Station first, which does a good line in a tropical garden if you are passing. Will it catch on at St Pancras?

The Reina Sofia is to modern art what the Prado is to the old masters. We were therefore a bit wary of the queue for this entry. I checked with door staff that we would be standing in the right place. She nodded. Will there be a queue? She paused and confidently advised not. She was wrong. The lady behind had been in a similar place at the Prado queue. She was doing Europe from Toronto, but had taken a side trip to Morroco..........always want to go there, she confirmed. A man in Marrakesh is currently looking after her iphone, so the general idea was that she wasn't as keen as before. Reina Sofia is full of Picassos and Salvador Dali works. I preferred the black and white photos from the Civil War. We retreated for drinks and tapas off Hortaleza. The usual evenin ritual followed and we took our large bottle of Mahou to the counter at our local Carrefour Express. Did you know tha they can't sell beer after 10 pm? Amazing, given that most locals don't even think about going out for a drink until after that! A helpful local pointed out the nearest Chinese shop would sell it at any time of day or night and pointed the way to the said venue round the corner. The Mahou is our possession (at a slightly inflated price), we retreated to our balcony.

You've probably noticed the lack of football report in these Spainish blogs. Athletico unhelpfully were kicking off on a lunchtime Sunday, which didn't fit in with our flight schedule. It was a nothing match, but it seems from the elevated ticket prices that money can still be found to watch to football. There was little activity near their ticket office, except for grandma trying to sell season tickets. The other half didn't quite believe that a motorway dual carriageway ran under the Main Stand - there was plenty of activty on that. In contrast at Real bus loads roll up just to visit the Museum! They were missing the point - the League champions and their museum were elsewhere in Madrid. I know some that would say that is the power of looking like Leeds United. The area of Salamanca - home to Real - is all wide boulevards and shopping centres. The shopping experience is almost American without the parking, but a world away from further downtown. We pondered a retro furniture fair on one complex, where Fase lights were a comparitive steal. The G Plan selection on the other hand would make some of my friend's parents enough to strip the house contents and retire all over again. I bought a lead to download from the camera to the tablet in El Cortes Ingles and we went to Mranda's museum of choice - Sorolla Museum.

Saturday afternoon is free. Bonus. No - good planning! In amongst the office blocks of Salamanca, an old mansion of the time exists. It was Sorolla's family home. The greatest living artist as he was described? Did they ever say that abot Picasso? An opportunist, who exhibited at home and abroad, Sorolla knew the market for making money. It is a nice home. The paintings are very liveable. You could put them on the wall........... and if it is all too much after seeing the masters elsewhere, the grounds are lovely.

A few hours later we were on or balcony watching the Saturday night drama unfold. At 8.30 the following morning as headed to the Metro to catch our flight, the party had only just finished and the alcohol fueled debris of humanity of Madrid were just working out how to go home!

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