Islamic terror ... Lanta style

Islamic terror ... Lanta style
My neighbour Hutyee Boat
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Friday, July 30, 2010

Magic of Madrid

After a week of almost endless partying in Valencia, it was time to get back on the road again and so I found myself travelling to Madrid by train, slightly the worse for wear after The Cult's gig the night before, on a gloriously sunny afternoon.
Suddenly, I was alone again, after four and a half weeks surrounded by new friends in San Seb, a week with Brid and her extended Spanish family in Peniscola, and another week in Cian and Marie's Valencian pad.
Suddenly, too, life was an open book again. I didn't have a return ticket to Ireland, all I knew was that I had four nights booked in a Madrid hotel, and everything seemed uncertain. And I loved that feeling!
Some people tell me they could never travel alone. For me, of course, it's always great to spend time with friends or family or loved ones, but there is a great feeling of freedom associated with getting on a bus or a train on your own, without knowing what's at the other end of the journey.
There is no pressure to drink or to party, you can have the quietest night in or walk ten miles through unfamiliar city streets according to a whim. While specific projects have been really important to my gap year (four months in Koh Lanta, becoming a Divemaster; four and a half weeks in San Sebastian, learning Spanish; and still to come, my volunteer project in Nicaragua) I haven't minded my times on my own.
I don't think I could travel endlessly for 12 months, wich is why I've tried to put down temporary roots in Koh Lanta, San Sebastian, and, in September, Granada, but life on the road challenges me in a way that sitting at home in my home town never could.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that we are all different, and yet we can all suffer from loneliness from time to time. But I know I could feel just as alone in a crowded late night bar in Galway on a Saturday night as I did pounding the streets of Madrid, not knowing a soul.
Anyway, I made my way across Madrid to book into my superb hotel, Antigua Posada Del Pez. Located in a quiet side street in Malasana, just five minutes from the action of Gran Via, it was a gem, with a spacious room, unbelievably quiet, and free wi-fi.
Malasana is a funny area, with lovely (and cheap) ethnic restaurants, alcoholics gathered round a square and 'ladies of the night' on street corners, within just minutes of Puerto del Sol and the tourist heart of the city.
Having unloaded my huge rucksack, I took a stroll around town, only to come across a free concert on the terrace of Teatro Royal, featuring Placido Domingo, who had earlier featured in an operatic show inside.
Standing beside him was the Queen of Spain, Sofia, whose arrival was greeted with ecstasy by the gathered hordes. I might not be much of a fan of the royals in any country, must be the Irish rebel in me, but my darling niece Sofia is called after this particular monarch and I was kicking myself that I'd left my camera back in the hotel.
Later the same night, an all female group from a college of music in Portugal treated a large crowd to a thrilling, free concert on Calle Arenal. Suddenly no longer feeling in any way alone, I was heartened to strike up a conversation with two women in their 70s who were bopping to the music at 1 a.m. Madrid really is a late night place.
The next few days were spent exploring the heart of the city on foot. It's amazing how much you can cover in four or five hours.
I spent five hours in the Museo del Prado, the highlight of which was Goya's massive anti-war murals depicting scenes from the Spanish uprising (against the French) two centuries ago.
The following day, I was equally enthralled by the Reina Sofia Museum, featuring photos from the deprived streets of New York in the 1980s, Picasso's massive 'Guernica', and a host of surrealist paintings by Dali and company. Madrid truly is one of the great cities of the world.
It was 37 degrees each day during my visit, but I didn't find the heat too repressive. Perhaps I've become accustomed to it after five months in South East Asia.
I found Madrid to be a friendly, lively place; and nothing like the place I'd conjured up in my mind from years of listening to tales of Basque repression. O.k., I will never cheer for Real Madrid, Franco's team, but as is so often the case, the perceived 'enemy' didn't seem to be so bad once I got to know them!


  1. Know what you mean about the freedom of travelling alone - to wander, or chill, to sit and stare, to party or not to party.

    Also, it's a bit of a misnomer, because in my experience, you're only alone as long as you want to be. There's is always company available, and sometimes it can even be quite hard to avoid company. Sometimes people latch onto a lone traveller because they envy his/her peace and self-containedness ... bad word, good state of being.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Charlie. On the night train to La Coruna last night, I was the only foreigner in a carriage of four and the others were keen to talk to me.

    After wandering around the town today, I was wondering what the hell I'm going to do here for the next six days. I don't know a soul.

    Then it dawned on me ... that's exactly why I'm here. The place is close in Spirit to Ireland and the Celtic lands, it's 25 degrees rather than the 35 in Madrid or Valencia, and it has some beautiful beaches. I'd forgotten that part of my aim for this trip is just to practice my Spanish or simply read a few books.

    Hope the summer in Galway is treating you well. It's the first one I can rememeber in which I wasn't at home for the Arts Festival, the hurling, or the horses, and I can't say I miss any of them.

    This year has taught me a lot about myself and if I do go back to my old life in Galway, I think I will face into it with a lighter heart. The worst thing we can do in life is dream of adventures (or any aims) without trying to fulfil them.

  3. Absolutely. Race Week finished, usual hat stuff and sweaty nonsense. I ended up avoiding it by heading to inis Mor and Clifden, followed by a real bone fide Irish night in a pub Mountbellew. Hadn't drunk so much for months, years, and went into toxic shock hangover on Sunday. I barely drink at all these days, and in my efforts to escape the madness of Race Week I rediscovered that old 'the craic'll get ye anyway ' thang.

    Still, it was fun to mosey around Co. Galway.

    Enjoy not knowing anyone. I bet you know someone by now anyway. Dream on mate, live them breathe them. Smart man.

  4. Have to say I'm drinking far less this year, too, but I kind of have to anyway when I look at my budget for 2010. Sometimes there is nothing like a good impromptu and unplanned 'seisiun'.

    Don't know how or why you ended up in Mountbellew (Charlie, your life really is bizarre!) but I know the place well because both of my folks come from that area. And it can be a wild place.

    My Granny, who is 96 this year, lives just down the road in Caltra, where people don't lock their doors, visiting neighbours is still a sacred ritual, and drunks are 'characters'. Now, that's the real Ireland!

  5. If you have family in Caltra then you'd know the Cunniffes, and Anthony was my boss and is now my good friend. It was great to sit back on my barstool and watch the lads and the landlady of the pub talk animatedly about Roscommon's chances against Cork with the same passion that I might talk about the 'English game'.

    And yes, my life is bizarre, hallelujah yahoo, and taken from you, my peripatetic pal, that's a compliment!