Awe-inspiring architecture, the stories behind the buildings, the sumptuous food from the world’s oldest restaurant, sipping a drink while matching moves to the beat of flamenco, Madrid charms are many.
Photo by Dodo
“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night,” so said Ernest Hemingway. I decide to wait to get to the capital of Spain before taking his kill-the-night diktat seriously. For the time being, on the fivehour- long Delhi-Istanbul-Madrid flight, I spurn the billur kebab, baklava and chocolate/ hazelnut mousse cake, pull a grey blanket over myself and curl up on the 75-inch flat bed. I dream of Madrid. I am sitting with Hemingway in his favourite Section 9 of Las Ventas Bull Ring and Juan Belmonte, the greatest matador of all times, is moving towards the burly bull. The crowd is clamouring and all of Madrid is resonating with the clatter of the sport. The bull snorts, my heart stops and I wake up. I see the pretty stewardess with strawberry-red cheeks and gold-thread-like hair standing with kehva in her hand.
Soon, I step into an almost insomniac Madrid. Forget sleep, the Spanish capital looks like it has just woken up. Spaniards are swarming in pubs and cafes, they are tapas-hopping for olives strung on toothpicks, fried aubergines, bread topped with cheese and ham, cold meats, all washed down with beer or sangria. Everywhere history is evident in the Romanesque monuments with baroque ornaments, modernism looks ornate in the upscale and lively Gran Via, and beautiful balconies add intrigue to Plaza Mayor, the city’s central square. There are stories about painter Salvador Dali walking around in long coat and waxed moustache; of Ava Gardner dancing the flamenco on table tops; of Hemingway sipping sherry in tall, slim glasses. Stories that could fill a thousand coffee table books. In Madrid, there’s the roasted suckling pig to die for and there are countless museums to see. Madrid does not sleep. One should not be sleeping either.
Well, I am not sleeping. Blame it on tall, lithe Joanna Wivell, the insider’s guide to Madrid; she meticulously plans personalized tours. A Brit who fell in love with Spain, Wivell is a fascinating guide — one moment she stumps you with almost encyclopaedic answers to questions about the city; the next she shrugs her shoulders and pirouettes like a consummate flamenco dancer. Two days is all I have in Madrid and from this moment on I decide to do all things Spain-specific.
“Let’s begin with tablao flamenco,” Wivell says animatedly. Tablaos are contemporary nightclubs where flamenco is performed on a raised wooden stage and drink/dinner can be an accompaniment. We walk down to the old city and step into Tablao las Carboneras, a small restaurant with dim lighting, minimal décor, and sumptuous food. But everything pales when three lissome women in brown/black/beige outfits break into rhythmic, rapid footwork, they slap their thighs and men in black start singing the guttural cante. The footwork is so frenzied that it seems that the wooden stage will give way. The flamenco dancer in brown hits the crescendo and I become oblivious to the tortillas de patatas (egg omelette with fried potatoes), gazpacho (cold soup), polvoron (Spanish shortbread) and fabada asturiana (bean stew) laid on the table. Once the stage falls silent and the applause dies, I dig into the traditional Spanish dishes.
The next morning I choose to kick the dust in Madrid. This time with football at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the mecca for Real Madrid fans. Swift elevators take you to the top for a panoramic view of the famed stadium. Empty seats stare at me, while I plonk myself on a corner seat, heady with the imagined adrenaline of Real Madrid footballers on the green turf. Next thing, I walk down the staircase into the Trophy Room which is cluttered with big, small, colossal trophies. From the Presidential Balcony, the view is spectacular, and from the player’s dug-out, the grass greener. I miss a heartbeat at the sight of David Beckham, looking dapper, beads of perspiration running down his face, in a large photograph.
I gape at Zinedine Zidane like what seems like forever. My hours in Madrid are vanishing too quickly and I have barely seen all that I want to. I stand in front of St Jerome Church and beseech the Lord for an extra spring in my gait. How else can I see Francisco de Goya’s famous painting The Nude Maja in Prado Museum and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica that hangs permanently in Reina Sofia Museum? How can I run breathless amidst the geraniums in El Retiro Park? How can I walk past the statue of El Angel Caido, possibly the only statue in Europe dedicated to Satan? Or buy myself an umbrella in Casa de Deigo that has been selling the finest umbrellas since 1858? How can I run to San Miguel market with its imposing wood-and-iron roof and pick scrumptious bocadillos of roast beef? And, of course, how can I not meet Cervantes and Don Quixote, who stand sculpted in Plaza de Espana?
In Madrid, my itinerary is spilling with must-dos and my feet are sore with walking. In Plaza Mayor, I sit by the bronze statue of King Philip III and take a long breath. Hemingway was right. The only thing to do in Madrid is kill the night. For the languorous walk in the Plaza Mayor. For the heady sangria. For Picasso’s Guernica. For the red poppies. For roast suckling pig in Botin. For high tea under the painted glass dome in the 100-year-old Westin Palace. Beyond everything, for the ghost of Hemingway.
There are several flights to Madrid; one option is Turkish Airlines which has daily connecting flights to Madrid from Delhi and Mumbai.
WHAT TO SEE
Prado Museum, Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace, La Almudena Cathedral, Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid) football stadium, Las Ventas bull ring. Take a day-trip to Segovia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
WHERE TO STAY
The Westin Palace
Gran Melia Felix
By Supreet Cheema
About the author
Supreet loves to travel and getting into the skin of the destination. Active on travel forums, she likes to read and dance in her free time.