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Web Log Archive

Postings 1 to 10.

Log #10. Cigarettes

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. This report comes through a heavy haze of smoke. Madrid-Uno is in a dedicated republic of smoking. Even non-smokers in Madrid smoke, two cigarettes at the weekend doesn't count you see. Fags out of machines cost from 2.15 euroweenies for your local brands (beware those that go by the name of 'Ducados' for they are the 'Gitanes' of Spain) to 2.90 euroweenies for Marlboro. If you buy from kiosks or Tabacarias take 15% off these prices. If you're in a club add 15%. All bars and restaurants will advertise if smoking is permitted or not. Few are not. Not are few. errr. Sorry, all this smoke is making Madrid-Uno dizzy. So here's a gratuitous link to the Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades, based in good 'ole Georgia, USA - Si la mayoría de los jóvenes no fuma ¿Por qué lo harías tú? Dudes, Madridleños aren't listening.

Log #9. Parking in Madrid Part II - A New Hope

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. Further to super fascinating Log No.2, Madrid-Uno has now found somewhere to park for free. And it's only a good twenty minute walk, from Chamartin station, which is 25 minutes by metro, which is 5 minutes from my house. AAAARRRGGGHHHLLLE. Anyways, left it in a zone called Condado de Trevino, bought a nice fresh empanada from the local grocers on the way home, left for 1 week. Came back, completely unscratched and safe, except covered in red dust like it had been on the Paris-Dakar. Scribbled 'wash-me' on the back window, left it there since. More exciting parking episodes to come!

Condad de Trevino, Madrid, office blocks M30 ring looking north at Chamartin exit.

Log #8. Watching the World Cup at Plaza Colon

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. The television station 'Cuatro' have erected a couple of giant screens in Plaza Colon to broadcast Spain's matches in the World Cup so Madrid-Uno went on down to watch a group stage match against Saudi Arabia. Even though Spain had already qualified, having won their two previous games, there's a good turnout, with would be spectators spilling over into the rather busy roads that run alongside the square and having to be coralled in by policemen and security guards. Apart from some lucky people in the VIP section the crowd is very young (the majority 14 to 18 years it would appear), very energetic and covered in red and yellow face paint. Madrid-Uno did force his way into the centre of the melee but lasted about 5 minutes before the buffeting and intense heat (the match is being played at 2.00pm local time) forced him back out onto the fringes.

Spain supporters at Plaza Colon Moments after Spain score against Saudi Arabia
Spain, fielding virtually a second team, totally dominated possession and were leading 1-0 by the break courtesy of a header by Juanito. When the ball went in the net the Plaza went completely bonkers. Madrid-Uno, now on the edge of the scrum, got a good overview of the madness. Drinks, (plastic) glasses, newspapers, shirts, caps, small girls - all were thrown into the air, accompanied by a guttural roar and then chants of 'ES-PAN-YA! ES-PAN-YA!' Unfortunately for the crowd that's how the scored stayed in the second-half as well, although not for want of shots with the Saudi goalie, Mabrouk Zaid, having to produce a string of saves from Albelda, Fabregas, Reyes, Raul, Torres, Villa and Lopez. This meant lots of oohing and aahing, heads in hands moments and a constant bubbling excitement but without any release for the eager fans. Madrid-Uno escaped a few minutes before the final whistle and treated himself to a cooling cerveza on the way back to base.

Log #7. El Corte Inglés

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. In pursuit of a new tarjeta for Madrid-Uno's mobile phone (so he can make local calls on local tariffs) Misterio leads us into the big El Corte Inglés department store on Goya. El Corte Ingles logo This national chain of stores dominates Spanish retailing, selling almost everything you can think of, either in large multi-format department stores (like the one we're in today), in smaller specialist shops (there's a furniture ECI just up the road from here), in out-of-town hypermarkets (Hipercor / Supercor) or online. It's kind of like Tesco, Selfridges and Marks & Sparks rolled into one. Other offshoots of El Corte Inglés include 'Viajes El Corte Inglés' (a travel agency), 'Opencor' (upmarket convenience stores), 'Informática El Corte Inglés' (IT services), 'Sfera' (clothing), and 'Bricor' (DIY stores). To give you an idea of the size of this operation, in the fiscal year ended February 2006, group revenue was just under 16 billion euroweenies. Our man at the counter is clearly new and is sweating a bit when we grill him about pay-as-you-go tariffs but eventually we settle on a Telefonica Movistar card. Later that evening, at closing time, we see lots of people hanging around the staff entrance. The reason for this gathering becomes clear when the staff themselves, mostly still in the green / grey uniform of the shop, come streaming out. The groups are waiting for their ECI worker friends before going out to party. Bien, claro.

Log #6. Retiro Park

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. This evening Misterio decided to show Madrid-Uno the Parque del Buen Retiro, which is just a short stroll from his flat. The 'Park of the Pleasant Retreat' is right in the centre of the city and covers about 350 acres (118 hectares). It's a pleasant place, scruffy around the edges but with a lot of charm and loads of exhibits and diversions dotted about. Lots of Madrilenos stroll around here in the late evening during the summer because it's cool with the shade of the trees and water-fountains and little lakes keeping temperatures down. Rollerblading is popular and there's lots of light petting in the shadows. Young love, ahhhhhh.

Estanque del Retiro looking towards the statue of Alfonso XII Retiro gardens

At its heart is the Estanque del Retiro, a large artificial lake (little row boats available) and the Mausoleum of Alfonso XII, featuring a statue of same. At night, at least during the summer months, loads of hippy artist types gather around this area and play drums (tambores), socialise and chill 'man'. At weekends there's free entertainment for kids (from late afternoon) with street theatre and clowns etc. - highly recommended for tiring out little ones in time for bed. There's the Palacio de Cristal, a glass pavilion inspired by The Crystal Palace in London, the El Angel Caído, a statue in honour of Lucifer, the fallen angel, and the Bosque de los Ausentes, a memorial to commemorate the victims of the 2004 Madrid attacks, to discover as well.

Log #5. The Madrid Metro System

Let's go down - down to the underground. The Madrid Metro is very well run, generally tidy and the carriages are clean. You get buskers in the tourist area stations and there are escalators too, just like London. Metro Station sign It's only 1 Euro for 1 viaje (trip) and that trip can be wherever you want - 1 stop or 30. There's also a ten-trip carnet option or a monthly pass option but at the moment I'm too embarassed with my Spanish (or, let's admit it, too scared) to try and ask for one at the ticket office. Some of the larger stations also boast video screens to keep commuters occupied and some of the newer stations (they're still adding routes and lines as I write) are quite space age - you know, lots of tinted glass, whizzy lifts and neon signs and stuff. Apparently it's the second largest metro network in Europe after London at about 280 km with 280 stations. The UrbanRail.net website has some good info about it if you want to know more.

Log #4. Whirlwind Introduction

My arrival seems to have precipitated a veritable whirlwind of parties, drinks sessions, meetings and encounters, unless this is how the locals live normally, it's hard to fathom. Misterio's and Z-Man's friends are all incredibly generous and despite getting plastered four nights in a row I've barely had to put my hand in my pocket. I'll try and blog some of the places and zones later, right now I'm still trying to get accustomed and acclimatised. It's scorchio hot during the day so despite the late hours (and I REALLY mean late - we're finishing at 4.00 to 5.00 am every night) we're usually up at 8.00am to go to work (in my friends cases) or do shopping and flat-hunting (in my case) while it's still cool. Then, from midday onwards we're doing the siesta thing 'til about 4.00pm, followed by finishing work before the fiesta starts again. They're bloody bionic these chaps I tell you. I must admit I'm sneaking the odd catnap in now and then to restore the batteries in order to keep pace. Will I make it as a Madrileño I wonder? Because right now the answer is in the balance. I had a nice big fluffy duvet, a big screen TV and a fairly ordered life in London. Now, I appear to be in the party capital of the world where sleeping is for wimps and everyone dances salsa into the wee hours - including the oldsters. You can tell this is a safe city because you'll be walking down a dimly lit calle at like 2.00 in the morning and you'll come across a pair of geriatric lovers winding their way home and they don't jump at the site of a drunken red-eyed unshaven you. In the UK all our nans and grandads are at home before nightfall lest they have to face the yobs that patrol our own darkened streets.

Log #3. Current Lodging

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. While I look for a suitable flat to stay I'm staying at Z-man's place in Diego de Leon which is Salamanca barrio (I think). It's a family-oriented and very middle-class area with lovely apartment buildings, lots of little specialist shops, tiny bars, cafeterias and restaurants. He has an exterior flat, i.e. he has a balcony that looks out on to the street, and these are traditionally more sought after (and therefore more expensive) than the interior flats. Most apartment buildings in Madrid are divided up this way.

Madrid skyline Looking down to the street

Property prices in Madrid have been sky-rocketing over the last ten years, someone mentioned to me a figure of 20% annual inflation which beats even the UK's bubblicious market, so it's getting harder and harder for young people to get on the 'property ladder'. This has led, apparently, to much more renting which is a relatively new development for Madrileños. Still, it's good for me and I must say that the prices I am being quoted while looking for a flat haven't been all that bad. Certainly, in comparison to the exorbitant rate I was paying for a shit-hole in Tuffnell Park (complete with chavs, hooded monsters and pissed-up aggressive Irishmen representing local 'colour') the rates here are reasonably cheap - though not as good as I got during my year stay in Milano. Of course, I am still converting my pounds savings into euros and the general salary scale here is far lower than London so it's all relative.

Log #2. Parking in Madrid Part I - Attack of the Clones

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. Looks like bringing the car was a bad move. I thought this city would be like Rome or Milan where you can basically park anywhere so long as you don't block the road. I've seen some of the most expert parking in Milano where they can slot a Fiat 500 into a space barely big enough for a moped, and do so in 10 seconds flat. Hell, sometimes they park in the middle of the road. Being latino and everything I figured the Spaniards would be the same, but no, these Madrileños are much more organised and much less 'pazzo'. Everywhere within the M30 ring-road is controlled parking, with green slot lines representing one hour on the meter and blue lines two hours, although you are allowed to feed the meter and it's not quite as expensive as London - but then where is? At the moment I'm alternating between rushing downstairs every so often to slot another 2 Euros in (=2 hours parking) and using the underground car-parks but this can only be a temporary measure, not least because I'm running out of change.

Log #1. Arrival

¡Hola! ¿Qué Tal?. Where am I? What's going on? Bloody hell it's hot. Where is everybody? There's no-one about on the streets and I'm pretty sure I'm somewhere central. After leaving Bordeaux this morning I've gunned it all the way down the A1 and made it to Madrid by about 3.00pm local time. I'm shattered. So is my poor car. I turned off the M30 when I saw a sign for Chamartin which I know is the zone where Zipper lives, parked the car and gone for a little walk about and seen barely three people. So this is my new home is it? The deserted city. Must be having siestas the lazy sods!!! No answer from Zipper or Misterio on the mobile - they're probably asleep as well. I need a drink, preferably a nice cold beer. Now then, how do I order a beer in this goddam place!?

Later Entries

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