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Hi everybody 🙂

Today’s post is about my holiday in Madrid. Although this was way back in Oct-Nov 2004, I still retain fond memories of the week-long stay in the beautiful capital city of Spain. I had some exciting and unforgettable moments and a few “firsts” which I’d like to share with you. So enjoy 🙂

I got my first glimpse of Madrid when I landed at the beautiful Atocha station by the AVE high-speed train from Sevilla in Andalucia.

The Atocha Station…

Madrid, Spain

This station had at that time been in international news because of a terrorist attack more than six months ago on 11th March in which nearly 191 people died when packed arriving commuter trains were bombed in a series of coordinated bombings.

When I stepped out of the station, the city’s cold weather engulfed me. Thankfully, a taxi was ready on hand. The taxi driver at first mistook me as a Spaniard more so because I spoke Spanish. I was mighty pleased. It had been just a little more than a year since I had started attending Spanish language classes at an institute in my home city of Mumbai so I took it as a compliment.

He was surprised when I told him I wasn’t a Spaniard.

“Soy de India.” (I’m from India)

“India?” He was excited and I soon found out why. He was an India-lover and had read plenty of books on the country. He was the “first” well-read taxi driver I had met abroad who knew a lot about India.

Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s lively centre square… 

Madrid, Spain

I had booked a hotel close to Puerta del Sol in the very heart of Madrid.

The view from the balcony of my hotel room…

Madrid, Spain

I got to know how really gay the nightlife was in this lively centre square on the very same night. I could hear laughter and partying in the street below even at 4:00am in the morning.

Madrid, Spain

Discovering my favourite tune in Madrid…

On the first day itself, I discovered my favourite song in the metro subway. For the next two days, whenever I passed by the place, be it in the morning or evening, I heard the same song being played on the music system. I used to linger around to hear the soulful music. It stirred my heart and kept echoing in my mind.  I knew I had to find the name of the song which I did at an El Corte Ingles department store with help from one of the sales staff. I told the girl I was looking for a song and hummed its tune. “Besame Mucho,” she guessed at once. She and four other girls searched for it in their stock. After 15-20 minutes, the girl said that they didn’t have it.  “But I have it at home and I can give you a copy of it, if you drop in tomorrow.”

So sweet of her! I wasn’t sure about returning to that area as there were plenty other places left for me to explore but at least I knew the name of the song. And thank god for that because in the evening when I passed by the place in the subway, the guy playing the song on his music system wasn’t around. Each day I looked forward to hearing the music and each time I got disappointed.

Besame Mucho (“Kiss me a lot”) remains my favourite song. Much later, I got to know that it was from Mexico…awesome! Written in 1940 by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velazquez, it’s one of the most famous boleros, and was recognized in 1999 as the most sung and recorded Mexican song in the world.

Meeting a shy doctor for the first time…

The sudden change from a pleasantly cold weather in Andalucía to the bitter cold in Madrid brought me down with severe flu. On the second day, I woke up in the morning to find my nose bleeding. Serious problem! I had undergone a “horribly bloody” deviated nasal septum operation four years ago so the bleeding nose made me uncomfortable.  I visited a medical clinic near the hotel.

The doctor was surprised to see me alone. He heard my problems and told me not to worry and that he would examine me and prescribe the required medication. Cool! “Come,” he said, picking up his stethoscope. I was about to proceed towards the examination bed when he said, “No, it’s alright. Just turn around, please.”

I did as he told, feeling like I was in a tailor shop taking measurements. There I was dressed in a woollen coat, underneath which I was wearing a thick pullover, underneath which there was a tee and the nice doctor was running his stethoscope on my back. I told him I would remove the coat and began unzipping it when he said, “No, it’s alright. Just roll it up a bit.”

Hmm, like I was about to do a striptease… imagine me standing and holding up my rolled-up coat towards the doctor while he ran the stethoscope over my thick pullover! I felt ridiculous…for the first time in my life I had met a doctor who was examining me while standing and also running a stethoscope over my back instead of my chest.

He prescribed me some antibacterial medication and I asked, ”No antibiotics?”

“No, that would be too strong for you,” he said. Too strong? I come from a city where people reach out for antibiotics at the slightest hint of an infection coming up…

And, he didn’t even ask me for my age! I stuck to the week-long medication although it was ineffective against the severe flu.  I wasn’t sure whether the chemist would give me antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription so the rest of my holiday in the city, Barcelona and Paris was a mix of bliss and distress. Later, a strong dose of antibiotics in Mumbai put me back to normal in a week.

The first time I got scolded by a stranger in a foreign country…

On the first night, I had partied at a popular disco. It was the inaugural night of an international salsa symposium and was quite fun with renowned salseros from all over the world giving an amazing performance. The heady mix of drinks, smoke, light & sound and the crowd made me leave the place at 2:30am. It was so quiet and peaceful outside that I declined the offer of ordering a taxi for a refreshing walk. It was a lovely place with a river flowing nearby. The reality that I was in a foreign land, in Spain struck me when I walked towards the highway to hail a taxi back to my hotel. Silly me!  The cars were speeding by, their headlights blinding me, and there I was expecting a taxi to stop for me.  Fortunately, there was one that did. When I got in, instead of asking me for the destination the middle-aged taxi driver started scolding me. “What’s wrong with you, señorita? At this hour on the highway all alone…shouldn’t you be at home in bed?” His words warmed my heart…such caring people!

The first time I had a large pitcher of beer…

One night I felt very feverish so I went to a nearby Italian restaurant for beer and spaghetti with prawns. The attendant told me they served beer in large pitchers for four. I didn’t want to venture out in the cold looking for another place so I sold him I would take the pitcher. He gave me an intense look and repeated my order questioningly. The spaghetti tasted delicious! I haven’t been able to appreciate spaghetti with prawns more anywhere else since then. Maybe it was the experience which added more spice to the meal and the best part was that I felt quite good. My fever had gone for a hike and I didn’t feel the cold when I walked out in the street.

The first time I came close to being mugged or worse…

El Parque del Buen Retiro (The Buen Retiro Park)…

Madrid, Spain

After spending a lovely evening at the beautiful 500-year-old Buen Retiro Park, I was on my way back to the metro station. There was a subway inside the park to reach to the other side of the street but it looked dark and desolate. I climbed down a few steps but something made me hesitate and I turned back. A nice young fellow was passing by and stopped seeing me hesitate at the entrance of the subway. I was deciding whether to ask him to accompany me inside the subway but felt really stupid about it. I mean, if I could travel alone in a foreign country why on earth do I have to ask a stranger to accompany me to cross a street. So I just smiled at him and climbed down the stairs of the subway again. Reaching the base of the stairs, I thought I was all alone till I saw a tall, black guy leaning across the wall, playing with a chain. He looked like a typical mugger straight out of a Hollywood film. When he saw me, he straightened himself and started walking towards me with a menacing look. He was playing with something in his hands which I chose to ignore. My eyes were focused on his, my body alert to his every move, a silent chant echoing through me and keeping my heartbeat steady. When he came closer, his body language became less threatening and then he looked away from me but I remained alert. When he passed me, I developed eyes to my side… and then behind my head just in case he tried to assault me from behind with his chain or maybe whipped out a knife or something. My feet wouldn’t allow me to increase my pace and my mind wouldn’t let me turn my head around to see what the guy was up to. I walked on and finally reached the other end safe and sound. Maybe the guy was just trying to scare me and gave up on seeing that I wasn’t the sort to cower down with fear or maybe he was really a mugger who changed his mind at the last moment…who knows!

The incident left me a bit rattled. I got into a metro and reached my destination but I couldn’t get the exit route right. It was really pathetic! I had attracted the attention of a group of young immigrants hanging around the place. It just wasn’t my day! The second time I reached the same place, I saw one of them rising up to walk towards me. It was irritating but I maintained a calm posture like I was waiting for someone and just whiling my time looking around. The third time I reached the same place and I got totally disappointed with myself. I had been taking the metro every day and that day I just didn’t know the way to exit the station! I took a deep breath and tried again and finally I was out in the street.

The first time I watched a football match in a stadium…

Watching Real Madrid play in their home stadium Santiago Bernabeu  was one amazing experience! The metro station was packed with footfall fans in a festive mood. Flags, hooters…the ambience was colourful, extremely vibrant and exciting! Having heard stories about rowdy football fans, I was prepared for the worst as I joined the streaming human mass in the metro. But not once did I feel threatened.

The Santiago Bernabeu stadium…

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Football fans…

Madrid, Spain

I wasn’t aware of Madrid’s large immigrant population before I landed in the city. So while I found the Spaniards very warm and friendly, I kept running into nasty experiences with anti-social elements from the immigrant communities. One night, at a metro station, a thug tried to pull a trick on me with a hankerchief. I ignored him when he pointed out to the hankerchief lying on the floor and asked me if it was mine.

As if crossing paths with thugs wasn’t enough I had my brush with creeps as well. One night, I was walking in the area of Puerta del Sol when a tall guy in his early forties stopped right in front of me. An East European! My guess was right for he spoke softly in a foreign accent. “Hola, senorita. Estas sola?” (Hi, miss. Are you lonely?) “No,” I replied coolly, “tengo amigos, muchos amigos…estan alli.” (No, I have friends, many friends…they are right there) I pointed out a place full of guys and walked on.

I loved Madrid…

The beautiful city with amazing colonial architecture and lively culture, not only offered me unforgettable experiences but also tried and tested my strength when I was unwell.  I spent my time doing city sightseeing and attending the salsa workshops conducted by international salseros at the symposium.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

The metro station was quite close from my hotel so it was very convenient for me to explore the city till late at night. Moreover, travelling by metro helped me get to know the city sooner and easier without burning a hole in my pocket.

Looking back I wish I had carried a digital camera with me but still the pictures aren’t so bad…

The Royal Palace…

Madrid, Spain

Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena, located just opposite the Royal Palace, where Prince Felipe married Princess Letizia in May 2004.

Madrid, Spain

The Spanish Air Force Headquarters…

Madrid, Spain

Monumento a los Caídos por España popularly known as the Obelisco (Obelisk), a memorial to all those who gave their life for Spain. Since its inauguration in 1985 by King Juan Carlos I, a flame fuelled by gas has been constantly burning on the front of the monument.

Madrid, Spain

Plaza Mayor… I enjoyed having churros con chocolate at one of the cafes here…

Madrid, Spain

El Rastro, the Sunday Flea Market…

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

A lovely view…

Madrid, Spain

The Metro…

Madrid, Spain

City sights…

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid was closer to my heart but Barcelona was equally beautiful…an ideal destination for youngsters looking for fun and entertainment. How can I forget the sweet guys at the gate of the Barcelona football stadium! They had opened the gate for me although the entry for visitors had closed five minutes ago…and they set the time back to punch the ticket…so sweet!

Lovely Spain!

Well guys, that’s it for today. Thank you so much for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did putting it up together.

I’ll now leave you with this beautiful music by Richard ClaydermanBesame Mucho Enjoy 🙂

See you soon, till then…take care 🙂

If you’re interested in knowing all about Mexico, do check my three e-books which are available for sale on this blog:

Discovering Mexico

Mexico: The Country, Its History & The Maya World

A Guide To Mexican Cuisine

If you’re a fan of Mills & Boon novels or love reading romance novels, here’s one for you available for sale on this blog:

The Blue-Eyed Prince of Natlife

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