May 12, 2017 by Ynnsie
Long before we left Canada, J and I prepared to be robbed in Spain. Almost everybody we met who had been to Spain had a tale of petty crime to tell us. And the web was full of horror stories about guys on scooters snatching handbags, hotel room break-ins, fender-benders deliberately caused so as to draw drivers out of their cars so they could be robbed.
So we bought less expensive laptops than we might have done otherwise. We chose suitcases with locks. We brought all the money belts we’d ever collected because who knew what sort worked best.
And when the time came to book 5 days in Madrid at the end of our Portugal jaunt, we worried. The most alarming stories, the highest rate of crime – all related to Madrid.
We booked a night train so that we’d arrive there in daylight hours, and dug out the money belts that had sat in the suitcase since our first week in calm, safe Seville. We fretted about the Madrid flats we were looking to rent online – which among them were in sketchy areas? We made our plans but we reminded each other that we had come to Spain resigned to being robbed at some time or other.
Still, by the time we boarded the train out of Portugal, we had ourselves spooked.
The night train was a disaster, though not because of any thief. This was a disaster brought to us by the Portuguese national rail company. It’s a long, dumb story about a Friday night problem with a small stretch of track that wasn’t fixed by the time of our Sunday night train. A two and a half hour informationless wait in the cold and dark, at an impromptu transfer point in the middle of nowhere alongside 300 passive unquestioning Portuguese (we questioned because we had a connection to catch – the Portuguese people around us came to us to find out what was happening!). We were all shunted about and shunted about making far too many trudges up and down stairs with bags far too heavy. Finally we got into our sleeper car at 4am, only to have a Three Bears experience: someone had been sleeping in our bunkis. Ech!
(I wouldn’t mention any of this had the Portuguese system been otherwise exemplary, but in fact the whole network seemed to be making things up as they went along! Another time, I got on a Portuguese train to go 10 cities down the line. But the guy who sold me the ticket at the station couldn’t say if the train I was boarding was going where I needed to go or if I had to change trains. Apparently the conductor would decide if my train was going through once I got on board; I was to ask him. )
Anyway, we made it to Madrid on a sparkling morning and took a cab to a dodgy looking street. And that was about the last time we worried about Madrid.
Our flat was lovely. It was in a very mixed neighbourhood – old folks, young families, university students, all the races Madrid has to offer, lots of people on the street. There were banks and green grocers and a decent grocery store. It felt homey and livable. We walked back from downtown several times and never worried.
The rest of Madrid was wonderful as well. The temperatures hovered at light sweater weather and the skies were blue every day. We saw no sign of scooter bandits, and heard no hue and cry after pick-pockets. There were more native Madrileños than tourists, and I quickly noticed that the Madrileñas all carried their handbags as casually as any Toronto woman. So we relaxed and enjoyed.
On the advice of friends, we went to the Thyssen gallery rather than the huge Prada – a good choice. We window shopped – always looking out for the best in male fashion.
And we ate well. Madrid has the San Miguel covered market full – pero lleno! – of tapas. It is a wonder to behold and a helluva place to find lunch.
We also met a guy there with a job any jubilado could set his cap at. One size apron fits all.
Another day we treated ourselves to a meal at a well reviewed restaurant, Metro Bistro. Everything was delightful but this dessert of 4 kinds of chocolate was delicious beyond description
We discovered vermouth on tap! So much better than the vermouth we can get at home. Usually served with a slice of dried orange and a tiny side tapa (of pork, of course).
We also discovered that we are waaaay too old to play with the cool kids – see the old dude in the hat here at the uber-cool bar atop University of Madrid’s factulty of arts?
And we found ourselves going back to Madrid’s iconic Plaza Mayor to watch the people and the sunsets and the pigeons.
We toured a gorgeous old private villa, the Cerralbo, to see how the truly rich Spanish lived once upon a time. For a town home, it was spacious and elegant and sumptuous. I could live in the library … so long as I had access to the ballroom occasionally.
Spring was upon the town and it seemed that half the trees in Madrid were in blossom. We loved the Retiro park with its funky paddling pond and crystal palace.
Madrid is wonderful Everyone should see it. Be not afraid.