Four days in Madrid courtesy of a cheapo Easyjet flight proved the perfect antidote to an increasingly cold Scottish winter. Can’t believe it’s taken me so long to visit a major European city.
Our hotel was very centrally positioned by the Gran Via, had a Japanese-themed floor and, surprisingly, a pretty fine sushi bar/restaurant next door. Good result from what was a pig-in-a-poke internet booking.
All the usual tourist sites were ticked off, though without a great deal of enthusiasm on my part – I only have to step into an art gallery these days to be drained of all energy. The Prado almost sent me to sleep, apart from an amusing Botticelli tryptych in which an incarnation of his ‘Venus’ is pursued and ravaged by wild dogs. Made me laugh anyway.
Deprived of a weekend game at Tynecastle, I decided to take in Atletico Madrid vs Panathinaikos in a UEFA cup qualifier one evening. According to the tourist office buying a ticket would be easy – but this being Spain, it proved a pain in the neck involving several useless ticket outlets and eventually a wasted trip to the stadium. So I decided to turn up on the night and take my chances. Appallingly, the cheapest decent ticket cost just under 40 Euros. No wonder the stadium turned out to be less than half full, though sodden conditions following an all-day downpour might also have had something to do with it. Amusing to see Hearts old left back Takis Fyssas, now plying his trade at Panathinaikos, putting in a decent shift in what turned out to be a drab, lifeless encounter enlivened only by an injury-time goal that saw Atletico emerge 2-1 victors.
After three days of disapointingly over-salted food, it was good to meet for lunch with the former head of the Media Business School (where I did my Masters), who now owns one of Spain’s largest film and television production companies. We arranged to meet him and his partner at one of his favourite restaurants – The Chantarella. Two hours of gorgeous, beautifully presented ‘nouveau’ tapas, fine wine and lively conversation fair perked me up – until the bill arrived. Mercifully Antonio seemed keen to cover it, his Spanish generosity matched only by my Scottish relief.
On our last day, intent on avoiding the worst of the pre-xmas shopping frenzy we took a bus out to Toledo, a medieval hilltop town about an hour outside Madrid, and lost ourselves in its narrow, maze-like streets for the day. Waki, keen to try more tapas, opted for what turned out to be a plate of sloppy tripe and sheep brains for lunch. I’ve never been so glad to see my own order – of garliced anchovies – in my life.