And so with The Gathering done and dusted we cashed in some Air Miles and last Monday (12th) Tash dropped Alfie and I off at Heathrow Airport to board a BA flight to Madrid. We were there by 7:30am, and after over 2 hours of Airport Athletics we were finally able to board our plane ... to share a seat for the next 2 hours. Thankfully BA seats are fairly spacious and we managed OK, largely aided by the check-in desk having left the seat next to me empty!
We arrived at Madrid Airport, somehow stumbled our way through the minefield of travellators and escalators, and eventually found ourselves at baggage reclaim. By now it was lunchtime, and I had been with Alfie - but without buggy - for over five hours! All I wanted to see was that Land Rover luggage appear so I could finally put him down! At which point I realised there weren't many people about. And there was virtually no sign of ANY luggage on our carousel at all. And then it appeared, the only piece of luggage going round ... no, not Alfie's buggy, but the extending handle of some poor sod's samsonite. I laughed. Alfie laughed. My recently gathered fellow passengers ... didn't laugh. They clearly haven't seen this Rhod Gilbert sketch ...
Fred met us at the airport, and we jumped on the metro to head across to the apartment where Fred and Lydia stay.
With our cases unloaded we set off for a wander. Just 5 minutes down the road is the Santiago Bernabeu, and as we took a stroll towards it I noticed what the Spanish call a petrol station. Basically a pump in a bus stop - I'd hate to be a biker around here, there must be diesel all over the roads!
We rounded the corner and there in front of me was the enormous concrete theatre - Santiago Bernabeu! Not the most attractive of venues, but certainly imposing.
It was then a case of finding a bar for a drink, followed by a venue for food. This was pretty much the same scenario every evening. Not just so we had an excuse for a drink, but due to the fact the Spaniards don't do dinner till gone 8pm.
I'm not your typical tourist, I don't visit somewhere and look to hit all the attractions, I just like to 'exist' in a place and watch it all happen around me. However Madrid was slightly different; obviously I wanted to see the Bernabeu and I was desperately keen to visit the Angel Nieto Museum. Unless you're into Motorbike Grand Prix racing you probably won't know him, but he's quite a legend. Anyway, Tuesday morning we negotiated the Metro to find ourself in the opposite end of Madrid and greeted by this;
Right place, wrong time. Royally the wrong time too, as the exact four days I was in Madrid happened to be the exact four days they were closed! I peeked through the windows at the displays of trophies but I wonder what other joys I missed. It sure looks like it needs a tidy up though, I can't imagine the Italians ever letting Rossi's future museum getting into this state! Btw, the 12+1 is recognition of his thirteen world championships ... but he was very superstitious!
So what did we do? Why we sat down to eat of course! And I had a cerveza in THE BEST Mahou chilled mug!
We then made our way back, Alfie fell asleep, and I managed to grab a 20 minute siesta (I had been up since 4am!) before our planned tour of the Bernabeu. It kicked off at 6pm, and was a brisk walk through the home of the most successful football club in Europe. If I was on my own I would have felt robbed - it was too fast, and covered too little. But I was carrying Alfie the whole way round so actually I was pretty glad it was so rapid!
By the time we had completed the stadium tour it was 7pm, and Fred had made it across from work to join us. Which meant it was "drinks followed by food" 'O' clock.
Wednesday arrived, and as Fred had taken the day off work we had planned to visit Madrid Zoo.
Just a few weeks prior I had been so impressed with Shepreth because of their lack of 'cages' and Madrid was very similar. It is possible to house man eating monsters without trapping them behind steel bars.
After Alfie did a lot of running, and we had checked out the sharks in the underwater enclosure, we stumbled across a display of birds of prey and various other feathered oddities.
What amazed me was that the birds we free to leave the arena, and it seemed to me as if they were free to land where they wanted. This massive eagle landed just behind us on a bin, and at one point was on top of the lamp post we were stood next to!
As we meandered around we happened to stumble upon the dolphin arena, just as they were getting ready for their next show.
We grabbed a seat, and I have to be honest the whole experience very nearly brought a tear to my eye. Alfie is quite familiar with animals, but it occurred to me he would have no idea that a dolphin might jump out of the water or put on a display for him.
He was truly gobsmacked, and concentrated so hard on the whole experience there was no energy left for an expression on his face!
After all that excitement Alfie fell asleep. It was about 1pm (so too early for lunch in Spain) and the mercury was up around 37 degrees! We opted to find some shelter and sink a drink whilst Alfie recharged his batteries. Once he awoke it was time for lunch, and then onto more zoo based adventures.
Amongst many others we saw Anteaters;
And of course the ELEPHANTS!
You may know that Alfie has a stuffed toy Koala, which has taken the name Walla, and unsurprisingly the zoo had an enclosure with a pair of Koala's. Being nocturnal they were both asleep, and I was amazed at how close to the real thing Alfie's stuffed toy was! So was Alfie, as for a few minutes he seemed quite distressed at having to leave Walla behind a glass panel!
Madrid Zoo also has a 'Madagasca' themed area. We walked past and saw a sign saying you can go in the enclosure with a guide for 'x' Euro's. I wondered what they meant by that, cos surely you can't go in with those crazy monkeys, right? I was proved wrong, and those monkey are actually very friendly little folk. When Alfie spotted a few up against the edge of their enclosure he did what he does with all animals - and tried to feed them stones!
Metro home, and it was soon time to head out for food. We had spotted the local Harley dealership setting up an event outside the Bernabeu the previous night, and so took a stroll down their for BBQ and a beer.
An evening outside a football ground, surrounded by bikes, BBQ and beer ... does life get better? Oh yeah, traditional Spanish baked offerings too!!
On Thursday I got my day of 'mooching'. Taking it easy amongst Madrid, as life goes on around me. Tasha's Mum took us past the 'Kings Crib';
And then whilst Alfie grabbed some shut-eye we found a nice little place to eat. By the time he awoke it was lunch time and we dined well!
We meandered our way through the streets of Madrid, stopping off at a few shops along the way, until we found ourself right in the middle of Madrid!
Another evening was enjoyed, and before we knew it it was Friday morning. Just enough time to grab a map of Madrid (for planning the bike ride) and a Real Madrid lapel pin souvenir before we had to board the Metro once more, this time bound for the airport to board a plane home.
A perfect week away, and what could be a better welcome than have your wife meet you in the arrivals area of Heathrow!?! Except I kinda took the edge of that surprise by calling Tash as we went through customs to ask where she was ....