02.07.20 — Travel

The Ghost City

Now in the glorious throes of the new normality, I have been taking every opportunity to return to the familiar streets of the city I now call home after falling in love with the place almost five years ago. The arrival of summer has also served to coax me out of my flat, even if my first major outing left me rather hot and bothered as the temperatures begin to rise past 35°C during the day.

This first venture into the centre was spurred on by the search for home comforts, as I’ve been craving cordial (what some of you call “squash”) for a good while now. This took me to Dealz, which is basically Poundland’s presence in Spain, and which offers a decent range of imported products from the UK – decent enough to warrant a two-bus trip, anyway!

I didn’t like having to change buses but it was a nice spot to do so.

The roundabout at the Puerta de Toledo in Madrid, with a bus in the background between green trees and red flowers.

With a selection of British crisps, some Vimto, and a stash of Cadbury’s chocolate in tow, it was then another few days before I headed back out into the sunny streets of Madrid. This occasion saw me make a significantly shorter trip down to the Matadero, a recently-reopened cultural centre based out of an old slaughterhouse which is a mere ten minutes walk from my house.

One of the buildings of the Matadero in Madrid in the evening sun.

This is where the title of my blog post begins to become relevant. The large outdoor space, which would usually be filled with people milling around at this time of night, was pretty much deserted. This peace and quiet didn’t bother me though, as I’d a telephone date to catch up with Rhea, who I haven’t seen since I visited England late last year!

One of the buildings of the Matadero in Madrid in the evening sun with a terrace in the foreground.
A multicoloured bar in a hut at the Matadero in Madrid.
The plaza in the centre of the Matadero in Madrid is empty whilst bathed in the evening sun.

After crossing through the Matadero complex to the banks of the river on the other side, I searched in vain for a shaded spot in which to sit and ring Rhea whilst maintaining the proper social distancing protocol. I ended up returning to the grounds of the Matadero itself, where I found a shaded decked area just behind the absolutely gorgeous canteen…

A redbrick building bearing the name "Cantina" (Canteen) at the Matadero cultural centre in the south of Madrid, Spain.

The proceeding weekend saw me head into the commercial heart of Madrid, La puerta del sol, meaning “the gate of the sun”. Famous for it’s plaque marking the supposed centre of Spain, I was here to check out options for a new laptop and head to a boutique food shop to do some informal undercover research for a new project at work.

The puerta del sol in the centre of Madrid.

After getting a little overexcited in said food shop, I wound up treating myself to a rather expensive 7€ pastel de cabracho, which is a delicious fresh paste made from cabracho, a kind of fish which Google informs me is called a “goat fish” in English. The dish always reminds me of the first time I visited Kevin in Oviedo, when he took me out to a local restaurant for my first proper taste of the delicious food from the Asturias region in the north of Spain.

On the way home I ran into my colleague Esther and family, stopping to chat for a while before treating myself to a chocolate-filled pastry known as a napolitana de chocolate from the classic Madrid bakery known as La Mallorquina. I often used to pick one up for breakfast before lockdown had us all abandon the office in favour of working from home, so it was lovely to enjoy the sweet treat once more.

Filled with energy, I decided to walk through the Plaza Mayor and down through the lovely La Latina district, before picking up a city rental bike and allowing the breeze to cool me off as I glided freely down the wholly downhill course back to my flat.

La Latina was absolutely resplendent in the low evening sunlight.

The day after saw me mounted once again on one of the city’s bikes, but this time I had decided to dare the uphill journey to the area surrounding the royal palace in order to see the sights and meet up with Hugo for an ice cream. I also thought that it’d be cool to film the trip on my phone to share the picturesque journey with my family back home, but it turns out that my phone’s video stabilising capabilities are no match for the uneven Madrid roads and the furious rattle of the heavy electric bikes!

Once I’d found Hugo, who was around the centre running some errands, we headed down into the gorgeous Plaza del Oriente at the side of the giant royal palace. This square, with its lush gardens and quaint little terraces, is usually brimming with inquisitive tourists, but we found ourselves wandering amongst very few people in the midday heat. The name of this blog post actually comes from a message I sent to Hugo whilst I awaited his arrival – “es como una ciudad fantasma”, I said – “it’s like a ghost city”.

The east facade of the royal palace in Madrid with no people around at all.

I’ve never seen this view of the palace with so few people milling around.

The royal palace of Madrid is visible through the trees of the Plaza del Oriente.

The two of us grabbed an ice cream from Zúccaru, a Sicilian heladería with delicious homemade ice cream, and sat in the shade of some trees in order to catch up on the week’s events. After some more wandering round (in which I managed to burn my arms, something I only noticed upon arriving home later), we finished our explorations in front of the palace, where I captured this panorama which emphasises really how few people can be found around the centre of the city right now. This plaza, located between the main entrance to the royal palace and Madrid’s huge cathedral, would usually be buzzing with tourists and locals alike, but not a single soul can be seen in the photo.

This concludes my recent adventures, which have been interspersed by some intense days at work as we move into our summer hours known as jornada intensiva (intensive days), where we work less hours but without any breaks. This, alongside some big and exciting new projects, has seen me left with little time for weekday explorations, but I’ll be sure to escape the confines of my flat this weekend and report back!

For now, I leave you with this lovely ode to Madrid, as yet again I feel the need to share some Spanish music with you all. I think it fits well with the photos of some of Madrid’s more majestic architecture that I’ve peppered this post with…