Our first impression of Madrid was not the best, at the bottom of our street there is a place for prostitutes that look like women but aren't exactly female. We also saw a couple of men stop in one of the side streets to take a nature break, which explained to us why we could smell urine in a number of side streets. We arrived in Madrid only at 20:00 with not a lot of time to do our initial exploration of the city, so going to bed that night Leon had quite a bitter taste in his being, although me being the optimal optimist reckoned if we explored a bit further off the city centre we might discover something different.
The apartment we are staying in is the best one we've lived in so far, with free wi-fi, coffee, sugar and salt in the cupboard and lots of shampoo :). We had to buy everything from groceries to condiments in both the previous apartments. It is still small, but our bedroom is on the same floor as us and the open plan kitchen-lounge has enough space for a small dining room table, two double couches, a small coffee table, and a computer desk and chair. We live not too far off the main street of central Madrid - Gran Via. This street boasts many shops, restaurants and Starbucks, and has some beautiful buildings as well with beautiful towers and old domes on top of the buildings. It is a very busy street, and what we have still not figured out is if it is only this busy because it is between Christmas and New Year, or if it is always this busy. Unfortunately we won't be here long enough to figure it out either.
A couple of streets down from Gran Via there is a huge open area where there are many people dressed up in some form or other making a living from change out of people's pockets. There was Mickey and Miney mouse, Sponge Bob and Square Pants, some evil Star Wars character and more. This area is similar to the open area in Sandton square, probably one and a half times the size, but 40 times busier. If you get there after 17:00 you would reckon U2 was holding a rock concert there. But no, it is people socializing or shopping or just wandering around in the streets as the Spaniards seem to do every night. The people here don't all look truly Spanish. In Barcelona we knew we were in Spain, Valencia boasted quite a bit more fair heads, but other than the people speaking a different language, the mixture of people here are not that much different than South Africa, except there are a lot less black people, but more Mexican type looking people than in the other two areas we visited.
We found the madrid castle and Arab wall, Egyptian temple and gardens the following day, which proved that there are prettier parts to Madrid, but unfortunately where we stay means we always pass the ugly as well. We have now even found a detour to our apartment to avoid the manly females. Something interesting we noticed, besides the fact that there are more beggars and even in the busy streets more hookers (normal female ones), was that there are also guys here standing at robots with a bottle of soapy water and a window cleaning thing, that does exactly the same as the street washers on our street corners. So it is not only in South Africa, maybe just not as frequent. Leon's feeling of Madrid, which sounds about right, is that Madrid is more like Johannesburg, where Barcelona and even Valencia is more like Cape Town. Madrid is extremely busy especially at night, inside and outside shops, young and old with people always going somewhere or doing something or shopping or...something.
It is also extremely cold here, but funnily it is FREEZING, as in I am wearing two pairs of socks when we go running, from early morning until about 11. Then it starts warming up and at 20:00 it is still not as cold as it was in the morning, even though the sun sets at about 18:00.
More of Madrid to follow soon, we have found some pretty spots and some funny stories, but our bed is calling me quite hard!