Ten Free Things to do as a Tourist in Madrid

As capital cities go, Madrid is pretty inexpensive and, unless you’re planning on giving it the big one in Kapital on a Saturday night, nothing you choose to do is really going to break the bank. This considered, I’ve put together a list of … Continue reading

31 Reasons Never to Move to Another Country

Obviously it’s a terrible idea… 1. You’ll be forced to sample all sorts of new and exciting foods…   2. …and you’ll probably get fat as all the delicious food moves towards your mouth, like a moth to a flame.   … Continue reading

The Final Countdown (I’ll miss you Spain! But also not…)

DISCLAIMER: If you are Spanish and easily offended, it’s best to stop here. RENUNCIA: Si eres español y fácilmente ofendido, es mejor parar aquí. Exactly three weeks from now I’ll be back in the UK and probably attempting to navigate my way … Continue reading

Dancing With Death

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” – Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon)


Part 2: El Tercio de Banderillas

It’s a hot May evening in the Spanish capital. The sun blares down on you with 30 degree (celsius) heat and a bead of sweat rolls down your back. Down in the ring the air is thick and dusty and two bodies are locked in a standoff. The banderillero, clad in glorious red and black, puffs his chest out and raises his arms in a fantastic display of alpha prowess; the bull scrapes its hoof in the sand.

A tradtional bullfight (Spanish: corrida de toros) is every bit as dramatic and flamboyant as it sounds, and it doesn’t get much bigger than at Las Ventas, Madrid. Last Sunday night I attended such an occasion in a bid to gain some insight into Spanish “tradition” and “culture” and it was simply something that I felt I needed to do. I’m no fool; I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for and, as expected, I despised it. However to a certain degree I couldn’t help but be intrigued by it, which begs the question: is bullfighting a dying art, or simply a barbarous blood sport?

A Spanish corrida is a drawn-out and sensual affair consisting of three parts. The first part, called el tercio de varas, allows the matador to observe the bull as it chases the thrusts of the pink and gold capes of the banderilleros. He observes the way it moves, reacts, its speed and its preferences before being joined by two picadores. Los picadores enter the arena and lance the bull from atop heavily padded and blindfolded horses, thus provoking an attack on the horse and causing blood-loss that weakens the bull. During the second part, el tercio de banderillas, the banderillos one by one attempt to plant two colourfully adorned spiked sticks (los banderillas) into the shoulder muscles of the bull causing further blood-loss and weakening of the animal but simultaneously provoking and further angering it. By the third part, el tercio de muerte(literally ‘the third of death’), the bull is exhausted and slowly and tortuously edging towards certain death. The matador re-enters the ring armed with a small red cape (muleta) in one hand and a sword (estoque) in the other. The matador, using his cape, entices the bull into a series of passes, flaunting his control over the animal and casually dicing with his own life. The third part ends with la estocada, the act of fatally plunging the sword between the bull’s shoulder blades, severing the aorta or heart, however the bull may take a while to die and therefore a coup de grâce is carried out by el puntillero who pierces the spinal cord, finally killing the animal.

What I witnessed throughout the “performace” was an animal, undoubtedly drugged and starved for days, released into arena to be ceremoniously taunted and murdered in front of 23,000 spectators in the name of tradition, culture and art and it was nowhere near as magnificent as I was lead to believe it to be. I envisaged a one man, one bull face-off between two alpha-males dancing to the death with nothing but sand and a red cape between them. I expected an equal and balanced display of nerve, power and stamina when in fact what I actually watched was an eleven on one attack which ended in the bull’s limp and bleeding corpse being dragged out of the plaza by three mules. There was no display of power, only cowardice, and certainly no respect for the noble bull. The matador waited until his cronies had weakened and tired the animal before he dared face it, and even during the first third the banderilleros would cower behind fences while the bull grunted and scratched at the ground.

Sitting in that arena surrounded by cheers of “¡olé!” and cries of “¡mátale ya!” (“kill it already“) I’d never felt more foreign and detached from Spain and Spanish culture, not even when I first moved to Spain and couldn’t get my tongue around the language. People were startlingly entertained by what they were seeing and the vast majority appeared to be seasoned regulars. The horror, anger and disgust that erupted from within me upon the first strike in the bull’s shoulders made it impossible for me to fathom how a person could get enjoyment from watching such a thing. I spent two-thirds of the “show” hoping that the bull would muster up some god-like strength and gore the matador right in the crown jewels. That would serve him right, right?

Ten days have passed and I’m still numbed by disbelief in what I saw, and particularly by the fact that I was sat in a full house (although I hear they’re not usually that full these days). To my eyes, I saw no evidence of a decline in popularity or indeed aversion, however this is just once aspect of Spanish “culture” that I cannot and absolutely will not get on board with. Is it a dying art? Or is it dying for art? I can’t make that choice for you, but I can perhaps shed some light onto why the ladies continue to attend…


Ya Por Fin Me Siento Madrileña.

(Now Finally I Feel Madrileña) Two weeks ago marked the seven month anniversary of my move to Madrid. Coincidentally, the very same day marked exactly two months since I’d posted anything on here and all of a sudden I felt … Continue reading

Ding Ding, Round Two

It’s been a little over one month since I landed back in Madrid for the second part of my year abroad and it’s already been hectic and eventful. To say that I threw myself straight into the deep end would … Continue reading

We Need to Talk

The school that I work in is pretty awesome and, when I hear about how horrendous other people’s are, I feel so lucky. It’s not rough, it’s not posh and it’s not too big; it’s the ‘baby bear’ of placements. … Continue reading

‘She’s probably gone and got herself a Spanish boyfriend named “Manuel”‘

The year abroad is like a new relationship with an exotic foreign boy/girl/man/woman [delete as appropriate]. It’s exciting, romantic, mysterious and completely different to anything in your life that came before. I am not having a love affair with a … Continue reading

You Can Take the Girl out of England, but You Can’t Take England out of the Girl

Somedays I step out of my flat and I may as well be wearing a Union Jack trench coat complete with matching bowler hat  and Queen Elizabeth II mask, and throw in a Beatles tribute band to follow me around … Continue reading

So You Want to be Madrileño? The Tourist Edition

When I first got here I didn’t get to do a lot of touristy stuff as I had to go to training and had loads of other stuff to sort such as bank accounts, sim cards, travel cards and filling my fridge, but once that was all done it was time to enjoy the sunshine, and boy was there a lot of sunshine. Aside from week two which may as well have been monsoon season in some freezing rainforest, the first month here was hot hot, so after the chores I donned my summer clothes (much to the bemusement of the Spanish folk) and went to do touristy things! My favourite place in Madrid by far is Parque del Retiro. It’s so beautiful in the summer and is full of trees and ice cream stalls, and there’s even a lake where you row boats for the bargain price of around 4€ for 45 mins. The 4€ is per boat, not person, and you can fit up to four people in a boat (maybe five if one or two of said people are children). Here’s me trying out for Team GB…

If you’re a French tourist you may wish to follow suit of those who came before you and dress up for the occasion as sailors…

Another really awesome place is the El Rastro flea market which takes place every Sunday in La Latina. The place is full of kitschy jewellery and bags, band tshirts, incense stalls, art stalls, poster printers, fabrics and wall hangings, books, DVDs and the occasional antique. I’ve bought bracelets, rings, a little Spanish dish for my hair grips, a painting of some wandering camels and a beautiful string of coloured silk elephants which are now hanging from my curtain rail. I love this market and the busy Spanish atmosphere there but BEWARE. El Rastro is pickpocketter’s paradise. Only take with you what’s necessary, use a bag which is fiddly to open and keep a firm grasp on it at ALL times. The same goes for pockets… As long as you keep your wits about you and don’t advertise yourself as a tourist you should be A-OK!

One other must is the Teleférico, a cable car which provides amazing views over the city, across the countryside and towards the mountains. You can take a one way trip which costs around 3€ and lasts 11 minutes, or you can do a return trip for around 5€ where they make you get off and walk through the gift shop before getting back on for the return journey. So sly, so sly.

Week 1: A Kid with Asperger’s Threatened to Kill Me

Last Thursday I came to the end of my first week working as an English Language Assistant in a Madrid primary school, and I LOVED it. The first thing that struck me was how much we’re getting paid for the … Continue reading

Hombre Please, Tuna is NOT a Vegetable!

In the UK and US vegetarians are spoiled rotten. Vegetarianism is, for the most part, a non-issue, but there are of course the few carnivores out there who seem to be offended by their friends’ herbivorous diets – no one’s … Continue reading

So You Want to be Madrileño?

I have been in Madrid for almost a week now and, I have to say, it’s an incredible place. I haven’t had much opportunity to explore as I’ve been crazy busy, but I like what I’ve seen. The Spanish are … Continue reading

British Council Language Assistantship

For the year abroad I had the option of undertaking either a study placement, a self-sourced work placement or a language assistantship. I opted to do the language assistantship and began the application process back in November. The application is … Continue reading