Category Archives: Spain

Getting my chocolate and churros on in Madrid

Chocolate and churros. Yum.

Last week I was summoned to jury service. Over the two weeks I had a gun case and a drugs case. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing to blog home about. But the last case finished on the Thursday and we were told to go home and not worry about coming back, as they don’t hand out new cases on Fridays. Yippee!

But now I had a decision to make. Did I tell my boss I’d been let go a day early and go back to work, or did I buy a flight to somewhere exciting and make the most of my unexpected three-day weekend?

Twelve hours later, I was boarding a plane to Madrid with a backpack of essentials and a mischievous grin.

I have no idea why I chose Madrid. It was the first place I thought of. It’s funny, when I have to choose between five brands of toilet roll, each of which have five more varieties, I can stand in the aisle of Sainsbury’s for half an hour before walking away because I just can’t decide. But when it comes to big stuff, I don’t even think about my options. God help me when I come to buying a house or getting married.

So off I went to Madrid. The first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t as hot as I’d hoped. In fact in was downright bloody chilly. The second thing I noticed was that it’s a little bit grotty. I was staying in a hostal just off the main road, which was a haven in the midst of madness.

On my first night I went to bed at 8pm, got up at midnight and set out to Plaza del Sol – the place where all the parties happen. I’d heard about a salsa club called El Son near there, so I started walking in that direction. Then a British man bumped into me, said sorry, and I said it’s fine. His 19 mates all turned to look at me in wonder. They were all men. On a massive stag do. I was a girl on my own. It didn’t take me long to make new friends.

After getting some rip-off drinks in an empty, blue-lit bar, I told them I was going to the salsa club with or without them. They came, and I realised this was a lot of pressure on me – it could make or break the stag’s Big Night Out.

It was a hell of a lot of fun. The local men take turns to ask girls to dance, so I was never short of a dance partner, and the drinks – well, I can’t tell you how much they were as I never had to buy any myself.

We danced (and the stag took pictures of his privates) all night long until morning. Feet sore, I got a cab back to my hostel at about 7am while the people who don’t need sleep went to the Plaza Mayor to watch the sun rise. The amount of people on the street was incredible – it could have been 8pm on a Friday on a street in London in the middle of a hot summer. Madrileños certainly have a different body clock to the rest of the world.

I bumped into the stag group again the next day, and they said they’d been kept awake all morning by construction work going on. As usual, I thanked my decision to carry earplugs and an eye mask everywhere I go.

I spent all the rest of my time in the city eating and drinking lots of chocolate in the chocolate cafes. My favourite way to eat the thick, delicious gloopy stuff was to scoop it up with deep-fried churros. The choc places are open all hours, so you can get your churros on any time of day or night. I got my churros on every time of day and night. Heavenly. A good enough reason to go to Madrid, if you ask me.

Seeing red at the world’s biggest food fight: La Tomatina

Just as I’m fastening my goggles to my face, the crowd pushes inwards and my ribs are almost crushed. I can’t breathe, and thanks to the fogged-up goggles I can’t see either. My feet are being trampled and elbows are jabbing me from every direction. The first tomato hasn’t even been thrown yet.

A firework screeches above our heads, signalling the start of the world’s biggest annual food fight. The usually quiet town of Buñol, near Valencia in Spain, turns into a fiercely pumping heart with clogged arteries, as the crowd of 45,000 people spilling down every side street surges with even more urgency towards the main square. As the first tomatoes fly overhead we’re soaked by water from the hoses of gleeful locals atop their tarpaulin-covered apartment blocks.

I slowly push through the crowd towards the main square. Within seconds everything turns red and my feet are standing in five inches of tomato juices, water and most likely urine. My goggles snap and fall off my face just as a tomato whacks me full-pelt in the right eye. I turn around and another tomato hits me in the neck. Even though it hurts, I can’t help but laugh.

The tomato truck full of locals pelting us with rotten fruit starts lurching closer, constantly sounding its horn. The crowd, which is already filling the main square, splits down the middle to let the truck through, with people climbing walls – and each other – to avoid being run over.

The sour taste of rotten tomatoes and sewage fills my mouth, as I crunch down on something gritty. I have no time to think about what I’m ingesting as a brief gap in the crowd finally allows me to bend down and scoop up smashed tomatoes and street juices in my goggles and tip them over a stranger’s head. Someone behind me grabs my shirt and rips it to shreds, leaving me with just a long trail of material swinging around me, sodden with tomato juice. I bend over and pick up a T-shirt from the ground, swing it above my head and fling it over the crowd. It hits a girl on the head from behind, wrapping around her face. Her boyfriend just looks at her and laughs. Then someone tips a bucket of floor juice over my head, just as a wet T-shirt smacks me around the face.

Finally another firework goes off, signalling the end of the hour-long tomato fight. But as the locals brandish their brooms in the clean-up competition, the fight continues for the hard core. The rest of the revellers trudge off into the hot afternoon, caked in tomatoes and goodness knows what else, en masse to their awaiting coaches, via the odd roadside dance party and communal river bath. I slope off down a side street filled with clean onlookers. I bear hug as many as I can to soil their spotless clothes. Why come to La Tomatina if you’re not going to get messy?