Euro championship madness in Madrid

I’d heard a few mixed things about Madrid.

Some had loved it, some had hated it – some had said that didn’t really think it was worth a visit. After foolishly listening to some bad reports of Lisbon I didn’t want to take the risk of relying on someone else’s opinion again – I wanted to found out if I liked the place for myself!

A jamon-lover’s heaven right in Madrid…

First impressions went down well as we wandered into the very chilled and friendly Way Hostel and spotted a sign for the 1 Euro Paella that was being cooked in a huge traditional Paella pan that very evening. Score! After scoffing down a big plateful – really quite decent stuff for the price – we were off to bed to rest up before a big day ahead.

The aforementioned big day was supposed to begin with another tip-based walking tour. However, after seeing the group of well over 30 people and barely being able to hear the guide as she yelled out her stories to all of us at once we decided to bail and skipped out after the first stop. It seems my love affair with free walking tours was over!

The striking Museo Reina Sofia building

The decision to leave worked out pretty well for us and we had a pleasant but exhausting day checking out the Museo Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.  As it was Sunday we were let into the Museo Reina Sofia for free and once inside I was able to see one of Picasso’s most famous works – the huge mural ‘Guernica’.

Huevos Rotos. Absolutely delicious!

I was also pleasantly surprised with the delicious lunch we had in a random local restaurant located roughly in between the two museums. We shared two dishes of Huevos Rotos (broken eggs) – a traditional dish that involves eggs being mixed in a cast iron pan with roughly chopped chunks of fried potato. One plate had also been given the addition of a few healthy handfuls of prosciutto and the other a big selection of chopped capsicum and tomatoes. Both were extremely filling as well as very tasty – and at only 5 Euros each, a real bargain in my opinion!

‘Museum of Ham’ – my kind of place!

By the end of the day and after a few hours spent at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza we were all museum-ed out. There was little rest for the wicked though, we had to begin to gearing up for the night ahead! It was, after all, the night of the final of the Euro Championship – a tournament held every 4 years that features national football teams from 16  European countries. Watching the final in virtually any city in Europe would have exciting enough – but we were particularly lucky here. Spain was in the final, and the favourite to win!

We set off to a neighbourhood not too far from our hostel that was known for its great bars and restaurants and began our search for a place with the elusive combination of being filled with locals yet still boasting enough room for us to find a seat.

Star attraction of the first bar we visited that night!

We finally discovered one place that seemed to be pumping and met the profile. We settled in, ordered some drinks and began playing with the bar’s resident English Bulldog who was running around frolicking with a bike inner tube. Hilarious!

Love at first sight…

All of 15 minutes before the game began, the huge group of locals who had been our reason for choosing that particular bar gathered up their things and left. It appeared that that bar had only been for pre-drinking, shame we didn’t get the memo! The only other people left in the whole bar were another foreign couple sitting on the opposite wall who had probably had the exact same intentions as we did!

The bartender had even gathered his things to leave…so faced with the option of watching the final in a near empty bar, we did what any normal person would do – stalked him!

The inside of the bar we ended up in…absolute mayem!

Following at a (probably not very) inconspicuous 20 metres or so behind him we eventually arrived at a tiny little bar. We could spy a huge screen inside and the place was absolutely bursting with locals kitted up in the full España supporter gear. Perfect!

We squeezed in through the entrance way, found ourselves a little nook in one corner that somehow still had a little standing pace and then I managed to half ram, half crowd-surf my way over to the bar to buy a bottle of red to see us through the match.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better place to watch the game. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and the entire crowd inside was singing songs and screaming chants for the majority of the game. It also helped that España kicked two goals in the first half to get into an early lead! Each time a goal was kicked a fairly healthy amount of beer, wine and whatever else was being drunk rained down on us as people threw their hands (and drinks) up into the air.

During half time we managed to make friends with a bunch of Colombia guys who were standing next to us and it was really interesting to hear their perspective on what it was like living in Madrid as a Latin American. It was a pretty welcome relief to me to finally be able to have a chat in Spanish in the nice laidback manner that I had become accustomed to in Mexico and Central America. I had been having a little trouble understanding the Spanish in Spain with some of the difficult accents as well as the frightening speed at which they spoke – particularly the Madrileños!

Goooooooooooooooooooooooal!

The second half of the game continued along in the same vein as the first and before we knew it, it was full time and España had won the final against Italia 4-0!

Needless to say, the room went wild for a little while there! The celebrations (and car honking!) went long into the night, but it didn’t just stop when the sunshine came…

Football supporters as far as the eye can see!

The next evening, whilst on the way out to dinner we passed through an avenue that was completed swamped with thousands of people for as far as we were able to see. I’m still not exactly sure what was happening but I’m assuming it was either a welcome back to the victorious team or simply a public celebration of the previous night’s win.

After escaping the crowds we settled into to have a drink at El Tigre, a well known tapas place that was famous for serving you free tapas whenever you order a drink.

Use my hand to get an idea of the scale and just how huge this drinks were!

Unfortunately, I didn’t stipulate what size drink I wanted when ordering so I returned to the table laden with two 1L cups of both Sangria and Beer – when we both had only felt like having one (normal sized) drink. Woops!

We joined the flow of the crowd as we wound our way through the streets back towards the hostel and found the cheery and joyous energy of all of the locals to be quite infectious.

España supporters flood the streets…

Although I only had a tiny taste of the place and it’s probably not somewhere I feel a need to visit again any time soon, I’m still really glad we had those few days in Madrid. The energy surrounding the soccer final was truly remarkable and it was yet another reason why I’m going to vouch to take all negative travel advice I receive with a very large grain of salt.

Way Hostel – http://www.wayhostel.com/

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