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Southern Flame

This year autumn once again has proven rather challenging. After the initial affair with its vibrant colours, conkers and soft crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet in a park on a sunny Sunday, Miss Autumn gave me her cold shoulder. When I woke up she was gloomy. When I came back from work she would welcome me with cold and darkness. I started losing hope and had to do something before I became completely lost in this ever-present night.

My knight in shining armor turned out to be…Ryanair.

The (too) early hours of Saturday saw me and my fiance leaving the warmth of our flat and heading towards the airport bus. At 6:45, while I pondered on my annoyance with the fluorescent yellow and the abrasive closeness of the seat in front of me, we left London behind.

Madrid welcomed us with melodic Spanish of Salidas and Llegadas. In half an hour the metro lines 8 and 10 connected us with Tribunal, which was already waiting for us with the pleasant chatter of socializing. But most importantly it awaited us with my dearly beloved – Sun. I couldn’t believe it! 23 degrees in November. It must have been a dream.

After a brief mental sun salutation, my better half and I noticed our friends arriving at the station with their beautiful baby boy. Jola and Alejandro treated us to delicious churros con chocolate – Spain’s infamous fried doughnut-like pastries sprinkled with sugar, which you dip in a cup of dense hot chocolate. Yum! Of course our breakfast wouldn’t be complete without cafe con leche (which somehow sounds more exciting than cafe latte). I must admit I have a certain weakness for countries that know how to make a good coffee and think establishments that serve some coffee-wannabe water-thinned mixtures should have their licences removed (for the sake of human kind).

Few coffees and one street demonstration later, we were heading down the cobbled streets to my partner’s cousin’s flat. Unfortunately our reliance on wi-fi proved disastrous once we discovered we had no service and no internet access to contact Sophia. Not knowing what to do or where to go we resigned ourselves to ordering a soft tinto de verano (red wine mixed with lemonade) and spicy patatas bravas on a sunny square by Calle Don Felipe. The quirkly eclectic cafe Naif connected us with Sophia and few moments later we were in her artsy apartment admiring the canvas painted by her Mexican flatmate.

First stop on our relaxed tour was Mercado de San Miguel. This popular market situated close to Plaza Mayor, sells gourmet tapas. Anything from cured jamon, through seafood sandwiches to erizo (or sea urchin) – all eaten standing by tiny round tables or outside, listening to local buskers. Now that I think about it, all we did in Madrid was eat. In Spain food and socializing are the two things that life seems to revolve around. Narrow streets are filled with restaurants, bars and cafes of all sorts and yet neither of them is empty. Laughter comes from behind all doors. Here company is welcome at all times.

Few food-stops later, with what felt like kilograms of various tapas comfortably filling my tummy, when the sun began to set, we made our way to the main cathedral, Catedral de la Almudena. This grand building raised on the site of a medieval mosque is definitely worth seeing at night, when its pale blue walls are magnificently illuminated. The whole area surrounding the church is worth strolling around, especially leafy Plaza de Orient with its maze-like gardens and intriguing sculptures.

We finished our Madrid in a Day experience with a real treat – Flamenco show. I’ve been to Madrid twice before and avoided the dance performance thinking it would be too cliche, but this time I decided to risk it. And WOW was that a good decision!

The show in Villa Rosa was totally worth the €32 we paid at the door. After we sat at the table in a dimly lit spacious restaurant with flamenco scenes depicted on its wall tiles, the lights went off and an inconspicuous man walked onto the stage. Unhurriedly, he started a solemn toque melody with his guitar. Soon after a female singer dressed in a sweeping skirt, white top and shawl wrapped around her hips joined the musician. Her deep, guttural voice was different from anything I ever heard. It lacked sweetness usually associated with singing. Instead, it conveyed sorrow like nothing in this world. To understand flamenco is to understand Spain’s history. The country’s south, Andalucia, was once a cultural melting pot. It was a home to Moors, Jews and Gypsies among many others. The latter especially are believed to have had a significant impact on the birth of Flamenco. The origins of the dance however are not entirely clear and some propose that the term comes from a mix of Spanish and Arabic words meaning an “expelled peasant” which suggests the Muslim Moriscos who escaped religious persecutions by joining Gitanos (Spanish Roma people). I looked at the passionate movements of the dancers, the anger, rebellion, protest conveyed so well that I wondered what someone must have been through to perform this way. There was something cathartic in their dance. It’s like they were dancing away my sadness, my vexation, my NO! to the world.

Thank God for Madrid. My little ray of sunshine, my tiny rebellion against the reality. The place that reminds me never to be the victim, but to stand up for myself and to fight for that happiness we all deserve.

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Gracias y viva la vida!

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