Madrid was marvellous fun but rather exhausting. We arrived late on Saturday night and checked into the Vincci hotel on Via 66, part of a chain of chic modern hotels. It had been newly refurbished in monochrome and silver, and was light, airy and feminine, with a sweeping spiral staircase, marble and chandeliers and black and white vintage showgirl pictures putting us all in a glam mood.
The bride-to-be was determined to start the party immediately, so we set out in search of tapas and refreshments. Unfortunately even Madridians go to sleep and close their bars sometimes, so after tramping about for an hour we ended up at some late night dive where the food was both expensive and distinctively left-over-ish. Mind you, it was 1am and still better quality than you'd find in the West End at that time of night. We got to bed at 3am, which pretty much set the pace for the next few days.
On Sunday I woke up early and sunbathed on the roof terrace whilst the others slept in. Sometimes I wish I had not lost the old knack of a lie-in, but I would have missed the cerulean blue sky and the swallows darting, the sounds of the city wakening. We went out for more tapas, including the ubiquitous jambon and manchego cheese, and sat wilting and fanning ourselves in the blazing heat -36 degrees - in the Plaza Major, whilst excited Spaniards paraded with flags in preparation for the night's football tournament.
We had a picnic dinner on the roof terrace as night fell, and then watched the nail-biting penalty shoot out; afterwards the roads filled with cars hooting joyously - Spain had not beaten old rivals Italy for over seventy years.
On Monday it was sweltering and oppressive, the air stale and heavy, my headache a warning of storms brewing. We retired to the park where it was cooler and greener, looked at all the fountains, wished we could jump in, and then hired a boat and rowed about the ornamental lake, past statues of merpeople riding turtles. As dusk fell we went to yet another tapas bar and had delicious gazpacho, tuna and red peppers, tortilla and pimentos de padron, my new favourite thing - baby green peppers fried with seasalt. They are addictive.
As we left the bar, the heavens opened. The road became a torrent, and the pavement a waterslide. Merely to stand in the storm for a moment or two left you as wet as if you had leapt into a lake. Overhead, the sky boomed with violet lightening. Enterprising Thais appeared from nowhere and began selling umbrellas, but they were little protection from the water which quickly drenched us to our knees. Even in a Caribbean hurricane-season rainstorm, even in India, I have never seen a storm like it. We clutched each other in fits of giggles under a perilously-sagging awning, then decided to make a run for it to the hotel, holding hands and shrieking as our sandals were almost torn off by the floods, blinded by rain and drenched to our underwear.
On entering the hotel, the electricity went off and the normally-lugubrious staff began to flap; the city soon descended into chaos as the power failed everywhere. I managed to get into our room and find a corkscrew, and towels, and my companions and I began a picnic on the landing, under the emergency lighting, whilst the hotel staff set about freeing less fortunate people trapped in their rooms. As the storm continued, we partied and danced to a battery-powered ipod with speakers, dressed in our best frocks, and when the rain eventually ceased and steam rose from the manholes, we went out to a few clubs and danced until dawn.
On the final day, the air was fresher, and we sunbathed for a few hours before walking the streets in search of - you've guessed it - more pimentos and cold San Miguel. We almost missed our flight, but just squeaked it, and I arrived late last night laden with Tio Pepe Fino (drink chilled in frozen glasses, with olives and salty ham) and duty-free.
I'm now rushing through my emails, and ironing frantically - because I'm off to Madrid again tomorrow for a wedding. A different bride, a different hotel, but the same city and I hope that I will have just as much fun the second time around.
More guest-blogging whilst I am away....thanks Zoe!