As with any place new, Madrid has had only positive first impressions…aside from the heat and traffic.
When I arrived last night, I emerged from the metro at Colón to gain my first sight of the city. It was remarkably peaceful, and as a first view of a new city, Plaza Colón was not the worst thing a person could lay their eyes on. Beside it was the National Library/National Archaeological Museum building, and at the back, the historic facades of Serrano, one of the most upmarket shopping precincts in Madrid.
Most of the evening peak had subsided and there was very little traffic. The Avenida Recoletos is a beautiful tree-lined boulevard, with a wide partition in the middle where a number of outdoor cafes and restaurants are frequented by the affluent of Madrid’s upper-upper-middle-class.
This morning however, was a slightly different experience. The historic centre is laced with single lane streets with no way around or back. They criss-cross each other and people driving to work send their cars down alleys barely wide enough for a moped (and there’s plenty of them as well), and these numerous streams of traffic all converge into the major roads, which are already choked with traffic of their own.
Spain has its legends of latin machismo, but it seems to have morphed into a form more contemporary than stabbing a bull to death. These days, the Spanish male displays his masculine prowess behind the wheel of an automobile, and in a strange paradox, now displays the same behaviour towards the rear tailgate of a motor vehicle as a bull does to the red flag of a matador.
The driver who can run the most red lights, ignore the most pedestrian crossings (and make pedestrians scatter), or cross the most lanes of traffic whilst still moving, wins. It seems a grueling experience however; as many of the male drivers tend to suffer cramps in their biceps, and press their hands firmly on the steering wheel to try and stretch out the cramp.
It’s definitely a city that makes you glad to be a pedestrian, but then again, we see what happens to them in the running of the bulls.