out and about in madrid

Mercado San Miguel Madrid

Not far from where we were staying in Madrid was the Mercado San Miguel. This covered market – well, more like a food hall – was chock full of fresh food and drink to buy and enjoy in a very Madrid atmosphere. We came here a few times for tapas, churros, sangria, but I decided it needed sketching so late one evening when the family went to bed I came across the street, got a sangria and some olives stuffed with mussels, and sketched the bustling gourmet mercado before going home at midnight. The red sangria was delicious. There were lots of tourists there, Americans dragging their sleepy teenaged kids around to experience late-night Spanish culture, some groups of English men on more sensible weekenders than the ones down at the Costa Brava, young ladies sampling Spanish wine and desserts, and occasionally a few locals too, I guess, or maybe visitors from other parts of Spain. I wasn’t really paying much attention to all the people and their conversations, I was looking at the ironwork on the ceiling. I did really enjoy this place, though it is very self-contained and not as large or diverse as the big market in Barcelona that I sketched in 2003. However it was a nice taste of Madrid, literally.

Palacio Cristal

Above is the Palacio Cristal, located in the Parque Dell Buen Retiro, the expansive green space in the heart of the city. We spent an afternoon wandering about here, among the trees and lawns, and we sat for a while by this lovely old building. This might have been my favourite part of Madrid. I sometimes forget in my rush to see big exciting urban wonders that I actually love great urban parks more than anything. I always loved Hyde Park, Regents Park, Central Park in New York of course. Buen Retiro (“Pleasant Retreat”) is exactly that, and dotted with great structures such as this, the Palacio Cristal. This was built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, possibly inspired by Paxton’s great Crystal Palace in London. Unlike that one, this palace was never relocated to a southern suburb to become the name of a football team and then burn down, and it still sits pretty among the greenery today. I sketched it while we took a break from all the walking. There was a pretty steep street to enter the park, Calle Claudio Moyano, lined with second-hand book stalls and the occasional cold drinks spot, so by the time we reached the middle of the park our feet needed a rest. Well my son’s didn’t, he wanted to kick a ball around but had left it at the apartment. So, we drew this.

Atocha Station Madrid

Speaking of greenery, this is the Atocha train station, in Madrid. We went there to catch a train to Toledo, and were then delayed by the fact you need to wait in a long line to buy a ticket to Toledo. More like Delayed-oh. Sorry, that was a bad pun, even for me. So, it gave me time to do a sketch of the incredible botanical garden they have inside the main atrium. This was also one of the stations where the awful terrorist attacks of 2004 took place, killing 193 people. The legacy of that atrocity is still visible in the fact that to board a train in Spain, or at least the ones we boarded, you need to go through security and have bags x-rayed.

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Here are some Madrid people, sketched while we lunched on pizza outside the Museo Reina Sofía. We spent all morning in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, yet barely scratched the surface of this large art gallery. I was there first and foremost to see Guernica, Picasso’s huge classic, which paints the horrors of an aerial bombardment of a small Basque city by German planes late in the Spanish Civil War. It’s been one of my favourite paintings since I was at school, so to finally see it for real in all its vast, immersive terror was quite an experience. It was accompanied by lots of Picasso’s preparatory sketches, and other paintings by him and by other artists around the time that led up to and influenced this masterpiece. There was a whole section on the art of the Spanish Civil War. That is one conflict I feel I have never really understood properly. It’s always been talked about, written about, painted about, but its legacy lived on right through the end of Franco and probably beyond. Being in Madrid for the first time, I felt a sense of urgency that I need to educate myself about this civil war and about the people of Spain, which I think is a much more complicated country historically than many non-Spanish people know. So, I need to start doing some reading. If our trip to the Reina Sofía has done anything it has made me resolve to learn more. The other thing I enjoyed about the Reina Sofía was the abundance of works by that other great cubist, Juan Gris. I used to love Juan Gris when I was an A-Level art student, I did a project on him and we all went to see an exhibition of his work at Whitechapel. My favourite thing about him though was all the jokes I could use with his name, all really based on either being Hungry or Angry. As I repeated quite often, “Don’t make me Juan Gris, you won’t like me when I’m Juan Gris.” I bet Picasso and Braques used to say that to him all the time.

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Bernabeu

On our first full day in Madrid, the first thing we did was go to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid. On my previous trip to Spain I went to the Camp Nou in Barcelona, and did the tour of the stadium, with their impressive trophy room. I really wanted to see the trophies of Real Madrid, who have won the European Cup / Champions League an unbelievable 13 times, and so that’s where we went. My son is a huge football nut as well and actually has a Real Madrid shirt – we’re not Real fans, he got it because he likes Modric and Bale, and in Spain I prefer Barcelona historically (though I don’t really care, my only beloved club is Tottenham), but it was something special to see this amazing place. Cristiano Ronaldo had just left the week before for Juventus, so his #7 spot in the dressing room was empty. We saw the baths, where Ronaldo used to bathe. We saw the toilets, where Ronaldo used to pee. We saw the mirrors, where undoubtedly Ronaldo also spent a lot of time. We got to walk out on to the pitch, and pretend we were shooting on goal (my pretend free kicks always went in the top corner; much like my real ones). It was a very fun way to spend the morning for our soccer-obsessed family.

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Palacio Real, Madrid

This is the Palacio Real, home of Royal Madrid. Haha. Hah. This is the royal palace (yes I know you figured out what Palacio Real means in Spanish), as viewed from the lovely Jardines de Sabatini. This is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but it’s really only used for state functions. The current king of Spain, for those of you who are not aware, is King Felipe VI. I obviously haven’t been listening because I still thought it was King Juan Carlos I, who was on all the peseta coins when I visited Spain as a kid. The palace is on the site of a ninth century Moorish Alcazar, but the present palace dates from the mid-1700s. We didn’t go inside; I’m sure the royal trophy room is a delight but does not have as many European Cups as Real Madrid. We were out and about walking, and we strolled over to this part of town to look through the gardens, there is a small labyrinth and several nice ponds, and then I came across a group of urban sketchers dotted around drawing this building. We hadn’t had dinner yet so I asked my wife if I could just quickly do a 20 minute sketch. I was suddenly inspired by all the sketchers, the biggest group I had seen out in a while (this was pre-symposium), and I just wanted to join in. So, good time for a rest (actually my son decided to run laps), and I stood and drew. I didn’t really interact with any of the other sketchers but I peered over their shoulders, some very nice work that made me just want to draw stuff. If I had time I would have liked to have sketched the cathedral adjacent to the royal palace.

six planes, one train, no pain

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Sketching on a plane helps me relax. That is my excuse for sketching on a plane. I have this book, this little Miquelrius book that I use for in-flight sketches (the one with the Lapin-designed cover), and I brought it with me to record all six flights (and one train journey) on my trip to Europe. Twenty years ago I took a five-week train trip around Europe and I really wish that I had done the same back then. Sketching all the night trains. Pete of 2018 would definitely have enjoyed that, Pete of 1998 would perhaps not so much, but Pete of 1998 was so much easier with speaking to strangers and making friends with fellow travellers than Pete of 2018. Pete of 2018 is a little shyer, but makes up for it with readiness to sketch. Pete of 1998 did sketch a little but not much and very loosely, though he drew a lot of cartoons and wrote loads, writing like there was no tomorrow; I kept two diaries on that trip, one for me personally, written small and densely, and one with just briefer notes about the train journeys and cities, at the back of the special book I had prepared ahead of the trip. Wow, this was going on 20 years ago now. I will need to write my thoughts about that trip very soon, it was a pretty formative voyage for me. Anyway, back to this summer’s Euro trip – not as many countries, but still a fair bit of travel, and probably more miles covered (what with flying across the world and all). Above, the first leg of the journey, flying from Sacramento to Las Vegas on a very bumpy flight over the desert. I liked stopping in Vegas, we got to go to an amazing lounge (my wife organized that, she knows the best stuff), though my son was less impressed with Vegas, thanks to the turbulent descent on the plane. Soon we were off again, flying Virgin from Vegas to Gatwick.

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I drew this one in pencil. I am trying to use pencil more, for the looser scenes. My son and I played a few rounds of MarioKart on the 3DS, and we couldn’t wait to land in London, where it was hot and sweaty and the trains weren’t all running, so we squeezed onto a train to Mill Hill. This time we were travelling light, no large bulky suitcases, I didn’t even bring the backpack carry-on. I could have probably travelled even lighter. I didn’t need the second pair of shoes (my main ones were so comfy), though honestly I should have brought more underwear. That whole washing in the sink thing in Portugal really didn’t fly for me, so I ended up buying some, wait for it, Cristiano Ronaldo brand underwear. Yep old CR7 has his own line of pants and socks.

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Well England was fun, it flew by, but then it was time to go to Spain for a few days in Madrid. After getting the coach from Golders Green on Friday the 13th, we flew Ryanair from Stansted (fourth airport on the trip) to Madrid (airport number five on this trip, oh I love airports, don’t you know). There’s my son playing FIFA. We were sad about England losing the semi finals a couple of days before, but excited for the World Cup final. We were still humming tunes from Hamilton, which we had watched in London the night before (amazing show). I’m always sad leaving the UK, excited about going to other countries but there’s always that sense of loss when I go, it changes a little bit more every time I return.

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Wow Madrid flew by, eh! Eating dinner late, getting up early, going to the Bernabeau, visiting Toledo. The family flew back to America from Madrid while I went on to Porto for the Symposium, flying with Iberian. Airport number 6. Porto airport was really nice actually, though I took ages leaving it as I decided to hang about and get a shuttle that would drop me off miles from where I needed to be, and I got lost in a neighbourhood of tiled houses and steep hills, smart move. Note to self, get a larger map next time. Or a taxi. Ah, you know, I love to wander, I am an explorer. Not much of a navigator though.

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Many many sketches later, many many hills later, I took the Alfa Pendular train from Porto to Lisbon. That is the fast train. It zipped along the Atlantic coast for a bit, the fog hanging out there like a large grey Nothing. I do wish I had spent some time on the Portuguese coast now. There is so much Portugal to discover. So much World in fact. I want to go Everywhere. Well maybe not everywhere, I could give probably places like Swindon a miss (sorry Swindon, I’m sure you’re lovely) (I would probably like Swindon actually, there’s a historic Ossie Ardiles/Glenn Hoddle connection). I have my tall thin Pepsi Max can there. I was so worried about being hungry or thirsty on the two-and-a-half-hour train ride that I got a load of snacks at cafe in the station. It’s funny cos when I travel I will sometimes go from breakfast until late dinner without eating a bite (I often don’t get hungry when I’m busy sketching), but put me on a train and I’m anxious I might go crazy if I don’t eat a Mars bar.

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Lisbon was relaxing, the hills much less stressful than Porto, and my hotel was amazing. I could have spent most of the time just chilling out there. I met some sketching friends in Lisbon on the last evening for dinner, and it was a nice way to cap off a long trip. And then, back home. Lisbon (airport number 7) to Atlanta (airport number 8) on Delta, which was a really nice flight actually, I would fly them again. Once more I got as many snacks and ate a bunch of food getting on the plane, prompting my seat neighbour to cheerfully remind me that they will be feeding us. I had never flown Delta before so sisn’t know how much that would be true – airplane food can sometimes be a bit rubbish – but it certainly was true and their food was really good, and plentiful. I had a good chat with my neighbour too, interesting man who flies a lot and works in DC. On the flight I watched Rush (that movie about James Hunt and Niki Lauda, such a fun film), and Lady Bird, the one set in Sacramento, which I really enjoyed and it made me a little yearnful for my adopted home. Well, a bit. The flight was good and transferring in Atlanta was fairly painless.

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And so from Atlanta back to Sacramento. I was sat next to a tall man who didn’t mind me jumping over him to use the bathroom the one time I needed to. I often don’t need to get up at all during a flight, which is why I like the window seat (or the very middle of the middle row) but on this occasion I did. It was a long journey back. I watched Notting Hill, which I’ve not seen in years and still makes me laugh. I landed in Sacramento exhausted, happy to see the family again, but missing Europe and vacation time. My head is still somewhere over the Atlantic I think, though my feet are finally returning to Californian soil. Travel is great; air travel is annoying and stressful, but sketching on a plane helps me relax. Or that’s my excuse anyway.