An Absolute Beginner, no practice, no experience, not even a regular cyclist! I must be crazy :)
Stephen Peel

Stephen Peel

Cycling Around the World

9 Days Exploring Madrid. Just a well earned chill

Day 43 - Here I am in Madrid, one of my large city markers

And to celebrate, I'm taking a load of time off, a week maybe. I'm going to relax, take pictures and video, eat well, enjoy myself, and let my body heal. Anyone who runs their own business or is self-employed knows what it's like to have to motivate yourself, kick yourself up the arse and out of bed, and get the work that needs doing, done, because nobody else will do it for you.

Trouble is, sometimes you can push yourself a little too hard, and despite having great advice from others, and knowing full well yourself, you just push on anyway. The last few days have been extremely hard on me physically and mentally, as I have been cycling for 43 days solo and have had hardly any rest time. To a seasoned cycle tourist or cyclist, this would be no problem, but yesterday I went a bit off balance a few times, and it could have been really bad, and my legs were just begging for me to stop, but I pushed on all the same. I had very little strength left in me.

One reason I continued despite the warnings, was that I really had nowhere to stay to rest up and relax, other than a campsite with everything closed on it due to holidays. I needed to push on, I needed to get to Madrid and book myself into some digs to unwind, relax, and mend. And so here I am, I've booked in to a hotel in the city within walking distance to the parks and features, bars and restaurants, and my bike has been put in the hotels storage, not to come back out until I'm ready.
I was a bit silly to not take the breaks I said I would, and to just keep pushing, and this is a very important and serious lesson learned, but since I entered Spain, there really hasn't been anywhere I have wanted to stay for a while. If I had pushed for much longer, I may not have wanted to continue this at all, so I am now having a week of no cycling, none. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy, I'm thrilled I have reached Madrid. So many people told me that taking this loop through Spain would be extremely hard going, which is why most cycle tourists prefer the well cycled routes.

But me :), well I had to be different didn't I :), but it's all cool, and I'm thrilled to bits with what I have achieved thus far. To me it's nothing short of amazing, and in a weeks time, I will be fit and raring to go again, but this time I will take those ever so important breaks, and not push for too many miles each day either, it's just too soon in my cycle touring training :) I hope that what I'm sharing as I go will help others wanting to try solo cycle touring or who are setting out for the first time.

Well, its a beautiful day in Madrid, I'm showered, organised, and will be heading out in a bit for a nice meal. There may not be a whole lot to post about for the next few days, but I will continue to post my daily post. Good evening everyone. Once I set off again, I will be heading from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast. That's around 500km from Madrid, or 700km the way I cycle :). Where I reach the sea I don't know, but one city I will be cycling through is Valencia as I move up the coast towards Southern France.

Day 44 - That's right I'm still doing little daily updates if I can, maybe :)

Loving my first day in Madrid. Watched a movie during the night after a stubbed my little toe on the corner of the bed going to the loo. I didn't realise I had made such a mess as it was dark, but it looked like a crime scene this morning :). If I hadn't cleaned up all the blood splatters, they would have been calling Dexter in.

Nothing I could do about the sheets though, I just looked real guilty as I passed the maid as I was running (hopping) to the elevator. OK OK, so I exaggerated just a tad, but you can get the picture. Even my sleeping in a hotel room can produce a story :) But I won't exaggerate any more.

And so, after seeing them bringing in an industrial cleaner to clean my room :), I took my journal and my camera and took a lovely trip over to The Buen Retiro Park just down the road. I had a coffee and a toasted cheese sandwich at a cafe across the street from the park, and a lovelier coffee at the boating lake inside the park, which also served foods for all tastes.

A lovely day, and a nice meal is on the cards for tonight, maybe, if they don't kick me out of the hotel due to the blood.OK OK :)) But seriously, a really nice and relaxing day in the park. Tomorrow either more of the same or a little adventure in the Metro.

Spiderman: Crime is said to be at an all time low :)

Day 45 - great hotel, right in the heart of it all

The hotel is situated in the Retiro area with just a short walk to the Buen Retiro Park. Returning today for a nice lunch and a few drinks in the 30c heat. It was a lovely day. The park is huge, about 350 acres, and on the other side of the park is the Centro area, the city centre, so all within walking distance.

Loads of places to eat and drink, and you can feed the fish and turtles in the ponds too if you want, although I didn't see many people feeding them anything more than a few crumbs. I have made a short video of it today to share with you. If in Madrid, this is a must visit park. Well that's it for today, back to chilling out and a nice meal tonight, and a visit to the city tomorrow :)

Day 46 - A really great day in Retiro District 

Its quite a nice city, with tons of bars and restaurants. Not as nice I thought as the Retiro district where my hotel is, or the park, but still well worth a day out.

If your into art and historic buildings, its OK, and if your into having a drink and nice meal, its better, although overpriced in many places for what it is. More images coming tomorrow, but for now, here is a pic of a lovely meal of Spaghetti Carbonara and Sangria.

Well worth a visit, in fact Madrid is the place to visit out of the places I've visited thus far in Spain. Made the mistake of asking a policeman for directions, who thought for a laugh he would send me in the other direction for a few miles, getting help and assistance has not been so easy at all so far, or getting an hello for that matter.

Sorry it's not much more, but I'm b#llocksed :)

After both feet were placed on the professional scales yesterday, the result is in. Weight loss to date: 13kg (28lb) Now, without doubt I have lost muscle from my upper body now that I'm not working out in the gym on strength training. There will be some loss of muscle in my legs too now that I'm not pressing or curling.

There will be a slight increase in muscles required for cycling, especially in my upper thighs with those hills :) But the larger part of weight loss will be coming from fat. 13kg is pretty good going, but I'm not too pleased about upper body muscle loss, but unfortunately this was going to happen and will continue to happen over the whole of my body within muscles which are no longer needed as much as before.

But as I say, there will be an increase in muscles I have not had to stress before. I expect the weight loss to continue, and maybe even speed up in the short term until a balance is reached. Other than this week or chilling of course :) 

Day 47 - Launderette Day

A day of washing clothes at the launderette, sorting a few bits out, and few Nachos at a Mexican, which was really poor by the way so left it at Nachos, then the rest of the day crashed out on Buen Retiro Park.

Day 48 - Tapas and Bars

Tapas Definition: Overpriced bits of nothing much really.

Well OK that's not quite fair, as not speaking Spanish really knackers you. Not speaking or being able to read Spanish, your left with just choosing from what's on display on the bar, but for the real gems I'm told, you need to ask for. What's on display on the bar is very very limited, and there really is little point in going out to make the most of tapas if you can't order anything because you don't speak Spanish.

From tapas bar to tapas bar, it was all pretty much the same simple cheap looking nibbles, and not so cheap either. The whole thing just seemed like a tourist attraction, but as I found out, if you go from bar to bar just ordering a drink, the waiter will usually bring you a few little bits to eat too at no extra charge.

Sure, this is to encourage you to tip and to maybe try something off the menu, but you can go from bar to bar just having a drink at each one, and get a little snack to fuel you enough to carry you to the next bar. Like tapas, these little snacks are not designed to fill you up, they are what I would describe as fidget food, like a tray of bar nuts or crisps. A little salt and dryness to get you drinking more.

There was one restaurant, called Restaurante Saraiba at Calle de Antonio Acuña, 7, 28009 Madrid. After ordering a couple of beers and then 2 items of tapas from the display on the bar, the manager instructed the waiter to show the menu and prices. This was a big mistake, as everything was in Spanish of course, being in Spain, and the prices were anywhere from £6 to £24. With the word Tapas on the top of the menu, and per portion written underneath, of course it was a bit of a shock, so that put an end to that.

I went to pay and was expecting around £40, but the bill was just £9. Handing over a menu and prices like that to people who don't understand Spanish, is something they need to rethink. That said, it was the cleanest and most well presented restaurant seen all day, and in fact all week for that matter, so another trip to it is on the cards for today maybe. And hopefully there maybe some help this time with choosing something, and if not, it will be a drink and a little tapas from the bar.
So far, there has been just 2 places that I have found worthy of a second visit:

Restaurant Saraiba, and China City Chinese Restaurant, again in the Retiro part of the city at Calle del Dr. Esquerdo, 66, 28007 Madrid. That's right, a Chinese restaurant. It was simply one of the nicest I have ever eaten in. The food is really special at a really fair price. The Cantonese Style Duck is the best I have had, and at under £10 too. It is such a shame I don't speak Spanish, as I have no doubt missed out on some really special tapas, but like I say, without speaking the lingo, you are limited to what you see on the bars, which isn't much at all really.

Not only that, but I will not eat from bars that have dirty toilets, so I always check the toilets first, and it's a good idea to check behind the doors in the toilets. If the bars have the food on display without being covered up, then I avoid them too, as there are a lot of flies in Madrid and they love tapas too, and I also don't like the idea of other customers hanging over the food.

It's a shame more restaurants don't have just one English menu and French menu say, as this would mean more money coming in from people like me no doubt about it. If I owned a restaurant, I would have menus in dozens of languages. This image I have posted is of the free foods you can expect when just ordering a beer. Order a beer or drink of some sort, then give it a minute. Don't ask for a menu or even look at one, and a few minutes later you will be rewarded with a little sample of something for free. Sometimes its just a few crisps or olives, but other times is like this.

And so, Spanish is essential in order to get the best out of the best tapas and not just the bits on display, which the flies seem to love. No doubt it would be a great experience. That said, it was a great day with plenty of bits to eat and a lot of beer :)

Day 49 - How do I like Madrid?

I like it, a lot. It's got everything but a beach, and the parks make up for that a plenty. The parks, especially Buen Retiro Park, are spotlessly clean and well managed. The streets of the city are kept pretty clean too, and the binmen do all the clearing during the night.

I'm glad I chose Madrid in advance, as a city to spend some time in and relax. Food has been available, although not what I have expected, but there are one or two steakhouses but not many.

Historic building are all around, and so many are stunning, even the apartment buildings. I can't comment on night life other than restaurants and bars, which are all fine. I didn't once get harassed by anyone in the streets, and maybe only saw a dozen people begging the whole time.

I felt safe on the streets at all times of the day. Now I very rarely feel unsafe, as I can take pretty good care of myself as I am usually really good at spotting trouble in all directions and locations, but I didn't really spot anything that I would consider a threat. That's not say there wasn't any, just that I didn't spot it.

The one let down for me, and it is likely the same in a lot of big cities, is that most people seemed very unfriendly. I was brought up to say hi or hello or smile at just about anyone who passes by. And I mostly get the same in return in places I visit.

A smile, a nod, a hello or good morning, will get you nothing but a blank expression in return, or even what looks like a dirty look. People will push past you and barge, and will completely ignore you unless you are buying from them or the want something from you. You will move out of the way to let someone through, and you won't get a thank you or a kiss my arse, nothing.

This is something that is very hard to get used to, but I think I have managed to adapt now. It's likely just their culture, as even the very young children will blank you :) So the only thing I really didn't like, was the "attitude" of the majority of the people I personally encountered. Otherwise, a really great place and well worth a look if you get the chance. A long weekend break would be ideal. 

Day 50 - and it's time to prepare for the next leg to Valencia

I estimate it will take between 10 and 14 days to reach the sea from Madrid at a safe and steady pace. I believe there is not much in the way of campsites on this route, so it will be wild camping and hopefully the odd campsite that hasn't shown up on the map yet.

The only campsite I have seen is one just 30km or so from where I am right now, and as it will take me some time tying things up at the hotel, then making my way slowly out of the city, I will be settling on this campsite as my first stop. It's not far I know, but it will be hard work getting through the city and it's my first day back on the bike after my lovely rest.

For the next week there is no rain forecast, which is great, and the temperatures are estimated to be around the high 20's and low 30's, so starting early will be the way to go, and not to stress myself out doing too many miles each day.

I have rejigged my bags and quite a bit of stuff has been sent home. I have a 200mm zoom lens that weighs 1.2kg and hasn't been used once, and other things that weigh in at a total of around 8kg, which have all gone home.

It's proven to be far too early in my cycle touring training :), to have the luxury of being able to carry too much extra weight with things I hardly if ever use at the moment. Once I get to a point were my muscles and mind have adapted, I will find more time and strength to carry luxury items.

I now have one pannier dedicated to food supplies and cooking. Emergency foods like beans, noodles, sausages in jar, bananas and coffee making gear, as well as the burner and juice, and for anything I stock it with as I go.

All the other bags have been reworked and I'm now more organised. I'm looking forward to hitting the road, and who knows what's ahead of me.

Madrid Taxi Warning!

There is said to be a set fee of €30 Euros to and from the airport that cannot be altered. Well I was just ripped off by a Madrid taxi driver, so be warned. I took a trip over to the airport this evening at a cost of €30, the fixed fee.

Later I got in another taxi to return back to the hotel, but this time I handed over a €50 Euro note, and received €12 Euro change, I said hey it's €30, to which he started waving his arms around and talking in Spanish, so I had no idea what he was saying.

I spotted my hotel doorman on the steps who I knew spoke English, so I jumped out leaving the side door open to get the doorman. The taxi driver sped off. Unfortunately I didn't get chance to get his number. So my friends, there is a chance you may get ripped off by a Madrid taxi driver as you leave or arrive at the airport, so here are my tips: 

Make sure you only have €30 in cash to give the driver, and don't do it with a €50 note. If the driver tries for more, give him a fck-off tablet, as the rules say they are not allowed to charge any more, even if they are stuck in traffic or get lost. Really disappointed in Madrid taxis. Sure, they are not all like that, but still. Be careful and not too trusting.