Travelling with Steve and Christian, I caught a lunchtime flight to Spain from Heathrow’s Terminal 5. It was mid-October and I was looking forward to a spot of autumn sunshine. And I certainly got it! The weather was perfect for filming – a balmy 22-23°.
Madrid was another first for me. I’d been to Barcelona a few times and visited the Spanish coast for holidays and work, but never Madrid. And I’m not alone, it seems. This is one of the great European capitals, but most British visitors to Spain never make it there! It’s their loss; it’s a fantastic city.
Madrid is very confident, very smart and very proud. Just after we arrived, there was a massive demonstration and we heard what sounded like an explosion. We still don’t know what happened, but the police cordoned off the area and life carried on around it as if nothing had happened.
We’d go out to a different restaurant for breakfast every day - one of the best ways to get the sense of any city. Evenings, because we were so knackered, we visited the same little tapas bar for a snack and a beer each night. I know that doesn’t sound very adventurous but because we’d been filming all day, we just wanted something easy and familiar before crashing out.
Anyone who’s visited Spain will know that it’s definitely a late-night place, with people of all ages wandering about arm in arm well into the early hours. I loved the buzz of that.
I’m a big backgammon fan (and a decent player, if I say so myself) and I’m pretty fond of chess too, so I was delighted to see the chess cafés so well frequented by blokes (and it was mostly blokes) of all ages. But I wasn’t allowed to stop and join in. We had filming to do …
We stayed in a city centre hotel, which meant we did a lot of walking. In fact, we got to most filming locations on foot. As you’d expect, there are loads of tapas bars and oyster bars alongside great markets and world famous restaurants – but you know what there isn’t? Street food. It’s illegal to serve it, apparently. A bit of a problem for a series about ..er…street food.
But we’d come for a reason. Madrid was holding its first ever food festival – which proved a good way around the street food ban. By designating an area for the stalls and vans, it stopped being a problem. And it was the most fabulous stuff. I even bought a couple of celebratory food festival t-shirts to mark the occasion.
It makes complete sense that they should have launched a food festival because Madrid is a very foodie city. There are some top, top places there. I had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant that looked alarmingly like a doctor’s surgery.
I did a little shopping too, of course - and discovered a great boutique called Zara, where I bought a couple of prezzies for friends. This’ll be original, I thought. It was only when I got home that I discovered it wasn’t quite the unknown brand I’d imagined. Oops. Still - they won’t have far to go if I got the size wrong.