Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Friends, Food, Mountains and Music

By Richard Morley.

What a Week! Lessons cancelled, postponed, or reassigned. I complemented one student that he alone had remained consistent, and then he first cancelled and then asked for a reassignment! Another reassigned and then cancelled. I didn’t know if I was coming, going or going round in circles.

So it was a wonderful relief when a very good friend suggested a day in the country.

It is unfortunate for the visitor, but just outside Madrid are some wonderful places that can’t easily be reached by public transport. You need your own. Luckily my amiga has her own car. And so, together with another friend, we set off for a day in the sierra Guadarrama.

Madrid might well be the highest capital city in Europe, but, although you might think not think so as you drag your suitcase up yet another slope on your way to your hostel, it is built on a relatively even plain. Relative to what? Look north! Well within sight of the city and less that an hours drive away are the mountains of the sierra Guadarrama and a village which never closes.

That’s a bilingual play on words that Spanish speakers of English like to tell. The name of the village is Navacerrada and is a place of restaurants and gift shops that pander to the tastes of the Domingeros, those Sunday drivers who like to take a slow journey out of the city for a change of air. We were going to have lunch there, but first we had to embark on some appetite building mountain climbing.

It is autumn in Spain. In the Retiro park the trees are wonderful shades of yellow, red and gold and as we travelled out of town the varied shades of the dying year just became even more vivid.

Autumnal yellow in the green
Yet as we passed an elevation marker telling us we were at 1200 metres above sea-level, the landscape returned to green as fir trees took over from the soon to hibernate deciduous trees. Now I finally understand that line from the musical film about “Mountain Greenery”. (I’ve just looked up the lyrics and they really are incredibly trite.

So we skirted the village and, taking a narrow country lane, followed the route of the Rio Navacerrada, which probably never stops flowing, to La Barranca. There, in the company of a multitude of others wanting to escape the crowded city, (and so made for a crowded mountain,) we hunted for a parking place among the trees and set off for our climb.

El Valle de la Barranca has a good, smooth gravel road which leads on to smaller, wilder, and rockier tracks.

A couple of hundred metres from the car park there is a fenced off area called “De Pino a Pino”, from pine to pine. Here strong steel cables have been slung between the trees where brave souls could perform Indiana Jones style death defying feats of high wire walking, leaping from trapeze to trapeze, or fly great distances suspended from a pulley. Queues of kids lined up at a reception shack to be fitted out with all the necessary safety harnesses and that all important, well lubricated, pulley wheel. The speed with which they threw themselves through the tree-tops was a sight to behold – and made me feel slightly jealous.

Beyond the adventure area the track wound ever upwards. My friends, who had visited the Highlands of Scotland last summer said it reminded them of walks they had taken there, except the stream beds here were dry and their boots were not caked with mud. But like the Scottish weather the unbroken blue skies came with a biting chill wind. I wish I had taken gloves.

We had turned on to a narrow track, perhaps not much more than a metre and a half wide. To our right the side of the mountain climbed steeply. Fir trees, brambles and brown, fragile, dean ferns covered the rock face. Huge boulders seemed ready to slip and crush us at a moment’s notice. To our left the ground fell away more steeply than it climbed to the right. The tips of pines almost within an arm’s length were level with out eyes. The reservoir next to where we had parked the car shimmered in the bright sun a long way beneath us. Under our feet the gravel path had become rock strewn and occasionally blocked by fallen trees.

We probably climbed about 300 metres, it was never a difficult walk and the only danger came from the speeding mountain cyclists who were very polite and always thanked us as they screeched past as we flattened ourselves against the boulders or threw ourselves into the brambles to escape their onrushing onslaught. I wondered what protection their plastic helmets would offer if they went over the edge? It would be a couple of hundred vertical metres before they came to rest.

More sensible people, like us, had chosen to walk. A sign near the car park recommended a circular route with arrows suggesting a direction of travel. We were following the suggestion, but many had not and we met them coming down as we went up. Almost without fail total strangers gave us a friendly “Hola”, which we returned as we squeezed past each other. My friends explained it was traditional to greet strangers on country paths as much as it was traditional to ignore them in the city.

Almost at the summit we looked down on the city of Madrid, some 50 kilometres distant. Unfortunately the details of the city were lost in the haze, although the wraith like silhouettes of the Cuatro Torres easy to make out. Considering that the tops of those towers are more than one kilometre above sea-level and we were looking down on them it was easy to appreciate how high we had climbed.

Can you see the Cuatro Torres through the haze?

Then one of my friends complained that her stomach was “noisy”, which was a definite sign that a decent lunch was needed. We turned around and travelling against the arrows, made our way back down.

Just last week the Comunidad of Madrid, which covers a huge area outside the city limits, had declared the whole of the Sierra Guadarrama a National park. It is a great sweep of countryside that encircles much of the northwest of Madrid almost as far as Segovia. It’s wonderful that this rugged landscape will be free of Madrid’s urban sprawl.

Sierra View. The rope bridge is part of the Pino a Pino adventure area.
From the country park to the village of Navacerrada the journey takes less than ten minutes. On route we past a base for the forest fire-fighters; their helicopter with its huge water scoop stood ready. Despite the autumn chill there had been no rain for weeks and the forest was tinder dry. Signs along the paths had warned us repeatedly of the danger of fire.

Fire warning.

Just below the fire station stood a long, ancient, decaying building built into the side of the mountain. It concrete was crumbling, exposed reinforcing bars rusty and deformed, every one of hundreds of small glass panes were smashed on each of its four floors. It’s paintwork was shabby and peeling. Weeds sprouted from every crack in its plaster. Years ago this had been a sanatorium for sufferers of tuberculosis when the “cure” had been fresh mountain air. Far too large to be turned into a practical hotel, too far away from the town to become a factory or office it stands decaying and forgotten as antibiotics replace the old treatment. A memory of a bygone age – but not that long ago!

Below that, at the foot of the slope, I was amused to see, was a house called “La Peña”. To be true to its name it should have been much, much higher up the mountain. Still, it’s not bad to have aspirations.

On reaching the village once more demanded a keen eye and lightning reactions to find an elusive parking space among the cars of all the other “Domingeros”. But we did and were soon wandering the streets of this delightful village in search of refreshment. We had booked a table at the Portillon restaurant, but despite our hunger, we were too early, so found a cosy place in a bar decorated with photographs of famous patrons who had sipped a caña or two on the premises. Naturally, the cañas came with small tapas bowls of paella. I am not a great fan of paella, but the appetite inducing effects of a brisk walk in country air had had their proper effect and I washed mine down with the beer. Therefore the immediate need for a proper meal had declined a little and left us free to order another.

Navacerrada Village.

The Portillón, the name of which, according to the waiter we asked, refers to the starting gate at the beginning of a competative ski run, looks like a something transplanted from the Austrian Tyrol. The name reminded us that further up the mountain lies the ski resort of Puerta de Navacerrada with its ski runs, cable cars and Swiss style chalets. Inside, in the ground floor bar, a huge log fire warmly welcomed us. We waited in the glow of its heat, yet more cañas in hand, while we waited for our table to be ready.

It didn’t take long. The restaurant above the bar is on two floors. The walls are lined with dark stained wood, the tables are wide and spacious. It’s not a place for whispered, intimate conversation. The menu is superb with a huge list of starters and only slightly smaller offering of main dishes. I was somewhat alarmed to notice that “mouse” was one of the dishes on offer, but was assured that they had forgotten the second s in mousse de pato. Ah, the joys of being an English spelling pedant.

One had the onion and cheese soup, which she pronounced delicious, while my other friend and I shared a goat cheese salad with balsamic vinegar that was a joy to the taste buds. I followed that with a Magret de pato with amazingly crispy skin, but nicely underdone in the middle. My friends had the beef. It too looked good, which was probably why they were not sharing any. Desserts followed, as did coffee and liquors, then more coffee as other friends joined us.

Outside it was twilight. The Portillón staff were preparing the tables for dinner. We left and found another bar to continue the conversation. But we couldn’t stay long. We had to get back to Madrid for an important engagement.

One of the English Speaking Group members was giving a concert with her husband. He plays guitar and harmonica and sings, (obviously not while playing the harmonica!), while the lovely Laura accompanies on percussion and backing (with occasional lead) vocals. Miguel had arranged with the Galileo Galilei theatre in the Calle Galileo to let him give a performance for friends and family. It was slick and professional with excellent acoustics. Mick had written many of his own songs which he mixed in with some well known oldies. It was a creditable performance and I really enjoyed the music.

Laura and Miguel

Friends, food, mountain air and good music. I love Madrid. Who could want for more?

And, so far, no students have cancelled or reassigned for next week. Life is good.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Monumental Folly

By Richard Morley

Madrid has a new landmark. Usually after a statement like that, given that Madrileños are a conservative bunch who don’t take easily to change, I would write “and opinions are divided”. They certainly are over the new layout for the plaza del Sol and not everyone agrees that the Cuatro Torres, the highest buildings in Europe, are an iconic symbol of the city. However, I have yet to hear one complementary word about the new addition to Madrid’s skyline.

Officially it is called the Madrid Obelisk and is a present to the city from the Caja Madrid bank. It is there to mark the bicentenary of the French getting kicked out of Spain. Standing, as it does, at the Puerta de Europa, I am not sure if that is terribly diplomatic. (According to an entry on Wikipedia the obelisk is to celebrate three hundred years since the inauguration of the bank. I am told this is not true. Well, it is Wikipedia!)

It’s other names range from the polite, “Golden Needle” to, rather rudely, (and those of a sensitive nature do not kill the messenger,) “El Dildo Dorado”, The Golden Dildo, which is nicely alliterative as well as descriptive. I get the idea that the city’s residents, at least the ones who talk to me, are not impressed.

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it stands ninety two metres high with a diameter of two metres. Apparently it is meant to sway like bamboo in the wind. Now the Plaza Castilla is already a place to avoid for sufferers of vertigo as the leaning towers of the Torres Kio dominate and hang over the plaza like opposing tsunamis. Stick a swaying, golden column in between and you have an instant recipe for seasickness.

But at least the two towers played well their role as a gateway out of the city and a frame for a city-side view of the four towers. This new monstrosity blocks that view and seems as alien, with its golden flutes, as an acupuncturist’s needle in the face of a well loved friend, to paraphrase the English crown prince.

Perhaps that is the obelisk’s problem. It has been built in the wrong place. It’s Rococo / Ormolu fluting would be more at home in the more classical parts of the city; Opposite Atocha station in the Plaza Emperador Carlos V, for instance. Or even in, or at least near, the Retiro Park. Hidden by the trees it would hardly be noticed close up and yet be seen from afar.

But surrounded by some of the most daring and modern architecture in Madrid, it seems definitely out of place. Trying to take photographs there this week I found it cluttered, and detracted from, a modern, open urban landscape.

Well, it’s too late now. Its base is rapidly nearing completion, so they are not about to tear it down and move it.

And really, what is its point? It commemorates a bank! I have no idea what the cost of this folly is, but can’t help thinking it could be money better spent. The Caixa Bank has given the city a wonderful addition in the Forum to an already impressive list of art galleries and Caja Madrid itself has sponsored many great exhibitions. So who was the idiot that decided that in this time of deep financial crisis a fitting monument would be an insulting finger upraised in the face of the suffering public?

Last month activists belonging to Greenpeace climbed to obelisk to protest against climate change. Their banners seemed to put the blame on El Presidente, José Zapatero.

At least someone has found a use for this monumental mistake.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Transports of Delight

By Richard Morley
What would you think if I told you that Madrilènes use to ride on canaries? Supposing I said that razor blades were a perfectly usual form of transport? It’s quite true. In 1898 the city introduced the first electric trams. They were painted yellow and were known as “Canaries”. Prior to them, and existing alongside, were steam driven trams, and these were called “Maquinillas”, which translates into clippers, or razors, and is also the name given to those little cigarette rolling machines. Or probably just “Little machines”, which, as they were small and narrow gauge, compared diminutively with the larger railway engines leaving Atocha for Aranjuez and points south.

Before that, the power used was what is known in Spanish as “A sangre”, or blood powered. It all sounds rather gruesome until a quick reference check informed me that this just meant the trams were pulled by animals. Both Horses and donkeys were used.

Twenty one years later, as I wrote a few posts ago, the Madrid metro opened its first line. The trams went everywhere. I would imagine the tram operators viewed the underground upstart with a little distain. In that first year of competition the Metro carried just fifteen million passengers while the trams carried ten times as many. Surely the Metro would never be a serious rival their monopoly within the city! Ancient Tram on Display at Pinar Chamartin Metro Station

Madrileños loved to give their trams nicknames. Besides “Canarios”, in the first decade of the twentieth century some grey painted trams received the appellation “Los grises de la Muerte” as they seemed to cause an awful lot of accidents. Madrileños are known as “Gatos” and all cats are grey in the dark. Perhaps no one saw them coming. However, when they painted them red the name changed to “Cangrejos”, which is the Spanish word for Crayfish, but probably comes from the phrase, “avanzar como los cangrejos”, because as the crayfish is a slow moving animal this translates as “To make little headway”, at least according to Collins.

Since 1933 there had been another competitor to the tranvías. This was the year the city council had created the Empresa Mixta de Transportes Urbanos, which was, as the name implies, a mix of all the different forms of public transport in the city; The Trams, the Metro and now another upstart, the autobús. The EMTU became the Empresa Municipal de Transportes, the EMT, in 1947.

The trams enjoyed one hundred and one years of service. In 1956 they carried 260 million passengers, the greatest number they ever carried, but in the same year the metro took 394 million. From that time on the writing was on the wall. The number of private cars had also increased and the trams on their fixed tracks just got in the way. Despite a fiesta to celebrate the centenary in 1971, the axe fell the following year.

Every Madrileño knows the EMT. They run the red (and now blue) buses around the city. From 1949 until 1965 the EMT ran a combination of trams, trolley buses and normal buses, but from 1974 had the sole responsibility for the bus network.

I don’t know if this is true, but someone once told me that the Spanish love to travel on buses. I think they are wonderful as I have explained before. I just use them to get about the city, but others travel all over the country.

If you are in Madrid and want to leave then you will begin your journey by going to an “Intercambiador”. One Madrileño I know hates this name, but unlike so many long-winded Spanish descriptions, this is short and to the point. A “Changing place”. The New Intercambiador with the Cuatro Torres in the background.

The Empresa Municipal de Transportes has just opened what it claims is the most modern bus and coach station in Europe. Situated at the plaza Castilla, also known as the Puerta de Europa, this is now the place to get that long distance coach to all points north.

Built in the shade of the famous sloping sky-scrapers, the Torres Kio, the new bus, coach and Metro station, which of course, this being Madrid is not yet finished (!), is constructed on three levels and connects directly with lines 1, 9, and 10 of the metro and is just one metro stop away from Chamartin Railways station. Which begs the question as to why they haven’t thought to build a moving walkway tunnel between the two stations and combine them into one big “Intercambiador”?

To celebrate this opening, the EMT have held a short exhibition of buses through the ages. This past weekend has been a long one in Madrid, with city workers getting the Monday off. I went to see and photograph this exhibition, which was much more interesting than the one the metro hosted a couple of weeks back, and thought you would be interested to see what the citizens rode in before today’s comfortable and over air-conditioned buses.

I have a photo in my collection that shows the Calle de Alcala in about 1928. One of the buses, a Spanish built Hispano Suiza has the steering wheel on the right, proving my photograph’s evidence that at the beginning of the last century Spain drove, like Britain, on the left.

Right hand drive Hispano Suiza. And no protection from the weather!

A Bus Ride through history.

1914 Ford Model T, Four cylinders, 2900cc, 20 Horsepower.

1922 Hispano Suiza 30/40. Four cylinders, 4710 cc, 43 Horsepower.

1928 Rolls Royce, 20/25. Six cylinders, 3667 cc, 32 Horsepower.

1935 Bussing (an appropriate name!), Nag. 3080 cc, 65 horsepower.

1941 MAN MP, 9498 cc, 120 Horsepower.

In 1946 the Spanish part of Hispano Suiza sold their automotive assets to Enasa, the maker of Pegaso trucks, buses and sparts cars.

1959 Pegaso, Z-408 / 1(5051). 10,170 cc, 165 Horsepower.

1966 Pegaso 6035. 10170 cc, 179 Horsepower. I see it's a number 27. I often use the much more modern bendy bus on that route. It goes straight down the Paseo de Castellana.


1968 Pegaso Setra Seida. 10,170 cc, 170 Horsepower.

1978 Pegaso Setra Seida. 11945 cc, 225 horsepower.

1982 Pegaso Setra S-215H. 11,945 cc, 286 Horsepower.
This post probably qualifies me as a Geek, or a "Freaki" as the Spanish would say, though probably not to my face!! Will you admit to your freakiness? Did you enjoy this post? If so, leave a comment below.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Words of Warning

By Richard Morley.
I had left the Plaza Santa Ana, a well known square not far from the city centre and a much better place to eat or have a drink with friends than the Plaza Mayor, and was walking along the Calle Principe towards the Plaza Canalejas. It was twilight and the streets were starting to fill with people looking forward to an evening out on the town. As a moved along with the tide of walkers a Chinese looking man stopped in front of me and asked me if I spoke English. He held a map. He was lost. Could I direct him? He pointed to a place on the map.

Suddenly, a short, fat man, accompanied by a taller, skinny youth, crossed towards us from the other side of the narrow street. The little fat man gave me a half second flash of a green, official looking card inside his wallet and announced, “I am a policeman. It is very dangerous to speak to strangers on the street”. Then added, “Show me your passport”, and reiterated I was in danger.

Those that have met me will know I am not the tallest man in the world, yet I was half a head taller than this “policeman”. However, I was quite a lot shorter than his companions.

I have had young men offer to change my money in unlit back streets of African Towns (I give you good rate, Mister). I have been invited into back rooms and offered wondrous things as I strolled the alleys of Cairo. I have watched the tourists conned by the three card trick artists in the Calle Della Veste in Venice. The little fat man and his accomplices were amateurs by comparison. But there were three of them and one of me.

He was still demanding I gave him my passport. Still telling me it was “very dangerous”, although he didn’t elaborate on this supposed threat. I gave them my best sardonic stare and walked away, on the principle that if he really was a policeman he would come after me. He didn’t.

I suppose I am worldly wise. I should be; I have been in it long enough. But for a young girl just off the plane this could have been quite scary. If my “policeman” had been taller than me and not so laughably squat, I too might have felt more apprehensive. The whole thing lasted less than a minute. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and as I walked away I kept glancing behind me. But they were gone. They had disappeared as swiftly as kitchen cockroaches when the lights are turned on..

In four and a half years of living in Madrid this in the ONLY time I have felt concerned for my safety or my possessions. As far as I am concerned Madrid is a safe place. I have felt less secure on a Friday night in some English provincial towns.

The major street crime seems to be pick-pocketing. The Rastro, the famous street market on Sunday mornings, (see header photograph) is said to be teeming with flexible fingered felons who will, quite literally, snatch at any chance they have to have off with your exposed purse (that’s UK English for a ladies billfold, American readers) or wallet. I do know people who have had belongings taken from their pockets in the Rastro, so that is certainly one place you must be on your guard.

However, this week, I came across a news item about someone called Diane Von Furstenberg who reported that she had been mugged while walking along the Paseo del Prado. Google alerts told me:

Diane Von Furstenberg tweeted that she was mugged in Madrid, Spain. A distraught Von Furstenberg apparently got away with her phone because she instantly went online to let friends and fans know "Madrid! I just got robbed in the street in front of the Thyssen Museum. My wallet, cash, and all my credit cards!" People, this is why you should carry a photocopy of your passport around and not the real thing, okay?
She then assured fans she was "totally fine" and hoped that was the worst thing that happened to her. Hey, that's a valid fear in Madrid. My best friend and I could barely walk around the city at night because there were so many casually dressed prostitutes outside of our hostel that we were inevitably followed by American boys speaking bad Spanish who wanted to know how much. Also, why are there so many Pork Museums?

Let’s clear up two things straight away: The “Pork Museums” as she calls them, or the “Museos de jamón” are a chain of cafés and pork butchers. One of the best places for a cheap meal if you don’t mind being surrounded by suspended pieces of dead pigs. And, oh come on Miss Furstenberg, I have seen your photograph. There’s no way, except in your imagination, that any man would think you were a prostitute. The girls in Montera are so much better looking!

Right: Diana Von Furstenberg as photographed by Vanity Fare.

However, she claims she was mugged and that’s not nice. It does surprise me that the deed occurred in such a public street, but the report does not tell if it was some lonely hour of the night. She is also female and perhaps thought a more vulnerable victim.

Not being female I decided to ask the experts in this matter how they felt about walking the streets of Madrid. I asked both native and ex-pat and cross section of age ranges. If it is not considered sexist, might I also remark that these are also attractive women, who love to go out at night and might seem to be easy pickings to the dregs of our society?

I asked them:
How safe do you feel in Madrid?
Do you feel more or less safe than in other cities?
What advice would you give to visitors regarding safety?
Do you have a scam / pick pocketing / mugging story to tell?

Here is what they told me.

From a native who has lived in Madrid all her life: I feel safe, but usually stay in well populated areas and never take the back streets. All cities have their dangerous areas and it is unwise to carry all your belongings in one bag or pocket.

From a lady from England who lives here: Short answer, yes, I feel safe in Madrid. Safer than I did in London, at night certainly, though I didn't spend much time in London if I could help it. I think the difference is that the mugging potential in Madrid does seem to be pretty much round the clock and not confined to the side streets.

From a lady from Scotland who visits often: I have been travelling back and forth to Madrid for many years and I must admit I feel only as threatened as I would at home. In all the years I've visited I have only been with one person when they've been mugged and to be honest if they were wearing those baggy combats and acting quite so clearly as a tourist, they would have been mugged in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow too - but they probably would have known about it at the time rather than only noticing when getting back to the hostel. I have never witnessed the kind of street brawls that welcome most of us heading out in Britain on a Friday/Saturday night.

From a native who comes from elsewhere in Spain, but now works in Madrid: Yes, I feel relatively safe in Madrid but I'm not a naive person (and I have common sense), so I make sure that my purse is closed, behind my arm and never ever I stop looking at the people or vehicles, etc. I don't carry anything important in my pockets (just in case). I think that Madrid is not a dangerous city or at least not more than other cities, but you have to take some actions in order to prevent a complicated situation like "our friend". (I think she means Diane Von F.)

And from another Madrid native who answered my questionnaire like a questionnaire:
How safe do you feel in Madrid? Very safe. Especially in the historical centre.
Do you feel more safe or less safe than other cities? The same as in other European capitals.
What advice would you give to visitors regarding safety? Take care of their wallets, handbags, etc. The same as we do when we walk on the street. There are pickpockets like in other cities as London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin.... but Madrid is not an especially dangerous city.
Have you a scam / pick pocketing / mugging story to tell? No, because I usually take care of my handbag

I also loved her comments about how Miss Von F thought she was perceived:
"I think this woman has a lot of imagination. It is possible she was more aware of the fact that if people recognized her or not, or if there were any fans on the street, than taking care of her bag. Of course Spanish man don't think foreign women are prostitutes, they are (in general, with exceptions) very respectful with people and especially with women."

My first responder also commented on that. When I asked if she thought it was true that Miss Von F could assume that men thought she was a prostitute, my friend replied, “Who knows? Probably a high class one!”

Oh! You women when the claws are out!!!!

There are some good, common sense points there: Not putting your possessions in one bag or pocket, always be aware of your surroundings, keep your bags close to you. And, of course, have sense with what you wear.

In summer we see lots of very obvious tourists. How do we know? Well, apart from the horrible fashion (?) of wearing sandals AND socks, there will be a camera around the neck, a bum bag / fanny pack around the waist, a bulge under the shirt where they think they are hiding that money belt and sometimes a little pouch hanging from the neck that we all know has their passport, money and credit cards in it. And if the tourist is an American male over fifty, he will be wearing a florid shirt his wife bought him in Hawaii. They may as well have a target on their back saying, “Come and get me!”

So do my ladies have any advice for you? Yes lots, and I am just going to list it as trying to put it into a literate form would take too long.

Don't put all your money and belongings in the same pocket.
The worst pocket (ie. jeans) is the rear one. It's better in front of you.
Don't leave your handbag, suitcase, backpack... hanging on your chair or on the floor.
Don’t wear your backpack on your back.... because someone can cut it if it without you knowing.
Pay special attention in crowded areas.
Don't leave your mobile on the table (someone can come there trying to sell you a newspaper. They lay the paper over the phone and when they go, so has your phone!)
Don't leave your bag on the seat (in a car) it's better on the floor of the car.
Keep your passport in the hotel (safe box).
Take official transportation at the airport.
Hotels, train station, airports are special places to be robbed if you don't pay attention of your belongings.
Take a copy of your passport, credit cards because if you lose it at least you have all the information.
Don't play "trileros games", it can be "friends" of your properties. That’s the three card trick, or the coin under the cup trick.
When you're walking don’t carry your bag on the road side of the pavement.
If you notice someone is following you try to change your way. If the situation will be the same try to enter in a shop or a place with people.

The resident English lady puts it well: “My advice to tourists here would be the same as anywhere else - try not to look like a tourist! Don't carry everything valuable with you all the time, have a bag that zips up securely and that you can carry where you can see it and just be observant and vigilant. Ignore distractions like people dropping money, etc.”

And she has quite a cautionary tale to tell. She writes: “In Madrid so far, (she has been here six or seven months, I think), the night before I arrived, the girl I was due to meet here on my first day had her phone stolen, a week after I arrived there was a murder less than 500 metres from where I was living, my flatmate was assaulted getting off the nightbus, one of her female friends was knocked to the ground and had everything taken last week, and a couple of days ago one of her male friends had his mobile cut from his trouser pocket on the Metro. Oh, and a male acquaintance of mine was attacked apparently for his watch and his wallet and got a black eye in the process (he says he fought off two "big guys" and they didn't actually get his stuff!) The closest I've come is actually catching a woman halfway through unzipping my handbag on the Metro - she hadn't managed to get anything out of it yet! Sadly, I'm sure my time will come!”

I sincerely hope not.
She also commented on Miss Von F: “I also have no idea who this woman is, but as she's a designer and as far as I can tell most designer clothes these days seem to be made to make you look like a tart, maybe someone did think she was a prostitute! And surely she's a prostitute for fashion.”

I am but a mere male and would not dare to comment! Besides, I care nothing for fashion – as everyone who knows me will testify! Jeans and tee-shirt, that’s me!

That means I look like everyone else, mas o menos, although sometimes when visiting offices I dress up a little more smartly, which means, I blend in to my surroundings. I don’t look like a guiri, a foreigner, a tourist. My ever present camera is small enough to remain hidden until I need it. I haven’t used a wallet for years and separate my cash. And I always try to look like I know where I am going – even when I don’t.

Different countries have different styles in clothes, even in the western world. One young lady seeking information about “How to not look like a guiri while visiting Madrid” received the advice, “Leave all your clothes at home and come straight from the airport to Zara and buy yourself a new wardrobe”. Unrealistic, I know, but it would probably do the trick.

Madrid unfortunately does have its share of bad people. I watched as three men closed in on a young back-packer as he boarded the metro. I am pleased to report that I got between him and them and then, as the doors closed behind them had the satisfaction of watching the trio trying very hard to pretend they were not there. They exited very quickly at the next station.

But the young back-packer was a definite target. His heavy pack was on his back, his pouch was around his neck and he wore those baggy shorts which have pockets everywhere. Oh, and he wore that cotton “Tilley” hat with the wide, stitched brim that no Spaniard would ever wear. Please, take note, if you don’t look like a target then you won’t be one!

Again on the metro, a lady in a group I was travelling with suddenly realised she was sandwiched between two men with designs in her large handbag. Our group closed in around her and the men left the train.

My landlady, who has lived here nearly all her life and should have known better, had her purse, money and door keys stolen in a moment of inattention while riding the metro. She had left them sitting on the top of her open bag while talking with a colleague.

This would seem to indicate that the metro is an unsafe form of transport. It’s not, but you must be careful. I ride it nearly every day and have never experienced a moment’s unease.

The truth of the matter is that much like anywhere else you must take elementary precautions. But I have to say I have never felt safer than in Madrid. Sometimes I will walk home at three or four in the morning – a walk of about forty-five minutes – and have never felt threatened. One evening last week I was approached on a narrow pathway by a group of skin-headed youths with chains and piercings who not only stepped out of my way but wished me “Buenas Tardes” as I passed.

Here is another comment by another lady, a native who has lived here all her life, who sent her reply just as I was finishing writing this. (I would never divulge the age of a lady, but under the cloak of anonymity I might add that she has lived here for nearly fifty years.) She writes: “I don’t know if I can help you, because I have never been robbed or mugged in Madrid.
I have always felt quite safe anywhere. I think the secret is trying not to look like a “guiri”, although in some countries it is not easy.
And related to the story about ( Miss Von F) being followed by men thinking that they were prostitutes, I don’t believe a word of what she says. It has never happened to me or any of my friends or women I know. Maybe I’m a bit stupid… but how can you know a casually dressed woman is a prostitute?”

Personally I think Miss Von Furstenberg had a bad experience, which can never be nice, but then milked it for all it was worth, painting Madrid in a bad light which I felt needed to be answered. I hope I have put everyone’s mind at rest.

But let me finish this by quoting the comment of the Scottish lady whose answer I gave you earlier: “There is not a city in the world where you wont find muggers and con artists but hand on my heart I feel much safer as a young woman walking round Madrid at 2 am than I would in London.....”.

My sentiments exactly! Well, except that I have never been a young woman.

My thanks to Concha, Emma, Luz, Nic, Paloma, and Sole.
If you would like to comment on anything in this post, feel free to write it in the section below.
Remember the four questions I put to my friends:
How safe do you feel in Madrid?
Do you feel more or less safe than in other cities?
What advice would you give to visitors regarding safety?
Do you have a scam / pick pocketing / mugging story to tell?
How do you feel while walking the city streets? Do you have any more advice you could pass on?
I wish you all a hapy and safe time in my favourite city.