Walking around the streets of Madrid never gets old. This time, we’ve uncovered everything from ancient books and up-cycled monastery doorways to secret colour-coded facades and the largest shanty town in Europe. Enjoy!
1. THE ~500-YEAR-OLD BOTANY BOOK
The book about botany in the middle – the one with the red perimeter – is around 500 years old. Back then, books were typically made with rags or hemp, not paper, and lasted for much longer… centuries in fact.
Location: Librería García Prieto (ring the bell to get inside)
2. THE UP-CYCLED DOORWAY TO A DEMOLISHED CONVENT
Look closely at this picture. Can you see an ancient doorway to a demolished convent? That’s it in the foreground, now lying flat, like a portal to the underworld. These hand-carved stones are the only remains of Santa Catalina convent, built in 1824 and left in its demolished state until 2007.
Location: Plaza Nelson Mandela
3. EUROPE’S LARGEST SHANTY TOWN
You see that ancient linear settlement? That’s the Cañada Real, Europe’s largest slum, which I unexpectedly spotted from the plane just next to Madrid’s airport.
4. THE 150-YEAR-OLD RASTRO PLUMBER’S
I finally caught Fontanería Ángela Fernández open! They’re always off doing jobs in local restaurants, hotels and apartments. Anyway, they’ve been here for around 150 years. The original owner is their grandfather who plumbed way into his 90s. That shower works, those cute wooden drawers were from the pharmacy on the corner, and that’s a beautiful hand-painted facade.
Their booking system has never changed – it’s still a paper book with each sheet divided into nine squares by hand: a page for the morning and a page for the afternoon. They have no bookings in for tomorrow yet, but know the page will be filled because everyone in El Rastro comes to them.
Location: Calle de Arganzuela, 5 (next door to one of our favourite no-frills rastro bars)
5. THE BRUTALIST FRANCO-ERA APARTMENTS
Rumour has it that these brutalist apartment buildings were originally constructed to house the most elite of Franco’s administration following the end of the dictatorship. That’s one of the former residents, Antonio Tejero, who you may know for his attempted coup d’etat in 1981 to drag democratic Spain back to the Franco era.
Location: Calle Santa Cruz de Marcenado
6. THE SECRET COLOUR CODE FOR BODEGAS
Why are all traditional wine bars in Madrid painted a shade of red? It’s a sign for people who can’t read that here be wine – a tradition that has been going for centuries.
Location: Restaurante El 2 de Sagasta Vinos
7. THE NEIGHBOURHOOD CHURRO SHOP
Welcome to the neighbourhood churro factory, where churros and porras are made for local bars, cafés and restaurants. Like traditional bodegas, many churro shops in Madrid can be identified by their colour, and in this case, it’s pollen-yellow with black lettering. Keep your eyes peeled for one in your barrio!
Location: Fabrica de Churros
8. THE LITTLE LION OF CALLE DOS HERMANAS
He just popped his head out to say hello, giving me the biggest fright, followed by the highlight of my year so far…
9. THE PORN VIDEO SHOP
I daren’t take a photo of El Duende while it’s open, mostly because it’s busy with men who’d probably rather not be seen on the internet. It never ceases to amaze me, though, that places like this still exist – and even more so, that there’s a community that surrounds it. Oh, and they also loan family-friendly films, if you’re interested…
10. THE BOOK-SWAPPING KIOSK
Did you know about the book-swapping kiosks in Retiro Park? If you have some old books, you can leave them here for people to enjoy. Likewise, browse through whatever is there that day, and even take one home if you like.
And on that note, here’s Volume II of 10 Offbeat Finds!