I’d like to transport you to a place where the streets are paved with volcanic rock that braid the city, and crumbling houses wrap around outcrops of ancient lava flow.
I’d like to transport you to a place a few miles up the road from where I grew up. It’s a tiny, windswept port town that had its heyday up until the 1960s. After that, the industries shifted outwards, like the dunes that shield Blyth from the North Sea, switching from mining coal to farming wind.
In the shadow of Madrid’s extravagant lights display, the spirit of no-frills Christmas lives on. You just have to look a bit closer.
In my eighth volume of 10 no-frills finds, I bring you a last survivor, a no-frills chocolate con churros place, royal ruins and missing pieces of Berlin and Galicia. I also take you back in time with traces of Madrid’s bygone high-streets, and I encourage you to look up because a worm’s-eye view is highly underrated.
It’s 3 o’clock in the morning on Christmas day and the church, draped from roof to floor in fairy lights, is packed. A young girl with hennaed arms passes me a tiny cup of chai, her bangles clinking off the pew in front, and then her brother – his nails painted glittery red – hands me an onion bhaji.
You’ve found one of my trapdoors… a door considerably smaller than other doors, found on metro platforms across Madrid. This trapdoor will take you to a tiny Spanish border town, with the highest concentration of bodegas in Spain!
In 1965, Spain’s tourism board published a handbook to Spain. It would become a highly collectable item of Franco’s ‘Visit Spain’ campaign – one of the dictator’s lasting legacies, seeding the mass tourism we’re so familiar with today.
In 1919 – the year of its inauguration – Madrid’s metro consisted of just one line with eight charming little stations. Exactly 100 years later, this vast subterranean labyrinth is the seventh-longest underground system in the world and hosts around two million journeys every day.
You’ve found one of my trapdoors… a door considerably smaller than other doors, found on metro platforms across Madrid. This trapdoor will take you to Porto, where I share with you all my no-frills discoveries, ghost trails and touchable portals to the darkest era of Portugal’s past.
There’s a bunker, a hidden chess club, a haunting forest and a forgotten city-centre zoo, among a few other secrets held by the gatekeeper of Retiro Park. But dive in with the darkest, most disturbing secret of all: the ‘human zoo’…