I had packed my bags, stocked up on Imodium and Berocca and printed out my boarding pass. It was official; I was going to Madrid, alone.
I guess the decision came in my oh-so-punk attempts to elevate above the hundreds of Facebook status’ I had seen plastered across the screen of my laptop documenting something or the other about an impending and/or recently concluded trip to ‘Ibeefa’. Yes, I am that guy.
And thus I went, from airport to airport and airport to hostel, by way of the city’s sterling Metro system, all along the way seeing these matching daypacks; red and yellow and adorned with a freehand crown and crucifix.
Having settled into my palatial hostel, showered and sun creamed I headed out, map in hand to soak up all that the Iberian capital had to offer. Then I saw the daypacks. Everywhere I went; Plaza del Sol, Plaza España, Palacio Real and Estacíon de Atocha. My only respite was the bustling Mercado del San Miguel. In between pinchos and gulps of beer at one of the stalls I presented my query to the bartender and in a dramatic coincidence found myself in Madrid, alone, the week of the Papal visit and the JMJ Catholic Youth gathering.
The holier-than-thou agnostic inside of me ran straight back to Atocha train station and booked the first train to Valencia. Alas something more deep seated made stay; most likely liberal stubbornness, and thus I descended.
They had discounts at fast food chains, El Corte Ingles and the Levis store. They occupied the queue for every pizzeria, tapas bar, cinema and blocked the coffee stalls at every museum and art gallery. I just about made it into the Reina Sofia, acquiring sun stroke in the queue, and even then only managed a glimpse of Picasso’s Guernica after elbowing my way through hordes of daypacks. Museo Del Prado? Off limits to non-believers, the queue of daypacks was a sight unto itself.
I had a serious bone to pick with the Pope. Apart from his condemnation of contraceptives in complete ignorance of the AIDS epidemics under his spiritual jurisdiction, apart from his suppressing of claims about child abuse by his own ordained priests, apart from his homophobic views and Hitler Youth heritage… because of his pilgrims I couldn’t get into Madrid’s best Horchateria, I couldn’t sit in the grounds of the Palacio Real and read a book under the shade of a regal tree, I couldn’t chill with a beer in Plaza Mayor and people watch, for the sake of having my view blocked by daypacks! So I joined forces with a Canadian guy from my hostel and hit town. We had a lovely time.
I heard in the news of a students plans to gas the Pope during one of his public appearances and with my own two feet walked straight through both protests and support marches. On the day of the Pope’s arrival it started to rain in torrents and I finally got on that train to Valencia, determined to return at a less tumultuous because Madrid is pretty great but religious debate just gets in the way.