If you’re in Madrid over a Sunday, you mustn’t miss ‘Il Rastro’, the famous Sunday market! So the guidebooks and leaflets in the hotel inform me, and since I don’t fancy yet another art gallery (wonderful though they are), I decide it’s time for a shopping experience and flag down a cab so I can get there as quickly as possible.
I’m dropped off at a place along a broad road with stalls set up along some railings, much like those at Green Park or Bayswater in London.
It’s about 10 or 11 in the morning, and vast crowds of shoppers and tourists are descending.
Happy to be free and alone in a wonderful European city with a famous street market to look around, I join the throng gleefully, and find that I have been deposited at the bottom end of the main market street. It’s pretty impressive. A long, tree-lined road stretches away from where I am standing, sloping gradually uphill. It is packed with stalls on each side and even more packed with people.
I plunge in!
At the very first stall I look at, the first on the left at the bottom, I find something I like – a lovely, smallish but heavy brass bull. This is Spain, and I’m in a ‘bull’ mood! What a perfect souvenir that would be of my trip to Madrid and to this market in particular!
I am slightly taken aback by the price tag – 40 Euros for a small brass bull! – and move on more on the principle that I’ve only just started looking, and should really delay the spending a little bit longer.
What’s not to like, as they say, about a morning spent gradually climbing that wonderful market street, browsing amongst all sorts of interesting and unusual things, regaled with all manner of colourful and surprising images?
As well as the stalls, there are shops at the sides of the road. All sorts of interesting arty, design type shops. Idiosyncratic furniture, multi-coloured pottery. Jewellery, pictures, antiques, books – and of course clothes. Lots of clothes stalls, cheapish trendy things. Also scarves and hats and bags and all the sorts of things you’d expect to find on any street market, plus a few specifically Spanish items, like decorated fans and mugs saying ‘Madrid’ and ‘Espana’ in a variety of colours and designs – and of course more bulls, of various descriptions.
By the time I reach the top of the main market street, I have purchased: two cheap, chunky necklaces; some fur-lined, locally made slippers; a bright orange kimono thing to wear around the house; one red and one stripy t-shirt, which may or may not fit me; and some flamenco coasters.
I have also realised that the market definitely offers a ‘photography experience’, and have had my camera out from my bag at least ten times, taking photos both of the products on the stalls – which present some pleasing vistas, such as multi-coloured clothing or fans – and of people, for example a gnarled old street musician with an accordion who must have had his photo taken a few thousand times, and a few ‘character’ stall-holders. Not to mention the odd sweet-looking or otherwise photogenic dog!
At the top of the main market street, I realise that’s not all there is to the place. More streets with shops and stalls spread out in all directions, and there are even more people up here, as it’s closer to where the underground stations deliver shoppers to the area.
Not even expecting to find such a thing as a public toilet, I begin to inspect cafes in order to find an establishment that seems to have a decent facility.
I am very pleased with my choice. The toilets are okay, the place is quite large, and I enjoy the experience of sitting alone at the counter and choosing a snack from the selection on display in front of me. Oh I do so like these Spanish ‘tapas’ and other displays, available in so many cafés and restaurants and bars. I like to see food before I order it – always better to actually spot something you fancy and point to it, rather than having to order from a menu, especially when you’re abroad.
I have a wonderful little savoury pasty thing, absolutely nothing like it in England. And a nice coffee, and a piece of cake as well. No point not availing myself of the temptations on offer. It’s not every day one is in a Spanish market café!
I set off again and continue to explore and shop and photograph. What a great place! What a fun day!
I start to meander back down the hill, discovering that there is one street which runs all the way down parallel to the main one, which is also packed with stalls, but these are more of the antique and bric-a-brac variety, which I perhaps enjoy even more.
I see so many things I fancy, but know I have to be careful not to buy too much when away for a weekend. I have learned this lesson the hard way in the past, struggling along miles of corridors at Gatwick arrivals, laden down with bags of heavy books and shoes and other shopping, which was fun to buy at the time, but suddenly transpires to have been very silly, considering the difficulty of carrying it all home to another country! (And whilst British airports have luggage trolleys available before you check in, they have yet to adopt the extremely useful little hand luggage trolleys one finds elsewhere.)
So the beautiful bronze horse statue has to settle for being photographed rather than purchased, and that glorious painting – which probably could have been sent home for me, at great expense – awaits a richer and more trusting customer.
My thoughts return to the brass bull on the first stall I saw. I haven’t seen another one like it, certainly not a cheaper one, as I’d hoped. So I decide I definitely want it and now have to return urgently to that stall in the hope it hasn’t gone. At the bottom of the parallel market street, I come across a rather larger market, half antiques, half clothes and the like, and am distracted by this for a while.
Then it’s back to the bull. It’s still there and I don’t even haggle. It is my number one souvenir of Madrid and now stands at home in pride of place amongst – okay I have to admit, a couple of other bulls from other shops I go to later. One red mosaic, one black. (If you think I can go to Madrid and only buy one model bull, you don’t know me!)
Now there’s just the stalls along the bottom to look at, and suddenly I’ve seen quite enough bird pattern t-shirts and cheap CDs and coloured shawls and boxes of trainers.
The comfort of the hotel beckons. (It has a pool and a sauna in the basement!)