Street performers in Madrid

One of the more unique attractions of Madrid are the “street performers”, who typically like to frequent Sol and the Plaza Mayor with their rather individual brands of theatrics, which are completely unlike anything else.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to write a brief spotters’ guide. Tick off how many you’ve seen!

1. SpongeBob Squarepants and friends

Location: Everywhere

Modus Operandi: SpongeBob and his buddies are sly. Typically, they hang out near the Madroño statue in Sol, which is one of the main tourist traps. When they see some visitors taking a photo with the statue, they rush over, and kindly offer to help them. SpongeBob then insists that the tourists have a photo with him, and they naturally agree, as he’s been so friendly. But then SpongeBob asks for money, when the unfortunate tourists didn’t want a picture with him in the first place.

I hate this.

I do, however, find it incredibly amusing when you see SpongeBob having a break, and sitting on the steps of one of the shops, smoking a cigarette, and looking decidedly grouchy.


2. The Levitating Men

Location: Everywhere

Modus Operandi: The Levitating Men have some sort of apparatus rigged up, so that it looks like they are floating on air. I’m not too sure how they do it, but it’s a trick. If you take a photo of them, there is an expectation that you will pay them for their “skill.”


3. Spiderman

Location: Plaza Mayor

Modus Operandi: Spiderman is an incredibly overweight gentleman in a Spiderman suit. He poses for photographs with interested tourists, who are attracted by his absolutely bizarre appearance. Wearing skintight clothing doesn’t flatter anyone, unless they’re a supermodel, and this Spiderman certainly doesn’t fit (see what I did there?) into that category.


4. The Three Headed Man

Location: Sol, near Calle Mayor

Modus Operandi: The Three Headed Man is actually a single person, who has his body concealed underneath a table. On his right and left hand sides are two fake heads, one of a gorilla, and the second of a goblin. Typically, the Three Headed Man is VERY quiet. But then suddenly, when someone walks past, one of the three heads screams at them, and the person is scared out of their wits. This is supposed to be worth some money.


5. The Glitter Goat

Location: Plaza Mayor

Modus Operandi: The Glitter Goat is my favourite street performer by far, because it is so weird and creepy. It consists of a man/lady who conceals him/herself under a blanket of glittery ribbons. S/he holds a preserved goat’s head, and clacks the mouth and whistles to attract attention. If you put some money in the goat’s basket, it will dance crazily for a few seconds. It is absolutely bizarre.

I love how the child in the photo is looking at the goat with a mixture of bemusement, fascination, and incredulity.


Here it is in action… This video is definitely worth a look to appreciate the full artistry of the Glitter Goat.

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 5

Today’s Cultural Wednesday is unfortunately going to be a bit of a cheat, because I actually went to the site in question last Sunday, since it’s only open four days a week. I decided to “save it up” until today because I thought it was interesting, and I wanted to write about it. So I guess it’s a Cultural Sunday Disguised as a Cultural Wednesday, but that’s getting a bit too complicated, even for me…


Sometime this week (let’s not be too particular about the precise day 😉 ), I decided to go to the Metro Museum (or Andén 0) at Chamberí.


I had walked past the entrance many times, as it is right near my house, but whilst the Metro Line 1 was being repaired, the Museum was also closed. So, when Line 1 reopened, I decided that now was the time to check it out.


Line 1 was the first to be built in Madrid, and Chamberí was one of the original stations, so it’s historically very important. It was closed permanently because the platforms are curved, and the newer trains aren’t able to safely stop there.

The station had a similar feel to Museum in Sydney, and it was like entering a time warp. The ticket barriers and entrance are in their unique states, and I had to go through an old metal gate to get in.

Spanish rules and regulations are pretty relaxed, and visitors are allowed to go down to the platform, and watch from behind a glass barrier as the current Metro trains zip past a metre or so away. It was really exciting to hear the trains coming along the tracks, and then to see them whizz by, so close that you could see the expressions on the passengers’ faces.

They also had a lot of old advertisements on the walls, many in Art Deco style, which were pretty cool.


And there were plenty of maps and information from the period. I particularly enjoyed reading about the price of tickets, which were extraordinarily cheap (or at least in today’s terms).


OK, so the Museum is unlikely to make it onto a list of Must Visit Places in Madrid. But I thought it was worth a visit 🙂 And if anyone is looking to make a historical movie, and needs to include an authentic train station, I know just the place!

Winter is coming…

One thing which I don’t have much experience of is European winters.

In fact, my only previous exposure to such climates was when I foolishly decided to spend about four weeks in the UK from the middle of December to the middle of January about 10 years ago.

Think 30 days of grey skies, freezing winds, continual rain, 6 hours of daylight, and excessively hot air conditioning.

Suffice to say, I won’t be doing that again in a hurry…

Thankfully, although Madrid is getting cold (2 degrees overnight), it doesn’t seem to rain all that much. And I always find that being cold when it’s sunny is much more pleasant than being cold when it’s wet.

So, in the spirit of autumn, here’s a few things I am enjoying about this season in Madrid.

1. The leaves

The autumn leaves are amazing. On Saturday, I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, a rather underrated tourist attraction. They had the most stunning trees there, and the colours were phenomenal. Here’s a couple of pictures that I took (and I’m not even a good photographer!).

It’s even more spectacular when you see the trees en masse. Absolutely incredible.

2. Doña Manolita

A strange obsession here is the Doña Manolita lottery. It seems that almost everyone wants to buy a ticket. But not just ANY ticket will suffice. Rather, you simply must purchase your entry from the “lucky booth” near Sol.

Yesterday, it was raining like mad, but, sure enough, there was a massive queue outside the “lucky booth.”

Using simple maths, it is obvious that if there’s 100 tickets in the lottery, and 90 people buy them from the “lucky booth”, then yes, it’s more likely that a winner will come from that booth. But that’s because everyone is buying from there, not because of some inherent mystical properties of the booth!

Maybe I should give a free lecture on the mathematics of lotteries to the assembled crowd? After all, I’d have a captive audience, as no one is going to leave the line without their tickets…

3. Chestnuts 

Another popular autumn offering in Madrid are castañas or chestnuts. Little kiosks spring up (or should that be “autumn up”? Sorry, that was bad, even for me!), selling roasted chestnuts by the bag.

I haven’t tried them yet, but apparently, they’re very nice. At the moment I have one, unroasted chestnut at home, which my friend in flamenco class gave me, for some unknown reason. I’m not sure if she expects me to cook it and bring it back to class, or eat it by itself, but I’ve had it sitting in my apartment for the last 2 weeks, because I don’t know what to do with it, and I feel ungrateful throwing it out.

So here it is, in close up, for everyone to admire.


All I can say is, why can’t autumn last all year?

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 4

Today being Thursday, it must be time for the Cultural Wednesdays post…

[Aside-I hope people like the Cultural Wednesdays posts- my mum (Hi Mum!) says that they’re not as interesting as the ones where I talk about things going pear-shaped. That might be true, but I think it’s important to write about some of the things I’ve seen in case anyone wants to come to Madrid to visit me (hint, hint!). And, well, sometimes things aren’t a TOTAL disaster, so I think I should mix it up a bit 😉 ]

Anyway, yesterday afternoon, I went to the museum and house of Lope de Vega. This museum was recommended by my colleague, Charro, who helps me with my Spanish, so I thought I should make an effort to go. I tried to visit 2 weeks ago, but the guard told me that because the house is so old, they only permit 10 people to visit at once, and that you have to be on a guided tour.


So, I booked my tour. I didn’t realise that you could book one in English, and so I found myself, unwittingly, on the Spanish tour. Oh. Dear.

Imagine the scene- me and 9 fluent Spanish speakers, wandering around, as the guide pointed out the artifacts. I nodded and laughed at what I hoped were the appropriate places, and tried to snigger knowingly when one of the other visitors passed some personal asides to me.


For those, like me, who aren’t familiar with Lope de Vega’s work, he was a Spanish playwright, poet, and author from the same time as Cervantes (16th Century). He was famous for the amount of his output (he was likened to a writing machine), and for his rather scandalous love affairs (he had 16 children…and he was a priest for a while). He wrote over a thousand works in his lifetime, following the adage of “quantity, not quality”, and seemed to live according to his own wishes, rather than society’s norms.

The house was really interesting, with a beautiful garden, and rather perilous steps (they were the original ones). We saw Lope de Vega’s writing room, the chapel where he spent his days when he became a priest, and his bedroom.

We also learnt a lot about his personality. He seemed to be a rather nasty and vindictive character and after one of his many love affairs went wrong, he ended up in trouble with the law after writing a scandalous piece of work about his ex and her family! Although given the quote “There is no greater glory than love, nor any greater punishment than jealousy”, perhaps this is not a surprise…


Overall, I really liked the tour. Even though I knew nothing about Lope de Vega, it was wonderful to learn about his quirks, and to see what life was like in his time. I would definitely recommend visiting the house to everyone, although it’s important to book a bit in advance, and to speak some Spanish (you can specifically ask for an English speaking tour, but they put me in the Spanish one, on the basis of my email- I think this is a win!).