Walking out that first night looking for somewhere to have dinner, I noticed a handmade poster in a bar window not far from the Puerta del Sol. It was advertising a televised game between Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza. What? When? Tonight? But I had checked the Real Madrid website! Yet this wasn't a scheduled league game - it was a cup match - Copa del Rey semi-final second leg. The time was eight o' clock and the match was due to kick off at nine. Forget dinner - I was down the Metro steps and on my way to join an army of 75,000.
And then I was there - outside the Bernabeu Stadium, minus one essential aid - a match ticket! Greedy ticket touts tried to squeeze £100 from me. I asked people, waited at turnstiles, went to the ticket offices but no use. Time was ticking away. It looked like I'd be having dinner after all. Then the guy behind the pre-paid ticket counter called me over - "No, no money... It's a gift from Real Madrid to you!" And there I was like Charlie outside the chocolate factory with my golden ticket. Rushed up the steps of Torre C, right up to the third level then out into the light, a sharp intake of breath beholding the finest soccer stadium in the world. The players were out and tumultuous noise filled the night air - horns and chanting from "The Ultras". The game was utterly absorbing. Madrid were three up within twenty minutes. Beckham's visionary passing was a delight to behold while Zidane was strong and determined right till the end. The "meringues" won 4-0 - sadly one goal short of their target having, quite incredibly, lost the first leg 6-1. For a lifelong football fan this was a truly unforgettable experience.
Other highlights of the trip - The Museo America (Pre-Columbus artefacts from the Americas), The Reine Sofia Art Gallery (Contemporary art - including Picasso's "Guernica"), The train ride to the winding medieval streets of Toledo where I ate stewed quail and of course the three hours spent in the Prado National Art Museum - many stupendous exhibits.
Here's my album :-
From the top: Tio Pepe sign over Puerta del Sol square, Statue and communications tower by the Museo America. Statue of Neptune, Atzec carving in Museo America. Happy dog in Toledo, Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Segment of "The Garden of Earthly Delights" - Hieronymus Bosch circa 1500 (Prado), Toledo rooftops. "Fabula" by El Greco (Prado) & Yorkshire Pudding boozing in Toledo street.