For those who know me, or have seen the odd bit on here, a few years ago (can’t remember exactly when but probably 6-7 years as a minimum) i started getting into reading about the Spanish Civil War that took place between 1936-39. With my frequent trips to Barcelona, i’ve been able to study a bit more on things that happened within the city itself and out in the sticks of Catalunya, where in September 2014 i had four days of touring round the Ebre river area which has a lot of historical civil war sites.
Just over a year ago i found out that there was going to be an 80th anniversary trip to the Jarama battlefield organised by the AABI (Asociacion de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales) in conjunction with the IBMT (International Brigades Memorial Trust).
After booking a flight to Madrid in May, i almost missed out on the trip as was waiting for details and didn’t see them get posted up. A few emails with Pauline of the IBMT and was sorted for the Saturday trip out to the Battlefield which is south-east of the city not far from Morata de Tajuna which is a small town we would come back to for lunch in the afternoon.
I’d booked to fly from Stansted as was due to be on a work trip down south that ended going the shape of pears which meant not only would i have a four-hour drive, i’d booked a hotel on the outskirts of North London pre-airport, and with a flight at 8.30am i had to leave early the following morning. Mind, i did have a couple of pints then a curry that i thought the rest of the flight would be regretting the following morning. Luckily for them, all was good…
Arrived at Stansted to utter chaos, there had been a fire alarm about thirty minutes before which evacuated the whole place, so thousands were trying to get back through security with those who had already been through having to be manually sorted. Fair play to the staff on the day with getting everyone through very quickly to ensure no missed flights and majority of flights were leaving to schedule.
Madrid airport metro line closed so took the option of shuttle bus to Terminal 4 and the Renfe train with a quick change at Nuevos Ministerios to Sol (actually much cheaper than the metro).
Accommodation for this trip was Hostal Esmeralda (http://hresmeralda.net/en/) which cost just over €40 a night for a single room. Room was small and bath was large enough to bathe a kitten but it was a one minute walk from Sol so was ideal and easy to get to all the bars and restaurants within Santa Ana and Huertas areas. To top it all off i was two floors above a Museo del Jamon where for 50c you could get 200ml of lager or for 90c 300ml plus a small bit of food.
Once checked in and unpacked, went for a wander arund the Huertas area which has now been coined Barrio de las Letras to push the area more for tourism, with the ultimate aim of finding somewhere for a beer and food. Unlike Barcelona, Madrid has a tapa scene where most bars give you a small tapa with the drink. Over the four days of the trip, apart from the pre-booked meal for the trip to the Jarama valley i spent €15 in total on food not given out with drinks. I think i must have eaten a whole tuna on my own in the time i was there.
The bars i mainly frequented round in Huertas were mainly on or close to Calle de Jesus, of which the main few were El Diario, La Fabrica, Granja Blanco and La Dolores. I remembered La Dolores from about thirteen or fourteen years ago as a little stand up bar with minimal tables at the far end.
I basically ended up camped out at various times in El Diario, think it was about €2.50 for a doble Mahou and just over that for wine, and each time food came, anything from tuna or pepper on a piece of bread to bowls of paella. I think at one stage i had about four pieces of bread with peppers, jamon, tuna and cheese as toppings all with one drink. This explains for the first time i can remember i actually put weight on whilst on holiday. The paid for food in here looked decent and the tables at both ends of the bar were usually full apart from first thing in the morning and late afternoon. Staff were great hence why i was in this place each day, plus obviously the decent food given out, which meant i didn’t feel overly drunk at any stage on the trip.
Only occasion i managed to get into La Fabrica was lunchtime on the last day, place was absolutely heaving each time i went passed and couldn’t be bothered forcing myself in when there were other options.
Granja Blanco was a lot quieter and was half decent but nowhere near as good as a lot around which probably explained it being quiet, but still ok for a beer or two.
La Dalores on the other hand was pretty busy most of the time apart from one afternoon after the main lunchtime rush. Spent time in here drinking and watching the staff behind the bar preparing Anchovies from a large bucket into the glass containers for no doubt the evening when it is always packed out. And a good tapa of sardines given here a couple of times which were lovely.
Right, less of the food and a bit about the actual reasons behind the trip. Mind i still didn’t get round to seeing Picasso’s Guernica as ran out of time on the last day…
Early start next morning, well not early but 8.15am (bleeding early enough when on holiday) to walk to the hotel where the coaches were picking up from for the journey to the Jarama Valley. First stop of the day was the memorial to Charlie Donnelly which is in the town of Rivas Vaciamadrid. It was being rededicated that morning. Back on the coach for the drive via Morata where we passed a banner on a balcony supporting the Falange which got booed by all on the coach. As i’d never done this trip before we got to the area of the valley we were heading for, we drove passed the Clenched Fist memorial before parking up, and there were loads of cars here for the event. First part was overlooking areas beyond the sunken road towards Suicide and Conical Hills, then the masses walked around the battlefield towards another memorial (can’t remember what this one was).
On the coach in front of me was Nils and Chrissie Wintringham and Nils was the grandson of Tom Wintringham who was in charge of the British Battalion at Jarama, and was credited with transforming the Home Guard in Britain during World War Two. Nils and Chrissie were a lovely couple who i chatted to throughout the day.
Food option was back in Morata at Meson El Cid which was paid for as part of the trip, unfortunately the food was mediocre including cold Albondigas (meatballs) but included red and white wine and water for every small groups on the tables, and was only another €10 for a bottle of wine. Due to eating never got the chance to visit the civil war museum on site before we had to return to the coach. We had an option to either go to the concert back in Rivas Vaciamadrid or return to Madrid, with the fact the coach wouldn’t leave the concert for about another six hours, half of the coach went back to Madrid after dropping off the rest near the concert venue. A few quick drinks at the hotel bar (slowest staff ever) and then a short walk back passed Atocha Station to Huertas and the regular bars for err beer and food…
On the Sunday some of us met up at Moncloa metro which was a simple hop from Sol for me to have an informal tour around the University City area that was a major front line in the siege of Madrid. Right outside the metro is the Ministry of Air which was built on what was the Modelo Prison. Also right outside facing north-west is the Victory Arch that Franco built, yet another monument the Fascists put up to celebrate or to honour their own fallen whilst giving no shits about those they murdered. Apparently on a clear day you are supposed to be able to see the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen which is where the Fascist midget is buried, and a lot of Republican prisoners were used as labour to build the monument).
Next down through part of a very hilly Parque del Oeste (again part of the front line) where there is a monument to Federico Rubio which has lots of bullet holes in it, and then slightly further on to some concrete machine gun posts constructed by the Nationalists.
We then headed into the University City itself where a lot of fighting took place all around the faculties, some of which bear the scars of fighting and one that was nigh on destroyed and rebuilt to the same design. It is in this area where there is an International Brigades memorial and also one to commemorate those who were killed in the terrorist bombings of the trains in Madrid in 2004 (there is also a memorial outside Atocha station). Here we met three families from Madrid of which i think one of the guys was a Doctor but he had been researching the Civil War and took us to the north end of the area to where there were trenches to be seen, again this was quite a hilly area. From here they took us back down and over to a bus stop so we could get back into the centre easier. Many thanks to them for this and also to Isabel who had taken us round from the morning onwards.
After a little bit of food and a rest as had to been walking for about five hours i headed back out towards Calle Atocha to see the memorial to the Lawyers who were assassinated by right wing Fascists in 1977. The memorial is just outside Anton Martin metro station with the offices based just down the road at number 55.
That night i went in search of some bars that i had researched, however they were either packed or closed (most were closed) so ended up wandering back towards Huertas and back towards the normal bars i’d been in but went via a couple of new one which were thankfully non touristy.
On the Monday i fancied a nice quiet day so headed off via the Opera House back to the Southern part of Parque del Oeste, first thing of note is yet another Fascist monument to their fallen, it’s just part of a theme! Also here is the Temple of Debob which is an ancient Egyptian temple donated to Spain, and this is actually on the site of the Montana barracks that were destroyed in fighting. Decided to walk to Caso del Campo which is part of ancient royal hunting grounds and with the cable car only running at weekends i headed down via Estacio del Nord which i now Principe Pio, but the original station is still in place and a lot of Republican troops including the International Brigades passed through this area as Caso del Campo was also a battlefield. Had a quick couple of lunchtime drinks at a restaurant next to the lake and headed into the hills hoping to find evidence of the civil war. Apart from some obvious former trenches and bomb blast holes found nothing that i was expecting but found out later that on the way south to catch the metro back, if i’d headed east again within the park then would have found some proper evidence but i can look for those on a future trip. Only spent about five hours walking, so spent about two hours back in the hostal recovering before a night of beer and free tapa…
Tuesday was a late start after a good night’s rest and then out for lunch before heading back to the airport to fly home.
First time back in Madrid for nearly seven years, one thing is for sure is that i will not be leaving it that long again, though i’m going to need to ensure i’ve lost plenty of weight before the trip as a tapa with every drink doesn’t half put weight on.