The next morning I awoke early after a sleep-deprived night. The heat perhaps. Still tonight was going to be The Night regardless of how tired I felt, as it would be the last. I ventured onto the train to Principe Pio. A bewildering, bustling town to my tired and slightly hungover eyes. Not just me feeling disorientated: got asked for directions for which I was, unsurprisingly, no help.
There were vast walking trails through Casa de Campo. Needed to cross some busy roads to get to it.
First: lunch. A public garden – the vast grounds of a palace. I sat facing a large fountain surrounded by vivid floral colours. Very few people about. Perfect.
Afterwards I looked for a way out that was nearest the de Campo walk. Going back through the way I entered meant a circuitous route. My map showed what looked like an exit. So I made for that end of the grounds. Unfortunately the only exit gate was locked. So back to the main entrance. And there stood what I would describe as local security personnel. The guy called me over. He spoke in Spanish, gesturing towards my bag – a flimsy little rucksack. I played incredulous, which didn’t take much acting. He jabbed at my bag still on my shoulder. Me: genuinely astonished. And making that clear. The language barrier didn’t matter now that his suspicions were made obvious. But if he really wanted to see what was in my bag but not speak English he’d have to be really explicit about it. OK, so I was tired and a bit cranky now. This security guy was becoming especially miffed, as I was voicing my astonishment that he could believe I could possibly be concealing something that would be harmful to – well, I had to give this some careful thought, as I was not (nor had any intention) of entering the central building but was heading for the exit. Had there been a report of my suspicious behaviour. Anyway, as his sign language became exaggerated to the absurd, I finally opened my bag to reveal what bit of lunch I’d saved for later and a bottle and a half (I think) of drinks. What I carried clearly wasn’t heavy or bulky. I was quite angry by this point, and he gestured for me to calm down. But that was not going to happened. It seemed as if I’d been suspected of carry explosives. And so as he led me out, his colleague arrived, who also didn’t speak a word of English. Imagine the number of English-speaking visitors to the capital of Spain, and those employed to deal with them… The British have, perhaps rightly, garnered a reputation for bad behaviour on Mediterranean holidays. Then what would be topping the list of abilities an applicant needs for the job of protecting important tourist sites? OK, so I’m labouring the point. But I was annoyed. Of course terrorists come in all shapes, sizes and colours. And maybe I do look young for my age, or I dress more as a young person. But it was odd to feel discriminated, and singled out as a suspect. Fine to be subject to that in an airport, or even upon entering a museum. You’d normally grin and bear it, right?
After explaining (pointlessly) I only wanted to get to Casa de Campo, that’s where I headed. I entered via a car park, and couldn’t seem to find an easy way to get to its tourist centre so ended up sliding down an embankment. My near-white shorts slightly tarnished, I reached the visitor centre. It was everything most people would expect: a sprinkling of cafés, fast food stands, all surrounding a large lake. Very warm, bordering on hot, there was an air of serenity. It was a separate thing from what I currently felt: still wound up, a quiet anger bubbling away. Perhaps I had been feeling somewhat keyed-up if not stressed, keeping in mind what I planned for that night. Of course there was no reason I had to have that as a plan, but it became an obsession – the thing that had to be got out of my system. Well, I guess most people have an itinerary on holiday; they set themselves a list of activities, which, if any are not achieved results in a sense of failure. Holidays have a way of making people uniquely miserable because of this. They arrive with their expectations of enhanced pleasure, where even the familiar activities – eating, going for a walk, sunbathing – have to be better there on holiday (especially anywhere more exotic than the UK, some fantasy of an idyll. Then it just takes one thing to go wrong. None such hell as paradise tainted – didn’t some wise traveller once say?). For many, so much depends on those few days, or however long; it is the escape from the banality of normal life. For me there is one unfamiliar activity that becomes the focus. And if it goes badly then I carry with me the failure until the next chance – which is often months.
After sitting facing the lake, eating the remainder of my lunch I headed out on one of the walking trails, but as I approached a sign to a metro station it seemed the sensible thing to make my way back.
I was, after all, tired. And there’d likely be plenty more walking that night.
Back at the hotel I tried to sleep. Needed to sleep. But sleep would not come. Maybe I hadn’t shed the residual anger from earlier, or some kind of apprehension about my intention for the night. Or simply the heat.
Finally after about two hours of no sleep, I resolved to go through my exercise routine, and then eat and start on the vodka.
Part 1 below…