Tag Archives: Spain

Eiger 101 Post 6 – Running In The New Year

The beauty of running is that it is possible to pretty much do it anywhere. The equipment requirements are essentially very simple: a pair of decent running shoes and some suitable athletic apparel, because lets be honest no one is going to be heading out for a training run wearing their travel suit, are they?! When preparing for a race such as the Eiger 101 it is important to keep up the training regardless of where I find myself and whether or not I am on holiday. So it was the case at Christmas as I headed out of Dubai and flew to Spain – specifically Granada to start – for the week encompassing Christmas itself and including my dad’s birthday. With triathlon I would have fretted about the logistics of being able to get in some bike training and finding the closest pool so as to keep up the swim programme. Not so with running. All I needed to pack were my runners, including my trail shoes because, who knows, perhaps I’d find some good off-road options, and a couple of slightly warmer layers more than I’d normally don for Dubai-based training. Simple and it meant that the ‘athletic endeavours’ compartment of my packing took up a tiny corner of my suitcase as opposed to needing to lug around a bike box!
Worth the climbing. Epic views in Granada, Spain
So what of the running in Spain itself? Given that it was December and we were up in the mountains, on the fringes of the Sierra Nevada range, it was cold. There were, however, just two days when one could describe conditions as wet and so the bulk of my running was conducted in chilly crisp air with bright blue skies and sunlight, making me very grateful that I packed the trusty Oakleys alongside leggings. Granada offered a feast of options, both visually and physically as I had the option to run flat, following the river in both directions, with landscape painting quality views of the distant snow-capped peaks as a backdrop, or take to the steep climbs up into historic neighbourhoods, or barrios, like Albaícin or the climb up to the famous landmark of la Alhambra, the medieval hilltop fort that is Granada’s enduring image. With steps, pedestrians, narrow streets and generally lots of little features of interest to pay close attention to, road running in Granada did have more in common with a true trail run than a plodding, steady road run, with the need to vary pacing, stride length and effort regularly. This made for both physically and mentally rewarding runs. Being able to head out at any time of the day due to high temperatures not being a concern was also a welcome blessing.
Snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains made for an epic backdrop
One of the most memorable runs I completed was towards the end of my stay in the city as I struck out along the river, following the path as it left the main city, becoming more and more rural and eventually transitioning to a narrow trail. I opted to turn back once the path became both too narrow and too muddy, retracing my steps into Granada before taking a right that led me through the centre, weaving between strolling pedestrians on their morning commute, before climbing steadily toward Albaícin. I love those runs when you just feel so good that the thought of sticking to ‘the programme’ and bringing that feeling of flow to a premature end seems wrong, disrespectful almost, and so it was this thought that drove my legs and body up and up right to the top of the hill on which the small church of Ermita de San Miguel Alto was situated. Due to it being a fairly cold and damp morning I was one of only three people present and so was able to enjoy the panoramic view out over the city unobstructed and in peace. Well worth the climb up!
From Granada I parted with my parents at Malaga airport, them returning to the UK whilst I flew up to Madrid, where I spent New Years with my girlfriend and other Madrid-based amigos. The running in Madrid is as good as that in Granada, and once again, I was blessed to be able to run at any time of the day without the fear of heat exhaustion or sun stroke, and with both the city to explore and the expanses of the various parks, such as Parque del Retiro, and the huge Casa de Campo, I was in runners’ nirvana!

Una vista de Madrid

plaza de la cibeles, MadridMe gusta mucho España y tambien viajar. For those of you with some knowledge of the Spanish language I daresay you probably agree. For those of you wondering what on earth the first sentence even means, it translates as “I like Spain very much, and also travelling.” I have just landed back after a short trip to Madrid in Spain, a city that has long been on my list of places to visit, and was suitably impressed, enthralled, charmed and generally won over by the city, it’s vibrancy and the amazing people that both live and visit there.

The guidebooks all talk about Madrid being one of those cities that kind of creeps up on you, especially given the fact that it doesn’t perhaps have many of the “world wonder” type sights as say other major cities (eg Paris, London, New York). This, however, means that instead of having a few ‘must sees,’ Madrid has vista bonita after vista bonita round every corner and above every Metro stop. I traveled with my dad, who despite not speaking any of the language, has become as enthused about the Spanish culture and country as I have, and we were happy to spend a lot of our time simply meandering around the city, including it’s beautiful park, taking in the atmosphere and breaking up such jaunts with regular stops for tapas and a couple of cheeky little drinks, whether it were a refreshing Spanish cerveza, a rich, full-bodied wine or sherry, or just a sedate coffee. In fact, eating and drinking your way around Madrid is not only insanely easy to do, it feels like it would be wrong not to, given the incredible number of phenominal options available to do so.

The main highlights of our trip, I would say, were the following. It would interesting to hear what your experiences of the city have been as well, especially as I know for a fact that it has heaps more to offer than the little we managed in just a few days, and it would be great to be able to start compiling the ultimate Madrid ‘to-do’ list in preparation!

  1. Flamenco & Tapas – we were fortunate enough to get our fix of both on the very first evening, with one of the best places in the city to see amazing flamenco being Casa Patas, near the Tirso de Molina metro station. The initial meal was outstanding, served in the stunning main restaurant, complete with hanging jamóns (hams) and photograph after photograph of flamenco stars both past and present. The actual performance itself was held in an intimate room adjacent to the bar, creating a dark and intense atmosphere for what was an equally intense performance. I have seen flamenco before but never with such a level of passion being evident from the musicians, singers and dancers alike. The result is that you find yourself instinctively joining in with the cries of “Olé!” that often accompany parts of the performance, and wanting to buy yourself a pair of flamenco shoes, move to Madrid, change your name to José and devote yourself to the art. Having said that, I think that may just be a reflection of the reaction I feel to most great gigs. Definately one to check out though.
  2. cochinillo, madrid, el restaurante de san botinSuckling pig at the “world’s oldest restaurant” – one thing that it seems is most definately on the list of ‘things you should do in Madrid’ is to eat suckling pig, with el restaurante Sobrino de Botín, close to La Plaza Mayor, recognised as one of the best places in which to do so, likely due to the fact that they have been doing it well for the longest. Since 1725 in fact! After a gentlemanly haircut – it’s what one does when on holiday in such a fine city – it seemed the natural thing to do was to pop next door to sample one of the culinary delights of Madrid – and there are many! We had been expecting the cochinillo to arrive at the table in it’s entire, full form, as per the pictures shown in various guidebooks but the fact that it didn’t (we each had a leg, roasted to perfection) was a blessing, as the amount of food it would have represented would have required us to fly the rest of the family out to help finish it. We were told that another thing to try at the same restaurant is the roast suckling lamb, so it seems a return trip has already been factored in.
  3. Parque del Buen Retiro – one of the things I personally love about capital cities, London included, is the access to incredible areas of parkland that is possible. The main park in Madrid is clearly a strong draw for both locals and visitors alike, from people simply enjoying a leisurely stroll, often with their dog, or kicking back and taking in the cool, calm air with a book, all the way through to the more active recreationists, with running, cycling and even a spot of rollerblade-ultimate-frizbee being played. It made me wish I had taken my training gear with me, but then there is always the next time!
  4. mercado de san miguel, MadridEl mercado de San Miguel – this charming covered market, which sits just beyond Plaza Mayor, was one of those places that you end up happening upon by chance, as opposed to actively seeking out, and ended up being somewhere we returned to several times during our stay. Both modern, in terms of it’s light, open design, with glass doors and windows all the way around, yet traditional, with a plethora of incredible stalls selling everything from beautifully crafted and presented chocolates and cakes, to fresh seafood and meats that were about as fresh as it possibly could be without them jumping out at you, to an amazing array of fine Spanish wines, beers and, one of our favourites, sherries. A popular draw for both tourists and madrileños alike to meet up with friends and chat over some tapas and a drink, the market was certainly a favourite of the trip.
  5. La facultad de Veterinario – yes, we did. Although officially on holiday, I had said to myself that it would be really interesting to head over to the university and, if possible, check out the vet school and adjoining hospital. In spite of not managing to pre-arrange a visit and thus simply ‘turning up’, we received an incredibly warm and hospitable welcome, and were given a fantastic tour of the facilities at the vet school. A rare treat and one that will be the subject of a blog post to follow soon.

As alluded to earlier, Madrid is such a rich city in terms of culture, heritage and charm, that to list and describe every highlight would fill many books. Suffice to say that if you’re looking for an exciting destination for a city stay, whether it be for a quieter, more relaxed experience, or one offering a vibrant party scene, then Madrid definately is one to put near the top of the list.