An Evening at the Bullfights.

The bullfights in Madrid happen throughout the warmer months. Festival season (from around May) sees bullfights every day, where the remainder of the summer they are weekly events.

The Bullfights in Spain are very much a cultural event. Attendance ranges from young couples and family, to the older sections of the population. It can be date night, and escape, or a place for a gathering of old friends.

An evening at the Bullring is a formal affair. The locals dress for the occasion. If you rush back to your hotel and drag the best clothes out of your backpack, as I did, you will find yourself underdressed. Fear not, the local may look at you funny, but they accept you nevertheless.

The Venue.

The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, known locally as Las Ventas, is located in the northeastern section of Madrid’s city center. Inaugurated in June, 1931, it is the heart of bullfighting in Madrid. A large, open air venue, it has a capacity of almost 24,000 people.

Consuming all of Plaza 1, it’s a purpose built facility. The venue is serviced by both the local bus routes and the metro system. A metro stop at the plaza provides direct access to the Bullring.

The Bullring has a free flowing feel and numerous access points. There is no real need to arrive in advance to get to your seat. People show up continuously, throughout the experience. The venue empties just as effortlessly.

The exterior of the Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid. Brownell. Madrid, May 2019
The exterior of the Las Ventas Bullring, leaving in the evening, after the bullfights. Madrid, circa May, 2019

Getting Your Tickets

There are several different online sites that provide tickets to the various bullfights. The venue also has an online sales portal available.

If you’re in Madrid, I recommend going straight to the box office at the venue. There are different ticket prices and options, and the people at the box office can give you current information. The tickets for the evening I was there ranged from $20.00 to the mid $200.00s. My ticket ended up costing $42.00.

Spanish is the language of the staff, so if you don’t speak Spanish it gets a little more complicated. Don’t let that trouble you though. Getting tickets ends up being the same as getting dinner or anything else. You smile and go slowly, it’ll work itself out.

The Program

My evening’s program consisted of three matadors. Each matador fight three bulls, resulting in nine actual bullfights.

Much like baseball in the US, or Formula 1 in Europe, the bullfights do come with a program. It gives general information and statistics about each matador, and the statistics of each bull. The program is written in Spanish, but can also just be a nice event souvenir.

A General Idea Of What’s Coming

while the initial crowds are taking their seats, the grounds crew set down the caulk lines in the ring floor and finishes general sand grooming.

The evening’s affairs then start with a entrance procession. All of the matadors, horsemen, and extra all come out and are greeted by the crowd in a parade of individuals.

After the entrance procession is complete, everyone takes their places and readies themselves. The first matador Of the evening will stride to the center of the Bullring and present himself to the crowd. The matador’s charismatic showmanship and bravado is greeted by applause from the crowd. When applause are complete, the first bull of the evening is released into the Bullring and the bullfights begin.

With three main matadors and three rounds of bulls to be fought, the bullfights go into the dark of the evening hours. Starting (pretty promptly) at 7pm, my evening at the bullfights concluded about 9:30pm.

Start of the Madrid bullfights. Brownell. May, 2019
The procession of Matadors and auxiliary players at the beginning of the bullfights. Madrid, circa May, 2019

What To Expect

Blood. Blood in the sand is what you should expect. Lots of blood.

After the bull gets run around the ring by the assistant matadors to get its adrenaline up, the bull is then engaged by two armored horsemen who spear the bull with hardwood long-handled spears. Once speared by the horsemen, a series of small spears from the matador are used to really get the bull’s blood flowing. After a sufficient amount of time, the lead matador skewers the bull with a sword sunk hilt-deep into the bull’s neck.

It should be noted that if the matador misses sinking the sword on the first try or produces a shot to the bull causing excessive pain to the animal, it is met by the crowds with rejecting howls and shouts. The crowds aren’t there to see the bull suffer needlessly due to an unprofessional matador.

Sword in place, the bull is allowed to thrash about until the blood loss topples him. Once he is deemed to be no longer able to attack, another man approaches the bull and give it a coup de grace by cutting the animal’s throat.

Once dispatched, a team of horses comes out and drags the dead bull out of the Bullring. A grounds crew comes in next and rakes the sand to cover the blood and make the ring ready for the next fight. Sometimes, the blood cleanup can take time. There can be a lot of blood.

Madrid bullfights. Brownell. May, 2019
The culminating point of the bullfight. The matador and bull square off for a final showdown. Madrid, circa May, 2019

Thoughts

I’ll start this by saying that I don’t have a gentle heart. Wether it’s human, animal, or oak tree, if it needs killing then kill it. However, if it doesn’t, then you should probably just let it be. (You’ll usually just make it mad.)

I understand the draw of the bullfights. It’s the draw of any pugilistic sport. The application of man against an oppositional force. That being said, if you aren’t accustom to the impact of such events, you’ll find it off-putting. I’m comfortable with combative sports, as most westerners are, and still found it to be excessive. After about the 4th bullfight, I was outrightly rooting for the bull.

The structure of the event overwhelmingly tilts the odds in favor of the matador. The bull stands little chance in being the victor. The best it can hope for is to kill the matador before it’s dispatched.

It’s a natural leap for how a society can slowly transition from the spectacle of the bullfights to the wonder of the colosseum. Even the events of the Roman Colosseum started with animal fights. I’m not equalizing the two. I’m just saying that I can see how you could go from one to the next.

The Bullring is a centerpiece of life in Madrid. It is something that, I think, should be experienced to appreciate all that is Madrid. You are going to have difficulty finding a similar experience in today’s society. I say, go do it. But don’t go into it with preconceived ideas. That will do it, and the people of Madrid, an injustice.

Leave your western notions behind, go have an experience like no other. The most important thing about traveling is to be granted the opportunity to form your own opinions based upon actual experiences, not what someone else told you to believe.

Now, go. Go have new experiences. Expand your boundaries.

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The Joys Of Madrid.

Madrid, the capital of Spain, has been one of those places I have wanted to visit for a long time. I’m not sure why it’s hasn’t happened before now. The few times I’ve been to Spain in the past it has always been problematic to add another stop. So when I decided to travel across Europe this summer (2019), it was one of the first places I marked down.

Madrid is a big, vibrant, chaotic city, fully equal to any big-ticket city in Europe. Where the Spanish countryside is sleepy, the capital is awash with people and spectacles. The highlights of the city are many, so you need to decide what you want to do before you head out. Having some sketchy idea of what you want to do will definitely help your planning. It is very easy to stop at a corner bar for a beer and to think about where you want to go next, and spend several hours watching the city crowds come and go. It happened to me in the plazas.

Getting to Madrid.

Getting to Madrid is easy. The international airport hosts all major airlines and is a primary connection point for the country of Spain, and many stops in Europe. It also has a well-connected central rail station that welcomes travels from all over the Iberian peninsula to the city each day.

The rail system around Madrid gets. Crowded with long-haul passengers, so reservations for most trips are a must. Don’t wait to get them the day of your journey, as you probably won’t be able to. This happened to me leaving out. I had grown complacent with the easy rail travel of the Spanish countryside and waited to do my reservation. Needless to say, I didn’t get one. Lesson learned. It didn’t happen on the remainder of the trip. I came into Madrid on rail, and went out on an airplane.

Getting Around the City.

in any European city worth its salt, the word here is Metro.

Catching the metro at the Madrid train station. Circa May, 2019

The metro is the fastest, most reasonably priced way to get around the city. The network is extensive and the trains run on time.

The city also has the usual bus service and taxi industry. They too are prevalent about the city. I tend toward the metro, so I didn’t use these other modes.

Some Highlights From Madrid.

The Palace

The Royal Palace in Madrid, as viewed from the cathedral. Circa May, 2019.
Interior furnishing at the Royal Palace Of Madrid. Circa May, 2019.

The Royal Alcazar Of Madrid was founded in the 9th century. In 1660, it was turned into The Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace is a spectacular structure worthy of the title. It lacks formal grounds, but has an excellent reviewing yard at its main entrance. A remnant Of The Alcazar days, no doubt. The interior is still richly appointed.

The Palace draws large crowds. Look for it’s opening time, the day you choose to visit, and be there early. The line forms before opening. There is also a speed line for those that already have tickets (read bus tours), so they slow your entry as well. Just save the headache and plan accordingly.

The Prado Gallery

From the collection at the Prado Museum. Circa May, 2019

Where there is more than one major gallery in Madrid, the Prado Museum is the one you’re looking for. It is the main Spanish art museum in the country, and houses an outstanding collection. The collection includes, among other things, a real Mona Lisa. (No. They won’t let you take pictures of it.)

Again, the Prado draws large crowds. Plan ahead, be there when the doors open or before.

The bullfights

The Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

Many will say that the Las Ventas Bull Ring, in Madrid, is the center of the sport in the country. That statement is hard to argue. I’m not going to say much about it, as the next post will cover it in more detail.

The crypts

The interior of the crypt at the La Almundena Cathedral. Circa May, 2019

Once you realize you’re not getting into the Palace, you turn and take in the massive church behind you. You think, “that must be open, right?” And, it is. And, it’s a good choice.

La Almudena Cathedral is a great and imposing structure. It has a design that masters interior space. The cathedral doesn’t give you a medieval vibe, because it isn’t. The building construction was only started in 1897. This late start gives the cathedral a decidedly modern feel.

Along with the cathedral, the complex also houses a nice museum, and a spectacular crypt under the structure. You enter the crypt from a street-level entrance on the far side of the complex. The crypt is active, and still in-use as a burial place. It is an amazing site to visit. The sculpture of some of the burial placements is simply amazing.

The crypt does get a lot of traffic. Make sure you act appropriately, and be respectful of your surroundings.

The Plaza Mayor

The author having a beer and watching the crowds at Plaza Mayor, in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s main squares. It is also an excellent place to people watch.

Located in the central city area, the plaza is a huge open area within a warren of twisty streets. The central area is open brickwork, with tightly packed cafes and restaurants ringing three sides. Starting in the later part of the afternoon (say 5pm-ish) stroll in and find a seat where you can see the action. The plaza hosts everything from rock concerts, to outdoor art festivals, to people just gathering to converse. There is always something to see.

The plaza, like any other tourist draw area, can be criticized for being too pricey. It’s true, prices do increase as soon as your feet break the plaza’s threshold. But, the people watching makes up for the price gouging.

Take Time Out For Street Music.

A group of street musicians in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

I can honestly say that I’ve never really been too big a fan of buskers. I don’t dislike them in any fashion, I just don’t really pay much attention to them. I drop coins to the people jamming in the metro, but the people out on the streets seem to get lost in it all, most of the time.

That being said, Madrid is an excellent place to catch a street performance! The city has lots of little nooks and corner areas that seem to be quiet enough for the musicians to do their thing. There is everything from the standard college-aged kid with a secondhand guitar to five and six piece groups doing classical pieces. The range of music available on the street is fabulous. You should make an effort to seek some of it out while you’re there.

A Shout Out to Our Feathered Friends.

A pigeon enjoying the crowds at Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

Madrid was the first urban center I came to where there was enough of a population to attract the ever city-savvy pigeon. The fellow pictured here joined me for dinner one night in Plaza Mayor. Something about pigeons always makes me contented. Not sure why?

Thoughts.

world class art, world class architecture, easy access, a deep history, easy to get around, plenty of hotel options, and every kind of food are available in Madrid. Why would you not go? Why did I wait so long to go? You should go. I want to go back! It’s just a great city.

Now, get out there. Go explore a great city!

Hiking around Bangkok. Day 3.

More bad cabbies. Everybody speaks English, until you want someone to speak English. Then, they look at you like you’re stupid. It can be aggravating.

I knew this was coming today, so I emotionally armored myself before walking out of the hotel. As I was standing in front of the hotel waiting to flag down a cab and get raped for a ride north to the Harley dealership, I had a though. Maybe, since I just spent a quarter of my days spending money on sunscreen I should have bought a week ago, maybe I would go adventuring instead. So I turned toward the metro station and an adventure was what I received.

I walked down to the metro and bought a ticket to the National Stadium exit, which is the terminal end of the green line. From the station I walked north and found the Saphan Hua Chang Pier to catch the water taxi. I road the water taxi East several miles to the Charn Issara Pier. From here I walked out to the road and caught a cab the rest of the way to the Harley shop. It took my phone god and to more cabbies before my cabbie could drive the 15 blocks over to the shop he couldn’t find.

The Harley dealer was shockingly overpriced, but I had made the journey for a reason so I bought a t-shirt and shoved it in my bag. The shirt cost me the rest of my day’s spending money. Running on a couple hundred Bahd leftover from the last couple days, it was time to make my way back.

So far the trip over had cost me 30B for metro, 13B for water taxi, and 53B for a cab. All of this to buy a 1300B t-Shirt.

I waited outside for 5 minutes or so until an empty cab came along. Of course, he spoke no English. He had no idea where the Pier was. He didn’t understand the google maps image of Bangkok. He didn’t get any of my money or exasperation.

Now, in a great feet of under-thinking, I said screw it and decided to walk. It seemed like a good idea at the moment. I headed back the way I had come, and made it 80% of the way there before I could go no farther. So I ended up walking west to walk east, down the side of the street which had no sidewalk and no real street edge. DO NOT DO THIS! IT IS UNWISE!

As I stopped, trying to figure out where I was (I was not in the good part of town and shouldn’t have been stopping to check such things!) I realized I was right next to another Pier, so I went there and grabbed another water taxi west. 15B for a ticket back to where I had come.

Hopping off at the Saphan Hua Chang Pier, I pulled out the phone and gps’d my way over to the Jim Thomson House museum. For a 150B entry fee with included tour, I definitely recommend this one. It is a very nice tour of the house and gardens, and then time to wander and take pictures. The guide’s English is good and the tour is enjoyable. Fortunately for me, there was also maybe 20 minutes of cool down time before it started. I was starting to overheat. I sweat so much, I had sweat all the screen back out of my skin. It was kinda nasty, and is now wiped all over my pant legs.

Catching the metro back to the hotel, I drank all the bottled water in the room. Now cooling down, while watching the FC Dallas v Philadelphia soccer match, and writing this.

All of that to save about 800B in cab fairs. (400B each way) oh well, I wanted an adventure and I found one. I have just about enough money left for some food and maybe one beer. I’m thinking its a chill out day.

You don’t really notice it from the photos, but the river taxi is not necessarily the best thing ever. The river is polluted and marred with floating trash. The taxi boats are all super loud, and basically exhaust-free. They are long, thin vessels, so the bob up and down at speed end encountering any amount of wake.

That being said, the are cheap! They are also easy to use. Just locate the Pier and climb on a boat heading the way you want to head. You literally have to hop on and hop off, as the boats don’t completely stop moving when they come in to the Pier/Dock. Watch getting on and off. Once on, a young and industrious deckhand will make his way down the side of the boat and sell you a ticket. Just tell him what Pier you’re headed to and he will charge you accordingly. I paid 13B going out, and 15B coming back. From what I understand, about 20B is the max ticket price. If you’re headed east-west, it worth the time to take the water taxi. All of the people on it are working Thai people, coming and going. It gives an interesting view of daily life you don’t get by other travel means.

Nap time.

Get out there. Do stuff!

Bangkok proper.

Today was all about palaces, Buddhas and bad cabbies. I got up at no particular hour of the morning and wandered downstairs to have breakfast at the hotel. It was perfectly adequate, and the coffee was strong. I asked at the front desk about laundry service and how to get to the Grand Palace. The answers were before 11:00am for tomorrow, and by taxi.

I am not a hotel laundry service person, as a general rule. I usually just find a place nearby and go do it myself. Sadly, the scouting mission yesterday didn’t turn up any laundromats, and my clothes stink too bad to re-wear.

The cabbies are all in cahoots in Bangkok. Its a syndicate. The ride across the city to the Grand Palace by Tuk Tuk cost me 300 Bahd. The dude also stopped like a block shy of my destination and wanted to have me go see something else. Gave him a swift And firm no.

The Grand Palace was quite Grand indeed. It was also literally overrun with Chinese tours. There were so many that I had to blend in with one just to get through the entry gate. The ticket for admission was 500 Bahd, and the ticket counter is quite easy to find. They are cool with English, and were quite nice considering the overwhelming crowds. You could get a private guide for a fee or an audio tour. I opted for the free English map, and tried to figure it out as I went. Fortunately, there was a guy giving an English tour that I happened to cross paths with several times. That helped a lot.

It was blisteringly hot this morning. Sunny with no clouds. The heat beat you out of the open areas after a few minutes and added to my developing sunburn. There is a good percentage of the Grand Palace that is well shaded, by design. Getting in out of the heat is easy enough. I did frequently.

After the joys the Chinese, I made my way out of the Palace and headed down the street to the Wat Pho complex. Fortunately, it was right next door to the Grand Palace complex. On the way, I stopped to take in the open-air displays at the Museum of the Cannons. As the name implies, they had many cannons. It was also a fine display. The display takes up the front lawn of one of the defense ministry buildings.

Cannons done, it was another block down and around the corner to Wat Pho. The complex has a noterietay for being only slightly less crowded than the Grand Palace. Today, is was a good relief, as it was relatively quiet. The complex admission is 100 Bahd, and is well worth going in. It is the home of the largest collection of Buddhas in Thailand, and home of the gigantic Reclining Buddha. That alone is fabulous, but definitely see the rest of the complex. It has many thing to offer.

It took 4 different attempts to find a taxi I didn’t want to stab to find a ride back to my hotel. They all have some kind of scam running. Its exasperating. Finally, I just paid the extra 100 Bahd for the ride back (400 back vs 300 there) and said screw it. This guy only got me to about 2 blocks away from my hotel. Some nonsense about not know how to navigate around the one-way street he was at. I paid him and hoofed it.

Back at the hotel, it was planning for tomorrow, letting my feet cool off (sans sneakers), and finding a beer.

Not feeling finished, I walked my way back to the metro and headed a couple stops west to Siem Square to take a walk around. It was a non-starter, so I came back to the hotel bar to write this. The barkeep guy is hovering, and annoying, but the wifi is high speed. Concessions have to be made!

Don’t let the cabbies beat you down, get out there and see stuff.

US Road Trip 2017, Day 9.

The fourth and last day of sightseeing in Washington DC was very good. I admit that I walked off my feet again, but it was worth it.

Once again, I caught the Shuttle from the hotel to the Metro, and the Metro into the city. The Metro was not as congested as it was yesterday and it made for nicer ride. 

The Blue Line of the Metro has a stop at the Arlington Cemetery. And once up the escalators, it’s a simple walk up about a block and across the street. 

If you’re planning a full-on visit to the cemetery, I suggest taking the tour. The tour is a tram tour around the cemetery. It hits all of the highlight items that everyone wants to see. It is also hop-on, hop-off, so you can spend more time in specific places. 

The Cemetery has a free App, downloadable from the stores. The App is quite nice and has a lot of available information. If you get it for the map alone, the map given out with the tour tells you all you really want to know.

The Cemetery is active. There were 26 funerals conducted today. I stood quietly and respectfully as one passed me by. That is important to remember after a couple days of monuments and museums that this is an active place and one needs to be respectful of that.

After the Cemetery experience, I walked the broad avenue that leads back to Washington DC. The walk across the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River gives great views. It brings you up against the back of Lincoln Memorial. 

Coming around the Lincoln Memorial from back to front is like going from quiet lawn garden to raucous house party. The Memorial  is busy, but easy to get in and out of. It is also designed to be viewed by a lot of people. It’s massive and open and welcoming. I grabbed some pictures and was on my way.

Walking along the side of the Reflecting Pool led me to realize that it was definitely not meant to be used as a pool. Let’s just say it had a little growth in it. Nevertheless, it was a nice day, and a nice walk.

There was a stop at the east end of the Reflecting Pool to view the World War II Memorial. It was a bit of a look-see to figure out the theme of it, but it was a very nice Memorial. 

The walk continued on to the Washington Monument. It’s big. It’s elegant. It’s iconic. It’s also closed for repairs. Such is the way of things. I would assume that it received damage from the 2011 earthquake, the way the National Cathedral did. I grabbed some pictures of it as well. 

After the Washington Monument there was some more walking around before it was back to the Metro. The Blue Line, Smithsonian Metro station, is only about 3 blocks from the Monument and easy to access. The route took me back up the Blue Line to the Red Line, and back to Bethesda. It was a good day!

The day ended with Fish Tacos. I had dinner with my good friend Beth at Fish Taco. The blackened fish tacos were very good, as was the company.  Now, some shark week or the Tottenham v  Roma match. Tomorrow, back on the road. 

Arlington holds more than just military men. 


There are many famous military men as well. 


Mr Lincoln. Surrounded by a throng of people below the frame.


The Washington Monument. 

US Road Trip 2017, Day 6.

The first day of exploring D.C. Was great! 

I got up without the alarm clock dragging me forth. In other words, I slept in. Hahahaha A long stand in the shower and a shave later I was emotionally ready to tackle the day. 

The Marriott Suites that I am staying at has a free shuttle to the Metro. It’s super convenient. 

The Section of the Red Line that I am on is under weekend construction, so once we were at the Metro station  we had to take a shuttle down the line a couple stations to get back on active track.  Sounds crazy, but it was super easy! The Metro had loads of people out answering questions as well. 

So, it was the Red Line in to the American University stop, and then the 30-series bus south about 1 1/2 miles to the National Cathedral.  The National Cathedral is absolutely amazing. It is a cut stone monument to the abilities of people with vision. And, it is an absolutely beautiful building.

I ended up having a great conversation about the state of the world with my new friend Andy. Andy has worked at the Cathedral for 18 years, and possessed a kin insight into the state of man. I’m continually reminded that the world is full of amazing people. In our conversation regarding the Cathedral and its place in the ranks of the great churches Andy summed it up as “It is the equal of any Cathedral in Europe, except for its age.” I tend to agree with Andy! It really is like no other Cathedral I have seen in America. It is worth the tour. 

I don’t take time to walk the gardens, which were extensive, but there is time for that another day. I did pause in the Shepards Chapel and say a prayer for the health of my parents. It is something I do at every church I visit. The fact that the Shepards chapel is located in the crypt made me laugh. 

The Cathedral actually has 3 chapels in the crypt. The first one I’ve seen like this. I chose the Shepards Chapel because it was small and quiet. It seemed the most comforting. 

From the Cathedral, it was back to the bus stop. I jumped back on the 30-series bus, 31N I think, and headed for the National Mall. Not knowing where I was going, I jumped off to consult a map. No map at the bus stop, but a good BBQ place across the street. So, it was lunch in Georgetown. The BBQ joint was called Old Glory. Good food and decent prices. The place was also an old building, which was cool. 

Moving on again, it was back on the bus. Wrong bus, but basically the right direction. Instead of the Mall, I ended up on the backside of the White House. I also ended up under blackening skies. By the time I made my way down to the Washington Momument there were great big rain drops fallling from the sky. Big, cold, rain drops falling from the sky. I took a picture from across the street and headed it for the Metro.

Of course, by the time I made it back to the hotel I had stopped raining. It was okay, I was done anyway. TIRED!!

I got woken up from the nap I didn’t know I was taking by a dinner text. My friend/tour guide, Beth, pushed back dinner due to the pounding rain. Yup, more rain!

Dinner was decided in the car. I got to pick, so Thai food. We went to a place called Tara Thai, in Bethesda. The food was good and had a good staff. The atmosphere was new and trendy, and reminded me more of a sea food restaurant. But, it was tasty Thai food!

After dinner festivities included a short walk to Barnes and Noble. Things I learned at B&N:

You can buy a detective field kit.

Image released 5 volumes of Sunstone. None of which I possess (YET)!

You can write a children’s book that contains less than 2 paragraphs of words ….. and get published. 

You can print a magazine about Anything!!

After that, it was back to the awesome hotel to chill. Bed coming soon tonight. 

Live. See. Enjoy. 


My chariot to the Metro station.


The decent into Metro. 


The National Cathedral.


The space window. It holds a piece of moon rock brought back from Apollo. 


The Washington Monument. You can’t see the HUGE raindrops falling, but they were.