The last few days we have been in Madrid for Furrnion, a new Spanish convention held in the outskirts of the city. We arrived on Wednesday evening, with a protracted route from the airport seeing us walk from terminal one to terminal three, pay an extortionate amount to get the metro to terminal four before we could get a C-1 train to Atocha and a C-5 train out of there to La Serna, where the convention was taking place. All in all, it took us nearly three hours and by the time we arrived, the bar was quite desolate. Indeed, after surprising myself by being able to do the entire check in procedure in Spanish, we were told we only had ten minutes left until the bar closed, meaning we had to dump our bags and run there, generating a load of static electricity on the Perspex stairs as we did (this was a serious problem, so much so that someone drew a picture of a fursuiter being electrocuted by the static on his way to the lift). Upon arrival at the bar, we grabbed a drink and saw three obvious-looking furries sat at a table. This trio turned out to be Teal, Pyro and Mipsi from Sheffield, Mansfield and Cambridge respectively, so we had travelled all the way to Spain to see three English people. Apparently they had arrived on the Monday and had made this more of a vacation than we did, while during our ninety minute discussion we also got to see some of Teal's excellent etched artwork he was selling in the Dealers Den. Mipsi had travelled with her mother, who wasn't around that evening, but spoke to us regularly throughout the event. By the time 1am rolled around, we were all needing sleep and so we all went to bed to prepare for the festivities ahead.
Thursday was scheduled to be our touring around Madrid day, with nothing scheduled at the con until the evening. I had intended to get up early but I awoke feeling the most lethargic I have ever felt in my life and I simply couldn't get out of bed. Whether it had something to do with the cold that Wolfie had picked up a few days earlier I don't know, but this tiredness seeped into the other days of the con, affecting my enjoyment of it. In the end I only ended up doing an hour and a half of fursuiting throughout the whole event, even though I desperately wanted to do more. This wasn't aided by my notoriously poor stomach, which was struggling with the rich food and gassy beer, resulting in chronic burping and flatulence. I tried to limit the alcohol intake but at a con with scant few events and a load of friends around a bar, many of whom were Irish living up to the stereotype, it was incredibly tough.
Anyway, we managed to surface around lunchtime on the Thursday and made it into the city centre, getting off at Atocha after a half hour journey on the efficient Renfe suburban rail network. From Atocha, we walked amongst the grandiose buildings up to the Plaza del Sol, the main hub of Madrid and where many congregate. There were quite a number of people in fancy dress here - Mario and Luigi (who kept waving at me and beckoning me to come over), the Simpsons, the exact same Pikachu suit I had seen in Vietnam and a purple dog who mysteriously vanished as we walked around the main sights of the square). Speaking of the sites, there was an impressive statue of King Carlos III on horseback pointing towards the old red post office building, a wonderful architectural triumph that used to be the head of secret police in Franco's time. On the pavement outside there's a bronze plaque marking the zero point of reference from which the nation's road system is based. On the other side of the street there is also a statue of a bear shaking a tree, the symbol of Madrid, while the Tio Pepe neon sign is as famous here as Piccadilly Circus is in Britain.
Our next stop was just a short hop away, Plaza Mayor, where we saw an obese Spider-Man shouting at passers by before beguiling an elderly Chinese tourist. There were a few more of these street performers here in this beautiful palazzo type square with an undercover walkway around its perimeter with a number of small shops and cafes. There were four policemen on horseback in the centre of the cobbled square which some kids took an interest in, while we also took in another man on horseback statue in front of the stunningly painted exterior of the old bank I believe which formed the centre point of the northern part of the square.
As we departed from the entrance opposite to that through which we had arrived, we noticed that the obese Spider-Man had moved and was now near us. I tried to sneak a picture but to no avail. Just outside the square, we stumbled across the Mercado de San XXX, built in wrought iron in 1913 and now an incredibly popular place for local workers to have lunch. The range of fresh local produce here was quite remarkable while there were some tastes from around the world too such as from Italy and Japan. With fresh fish, charcuterie, and other produce on display, we had to walk around a good four to five times just to decide what we wanted. As we did, we narrowly gatecrashed the recording of a Spanish TV show doing a feature about the place while we were also accosted by a nice lady offering some good value wine, which she allowed us to sample before we bought a glass. Alas, with just €50 notes on us, we couldn't really buy too much (we got the wine on credit card), but the salmon and cream cheese bruschetta was particularly tasty and it was great perching by the window (it was the only free space, all the tables were full and we got moved on once by the wine lady who said we were blocking us) and looking out on the world with glass of wine in hand.
The unfortunate thing is that due to the lack of food, the glass of wine went straight to our heads, so we decided to stop off at a tapas place opposite the Cathedral, which was going to be our next stop. Here we got a nice platter of meats and cheeses on bread, 12 different ones to share and two beers all for €17. There were some the same so we could have one of these each, but we did have to rearrange some of the others so we both got to try everything. It was here that I learned about the pathetically small Article 50 notification bill and Jeremy Corbyn's three-line whip on it, none of which surprised me as it was all so sadly predictable.
The next stop was the Cathedral, quite a modern affair, having been consecrated n 1993 by the Pope John Paul II, whose statue stands outside. It has a Neo-Gothic interior albeit one with a modern twist, with chapels in a contemporary style. The stained glass windows were particularly striking, and some were in a modernist more jagged design not too dissimilar to the pop art movement. Aside from this, it does look and feel like an older church, with the only giveaway amongst the towering columns and arches being the shininess of the stone used in the construction. The roof and friezes are particularly striking, in resplendant bright colours again showing their youth, but it is the impressive vault with its 16th-century image of the Virgen de la Almudena which is the definite highlight. To reach this, we had to go around the corner of the church and underneath, which was different to the usual staircase inside affair that has been the case for the churches we have visited in the past.
The Almudena Cathedral is right next door to the grand Royal Palace, which was unfortunately closed for five days, four of which coinciding with our trip. There was a line of people waiting outside the ticket office for some reason but it never opened, meaning that we only got to look at this marvelous building through the wraught iron gates. Started in 1734 and opened in 1755, the Palace is not too dissimilar to Buckingham Palace, although it is not used by the King as a residence, just as a place for state ceremonies. The golden clock was probably the most striking aspect of the building while behind us we got to see the wonderous view of the dual bell towers of the Cathedral towering above us. This view was far better than that through the wooden fence which bordered the edge of the square separating the Palace and the Cathedral, which threatened a breathtaking view but only really gave us a tree poking out of a grey patio. There were a few slit-like holes cut into the wood and we thought we would get a fabulous vista, but in the end it was only concrete slabs.
The good view came later on, when we went to the park surrouding the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egptian temple that looks a little bit like a 1960s housing estate sculpture. Sounded by a rather antiseptic pool, this temple was rebuilt in Madrid after being dismantled near Aswan in 1968 when the Aswan Dam threatened its preservation. Indeed, at the time, a plea was issued to save the monument and the Egyptian government donated the monument to the Spanish after their help in saving the Abu Simbel temples. The reassembled gateways have been placed in a different order than when originally erected and it was opened to the public in 1972. The initial construction was started in the 2nd century BC, with later kings adding to the complex. The park itself is high on a hill overlooking the Palace, thus affording a very good view of it, along with the valley below. This is a good place to go traffic watching, particularly as the park was quite quiet due to it being a rather bitterly and surprisingly cold January day. While we walked over here, we saw a street performer dressed as a llama or something. She beckoned me over and when I put a euro in her hat, she started moving her neck wildly and snapping her jaws in a delighted way. It was quite a pleasure to watch, and definitely worth the donation. On our way to the Temple of Debod, we also had a brief walk around the modest English country garden style gardens of the Palace, which were set deep below the actual building itself.
Another park we visited was across the road - the Plaza de Espana, which sits in front of two of the tallest buildings in Madrid. Here stands a rather impressive statue of Cervantes, which was built between 1925 and 1930. The main tower part of the monument largely consists of a stone sculpture of Cervantes overlooking bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on horseback, with two representations of his true loves next to it, Aldonza Lorenzo and Dulcinea del Toboso. The fountain also acts as a water feature meaning once you climb on to it, you cannot get all the way around, which was a little irritating. Aside from this, the park is rather modest, with little else to recommend it.
By this time our feet were aching and Wolfie needed a drink so we stopped at a McDonald's due to the lack of anywhere else quick. With a Coke slurped and a rather peppery Quarter Pounder with Cheese nommed, we headed back down Grand Via, the city's main theatre district, admiring the grandiose architecture as we went before heading to the Fabrica Maravillas, one of the local microbreweries and one of the most highly rated. Alas it wasn't slated to open until 6pm and it was only 5:35pm so we had to wait a while. Not fancying just hanging around, we headed towards Irreale, the other craft beer bar recommended to us in a blog post I had discovered. On our way, we noticed a traditional Spanish pub with a Brewdog and Kernal Brewing sign outside but we opted not to go in as we can try these beers anywhere in the U.K. Literally next door to this establishment there was an off license, and the beers near the front door grabbed my attention so I dragged Wolfie in. The lady behind the till was very accommodating and even showed us the secret beer den downstairs where there was one gentlemen sat drawing on paper, with laptop open, enjoying a bottle. The lady was alone in the shop so couldn't accompany us, while it turned out the gentleman was from Gothenburg and had an extensive beer knowledge. We chatted about booze for a while, telling him of our great trip to his home city in late 2015. Indeed, we told him about a range of bars he hadn't heard of before, largely due to not living there for over ten years. He also recommended another bar to us - The Stoych Cafe - along with some beer bottles to take home, which we did when we called back later in the evening. All of this meant we had three bars to try and we started with Irreale, the one furthest away, and also because Stoych wasn't open when we went past.
There were fourteen beers in Irreale, five from Spain, and with a tasting tray of four each, we asked the nice lady behind the bar to choose the best ones. In the end, she gave us the fifth one on the house, while it was interesting to note the number of British beers on offer, including Yorkshire's own Magic Rock. The bar lady was clearly American and it turned out she knew Castleford as she once had a former boyfriend from the region. She was delighted to hear we were from the region and talked with us extensively, before serving the numerous other people who had started arriving, turning the bar from a quiet place (we were the first customers) to a packed establishment by the time we left. Our next stop was Stoych, where we were in luck as there was a tap takeover of exclusively Spanish beers on. With sixteen to choose from, we randomly got guidance from a Slovak man sat near the bar, who had popped in himself to get the handful of beers he hadn't yet tried. His recommendations were excellent, particularly the chocolate vanilla one, and we did enjoy our time in this airy yet traditional with rather long bar with wooden fittings and a red tiled floor. The final stop, Fabrica Maravillas happened after our return to the off license, where the nice lady had been replaced by a hairy man. We bought four beers for the room before going to FM, with the visit largely necessary due to my weak girl bladder and my bathroom needs. It was a good stop though, with the beer freshly brewed on site and we had a nice surprise as Slovak man who we had spoken to earlier was serving behind the bar. I didn't place him initially, meaning some awkward backtracking when he asked what I thought of the beer, but he didn't seem to mind and told us a lot about the beers in his bar. They had six, and we sampled just one, concluding that we should head back to the hotel to try and catch some furs before the bar there closed at 11:30pm. It was already 9:15pm and we were a good hour away so we downed our drinks before heading out. We were going to get some more bottles but the barman had gone and we didn't want to wait, which turned out to be a blessing as we struggled in the end to drink the ones we already had. So we headed back to the hotel having had a nice amount of beer, opting to use the metro instead for convenience. We got back with an hour to spare ahead of the bar closing but there weren't many people there - just the trio from the previous night plus Ferret and Nall, who we spoke to extensively during our stay. We had missed the group trip to the supermarket earlier in the evening and in hindsight this was a mistake but at least we got to have a nice conversation with some cool people. Wolfie went to bed just before midnight while I stayed up, facilitated by bumping into a few others in the corridor of the fourth floor of the hotel as the lights had gone off. We got this sorted but through the adversity we met two Galician furs, with whom Mipsi shared an impressive basket of strawberries. Sat in the corridor, I was a little scared we were disturbing people but no one seemed to mind, so we kept chatting for a while, going to bed shortly after 2am.
Upon our arrival, the hotel had been transformed into more of a con space, with signs up indicating the directions of things and some huge vinyl images on the glass panels of the revolving door. This gave a sense of excitement as I awoke on Friday morning, missing the opening ceremony due to chronic tiredness and only registering at 1pm. As we were sponsors (and the sponsors olé exclusivity had already passed) this meant we could go straight to the Dealers Den, which was its usual collection of artists and Fursuit makers. Teal, who had been misnamed Teaf throughout the conbook, was there so I said hi, saying I would buy stuff on my return to the U.K. Mipsi's mother was desperately trying to sell me a green tail, saying it was definitely my colour, even though I'm a pink pup and have five tails already. We also popped into the rather modest Art Auction adjacent to the Dealers' Den, where there were only three pornographic entries and about thirty overall. There was a mix of good stuff and less good stuff, and there was no surprise what sold well and what didn't in the auction itself. Aside from this, with the con schedule pretty light, it was a largely chilled day although we did go to Koltas's "Your First Furry Convention" panel for a laugh, which just turned out to be exaggerated stories about WUFF and a huge drinking session as he bought beers for everybody. We walked in halfway through and he noticed Wolfie immediately, giving him a hug but not seeming to notice me, with my presence registering about thirty seconds later. We both got a free beer and we contributed by talking about WUFF, meaning that it turned into a wonderful way to meet the Irish furs, with whom we were going to spend most of the con.
The other event we did on the Friday was the snack exchange, with us bringing sherbet, licorice, Haribo and Marmite. Teal had brought some stuff too but fortunately different things so we set up a British table while the Irish brought TayTo crisps and a range of other goodies which were clearly British and not Irish such as Cadbury's chocolate. They had quite a lesaiz-faire attitude to proceedings while we laid ours out quite delicately, even sampling some stuff as we did. Meanwhile some of the other goodies were great, particularly the Spanish ones as the hotel supplied a large amount of tapas. This made me regret not bringing haggis, which I feared would be difficult to heat up, particularly when I got to try the goat stomach stuff which had exactly the grey appearance, undulating texture and strong offal taste you would expect. The most popular thing on our table was probably the Marmite, watching people's faces as they say they hate it while reaching out for more was brilliant. Trying to explain this to inquisitive Spaniards was tricky as it's such a unique thing, while at one point the only Chilean in attendance stole it and spent a good half hour walking around with it. It was good with the local breadsticks and at least he did give us some local chili dips to try. Meanwhile the food kept on coming - flan and cake from Spain along with a range of other food such as marshmallow while there was also a wide range of meats and cheese on crunchy bread. It was here that we got to speak to the Irish furs and learn more about the community there, done over a packet of cheese and onion TayTo crisps. I remarked that the mascot on the front looked like Mr Benn, tweeting this later only to get a response from the real Mr Benn talking about letting himself go. It was very well-played and caused great hilarity as we sat around one of the large tables drinking and chatting. Wolfie had gone to bed and the karaoke was in full swing, with a number of furs doing their best to murder good songs with Uncle Tom by David Bowie particularly bad. As everything was running late for some reason (the lack of events overrunning surely made this impossible), the disco didn't really happen and in the end I ended up in Alexander's room drinking blue vodka stuff and chilling with the Irish furs. It was a great way to end a great evening but the lethargy soon caught up with me and with an early Fursuit walk the next day, I felt 4am was late enough for me. Apparently the party went on until after six.
Our tiredness meant we didn't get up for breakfast, like we didn't throughout our entire trip, but we had bought some bread, cheese and meat (and more beer) at a local supermarket the day before so it didn't really matter. I managed to grab a sandwich before groggily clambering into my fursuit, getting downstairs just before noon and in time for the walk. It was a rather short affair, going around the hotel largely, including two flights of stairs so we could walk through the desolate tent that was later to become the gaming area. At least when we walked up the perspex stairs in fursuit, we didn't get static shocks, while the walk around the Dealers' Den was particularly good. The fursuiter guiding the parade largely spoke in Spanish though, which made it a little difficult for us non-native speakers. Saturday was also Open House Day, where members of the public could officially come along and join in the fun, so there were a number of children around along with some anime cosplayers. They quite enjoyed the parade of around fifty fursuiters or so, and in the end we wandered outside around the hotel, congregating in a concrete area out back where the group photo was to take place. It was here, then later inside the fursuit lounge, where I hooked up with the six Irish fursuiters, who wanted a group photo of their community at Furrnion. I was also invited to take individual pictures of my own, which was rather fun, while in the interim we just talked, with Shirodragon, a blue female dragon fursuiter the one I spoke to most, along with GerMANShep, who seemed to be the lead organiser of the group. After this, I wandered around the hotel for a bit before desuiting around two hours later, culminating what was to be my only time in fursuit due to my chroncally bad stomach which was like evisceration throughout the entirety of the con. I do regret the lack of suiting, particularly because my fursuit got a lot of positive feedback, but I simply struggled with the pain.
After showering and chilling, we wanted to grab some food, but were accosted on our way down by GerMANShep who was about to conduct a panel on the Irish language. This started quite late due to technical issues but soon there were about twenty of us in the main panel room learning about the three key words in Irish (man, water and dog) along with other gems such as 'please may I go to the bathroom'. GerMANShep insisted that after his not particularly intensive course we would be able to speak more Irish than 80% of Irish people, while the Irish themselves in the crowd were just chipping in and generally taking the piss. It descended into something farcical quite early on, and in the end saw us introducing Father Ted and Balamory to the handful of bemused Spaniards who had also wanted to learn Irish. While all this was going on, Swifty was buying jug after jug of sangria largely to appease the two greedy fursuiters up front, one being Talon and the other being a lady I only know as Daddy's Cummies girl as she kept talking about Daddy's Cummies throughout the con (whatever that means). After about 45 minutes of fun and general pointlessness, we disgorged, smiling at the farcical nature of the talk and at this point we headed to get food. We walked towards the McDonald's, in the opposite direction to the supermarket we had visited the day before, hoping for something better than fast food but the tapas bar didn't serve substantial meals and the pub next door had no bugger in it. So McDonald's it was, but it was quite a find as we had the Signature Menu range which was basically a posh burger served on a thin wooden tray, with the fries in a little bucket. We had to use the touchpad self service machines to order, which was confusing as once you had paid, a little card was deposited and it wasn't clear what you had to do with it until we were told it was a little GPS tracker and we should sit down. We both got the Smokehouse burger, which was pretty nice, but nowhere near as good as the perfection that is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Still, food was food and at least we had eaten.
The rest of the evening was a mixture of chilling in the room and drinking in the bar, although I struggled to get into it due to my stomach and lethargy. I was trying to limit drinking so I opted to go into the art auction, where I ended up bidding on a small €10 piece, largely out of sympathy as no-one else was putting their hand up. To be fair, it was quite a nice souvenir piece, and it certainly didn't deserve to go unclaimed. Quite a large number of items did, with Swifty, who had had a lot of sangria by this point, feeling really sad that some of the items weren't selling at all, urging me to place more bids (while interestingly not putting any bids in of his own). He, along with GerMANShep and a few others, was waiting for a Little Red Riding Wolf image to come up, which had been labelled as not for sale in the art auction but figured it may be as it actually was there. In the end it wasn't, with many of the final items going unclaimed as they were the rather fantastic door decorations and signage and the like, which was far too bulky for the majority of us to take back. The auction lasted about an hour, with the dual language situation making it a rather disjointed experience, before tipped back into the bar for some more drink. Alas, by this stage I just wanted to head to bed, which was upsetting as I had tried to remain reasonably sober so I could fursuit at the disco. In the end, it wasn't to be, as Wolfie and I shared the final few craft beers alone in our room with the thump of the disco music tantilisingly playing down below. It was frustrating not being there, but I simply couldn't hack it, which meant it was a rather disappointing end to the convention for me.
I had arranged to meet my work colleagues on the Thursday, but as it turned out, one of them had flu meaning we had to rearrange our meeting to the Sunday. This meant that I had to get up quite early, not only to meet them for lunch but also to pick up the artwork I had bought at 11am. This I did before joining the Irish furs for a brief five minute discussion about Donald Trump's immigration policy, with the need to pack and check out of the room meaning I had to cut this conversation short. At 12 noon, we headed down to the lobby, with us dropping our bags behind the reception as our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 9:35pm. We then rejoined the Irish furs for a few minutes before I had to catch the train into town, leaving Wolfie to spend some time in the hotel before meeting me in the city centre later that afternoon. I was in luck as there was a train pulling into the station as soon as I arrived, meaning I got to Atocha with half an hour to spare, enabling me to see the beautiful architecture of the Prado Museum, the Plaza Canovas del Castillo fountain and the stunning white neo-classical building on Plaza de Cibeles upon which there hung a 'Refugees Welcome' banner. This is the Cybele Palace (City Hall). Walking through the January drizzle to see this was far more preferable than taking the Metro, so I am glad I did it, and it was just as well as I arrived at my destination, the closed down market on Fuencarral bang on time. One of my colleagues was there to meet me and he took me to a nearby tapas restaurant, Lateral, where we bought a drink and waited for the other two to arrive. This didn't take long and soon we had an enjoyable meal over which we talked about a range of things. The food was delicious, with the lentil soup, the bacon croquettes, the brie and chicken bruschetta and the cream cheese wrapped in salmon being particular highlights. For dessert we grabbed a melon compote with four spoons before heading over to a cafe-cum-burger bar where we had a gin and tonic to round off the afternoon.
The meeting lasted three and a half hours before the trio needed to head off, leaving me with not enough time to get back to La Serna. Wolfie thought I was meeting him back at the hotel so he was not happy, although I did take my rucksack in case of this eventuality so I am not sure why he was so surprised. Anyway, apparently most of the furs had taken a siesta and he was sat on his own, which is why he was a little down, so I told him to get to Atocha station early so we could head to the airport promptly. This is what he did, with me meeting him at the station about forty-five minutes later (once he had rang me to confirm the Spanish on the ticket machine for him). It was just as well really as getting to the airport required a change at Atocha and with no Metro Line 8 running, it being closed for renovation for three months from Thursday (so it was fine the day we arrived), we had to get the bus service from Terminal 4 where the train dropped us off, to Terminal 1 where we needed to be, which ended up being a good ten minutes' drive away. We chekced in smoothly and ended up having a lot of time in the terminal, so we grabbed a steak from the Urban Grill concession and followed the news, watching in interest as the number signing a UK Parliament petition on Trump's state visit kept going up and up and up quite swiftly. This gave me some hope about the future of the UK, meaning boarding our plane and heading back wasn't quite the chore it usually is, although the ridiculous customs queue did dent my hope, particularly as we saw a war of words between two sets of dickheads started because one guy was wearing his sunglasses in the terminal building. With the persistent drizzle that so symbolises Britain descending over Manchester, along with a very late trip back to Leeds which didn't see us get home until 1am, it's fair to say I have had better homecomings but at least we had some good memories of the con, even if it wasn't everything I had hoped it would be.