Madrid used to be my city of horror.
Let me back-up here. An innocent investment banking analyst in London, I was once a living example of a serious work-life imbalance. My work week started at 9am on Monday and ended around 10pm on Sunday evening. That’s if I was lucky. At the most extreme, a given work week would last until way after the following week would have a bare chance to begin. I will never forget my much fresh(-er) looking colleagues slowly reconvening in the office some Monday mornings, only to find yours truly, half-conscious, desperately finishing another one of those meaningless overnight presentations. It suffices to say that investment banking in London was anything but a glamorous affair.
All fine, but what’s Madrid got to do with it, I hear you ask. Well – as miserable as our London branch was, it was a different office firmly topping the analysts’ black list. The office notorious not only for its long working hours – which in investment banking are more of a norm than an exception – but also for the plight of borderline inhumane inefficiency. The office where deal teams quickly grew to absorb, say, five analysts, three MDs and everybody’s grandmothers. Where all-party conference calls would casually commence at 3am and dose for a few hours at a time. Where having dinner at one’s desk was an alternative preferred over not managing to grab any food at all. Where local clients were using us as their FREE dedicated 24-hour hotline. You would have guessed it by now. Madrid was the office.
Being sent off to Madrid on a deal was sudden as death. It could literally happen to people overnight. When someone’s cubicle stood empty for unusually long and one of us would eventually slip the indifferent “whatever happened to him/her” – it was the one-word explanation that broke the silence. “Madrid”; a few of us would exchange quick looks and duck into our keyboards, in the hope that the next turn may not be ours. Having a member of the team claimed by the Madrid office typically meant that the Spaniards had stretched their own resources – which could well mean that more of us Londoners would soon be sucked into that red-eyed chaos in no time. And then heaven only knew when one might be coming back. One thing for sure though: Madrid was not the place from where one was coming back quickly.
I was a lucky analyst in this respect; my almost exclusive assignment to Russian projects always spared me from a Madrid exile. But the damage was done. Two years of investment banking had firmly engraved Madrid in my mind as an unwanted destination. And going to Madrid on a leisurely visit? God forbid; I would sooner visit a coal mine in a Mongolian desert. Or watch moss make its way through volcanic soil and glaciers on Jan Mayen – a largely uninhabited Norwegian rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s how bad things were for Madrid. For a while, I wasn’t at all keen on visiting.
But it wasn’t Jan Mayen I went to in the end
It took me as long as three years to reconsider. I am still not sure how I finally came about to booking flights to Madrid. It may have been for the fact that some good friends of mine were residing there in apparent peace and harmony. Or that people around me were returning from trips to Madrid being – save for occasional hangovers – relatively unhurt. Or that I was slowly running out of low-cost weekend destinations in Europe. The fact remains such: I finally overcame my panic fear and went to Madrid last weekend.
My Madrid itinerary will no doubt disappoint some of you. No, I have not admired the fine art collections of El Prado or Reina Sofia. I forewent having chocolate con churros for breakfast (seriously, is that what those fearless Spaniards attack first thing in the morning?). Unless getting up at 5am to capture the sunrise over Calle de Alcalá qualifies as nightlife, I have shamelessly skipped all of such in Madrid. And oh, I likewise forgot to stop in La Latina to enjoy the Sunday sun in the neighbourhood’s many outdoors cafes together with the locals. It looks like I might have just missed out on everything Madrid had to offer.
But I did spend many hours pacing the city’s broad avenues and narrow backstreets, strolling along the wonderfully relaxed Retiro park with hundreds of local families and visitors, admiring panoramic views from Templo de Debod and people-watching aside one of the fountains on Puerta del Sol – an undisputed heart of Madrid.
Needless to say that I came back from my former “horror city” alive. In fact, I may have come back even more alive than ever! And I am most certainly coming back soon – if only to catch up on the things missed on my first visit. Viva Madrid!