We asked Carlos Ho Diéguez to answer some questions in this week’s Spotter interview. As we’re sure everyone would like to know more about the Spotters behind the tips, this week Carlos is in the spotlight, a Spotter for our Madrid city blog!
Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m what you could call a citizen of the world. One of my grandfathers was Spanish, the other one was Chinese, they both married Panamanian women, and a few generations later, I was born. I’ve lived in Panama, Spain and France. I first lived in Madrid from 1987 to 1991, and that’s when I fell in love with this city. Even if I move away from Madrid, it’ll always be dear to me.
Professionally speaking, I’m an electronics engineer. I’m currently working at a tramline company in western Madrid, but that’s bound to change soon, though I still don’t know what the immediate future holds for me.
In my spare time, I love travelling. A lot. I think of visiting other cities and countries every single day, and I find myself checking flight prices almost on a daily basis as well. Another one of my hobbies is judging Magic: The Gathering events, which happens to a big game played all over the world, which in turn has taken me to places I’d have never been able to get to on my own, at least this young: I’ve been to tournaments in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Argentina and Chile, to name a few places. And on top of that, I love photography, especially travel photography, that’s why I take most of my articles’ pictures.
How do you like being a Spotter?
I love taking people out for a walk via my favourite spots in my city, so being able to share these through Spotted by Locals feels really good. Every Facebook like or share, every comment I get for one of my articles makes me feel like I’m being useful to someone in their travels. To an avid traveler like me, that means a lot.
Also, being a Spotter has meant that I’ve spent more time taking pictures of Madrid than I usually do, and I’m thankful for that, as I often forget to build up my collection of local photographs. And boy, Madrid is a very picturesque city.
Sadly, no Spotters-story for me yet. I’d have loved to go to the Spotters meeting in 2012, but I was busy traveling on that very same weekend…
I moved to Madrid when I was 6 years old, and lived in the Spanish capital for 4 years before moving back to Panama. Those 4 years have become some of the best of my life. It was then that I learned to love the arts and culture, and traveling. There were so many world-famous museums within my reach, so many beautiful monuments, and so many interesting countries. I remember very fondly a trip that took us from Madrid to Romania, through Italy and the former Yugoslavia, back in 1989. After I came back in 2005, I found the same Madrid that I learned to love as a child. It has changed on the outside, but the things that made me love it are still there, and even better: there are more cultural and traveling opportunities.
When visiting Madrid, you should definitely take some time to just walk around, without entering any museums or buildings. Start at the Retiro park, then make your way to the city centre, or viceversa. Then you should also take a few days just to check the museums. The Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen museums are definitely a must, you should at least visit one of these.
It’s tough to say what is not a must, as everything I think of is something I really like showing to visitors. Perhaps I can say that you must not pay to see the big museums? They all have some opening hours where the entrance fee is waived. I can’t remember when was the last time I took someone to the Prado museum and had to pay for it… Oh, and don’t eat in Plaza Mayor: those restaurants are big tourist traps.
Which prejudices about Madrid are true? Which ones are not?
Most people have heard that Madrid is a party animal that does not sleep. That is very true. I’ve found myself looking for a place to go to at 04:00 during a cold Wednesday night in the middle of winter, and I’ve ended up in places packed with people. And any day of the week, just walk around Gran Vía at midnight: you’ll find it swarming with people.
Something that everybody believes that happens in Spain is “siesta” (taking a nap after lunch). That might happen in lots of places in the country, but it’s a tradition that few people can afford in the busy capital. Most Madrilenians eat and go back to work, and in the best cases, they might have the luxury of playing a quick round of a sport before getting back to the office. Also, paella is not from Madrid, there aren’t any bulls running throughout the city, and women do not wear flamenco dresses.
What do you know about Madrid that no tourist will know?
I know where some of the best places are to watch the sunset in Madrid, and how to plan a pleasant day or afternoon of walking around in the city to time your arrival to one of these viewing spots just when the sun is tinting the sky red.
What is the most popular neighborhood to live in Madrid at this moment?
It all depends on what you’re looking for. If you ask me, I love the Retiro neighborhood, where I lived for seven years. Like its name implies, it’s next to El Retiro park, so walking to it is always an option, and from there you can walk to the Golden Triangle museums (Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen). The neighborhood is very quiet, but you can get yourself to the city center in a few minutes by public transport, or even walk all the way there. It’s a pleasant walk through some of the most beautiful areas of Madrid.
Can you describe a perfect day in your city?
I’d start at El Retiro park, walking around its pond, perhaps renting a rowing boat to glide through it while watching the Alfonso XII monument and the scores of people hanging around next to it. Then I’d visit the Crystal Palace, take a few pictures and move on, exiting the park near the Puerta de Alcalá. From there, I’d move to the Cibeles, and start making my way to the Reina Sofía museum. If it’s Sunday, entering the museum will be free starting at 15:00, and I’ll have a few hours to enjoy some of my favourite pieces of Picasso’s and Dalí’s works, before moving to the Prado museum, which free entrance starts at 17:00. After spending some time with Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Rubens and Bosch, I’d move towards Gran Vía and Plaza de España, in order to reach the Templo de Debod just in time to watch the sunset over it, while the temple’s artificial illumination kicks in and creates a visually astounding spectacle.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Take your time to experience Madrid. The capital itself is extremely interesting, but there are also plenty of interesting places close to it that are worth visiting: El Escorial, Aranjuez, Ávila, Segovia, Alcalá de Henares and Toledo are just a few examples, which are also on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list.