Zigzag walking in Madrid

I recently mentioned the wonderful book “The Gentle Art of Tramping”, by Stephen Graham, written in 1926. Some of it could have been written by a Zen Master:

“It is a pleasure to meet the man who disdained not to linger in the happy morning hours, to listen, to watch, to exist. Life is like a road; you hurry, and the end of it is the grave. There is no grand crescendo from hour to hour, day to day, year to year; life’s quality is in moments, not in the distance run.

Fallen trees are to be sat on, laddered trees to climb, flowers to be picked, nests to be looked into, song-brids to hear, falcons to be watched…”

In his book he suggests the art of the zigzag walk for wandering in cities. From your starting point you take the first left, then the very next right, the next left, the next right and so on and so on, so that you walk down roads you would never otherwise find, even in your home town.

Yesterday I tried it out, and it was indeed an enormously pleasing way to explore, with some surprising results…

I started from Madrid’s Retiro park…. (click any image to enlarge).

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…taking a left when I exited, then a right, then a left that brought me to San Jeronimo church. The young nun in the righthand aisle was taking down the nativity scene in one of the naves…

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Zigzagging on, strictly according to the rules, changing direction at every street corner (not following a street to its very end, but changing as soon as another crossed it), I came into the ‘Barrio de las Letras’…

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…and a few zigzags later, the first surprise, here I found myself at the top of the street where I lived most of my first year in Madrid, calle Zurita, between Anton Martin and Lavapies… (a few zigzags later and I found myself at the bottom of calle Lavapies, where we lived for 3 years shortly after that!)

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The building below with the maroon balconies is one of Lavapies’ original ‘corrala’ buidlings, ancient tenement blocks…

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…here a view into one of its patios

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And here the old tobacco factory, now a community-run art and culture centre, in Embajadores.
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… and onwards, this chap making me think of food…

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…but not wanting to eat here,  below, south of Embajadores… I had to look up ‘Gallinejas’ when I got home, and when I discovered they were ‘Chitterlings’, I had to look that up too! (Definitely don’t want to eat that!)

DSC04318Street scene on a bar facade. The good old days!

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Zigzagging on towards the river…


…and crossing the river at a bridge that I’d only seen in photos and had always wanted to find!

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…and ending here, below, by Marquis de Vadillo metro, where after 2 hours of energies my zigzagging energies ran out and I went home for lunch. Next time I hope to zigzag across Chueca and Malasaña, just north of the centre.

I highly recommend it for city exploring, even as I said, in a city you know, or in this case, in an area I’d lived in for years and knew very well. It makes you feel free and happy, like the man on the flying carpet in this final image…

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6 thoughts on “Zigzag walking in Madrid

  1. Ben, I love this post. I don’t follow the zigzag system per se, but I try to take a different route every time I head out. Maybe we’ll cross paths sometime in Madrid, where the “world of form” can’t be beat!


  2. Thanks Ben for the insightful tour!

    Currently living in Phnom Penh and will definitely give Zig Zagging a go here and see where I end up!

    Keep up the great Blog. We always look forward to your posts.

    Best regards


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