I've just spent a few days in Madrid. It's one of my favourite cities - and I've spent this morning trying to work out just what I love about it. I can highlight things like way people sit about in cafes for hours, as if they have no work or homes to go to. I can highlight the magnificent art galleries - I could happily drown in art here. I can even wax lyrical about the traffic, which often crawl sat snails' pace but without the cacophony of hooting that besets many other European cities.
But it's more than that. Somehow the city gets under my skin, far deeper than the place where words hide. I simply feel at home there.
Nevertheless, with this blog post to write, I felt I ought to try to be a bit more specific. And so I looked at my photos - I took very few on this trip, and so maybe this selection can tell me something about why I love this city.
I'll begin in Plaza Mayor:
The Plaza is vast, with plenty of street cafes and street entertainers and tour groups that don't take over the huge space. This building is just a fraction of one wall - and the frescoes, representing signs of the zodiac, are relatively modern - painted in 1992. But who lives behind those shutters? Or in the tiny rooms in the roof? What is it like for them to look down on the melee below? Do they think ever think back to the days when there were bullfights in this Plaza - or public hangings.
I'll move swiftly on. For close by is the Mercado de San Miguel. This might once have sold fruit and vegetables, but now it is crammed with street food - and a few chairs and tables. It is a place where the young people of Madrid come to eat, drink, and generally make a noise. But who can blame them:
This is a fraction of the food on offer. It is Spanish food heaven.
Maybe you need time out. Respite from the hurly burly, and the food. Take yourself to the Basilica. Get a crick in your neck looking up at this:
This is a dome to rival the Duomo in Venice. This picture - even if you enlarge it - cannot do it justice. It befits the Basilica - which is comparably impressive but with plenty of reflective space. I know many great Cathedrals are about power as much as religion, but there is quiet space here among its magnificence.
And what of the art galleries? Where to begin? I don't take photos in art galleries. I'd rather absorb the paintings in situ rather than look at images when I get home and try to remember who might have painted it. For instance, nothing quite prepares you for seeing Picasso's Guernica - it has an emotional impact that transcends paint and canvas.
But Madrid is so much more than its sights. And so just one more photograph:
Where might these steps lead? Were dirty deeds done in these dark corners? The cafes are respectable now, but were they once the setting for debauchery (and fun)?
There are stories in Madrid, some true and many more that might be. As a writer I can find inspiration on every corner.
Where do you go, when you need inspiration? I know most of us stroll in the countryside from time to time, and find comfort in wild seas or mountains. But do you have a city that, for no obvious reason, seems to speak to you? For me - it's hola, from Madrid.
Having said all that my novel, The Planter's Daughter is set in Ireland, Liverpool, Australia and New Zealand. But I've come home brimful of ideas!