After the draw was made for the last 16 of the European Cup in December last year, there was one constant question on the lips of Manchester United fans. Whether on message boards or at the match, everybody you spoke to wanted to know - 'You going to Madrid?'
The answer, more often than not, was a resounding yes. Some people were flying direct from Manchester, others flying via Milan or Alicante. A few were on the day-trip courtesy of Thomas Cook. For us, it was a five hour Megabus to Gatwick, and then to Madrid.
Whatever the route, reds were flocking to the Spanish capital in numbers many reckoned hadn't been matched since the semi-final against Milan in 2005. It's not hard to see why.
As Jose Mourinho put it, it was the tie the whole world was waiting for. Laden with sub-plot, it pitched together the world's most glamorous clubs, and its two best managers.
The last time the teams met one Ronaldo ran amok at Old Trafford. We arrived in Madrid on Monday night hoping another Ronaldo - our Ronaldo - wouldn't repeat the performance of his namesake.
Negotiating Madrid was relatively easy thanks to a Bolton supporting mate who's currently studying in the city. His first visit had been in 2008, where he saw Wanderers knock Sergio Augero's Athletico out of the UEFA Cup, a result we wouldn't have minded emulating.
This led us off the beaten-track, away from the expensive Irish bars where City fans 'Yaya'd' and 'Kolo'd' to their hearts content until they were met with the wrong end of Spanish police batons.
We were taken to a small and understated Café called El Tigre and advised to order a round of 'Minis'. Out came 5 huge beers accompanied by plate after plate of paella and tapas - a pleasant start to proceedings at 5 Euros a head.
Tuesday morning the sun was out and more reds had begun to appear. Flags and banners were springing up around the City squares and by night time the echo of United songs could be heard down most of Madrid's myriad side streets.
The next day was much cooler and cloudier - a blessing for the scores of reds nursing hangovers. The atmosphere had changed along with the weather as throngs of Mancs and Madridistas bustled through the Sol.
Through the haze of an afternoon spent slurping Sangria, the nerves which only surface for the truly big games began to kick in as we headed down to the ground with a couple of hours to spare.
We emerged from the sweaty Metro to be met by one of the world's truly famous football grounds. The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is breath-taking - an intimidating, concrete monster. The 'Bloody hell' which came from my mate's mouth as he gawped at it for the first time said it all.
We took a look round, cutting through couples of Madrid fans sauntering around smoking and groups of United fans singing about scarlet ribbons and a trip to Wembley. After a nightmare hour spent trying to find another red to give him his ticket we made it into the ground, receiving a typically warm welcome from the Spanish riot police on the way.
The ground was as awe-inspiring from the inside as it was out. Tucked away in the top corner the United end stretched to 4000, whilst further around was another large pocket of United supporters - a 'second away end' necessitated by the sheer numbers of reds who had purchased home tickets.
The majority of the game was a nervous blur. The ecstasy of Danny Welbeck's goal was countered by the agony of Madrid's constant pressure and Robin Van Persie's excruciating late miss.
When we were finally out of the ground - after a 40 minute wait - the instant reactions of those we spoke to seemed to echo the thoughts of those at home. It was a great result, a great performance - but it could, and should, have been so much better.
During the rest of the night and the next day the numbers of reds left in Madrid began to thin. We weren't flying until early Friday morning so went to see Athletico Madrid play Rubin Kazan - a slightly different prospect from the night before. We managed to pick up tickets in the Rubin Kazan end for 25 Euros, but instead of being stood amongst a mob of shirtless Russian psychopaths we were surrounded by United fans with a similar idea to ours.
The Vicente Calderon was a world away from the Bernabeu - colder and dated - but was still hugely impressive. Eventually a hundred or so Rubin fans arrived at kick off, and along with the newly founded Kazan Manchester branch, saw their team pull off a huge upset - winning 2-0 with 10 men.
There was no 40 minute wait to leave the ground after Kazan's famous victory, so we headed back to the city to get our bags and head to the airport. It would be a long trip home - but at least we weren't going to Russia.
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