Thursday, 19 December 2013

It's a small world after all: Madrid day 1

Greetings from a bus gliding through the rain to Granada.  As I warned in the previous post, this entry is going to be pretty bare-bones since I have no way to add photos and trying to handle life with this silly iPad's touch screen and ridiculous autocorrect is pretty diffult.  Especially when your advisor wants you to change your dissertation topic for the second time in a week and move to Tallahassee, Florida.  And work with a technology-inept nuclear physicists that sends you cryptic emails without the Rosetta Stone to make send out of them.  But that's not what this blog is about.
So Spain! Europe was never high on my travel list... Probably near the bottom to be honest.  Why?  Everyone goes there, it's not too different from what I'm used to and expensive.  But for solo travel, Spain was a great choice especially with couchsurfers enhancing every moment.  When they said, it's easy to travel around Europe, they weren't kidding.  I sailed through the border with no forms, no questions and barely a glance to check my face, after he already stamped my passport.  I'm definitely practicing my Spanish- even the people at the airport tourist booth didn't speak English.  Didn't know where the metro was.  I'm not really sure who hires these people.
David at the gardens of the royal palace- I had to sneak this one- he's camera shy!
Fortunately, David came to my rescue.  He's a Peruvian who has been here for three months for a graduate program in renewable energy.  As much as I didn't want to be an engineer, it's pretty nice to have them around and he navigated me to the city center, got me lined up with a Spanish number and gave me a fantastic tour of a city he's only recently discovered himself.  We strolled around plazas filled with Christmas markets, the royal palace, royal gardens, by the river, through several parks and by the famous museums.  Like me, David has noticed that the Spanish people have a leisurely way of life and tend to disappear for siesta when you need them.  Like when you arrive at the airport at a reasonable hour and the SIM card booths are closed, or the bank takes random days off and David joked that the Spanish ducks swimming at the beautiful Retiro park probably disappear for siesta too.  After a few hours, we met up with Taiwanese girls who scrutinized me upon arrival, "were you playing in the airport?".  I replied in confusion, "like an instrument?  Hopscotch? I don't think so" and finally they remembered that I asked them to watch my backpack when I went to the bathroom back at JFK. Small world!
Reunited with the JFK bag watchers at the Royal Gardens
After continued explorations, I had worked up quite the appetite by the time I met up with Roberto, is a madridelo (Madrid born and raised) geophysicist.  He showed me some other areas of the city, decked out for Christmas, sharing Madrid's history and traditions.  I'm a little disappointed I won't be here for New Years to eat twelve grapes and ring twelve bells.  Speaking of traditions, I got to experience tapas at el Tigre, which may be my favorite thing about Spain thus far.  You buy a beer for 2 euros and it comes with a huge plate of bread and cheese, crispy potatoes, jamon and other meat treats.  He did research on glaciers and mountains in Patagonia in Argentina and Chile and it was interesting to hear how those periods of complete isolation changed his outlook on life.
My first tapas at Le Tigre... life-changing!
After Roberto, I met another Peruvian, my host Martin.  He's literally living my dream as journalist for El Mundo, the most widely read newspaper for Spanish speakers, and a novelist.  Martin is a self-described dreamer, who grew up in the poorest areas of Lima and has no family left but now he travels the world reporting on a variety of cultural, political and economic issues.  He's a character with thick-framed glasses, swooping hair, a tablet in reach and a poetic way of seeing the world.  We started in a local teen hangout with cheap alcohol, more delicious potatoes and olives which he would flamboyantly pop in his mouth, raving about them as "jewels of Spain".   With food in our bellies, he took me into a hole in the wall wine shop with dusty bottles piled from floor to ceiling.  We sampled wines from Spain's three regions... The most famous, the most underrated and his favorite. I'm a fan!  And of Madrid day 1 in general!
Me and my Madrid host, Martin, the journalist living the dream