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Trip Report My crazy adventure in Spain

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Hola everyone. Let it never be said that I don't have adventures. I am now in Madrid after the day from hell. It culminated in me not being able to open my apartment door and having to call the agency to help me unlock it. Turns out I turned it the wrong way. Oops. I'm am quite tired tonight do only impressions today. Madrid airport is a beautiful place. I was amazed I didn't have to fill out a landing card- transferred at Heathrow and all the border guard did was stamp my passport. No questions, no interrogations! Compared to the grilling I get in the UK.- this was peanuts.

- the Metro is the cheapest way to the city centre but the most taxing. I packed lite and still felt tired.
- I have a slight speech impediment and horrible pronunciation but most every Spanish shopkeeper I asked allowed me to practice. I found many people who said they didn't know English but would try and help. Very nice people.

San Miguel market has fantastic tapas for 2-3 euros after 7pm but its crazy popular. Ate paella and tuna with zucchini tapas for cheaper than a meal. So cool to graze.

I am officially hooked on cafe con leche. The vile Starbucks latte suffers in comparison.

The city centre feels like Times Square. At 10pm people are walking around eating in cafes and generally doing the paseo. There's something to be said for that although the protestors hear might feel different.

I was really nervous to come here alone but even with all the gaffes, I'm enjoying Madrid.

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    Usually the paseo is earlier - after work ends but before dinner - which is at 10 pm or so. Other night time activities - clubs etc usually run from midnight (may open earlier but no ones there - until 5 or 6 in the am). If you are in the center you will hear overhappy young club goers singing in the streets on the way home at around 6 am.

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    Day 2- El Prado or how to get sick of art within 3 hours. Hard to get up today but decided to get up early and get to Prado about an hour early since it opens at 10. Body did not want to get up and got a late start arriving at the Prado around 9:30. Got in the wrong line and had to switch lines until the right one. Met American woman who's friend had a late night and decided to come early. Finally got into buy tickets and found I could go in at 10:30am. Had to speak English because I didn't know how to ask for un billete para Hermitage y un museo-or the museum and the exhibit. Shouldn't have bought the audio guide as it kept droning on-5 minutes is all that I can take. Amazing collection with both Catherine and Peter the Great wanting St. Petersburg to be more European and getting artifacts from trading allies-India, China, etc. It also made me realize why the Russian Revolution took place-to have such artifacts for the select few while millions went hungry.

    Then I went to the regular exhibits like Las Meninas and El Greco. I don't know if I was tired of art but the paintings didn't stir me like they should. Las Meninas by Velazquez was huge-but a group of Spanish schoolchildren-recurrent theme today-was in front of me. Saw Picasso, Rubens and Goya but all the paintings seemed to gel together after awhile so I took a break at the Prado Cafe with un tortilla y un cafe con leche. The coffee was made with a Nespresso machine which I had no idea how to use until a worker made it for both me and a British gentleman. A pod of coffee goes into the machine and out pours the coffee. Then milk it put in-I didn't realize that different temperatures of milk are used until the second time I was asked.

    Had to buy mobile phone so went to Orange store near Sol and spent 45 minutes trying to explain my need to the salesman. He switched to English after awhile but the computer went down and he put the wrong SIM card into my cheap phone. I tried to joke that he would be happy to see me leave but something got lost in translation. The the boring activities of buying food at El Cortes Ingles-don't try and use your Visa.

    Finally decided to go out to dinner tonight after 10pm solo on Santa Ana Plaza. Unfortunately, I couldn't sit outside as all tables were reserved for 2 or more. So ate vegetable tapa, white wine and dessert with cafe con leche inside. Still amazed to see how safe the streets are-though the police are out in force! Got back at 11pm and was surprised to see children as young as 5 still up and running around.

    I've had my share of not being understood but seeing as how I'll never see these people again, I just go to the next person. Have to mention that the Starbucks store is crowded with young Spanish people. I'm amazed with such wonderful coffee that Europeans love Starbucks. I'm going to have serious withdrawal symptoms going back to regular joe. Also if you are a vegetarian, be advised that Spain loves it meats. I've never seen so much meat in my life with most restaurants specializing in some dish.

    Tomorrow is Guernica and churros y chocolate.

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    I think Starbucks is just in Madrid and Barcelona...cosmopolitan cities with many visitors and where coffee is not taken as seriously as, for instance, in northern Spain.

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    emily71, thanks! I'm enjoying your trip report very much. Madrid and the Prado are still on my active list and I'd probably be going solo also.

    I had the same reaction to Versaille that you had to the Russian things. No wonder there was a revolution.

    More soon, please!

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    Thanks everyone, these last couple days have been trying to get in contact with Spain-Select(see other thread) while still enjoying my vacation. Except for SS, I've enjoyed Madrid, the plaza, food etc. I'll put more of the problems in the other thread and leave this for my report. I can recommend the Hotel Lope de Vega(where I'm staying now.)

    My other activities in no particular order include:

    -Eating un tortilla y cafe con leche at the bar cafe in El Corte Ingles. I was expecting a food hall more like Germany or England however, the grocery store seem more like a M&S or a regular supermercado.

    Sitting in one of the hundreds of little plazas watching whole family-abuelitos, padres, y ninos talking while the children play soccer. At Retiro Park, families were watching performers and sitting in the sun. I think the Italian call it La Dolce Vita.

    Speaking of El Retiro-what a lovely Park and the artificial lake a great place to cool off. My biggest surprise is the fish in the lake-wouldn't like to put my feet in the water.:) Of course, I had to have un cafe con leche-as in Europe it's cheaper to go than to sit so I drank it on a park bench. The most amazing thing is that it's been chilly in the morning yet 70+ in the evening yet everyone still wears their heavy jackets, boots and scarves. Meanwhile I can pick out the American's and Brits due to our wearing short sleeves and sometimes shorts. I think the Spanish must have lower body temperature.

    I love the San Miguel Market and their tapas. I've eaten well. Yes, it's not a true tapas bar-but iti's close enough for a single woman.

    Today, after a long night and a good soak in the tub-the bathrooms are the highlight at de Vega Hotel. I asked for a cafe that was open. The clerk sent me to Starbucks. LOL. So I decided to head back to Sol and eat at La Mallorquina on the square. At 8 in the morning, only the workers are up early, I saw some young people just going home after the clubs. That is not me! La Mallorquina is a Madrid tradition and the cafe was understandably packed even at 8:30 am. Picture a display cases of all sorts of luscious pastries with a bar on the outside. You go up to the bar-pushing past the others and order your drink either a cafe con leche or what most Spanish drink-cafe cortado you then ask or point as I did at the pastry you want and your pastry put on the bar along with the coffee-the milk added afterwards either hot, medium or cold, I like mine caliente. You then eat at the bar while people surrounded you and you feel hot breath on your neck. As someone who has claustrophobia-I doubt I could live in Madrid-wall to wall people whose person space seems to be a sliver- I'm such an American in this respect:. The pastries are to die for-I think it's the best pastry shop that I've ever visited-even in France. The best part was that the kitchen was putting out the display pastries so as I watched the woman would place delicious looking creations in the window.-Wow. And I was the only American there until I left-when a couple came in. This is a must do.

    In the late morning I took a official walking tour of Madrid from the tourism office-you have to purchase tickets a head of time. For 3.90 euros, you get a tour of Plaza Mayor, Plaza Villa, the plaza in front of the Royal Palace and Cathedral and the adjoining Moorish district-very cute winding streets a tapas bars-yet there was a sign hung from a home-telling people to be quite late at night. Guess the residents aren't too found of all the late night revelers. We had a lovely small group of 6-7. Never realized how much I missed speaking English and being understood until I talked with the Americans and the Brits-great to laugh and understand jokes. I now understand why my immigrant ancestors moved to the German neighborhood when arriving in America. To have help interpreting and being able to understand each other.

    Foodwise, decided to take advantage of el menu del dia and found a recommend restaurant just a block uphill from my hotel-Terra Mundi-on Lope de Vega street. It was packed and like most places in Spain- they did a double take when I asked for a single table. An aside-I've never seen anyone Spanish woman shopping or eating out alone-so I stuck out. Luckily, I got a cute little table in the back and for only 13 euros-I had squash soup with cheese-unusual but very delicious, main course of a big fish-(I have no idea what kind as my waiter could not think of the word in English and my translation book didn't have the word. It was delivered with sauted onions in a light clear sauce-Happily for me it also included a side of fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Miss my raw veggies. For dessert, I thought I got chocolate pudding but instead chocolate sauce between two pastry puffs. Yum! I drank red wine and I can never get over that instead of a glass-the waiter brings you a glass and a half full bottle of wine! Needless to say, I was a bit happy after my dinner. All in all, a very good meal and again I was the only English person in the place. For 13 euros, I was full for the rest of the day. Another great place. I don't know whether it's vacation but I've never had such good fresh food and drink.

    Finally since the Internet at my hotel seems to come and go. I went to ye local Starbucks and gasped at the prices-almost 6.50 dollars for a cup of coffee. So I had a smoothie-when the cashier saw my drink, she immediately talked in English. I don't think many Spanish drink smoothies. But how come the food there always looks so good compared to my local?

    Tonight, I was going out for tapas but my feet are killing me and I think I"m winding down from the whole apartment fiasco so I'm eating some fruit room and watching the Simpsons-(a great way to learn Spanish).

    Some random thougts-

    Spanish dogs are well trained-while almost have of Madrilenos have them. I've never heard one bark on run ahead. Some do look slightly mangy and are not as fat as in the US.

    Except for the 1001 steps-The Metro is wonderful, clean well-light stations, trains that come every 4 minutes on weekends-unheard of in Washington, DC and well marked stations. I did miss my stop one day because I didn't realize one has to press the door button to open the doors-like Paris.

    Even in jeans-woman are fashionista-The young either wear a scarf, coat, jeans and converse or the short-short knit dress-leggings and boots. No jeans and t-shirts here. Everyone is so put together.

    While on average, only 50% of Spaniards can understand my heavy American accent, I've begun to think in Spanglish. While writing this trip report, I kept inserting Spanish words instead of the English equivalent! Dios mio. There's no hope-and I'll probably forget about it shortly after returning to US.

    There's been demonstrations in Puerta del Sol every other day for the union workers-seems like this strike will be going ahead. Lots of signs talking about fair pay for workers.

    Finally-can I say how jealous I am of the British. I've met more people who came to Madrid for a weekend getaway when the same distance in the US would take me to Philly or Nueva York for more than the discount airlines. Just not fair.

    My other activities for the day included a Royal Palace tour-so over-the-top in decoration, it makes Windsor look positively plain.High Rococco style with frescos and guided cherubs everywhere. Such is my weird sense of humor that in every room, I thought to myself "this room would be perfect if only it had another gold cherub!" I can see why the current King doesn't live here. I'd go slowly mad look at all the heavy decoration.With over 240 rooms one could get lost here. Another trivia fact-Juan Carlos father or grandfather married one of Queen Vic's granddaughters and a bit of a British revival took place in Spain. The most obvious introduction of British influences-El football!

    Well tomorrow is Toledo and my last night in Madrid.

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    I think this is day 6 but I've lost all track of time and what day it is.I will say that SS, lincasanova, and I all got in touch today and resolved my problem and that is my final say on the matter. Anyway today was Toledo and I thought it would be too touristy for me but I absolutely feel in love with it and wish I had stayed overnight. It reminded me of Italian hill towns where the church is on the hill and all these little narrow streets lead down to the river. So I awoke early again-I'm an earlybird, and walked down to the Atocha train station which is covered in scaffolding that I didn't recognize it.. Very convenient and down the Paseo Prado from my hotel. Bought a ida y vuelto ticket(return) to Toledo. I realized it was touristy when there was a special window just for tickets to Toledo for that day. Did reasonably well transacting in Spanish until I forgot what hour I wanted to return-Oops. She thought I said one hour later but it all worked out as I spent almost 7 hours in Toledo. Then proceeded to have un cafe con leche y un pastel at the station. I love that even at the train station you stand up to have your coffee. I'm so going to miss this in America-somebody needs to fly over and be my personal cafe con leche maker! The train boarding was simple and painless-much better than AMTRAK and I almost died when I saw the trains themselves.

    Total clean-nothing in the ashtrays or seatback-pretty comfortable seats and leaving on time. I thought I died and went to train heaven. Beats BritRail and even tops the fine French train system. Yes, the government spent too much on the trains but they are a delight to ride and so quiet, quick and fast that by the time you relax, the journey has ended. The Toledo train station is right next to the old city but you either can go by bus or walk. Being a cheapskate, I wasn't prepare for the 200 steps to the old city wall and felt really out of shape. Since no one knows me I had to stop and rest after so many stairs. But seeing the gateway to the old city with it's moorish shape made it all worthwhile.

    I could write a book about Toledo so I'll just give the highlights.

    1)Asking the cab drivers at the station how to walk to the city and having two of them getting into a discussion about the quickest route-all conducted in Spanish-I love it.

    2)Rick Steves always says to know a city you have to go onto the side streets to see how the locals live. I did it via getting lost but seeing abuelas/grandmas going to the local panaderia and the gatos/cats slinking from house to the next was priceless. I didn't do a lot of the "must-sees" but rather walked around the old city and feel in love. I could have easily spent another day there.

    3)Buying some dulces/sweets from the sisters at Covento de San Antonia de Padua. Unfortunately, the lady spoke no English and my Spanish food phrases are poor so it was mostly, pointed and nodding. I still don't know quite what I got but it looks delicious. I was going to save it for home but right now it's sitting on the table calling my name. It's a four hour ride to Granada so I may have to buy another box.:)

    3)The catedral was so huge and even more richly decorated the Chartres-though no labyrinth. The wafting smell of incense and the El Greco/Bellini paintings hit you at once. Not being religious the whole thing seemed a bit over the top and all the gold from the beautiful alterpiece was mined by the South American Indians. Anyway, I did light a candle for the Virgin Mary to watch over my trip-lets hope she gets the message. And I'm still waiting to see an apparition of her-as it seems that every Tom, Dick, and Harry who builds a cathedral does. Seriously, the cathedral was huge and very cold. My favorite part was the cloisters and the beautiful garden.

    3)I saw the Alcazar but if you're thinking of seeing it-I wouldn't waste my money. It's more about Spanish military history than a history of the Moorish palace. Was a bit disappointed.

    4)I was a bit afraid I've been jaded by world class paintings. Saw Las Meninas and it wasn't as awe inspiring as I'd hope. Guernica was better but due to the large crowd it was hard to get a perspective-though everyone should see it. I you can actually see the wear and tear from when it was rolled up and displayed through the world. Anyway.seeing El Greco's painting of the Duke of Toledo's death was strangely moving. Perhaps it was because I remember learning about it in a Midwestern high school and never thinking I'd see it but actually seeing it in person was breathtaking. He painted himself as a spectator and his son pointing out the Duke's death. It's the only painting there but I was able to get to the front and spend 10 minutes just analyzing it. I never thought I get to see the real thing and I sometimes have to pinch myself that I'm here.

    Other than that I had a rather forgettable meal at a restaurant with two resident cats. Spain really loves it's meat and it's been hard for me to find a dish that isn't meat since I only eat a little(mostly vegatarian). Didn't realize the cats were on the patio until I heard this strange meowing sound underneath my table and both cats were staring at me!

    Afters, I came back to Madrid and after having such a big lunch at 3pm, only had 2 tapas and a cerveza and vino tinto at San Migue-which is the one of the only places where the waiters talk to me in English no matter how much Spanish I try. I may have a horrible accent but everyone in Toledo let me practice. But I digress. Now I better pack because I have an early train to Granada, where the adventure continues and a new thread will appear.

    I told my parents to have patience with me when I come back because the transition will be brutal. I'm use to ordering my cafe con leche or cortado in the morning, drinking wine at lunch and eating a light dinner around 8:30/9. Not going to work on the East Coast. Perhaps I'll open my own coffee house that does Spanish style coffee!

    PS Even if you don't get a train in Madrid, you have to stop the Atocha station and see the Palm House in the center of the station. Lots o' palms with a turtle sanctuary-I think, though I didn't see any move. So neat to walk inside and see people chilling out before their trains leave.

    So tomorrow a new thread and Granada! Ole!

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