Well, it's that time again... time to start packing for the last leg of our trip. And now I've managed to confuse a lot of you... weren't we supposed to be home and finished the trip? Haha! That's what you thought. This is the never-ending trip. Even when you think it's done, you have to pack up again and continue. I'm currently sick and tired of packing, living out of a suitcase, and most definitely had enough of airport security. One plus... NO customs this time! That's right, for once we're staying in country. I suppose I should give a brief explaination of this final epilogue to our round the world trip. We originally planned to stay in Europe for a total of 2 1/2 months, but thanks to monetary considerations, and a wish to return for my cousin's wedding, it got cut down to 3 weeks. Along with the longer stay in Europe, we planned to meet a couple friends out there, and so we decided to meet them in Toronto instead, at about the same time that we had intended to meet in Europe. Stay tuned to the blog for more details of the epilogue. For now, I must return to the unfinished annals of our Europe travels...
Ah, Europe, the elusive land of our ancestors (okay, I know it's not everyone's ancestors, but Laurie and I both harken from that lot, so I can call it that... ahem, where was I?). Steeped in stories, legends and histories far better documented than the North American cities we're so used to. That place where only the rich vacation. What drew us to Europe? I suppose the idea of it's history, and some yearning to see castles and churches from medival times, the rich and varied cultures just a stone's throw from each other.
Sept 6th, we landed in Madrid, Spain. The day remains a bit fuzzy in my head thanks to the multiple flights and the decision to stay awake after landing at 8am in Madrid. I know very little spanish, what I do know is a combo of being able to count to 10(thanks to Sesame Street) and a few random words learned here and there... really nothing conversational. Oh! I did make use of a little language learning program on the flight from Auckland to Bangkok. It made Spanish sound really easy. Hahaha! Easy. I must admit though, my knowledge of french and it's similarities to spanish was a lot of help, I could decipher a lot of the written language, and occasional sentences so long as I had a basic context. The taxi ride to the hotel was a bit of an adventure. How do you tell the spanish driver where you want to go? Step 1: Pull out the phrase book Step 2: Become thoroughly confused when he responds in rapid-fire spanish Step 3: Pull out the paper with the address written on it and show it to the taxi driver. Step 4: Make lots of affirmative noises to anything he says, and hope it's the appropriate response. Step 5: Sit quietly in an overtired daze, watching scenery whizzing by that looks for the most part like any other big city, and hope you are indeed going in the right direction. Step 6: Upon arrival, ask him to repeat the price of the ride at least 3 times, then take a good look at the meter and hand him the right amount of Euros. (Actually, I think I did get it on the first time... just wanted to be sure) Step 7: Figure out how to get into the locked building, using the intercom that's answered in Spanish.
After checking in, showering, and each getting a short nap while the other showered, we were off to explore the city. The first thing one must learn upon arrival in any new country or city is the rhythm of the city. By this I mean, when are the stores, restaurants, attractions etc generally open. What time do people prefer to do various activities (eating, drinking, sleeping, shopping, walking, relaxing)? In Spain, we learned they don't open restaurants until 1 or 2pm, close again around 4-5pm and open again around 8pm. Well, I suppose we may have found a fastfood place open at other hours, but who wants fastfood in Spain?
We had a map of the downtown area that we consulted, selected a few areas of interest we'd like to see, and on leaving our hotel picked a random direction and started walking. We found ourselves in an open square, and decided to sit down and figure out where on the map we were, and resolve a little argument about which direction we had really been heading. I think it took about 5 mins before we were sure of where we were. (Yup, sunglasses left on to hide how tired we actually are)
We decided it was time to wander in the opposite direction, in order to find the Palace Real... and maybe some food. Much wandering later, and finally realizing that NOTHING was open until 1pm, we had selected a few different possible restaurants, one of which was recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. So we went into this restaurant, were seated and given spanish menus. I pulled out the phrasebook... and was hopelessly lost. I was so frustrated I almost cried. (A good sign you're overtired, when a menu brings tears to your eyes) So I asked for an English menu... everything was good after that. The meal was good, unfortunately it was obviously mass-prepared, rewarmed type. And they get you with the little things, like bringing sparkling water and charging you for it, and bringing bread and charging you for it... meals add up FAST that way. That was the fanciest restaurant we went to in Spain, we shyed away from them for fear of the bills.
We stopped in our wandering at the Plaza Mayor Square. We actually had no clue where we were, just thought it looked like an interesting direction, and veered in, sat for awhile watching people wander by... and came to the conclusion that we were in the Plaza Mayor.
Once we got to the Palace Real, which was pretty impressive from the outside, we discussed whether it was worthwhile paying for the entry fee, or if we just wanted to move on and find free activities. The thought of the armoury and the apothecary were too much for us, and we paid the fee... Laurie managed to get a student fee by showing her youth card, and we got in for a fraction of the regular fee. It was really neat, but we weren't allowed to take pictures inside. The palace rooms are so very overdecorated, and each room has a special function. There's the king's dressing room, the breakfast room, the lunch room, the room where they accept visitors... I wouldn't have been surprised to see an "adjust your tie" room. I loved the apothecary... all the glass bottles and the distillery and the wide variety of herbs and odd items.
We wandered some more about town, went to a pub for supper of fish and chips/nachos. We were in bed by around 9:30, the earliest bedtime in a LONG time. No alarm clocks set, we figured we'd wake on our own... and we did, around 10am. Laurie says she woke at 5 and fell back to sleep around 8.
Our second day was a bit more wandering, some time on the internet trying to figure out where we would stay in France. And we decided to head to the local art museum. We made our leisurely way there, stopping to look at a few things being sold along the street. At one point, we saw a local artist, making some unique looking paintings, almost cartoonish, of various "typical" spanish things. We flipped through the stuff he had, and Laurie picked out a couple she really liked. I liked what she picked, and couldn't find anything else that really caught my attention, so decided I didn't need any. We kept walking and a little ways later saw another artist, making a completely different but just as intriguing kind of painting. We almost walked by, but I had to double back and get a closer look. These paintings were of buildings and towns in a bunch of different Spanish towns. I picked out three, bought them, and then Laurie went to try and get a picture of the man painting. He didn't know english, but when he noticed, he indicted I needed to sit beside him, he posed both of us, and then told Laurie to take the picture.
Now that we had our own art, we were ready to wander around looking at the professional versions. It was neat, seeing how excited Laurie was over seeing original Raphael paintings. There were soooo many paintings we got tired and didn't see the whole museum. What we did see was sooo neat. The hardest part of a museum like that is that both of us love to touch things, and seeing sculptures that were not to be touched...
We found ourselves in a supermarket at one point the day before, and bought ourselves bread, meat, cheese, bananas and yogurt, which was our breakfast and lunch for a couple of days. We're slowly learning to buy minimal amounts of food, because it's easy to go overboard, and not so easy to carry or get through the airports.
The last day, we weren't flying out until mid-afternoon, so we went for a stroll down to the large central park. It was nice just looking around, observing people, chatting a bit, but being able to sit and not worry about paying for things or trying to take in vast amounts of information.