Saturday, July 26, 2014

Travel like you're 30- The time when Madrid took us

Growing up on Water Oaks Farms, I didn't have a whole lot of opportunities to meet new friends. I had my cousins, who lived within a half mile of me, and I had church and school friends. And, of course, I had Grant and various animals. I didn't really want for company, so I didn't really learn to be "friendly." I had no need for it.

That changed when I went to college and found that I had a great need for community and struggled to find it. But meeting people has never really been something that I love to do. It's something that I've learned that I need to do. When going into a new situation, I've learned to approach meeting new people as a sort of survival mechanism. I imagine that if Bear Grylls ever did a show about social survival, he'd say to "find a friend" with the same speediness that he'd recommend finding water or shelter on his regular TV spot.

I say all this because, even though I'm going to post some pictures from Madrid, this city was all about the people that we met. It's never natural or easy for me to make new friends, and it wasn't in Madrid, but, as is the truth about so many things, what doesn't come easily often brings the most value. I loved Madrid because I loved experiencing it with the people we met there. Madrid was a place where we truly lived for a moment, because living requires community, and that was something that quite literally stumbled into us for a few days in the capital of Spain.

It started the first evening we arrived. Chandler and Nicole had front-row tickets to a One Direction concert (in this regard, they were more traveling like they were thirteen than thirty...;) ), so Robin and I took a walk through the beautiful Parque Buen Retiro. We watched the sunset and I particularly enjoyed taking in all of the vibrant life being lived around me. Paris had its own chilly enchantment, but Madrid was such a contrast- with its hot, dry weather and people dressed in colorful clothing (Parisiennes wear black), walking dogs and jogging and playing soccer in the park. But when we got back to our hostel, that's when the community experience we had in Madrid really started. Robin and I were tucked in our bunks by 10:30- which is late to us on a school night, but is an embarrassingly early hour to be in bed in Madrid. And sure enough, some of our hostel roomies were quick to tell us just this.

Let me insert here just a little caveat about hostel life. Fact 1:  I am too old for it. ;) Fact 2: People in hostels are too laid back to care about Fact 1. I am being a little tongue in cheek about Fact 1, but not much. Some hostels actually do implement a 35 year old age limit. I'd say that mostly what you'll find for company in a hostel somewhere in Western Europe is a mix that is 3 parts twenty-somethings like Chandler and Nicole, out to see the world for the first time, and 1 part "last hurrahs"like me and Robin, people with time flexibility (quite a few of us teachers), a casual sense of adventure, and maybe just a hint of Peter Pan complex. Oh, and I must add, that out of this 4-part mixture, about 75% of the above are Australians. So I know that it might seem strange to some to think that my married, thirty-one year old self spent night after night in mixed-gender dorms for three weeks. But, I always did like Peter Pan- that guy was on to something. And, to be honest, the whole thing was a whole lot tamer and cleaner than I thought it would be. Caveat complete. Back to Madrid.

On our first night at UHostel Madrid, we met two guys from Seattle, more on the Peter Pan side than the see-it-for-the-first-timers, and 19-year-old Naeman Gotz, who has the strangest accent that I've ever heard and more stories than people three times his age. With German parents, a childhood spent in Switzerland, the States, and Australia and months of solo travel already under his belt, Naeman is more like a character in a John Green novel than someone we actually met and spent three days with in Madrid. 

The next character we met the following morning, while taking the free walking tour. Amongst our group of sojourners was a fellow who stood out. While most of the rest of us had a pep in our step- new city, new energy- this guy towered above us at 6' 5"but lumbered in such a way that Robin and I couldn't keep our curiosity to ourselves. We inquired about his how his night had been and he proceeded to tell us, through sleepy eyes and a goofy grin that "Madrid took him." At that moment, we didn't know that we'd become friends with this fellow, too, and would learn all about his family, their farm in Perth, Australia, his girlfriend back home and his three pet kangaroos- Skippy, Felix and Qantas. Here are some photos taken on our first walk through Madrid, while we talked to our new Australian friend and took in the colorful life around us.

This is the famous "Oso and Madrono" (The bear and the berry tree) statue, which symbolizes life in Madrid- mostly because this she-bear is looking for some fermented honey. At least, that's what our tour guide told us, and from what I could tell, it might have been the truth. Party-goers in Spain are hardcore, starting their evenings with tapas around 9PM, heading to the clubs around 2AM and finishing their nights by stumbling home in the light of the following morning.

Madrid has a rich history involving Spanish royalty, so a lot of our tour was about royals and their connections throughout the city's history.  Even current news is filled with updates about their royal family, as their King just abdicated the throne, right after Spain lost in the World Cup. Our guide said that everyone was hungover and utterly confused the next day- by both events, apparently. Here is the royal palace, which is no longer used to house the royal family, but is partially open to the public and also used to house visiting dignitaries.

As mentioned, I loved the colors of Madrid. Even these earth-toned buildings.

These windows were on a simple-looking square that our guide told was once the home of Madrid's richest families. The facades of the homes were nothing particularly impressive, however, because these homes were established during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The exterior of the houses were meant to be very simple, because vanity would be considered a  sin that the Inquisition could punish the family for. Therefore, the homes were kept simple on the outside, but inside the family could display their wealth.

After the tour, Robin and I headed to the train station to buy our tickets for Barcelona. Part of the train station is a beautiful greenhouse.

This is the back of the famous El Prado art museum. I studied Spanish art all through high school and college in Spanish classes. El Prado was a name I heard often. It was amazing to get to finally visit it and see some of the famous Spanish painters I learned about all those years ago. I particularly liked their special exhibit about El Greco and his influence on modern painting- the exhibit included many works by El Greco and works of art influenced by him- those of Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and many others.

A chapel near the Prado. 

An artichoke
Dahlias always make me think of my mom

This tree is called "Los Pantalones" because it looks like a man's pant legs sticking out from the earth. He is buried in the ground with just his legs sticking out- do you see it?

Tall cactus in desertscape.

A madrono tree, like the one in the statue- only this one is banzai sized.

This banzai had been trained with wire to create this twisted trunk.

We spent three nights in Madrid. The first, as I already mentioned, was a night of chatting with new friends while tucked into our bunks. The second, was a night with some more new friends- Naeman and Damon (the tall Aussie from the walking tour, who we affectionately dubbed "Felix" after his pet kangaroo), along with some other Australians from our hostel. We were led by a girl named Sophie to a local tapas bar to have an authentic tapas experience. If you've heard of tapas, then you might find some of these morsels of information about them as tasty as the little bites themselves. On our walking tour we learned the legend behind tapas. It goes like this- once there was a Spanish king who was told by his doctor that he had a disease in his stomach that could only be cured by drinking wine. So the king began to drink his wine all day every day. His nobles, concerned that the king was becoming too drunk to rule, thought that maybe if the king ate something with his wine, then he would not become so drunk and would be able to carry out his kingly duties. But the king was so accustomed to his drink alone, that he at first refused. So the nobles began to cover his goblet with a piece of bread with a slice of meat or cheese. The king would gobble it down in order to get to his wine. Soon enough, if the king was ever brought his wine without his snack on top of it, he would ask, "Donde esta mi tapa?" ("Where is my cover?"- the Spanish verb tapar means "to cover") And, so the tradition of tapas (covers) was born. Basically it's a Spanish royal family version of Pavlov's dog. I also learned on the tour that traditional tapas are not to be listed on a menu and paid for as individual dishes- they are meant to be free and are included when you buy your drink at a tapas bar- one plate per person in your group. This authentic tapas experience is few and far between in the more touristy parts of Madrid, but Sophie knew of a place that offered just such an experience, and, following her lead, off we went to a tapas bar that was absolutely packed- both with locals and hostel-dwellers all in search of "covers" and sangria. Our big group of Australians and Americans huddled, standing, around two small high-top tables and put away croquettes and slices of bread with ham and cheese and drank giant cups of sangria with fresh basil. It was all muy delicioso and all for 6 Euro.

The next night, we wanted to get out and enjoy the Parque Buen Retiro one more time before heading to Barcelona the next morning. So we gathered a large group from the hostel- our Aussie friends, some Argentinians, an Israeli soldier with Spanish roots named Fabian, and a Norwegian teacher who lives in Copenhagen and speaks five languages and we all marched to the park, grocery bags in tow. We stayed there for hours, long after the sun set, talking about travel and life and drop bears. ;)

Our eclectic little Madrid community.

I took a few photos as we made our way back to the hostel from the park.

This one came out blurry, but I kind of like it that way.
Madrid is lit up beautifully at night. 
We fell in love with Madrid because we fell in love with the experience of meeting new people- eating, drinking, talking, and even dancing together. We've kept up with some of our Madrid friends on Facebook. We all moved on to the next place soon enough- some to Portugal, some back to Australia, for us it was Barcelona, for Fabian, eventually, he will go back to the war we keep hearing about on the news. But for a few perfect nights in Spain, we were together and young(ish) together. And so it was- the time when Madrid took us.

1 comment:

  1. Try not to ever lose your "Peter Pan." Then you're always youngish!