This is Tuesday. I got to Madrid this past Friday night a bit more than twenty-five hours after leaving my sister’s home in Bainbridge, Washington. It took two cars, one boat, two trains (airport shuttles) and a couple of jets to get me here, but I’m here . . . or rather, I was there. Now I’m in Granada and I’m still achy sore from dragging my luggage through three airports and three more train stations.
I ran into some equipment failures and contracted business service failures, but I am having a wonderful time and everyone I’ve met here in Spain has been extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Other than the pedestrians.
Spaniards walk around a great deal. They are talking while they are walking, so traffic avoidance is somewhere down the list of things to which they are paying attention. Everyone is moving on the diagonal. I’m a somewhat conformist American so I try to keep to the right. Everyone else appears to be changing direction simply get directly in my path. Four or five times each block I have to skid to a complete stop to avoid running over someone who darted at the last moment under my feet.
No pictures from Madrid because it was raining endlessly the entire time I was there. This is a good thing as a local friend told me, they weren’t exactly in a drought, but their rainfall for the last several years has been below average and the reservoirs (embalses – see, I really am learning Spanish) are quite low. I had noticed this on Google Earth while preparing for this trip. Wide brown borders around all bodies of water.
The first night I woke up at 2:30 am local time after about four hours of sleep. That wasn’t as bad as I had feared for the first night on Central European Time. After about thirty minutes laying awake in bed I gave up, got up and got dressed. I had heard that Spaniards are late night carousers and I heard various voices in the street below my window, so I set out for a walk.
The security guard in the lobby had to unlock the steel doors to let me out of the hotel and he chuckled as I set out. I walked about for a couple of hours and was surprised at how many people were on the streets from 3 to 5 am. Crowds huddled outside bars and clubs, music spilled out into the street.
A very nice woman from Mexico who has lived in Madrid for the past eleven years offered to meet me when I arrived and give me a tour of her adopted home town. She is an architect and had great historical and artistic insights on the places she showed me. Remember that I said it rained the whole time I was in Madrid? This nice woman led a near stranger around the hidden gems of Madrid for over four hours in the rain. An online expat community is one of the better uses of the internet.
While we were touring Madrid I mentioned to Rocio, my new found friend and tour guide, that I had been surprised on my late night walk to see first, so many people out at that hour and, second, women walking alone. Rocio laughed and said she too had been taken by that when she first moved to Madrid but learned that unlike big cities in the US and Mexico, it is very safe on the streets so long as you pay attention to where you are. If you are inattentive, you might get pickpocketed but nothing worse than that. Physical violence is very rare.
Both nights I got very lucky with my choices of restaurants for dinner. The first night I picked a spot that was right behind my hotel. It was actually right under my balcony, but was a bit of a walk to get to from the front of my hotel. “Hola,” greeted the first face that I saw. As chirpily as I could I replied, “Hola.” I was shown to my seat and the waiter returned with a menu. It was in English. I had not said a word in English but he knew. So much for not standing out as a tourist.
The following night I wandered aimlessly for over an hour and finally picked a book by its cover because I was simply tired of walking. The cover of the book undersold the contents. Once I got downstairs from the bar, the dining area was cozy but chic. The food and service both nights were above par from my experience in US restaurants and they even sent me home with my leftovers when jet lag slapped me in the face mid-meal.
A gourmet doggy-bag in the early am when you really want to be asleep is a fine consolation.