Meeting Steve and Johana

Trip Start Apr 02, 2007
Trip End Apr 28, 2007

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Monday, April 23, 2007

After a week in Barcelona perfecting "dos cervesas" and "gracias", we felt indestructible as far as Spanish went, and were ready to take on Madrid. Steve (Nabseth), our very good ex-Kirkland friend, had replaced the Washington hot Lattes with a hot girlfriend from Columbia, and was now living with her in Madrid. Not a bad deal if you ask me. He settled down in Madrid after 15 months of travelling Central and South America ( It was great to meet them both. Steve's excellent Spanish skills saved us from using too much embarrassing body language. Johana was just getting started with English and our Spanish was as mentioned, still at the beer-ordering level.

We liked Madrid quite a bit. It's pretty much in the middle of Spain at 2000 meter elevation. Steve even claims you can go skiing in the winter in nearby mountains. The city's buildings are more modern than Barcelona and with wider streets, which seemed to mean more room for outdoor restaurants. They were everywhere, and perfect for everything from enjoying a plate of tasty olives for lunch to trying to wash down nasty pigs ears for dinner with beer. Think I'll rather go through the trash bin next time instead of eating pigs ears. They were just gross! On the fashion side, Johana mentioned that Madrid was less fashionable than Madrid due to traditionally less influence from the rest of Europe. Barcelona is supposedly the big-city magnet in Spain for the time being, likely thanks to the boost it got from the 1992 Olympic Games. Fewer people also speak English here as it's less touristy. But, all that might just change. For example, four airlines now offer direct flights from Norway to Madrid.

We spent our three days in Madrid at Hotel Europa in Puerta Del Sol. This is as central as you'll ever get in Madrid and an excellent hotel. 80 Euros seemed like a bargain. Steve and Johana took us to a Thai restaurant as soon as we got there. Every time we are out travelling, the Thai and Indian curry cravings set in, this time was no exception. Ah, nothing like a spicy curry to make you feel at home again! Dessert? $18 drinks at another bar - did we mention the exchange rate was poking us in the eyes?? It hurts.

Madrid was sunny and unseasonable warm. Couldn't have been better. After a round of laundry the next morning, Steve, Doyle and I headed out for the cultural part of the day; inspecting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) , which should be the 3rd best palace in the world. It was beautiful, but didn't get my pulse off the charts exactly.

However, one of the highlights of the entire trip, was quite the opposite of the fancy palace. Sitting in Steve and Johana's kitchen that same afternoon, eating some kick-ass empanadas that Johana skillfully made, and then later watch a Real Madrid soccer game at a local pub in the neighborhood, were just what the vacation doctor ordered! The little things are often the best if you ask me. I actually think Steve has finally kicked his infamous frozen pizza habit and settled for Johana's cooking skills. We definitely would've!

Besides people watching around Madrid's many buzzling plazas an streets, we also visited the Retiro Park in the outskirts of town. It's a huge green space with a lake where you can rent row boats or bicycles, have picnics, work on your future sunburn or maybe jog. It was pretty funny to watch all the couples out on the lake with the men trying to impress their women with their rowing skills. Hmm, some might need to read "Rowing for Dummies" one more time, I think.

Back in the city, we witnessed a somewhat heated Sahara demonstration, enjoyed more Sangria at a local bull-fighting bar where the walls were filled with pictures of famous bullfighters, one hanging upside down with the bull's horn through his foot. Guess it's only fair that the bulls get to have a little fun as well before they go to bull heaven. The Plaza Mayor area had a lot of cool bars and restaurants. Several were shaped like caves made out of bricks and deserved a cervesa or two. All in all, Madrid was excellent, and I could easily have lived there for a while if the opportunity came along. I'd rather pick Madrid than Barcelona as they speak Catalan in Barcelona among other reasons.

Although not specifically related to Madrid and Spain, I have to mention something that struck me again and again while in Europe. Even though I grew up in Europe myself, I have to admit that the level of service and politeness you experience when eating out or just dealing with people in general in the U.S., are fantastic, and something I now take for granted. However, travelling around Europe after having lived and worked in the U.S. for the last 8 years, is a rude awakening. Even though Europeans are not intentionally rude and impolite (I hope ...), it seems that way if you are used to living in the U.S. People will bump into you on the street, run you over in the airport with heavy suitcases, without offering any apology at all. Waiters or waitresses often don't seem to care what you think of the service or food as well. Besides maybe the culture difference, Europe has a lot to learn from the States in this area. I eventually dropped my "excuse me's" and "I'm sorry's" and just elbowed people like a pro! Ah, that felt really good :-)
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