El Escorial

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Madrid,
Friday, May 13, 2011

So much for setting the alarm, I was supposed to checkout by 11:00 but completely overslept. Today I was determined to see the renovated Calle Fuencarrel, which in the last three years was turned into a pedestrian street lined with hip, designer stores. I had read about the changes they made to Zona Chueca as well. Chueca brings back not so fond memories since it used to be considered the "red light district." Also the place I landed when I returned to Madrid in 1992. I will never forget the dark, dreary apartment I stayed in. I rented a room with two Canadian girls with little furniture, no TV and hardly any hot water. Not the best environment for milking Chicken Pox. Yep, I spent a solid 10 days, barely leaving this apartment after contracting Chicken Pox on the airplane ride from LA. I was pathetically ill, bored out of my mind, and forced to boil hot water on the stove in order make an Aveeno bath. Good times! Anyway, Chueca is now to Madrid what Castro is to San Francisco and I like it.

After lugging around a camera, a purse and a lululemon bag with the computer, I was desperate to find a more comfortable solution. This led me to a well-known sports shop called Decathlon, i.e. REI. I chose to go by foot up the Castellana (a main drag) since it was such a gorgeous day out. But with Stacey GPS, what should have taken 45 mins., took me 2 hours. I shamefully admit that I am a typical product of native Los Angelino: I can run a marathon, ride 100 miles but apparently I am not conditioned for walking. The two hour walk, a result of a few wrong turns, was ultimately a one train stop away on the Renfee (Amtrak).  

The hour was 8:00PM when I made it back to the center, my favorite time of day in Madrid. Like the famous expression, “De Madrid al Cielo...y un agujerito para verlo”: “After Heaven…and a peephole to see it through,” the sky was that magical blue I longed for.

The plan was to meet up with my girlfriend Pilar Mateos, a friend from La Casa Loca; a revolving house of native Spaniards and exchange students from over the course of 15 years.  Pilar works downtown but lives in a small town 20KM outside of Madrid center. We met up at 10:00PM, went for typical Spanish tapas and then out to her home in Villanueva del Pardillo

Seeing Pilar again, was better than I imagined. I got a chance to meet her incredible husband Javier and her two sons, Oscar and Sergio. The boys are so well behaved, it was an absolute pleasure to spend the day with the whole family. I thank the Guilin family for displaying the epitome of hospitality. First Pilar and the boys followed me in the car, as I ran 6 miles around her pueblo, making sure I didn’t get lost. We all know, my sense of direction leaves much to be desired.

Javier returned from his law exam and together we all made an excursion to El Escorial. El Escorial sits in the local mountains and the rain that was forecasted for Friday night waited until our field trip to arrive. The grey day was perfect for enjoying our long lunch including a bottle of red wine, at a nearby restaurant and then meandering through the shopping mall on our way back. Interesting thing about this mall (malls are another new feature of Spain that didn’t exist 20 years ago) was the indoor ski slope that sits at one end. It’s limited to one short run but good for learning, I guess.

Keeping with the Spanish schedule, we arrived back to the house at 10:00PM, in time to enjoy the freshest home cooked array of mariscos (seafood). Pilar and Javier served up six different types of seafood: Prawns, garlic shrimp, caricoles, clams, stone crabs, octopus and a fried whole fish. Javi and I shared another bottle, a delicious white wine that went down like water and the boys finally went to sleep at 11:30PM.

Thankfully, Pilar thought to ask me which airline I was flying with to Morocco. When I told her EasyJet, she reminded me that the ticket is cheap because they get you on charging for every kilo of luggage and allow only ONE carry-on bag. Needless to say, my huge suitcase, backpack and extra bag with biking gear would have cost me nearly $200 to bring with me. Scrambling to research options, Pilar was amazingly resourceful, lending me a small suitcase, we decided that she could send my other suitcase via bus for me to pick up in Barcelona when we arrive in 10 days. Once again, I can’t thank Pilar enough for her kindness. She already contacted a ton of friends who could assist with retrieving the suitcase if sent via UPS or others who would be in Madrid in the summer who if need be, could bring some of my excess things back to LA. I get the point, it’s time to “let go” of my stuff.

Pilar dropped me at the airport sharing that she wished she could take a similar trip. I reminded her that I can only do this because I don’t have two beautiful kids and a husband; which often times I wish wasn’t the case. We gave our two kisses goodbye. I can’t iterate enough how once I am back in LA, I look forward to hosting her and her family.

Check in was ridiculously easy and I was grateful to have been prepared with the luggage situation. I had nearly two hours before boarding so I sat and wrote this entry, or should I say I started it, until I engaged in a conversation with Harris from the UK. I noticed his bloodshot eyes when I declared “looks like you had a late night in Madrid, easy to do.” He replied he hadn’t slept in 48 hours. I guess there were 20 guys reunited from around the world celebrating a bachelor party. Once we got into talking, the conversation was more philosophical than social. He shared his predicament of going through a divorce with a Pakistani woman whom he married in an arranged marriage. He met her for the first time, the day of their wedding. Western bred, he shared that he made the choice to follow tradition in hopes that had the marriage worked he would have proven that miracles can happen.

In speaking with Harris, I concluded what I already knew, that happiness is within oneself but also being able to share such experiences with those we love. I have lots of soul searching and soul growing to accomplish on this trip but I am most excited right now to reunite with Lowell and share the journey together.
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