Madrid - Late Nights and Paella

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End May 25, 2007

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Flag of Spain  ,
Monday, October 23, 2006

Photos of Madrid are posted on our smugmug site. Click here to see these photos! Don't forget, if you want to download a photo full sized you can do it for free. Scroll over the photo and click on the "save photo" pop-up.

When we were in Helsinki we met Uni, a friend of Mia's who works in Amsterdam for KLM. We discussed airlines at length as she and Julius dealt with them daily at work. That night imparted an important lesson to us.

"EasyJet is not Easy."

We remembered these words when we arrived in Madrid and learned that somehow, despite checking in over an hour early for a one hour flight with no transfers, they managed to leave my (Sara's) luggage behind. Air Madrid is one of the many budget airlines (like Easyjet) flying all over Europe these days. We paid around $50 for this flight, cheaper than the train. But budget airlines are budget for a reason. They are not very good.

We then proceed to wait the two hours that it took for the lost luggage person to help the three people ahead of us. We described our bag (luckily our luggage matches so this was easy to do). Next came our other conundrum. We had no idea where we were staying because our cousins Jen and Carlos had so far been unreachable. I told the luggage lady I would call her with an address when I had one. Good thing Julius carries the toiletries.

God Bless Madrid's fabulous subway system that made our transfer to the city a piece of cake. This is one of the few cities in Europe that includes their airport on the urban subway line (1 € ticket) . We had the name of a youth hostel outside of town but no reservations. When we arrived there the receptionist told us their were no beds available but when she saw the panicked looks on our faces she checked again and found two.

At this point we were able to contact our mom and learned that Jen was still in the US, as we suspected. Her father, our dear Uncle Manuel, passed away the week before and they were not yet back from the funeral, although her husband Carlos would be flying in in the morning. When he arrived jet lagged and exhausted he was very gracious and invited us to stay at their place. They live in a great location, near the Prado and train station so we had an easy base to explore the city and do a (you guessed it) Rick Steves city walk. The suitcase arrived the next day in one piece.

The easiest thing for us to do at this point was to head to Sevilla in the south of Spain (our next blog entry) and when we got back Jen and the kids would have returned (Carlos was leaving on a tour in the north of Spain). This turned out to be a good plan because it allowed us to spend more time with her and the kids when we weren't exploring the city. It was a very hard week for them between Uncle Manuel's death, coming back home after almost two months in the states and the jet lag, but Jen was very helpful with suggestions and ideas, plus she cooked up some Spanish specialities and showed us the neighborhood markets. Not to mention being able to play around with Olivia and William!

Spain has many similarities and differences with other countries we have visited in Europe. Like France, it is a very diverse country with many North Africans and South Americans. It is less expensive, though the Spanish don't think so since the arrival of the Euro. The main difference we noticed was their hours. Siesta is very much a reality in this country. Even it the capital it seems that the whole city shutters up between 2 and 4 or 5. Savvy Asian immigrants keep their shops open and do brisk business. With such a long break during the day people stay up until the wee hours of the morning. One night we were eating Paella at a restaurant at midnight. And this wasn't a Dennys type restaurant. All the restaurants stay open until that time. Most don't open for dinner until 9 pm.

Lots of people had dogs in Madrid. It always surprises me to see these people living in small apartments with one or more big dogs. Because of this the dog doo problem in this city is huge! Clean up after your dogs people!!! The guide book for Paris went on and on about the problem with dog droppings there but it was nothing like Madrid. We were trying to avoid it all the time and saw many others step right in it. Blech. It was hard to avoid when it was smack in the middle of the sidewalk. While we are on the topic of city scourges we also have to mention graffiti (or tagging). This is an issue everywhere except the most quaint villages. It literally covers all the walls in the downtowns and looks dreadful. If it was really cool art and well done it would be one thing, but most is just tagging. Paris has the most, even tagging the inside of the subways (Madrid keeps a close eye on the subway system and it is much cleaner). Apartment building will be totally remodeled on the outside with a new fabulous paint job then some kids come and spray paint tags all over it. It drives Carlos crazy.

Anyway, enough of the ugly stuff. Madrid is full of great squares and streets and parks that we walked around. The Almudena Cathedral in Madrid was one of our favorites. It was built between 1883 until 1999. It is white inside and out and has a great mix of old and new styles. The ceiling frescos have a real South American feel and the art and stained glass are religious but abstract and modern. You rarely see art in Churches that was done in the last 100 years, much less the last 50, so this church seemed very modern in comparison.

Once we toured the city we separated for an afternoon apart. I went to the Prado and Julius went to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium for a very efficient self guided stadium tour. He learned that the 80,000 seats were for very skinny people. They probably would not work in America. The Prado was fantastic as well, with some of my favorite artists there being Bosch, a Flemish artist who was either on drugs or crazy, and Goya whos painting The 3rd of May was so heartbreaking I nearly burst into tears looking at it.

One of the nicest things about visiting Madrid was being able to relax a bit. Though we were very busy most days with sightseeing and day trips it was great to come home to Jen and Carlos' comfy apartment for a few days instead of a hotel. Julius especially enjoyed watching CNN and BBC on their digital cable. We are a little chagrined to admit that we watched a Bush press conference in its entirety, something we would never do at home.

When it was time to fly out of Spain to Prague we got to the airport a good 90 minutes early, feeling very proud of ourselves. Of course our next very budget airline had other plans...

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