The Plaza del Sol - Madrid, SpainOk...I'll have to admit that I came to Spain with an unconscious predisposition to the Spanish People.  Growing up in Florida, the Hispanic people were always the lowest caste of society; the migrant workers, etc.  Of course, these Hispanics were from Cuba and Mexico, not Spain.  Even in California, these people were the dregs of society, not the proud, beautiful people that have come to know in Spain.  On the flip side of the coin, when I was in College in Miami, the Hispanics from Cuba were often more wealthy and more popular than I was.  In either case, they never ranked high in my book, so I arrived in the Estación Chamartín on the overnight from Paris with a predisposition to dislike these people...consciously or not.  It actually took a few days to learn to appreciate these people.  I mean....who else in the world treats the pig like a God and the cow as something to defeat in combat with a sword!  These feelings were dispelled after the first few contacts with the people.  Where in America (or anywhere else, for that matter) can you walk down the street and notice that every woman that you see looks like she has a burgeoning career as a fashion model as a side job?  The men too:  They are persons of respect, pride and amazing integrity.  Take, for example, my business contact in Spain.  From the Basque region of Spain, he spoke my language, and was polite, yet focused on the task at hand.

Courtyard of Reina SophiaThe train ride from Paris gave me plenty of time to reflect on this, but unfortunately, I was still savoring the grand memories of Paris instead of planing for the next phase of the trip in Madrid.  Traveling by train is very interesting.  After the obligatory half an hour of trying every button and switch in my sleeping compartment and watching the foggy countryside of France slip by, it was time for dinner.  The dining car is a unique experience.  Just make sure to hold on to your wine while going around the corner!  I was seated with a woman who was traveling alone back from vacation in Paris to her home just outside of Madrid.  Luckily, she spoke English!  The meal was somewhat disappointing, but the whole experience was such an adventure that it more than made up for the culinary fiasco.  Sleeping on the train takes a little getting used to.  The train sped up, it slowed down, it went around curves.  The strangest parts of the trip were the tunnels.  The train (hurtling down the tracks at a high rate of speed) would hit a tunnel, and immediately the air pressure would change, forcing your ears to pop.  The train actually had to stop at the French/Spanish border (luckily I was asleep) so that the undercarriage could be adjusted.  Train tracks in Spain are a different gauge than any other train in Europe. Apparently, some trains can be adjusted to make the transition onto the larger Spanish gauge.

Once again (as in Portugal and Brazil) I was amazed at the ability of people to speak another language.  My own Spanish skills are limited to navigating the city and ordering meals in Spanish.  These folks (my business contact in Spain and another colleague from Switzerland) not only understood my native language, but were able to converse on a technical level in English.  This being said, it must be understood that in the Information Age, English is the language of Technology.   My friend from Switzerland spoke to me in English (and my limited French) and spoke perfect Spanish to others in the office.  It is quite humbling to be an American and only speak one language...a situation that is being rectified by my studies in French.

For those that speak Spanish, Madrid is a paradise.  For those of us who do not, it is still a paradise, but limited by our ability to  communicate.  Outside the Reina Sophia - Madrid, SpainExploring the City is a challenge:  There are unfriendly Metro signs that often lead astray.  There are tons of people communicating in a way that you think you could never understand.  You see incredible women with the most beautiful eyes that you would like to meet.  All in all, Madrid is quite intimidating, yet after getting to know it, is quite friendly.

For those easily intimidated, I suggest a bottle (not a half bottle) of the wonderful Spanish Rojia wine.  This will loosen the inhibitions and get you in the mood to party in a city where the nightlife does not start until dinner at around 10 o'clock and the discos until a bout 1:30 until the wee hours of the morning (I mean really 6:30 am)  and lingers over café con leche and churros in the morning (and yet, miraculously everyone somehow makes it to work the next day).  If not the Rojia, then a few glasses of Absinthe (illegal in the United States...indeed almost everywhere else in the civilized world because of the dangers of brain damage to heavy abusers).  After a few apéritifs of your choice, you will no longer care about the language barrier and the people of Spain will become more accessible through the international language of the lust for life, which the Spanish (as well as the French) seem to have mastered as we in the United States have not.

Another cool travel tip is this:  When you get tired of listening to people speak a language that you have no familiarity with, head for the nearest Irish Pub.  Every city in the world (that is a city) has one, and invariably, they speak English (and serve up great pints of Guinness too).  I found the bartender at Moore's (just off the Plaza Mayor in Lisbon) to be quite helpful (including helping me to locate a bottle of Absinthe at 1:00 on a  Sunday morning). Plaza de Espana - Madrid, Spain They even gave me a free Caricature from the local artist (for the modest price of three pints.  I was parched after running all over town to locate a bottle of Absinthe to take home, so I figured....why not?).  This is definitely the spot to check out what's going down.  Met folks from all over the British Isles and America (it seems they have discovered this little travel secret, or else they just like tough to call that one)!  You can get first hand info on the city, what to see, what not to see, where to go and all that cool stuff that the tour books seem to forget about.

As has become my custom, I had to visit a museum while in Madrid.  I seem to shun the more well known museums in favor of those that display the kind of art that I like, namely the art from around the turn of the century.  With this in mind, I bypassed the famous Museo del Prado to visit a museum whose collection is housed in an old mental hospital (fitting for some of the artists featured in their collection such as Salvador Dali)!  The Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is located just steps from the Atocha train station Metro stop.

All in all, I really enjoyed Madrid, although it would have been better if I had some friends or business associates there to share in the fun (and to share translator duties!).  I really need to get back to Madrid again in my lifetime.  But for now, it remains in my memory (and the servers) as this web page...

Other Destinations

Big Sur, California Lisbon, Portugal Paris, France Madrid, Spain
São Paulo, Brazil Caracas, Venezuela Amsterdam, Netherlands Arnhem, Netherlands
Nassau, Bahamas London, England Curaçao, Netherland Antilles Santiago, Chile
Edinburgh, Scotland Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Hyderabad, India Rome & Florence, Italy

© 2003 - Todd L. Holsopple
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