Thursday, October 09, 2008

Leaving Home & Madrid

The trip began with a perfect warm up exercise. Rather than riding to the airport in the luxury of an automobile, it seemed far more appropriate to begin a 24 day backpacking trip through Spain and Portugal, during which we would no doubt spend countless hours wearing our backpacks and ride countless kilometers on various Metro systems, by strapping our fully loaded backpacks to our backs and “backpacking” from home to the 19th St BART station in Oakland then BARTing to SFO.

Packs on, ready to depart.

Did I mention we flew business class? We did. All of those long miles flown on two business trips to India, finally put to good use. We quite enjoyed playing cribbage in the Toronto airport’s Maple Leaf Lounge, drinking free booze (Guinness and later The Glenlivet) during the 3 hour layover. The trans-Atlantic accommodations also were especially nice.

Mmm...lay flat seats.

Eat, drink, snooze, watch movies…Hey! We made it to Madrid! Now, where’s the Metro station? Oh, of course, it’s at the opposite end of the airport. After:

- 20 minutes of “backpacking” through the airport

- One consultation with the ever-so-helpful Metro assistance lady (yes, they actually have a staffed Madrid Metro information desk (with maps!), the sole purpose of which is to provide helpful and explicit directions from a human. This, it seemed to me, was a grand departure from the terse, angry, and poorly written hand-scrawled signs adorning the empty agent booths of most San Francisco Muni and BART stations),

- two transfers,

- and three train rides

we finally arrived at the Sevilla Metro station and emerged from underground to be greeted by this building:

The Banco España de Credito Building

Not a bad first glimpse of Madrid, I must say.

Upon arriving in Madrid, the plan called for meeting up with friends, let’s call them Todd and Lauren, who are on an adventure of their own: A whole year of tromping through various parts of the world. After spending August in Morocco (who goes to Morocco in August, anyway? Hot much?), they arrived in Madrid a few days before we did.

We were to meet them at an outdoor café in the Plaza de Santa Ana, near the hotel we’d be sharing with them. “We’ll be at a table outside, eating tapas and drinking cervezas, waiting for you”. A short walk from the Metro station, a quick scan of the tables in the plaza, and there they are sitting, sipping and eating.

Arriving at the Plaza de Santa Ana

(Photo by Lauren Girardin)

After throwing down our packs we get to the business at hand, drinking and eating. It wasn’t until a bit later we noticed the clean up activity near us. I guess the party got a bit out of control the night before and one of the cafes caught fire. But, these Spaniards, they are not easily discouraged. Immediately after the cleanup crews left the workers began restocking the charred bar in anticipation of opening again that evening.

Burned out bar.

(Photo by Lauren Girardin)

Me and Lauren, enoying our tapas.

Todd, deciding on tapas at the Cerveceria Lateral.

(Photo by Lauren Girardin)

We didn’t last too long at the café. The beers went right to our heads and by the time check in opened we were ready for a nap. Sleep, shower, then a tapas crawl through the neighborhood near our hotel. I’m glad Todd and Lauren had a few days in Madrid before us…in my jet lagged state I’m not sure how gracefully I would have handled the crowded tapas bar had they not been there to assist. Hard enough is figuring out what is actually on the menu, yelling out my requests in a foreign language over a noisy bar stacked 3 deep, and eating standing up with a plate in one hand and a beer in the other. Never mind understanding the total bill amount as yelled over the din. Uh, you mean I’m going to actually be expected to USE, in a real world situation, the Spanish I attempted to learn 6 months ago? Ok then, welcome to Spain (and please pardon my blank stares and mispronunciations).