I got the train to Madrid on Friday 24th June, and was met by my couch surfing host, Mario. We went to a bar he knew to have some lunch, tapas and beer. This was beer with lemon however, and was almost like soft drink (I later realised some bars do put lemonade in the beer, others actually put lemon juice). At this bar people throw their serviettes on the floor rather than put them in the rubbish bin and it was normal practice. I was told the bar we were in was pretty clean, and that later on we’d visit a bar where you get a free plate of fried chicken wings with any beer you order, and not only the napkins get thrown on the floor, but so do the wing bones! No way! Sure enough, at the other bar people threw their serviettes and wing bones on the floor. I snapped a quick photo, for I’ve never seen this done before and was having trouble believing it was happening in front of me. I was encouraged to throw some bones on the floor, and I struggled to do so. I aimed at the cigarette bin and was booed when my wing bones landed in there. So I gritted my teeth and threw the next lot on the floor amid cheers from those around me. I honestly didn’t get any satisfaction from it, and couldn’t understand how this was accepted behaviour, but apparently it is.
For my first full day in Madrid I followed what has become my ‘normal’ routine, although this time I already had a map of Madrid that I’d found at the hostel in Salamanca. I got the train into the city and walked around all the major attractions and sights. I saw the Royal Palace, the Royal Theatre, Plaza Mayor (which was very similar to the one in Salamanca), Puerta Del Sol (the central point of the city) and a number of other plazas and big buildings. I loved all the fountains in Madrid, and was especially enthralled by the Neptune and Cibeles fountains. They were each in the middle of a large intersection and I had to risk life and limb to get close enough for a decent photo – although I was not the only tourist darting across the traffic to do so.
The Prado Museum was free after 6pm so I wandered around there for a few hours, and although there were some nice paintings and sculptures, museums don’t really ‘do’ much for me. I say this because there was a lady in the Prado who, while staring transfixed before a large painting, was quivering and whispering repeatedly to herself “This is why I came, this is why I came”. I’d call her a ‘museum’ buff 🙂 Later that night Mario was going to a music concert with a friend of his, and I took the opportunity to go along as well. What I didn’t realise was that it was a Rock Concert, in Spanish, and all those in attendance were there to remember their youth – which was likely when I was a baby…
I entertained myself by listening to the music, some of which sounded familiar but I had no idea if the words were the same, but mostly I watched the crowd. Women were squeezed into clothes that may have fit them 20 years ago, tottering on high heeled wedge shoes, while men clutched a beer in one hand and slapped their thigh with the other. There was a lot of leg jiggling going on, and not the dirty kind. The main ‘dance’ move, if you can call it that, was keeping one leg firmly planted on the ground while lifting the heel of the other foot up and down in time to the beat. This leg was usually the one also being slapped by it’s owner in enthusiasm for the song. As people drank more the ‘fists pumping the air’ move became more regular, with slurred Spanish words shouted at the band. I can only guess they were words of encouragement and support for it remained a fairly tame crowd otherwise.
On my last day in Madrid I’d arranged to meet up with two girls – one was the French girl, Anais, I’d met in Salamanca, and the other was an American girl, Deborah, who’d contacted me via the couch surfing (CS) website in Granada yet we’d not co-ordinated our cities until Madrid. When Deborah and I met up she claimed she’d emailed me because I was one of only a few girls on the CS site (it’s true, there are mostly guys on there), and I was an Aussie, and every Aussie she’d ever met previously had been good value. Well I like to think I kept up the good Australian reputation, as we had a number of laughs and an enjoyable afternoon in general, whiling away time in the sun. Deborah was one of the few American’s I’ve met who admit their country has many flaws, and she was keen to get out and see how other countries surpassed her own in various ways. She was in Madrid to learn Spanish as well, and I wished I was looking for an apartment with her… She was funny and we shared some travel stories that only those who’ve experienced similar would appreciate.
While we waited at Plaza Mayor for Anais, I took Deborah to the restaurant I’d been past the day before where I’d noticed a really good looking waiter working. I’d been taking a photo of the pictures of tapas on the restaurant wall when I heard him ask if he could take the picture with me next to the tapas pictures. I agreed, and noticed how good looking he was. He then started speaking a lot of Spanish of which I didn’t understand, but took to mean he wanted me to sit and eat at his restaurant, which my budget didn’t allow for. I said I’d already eaten (which I had), and left to find the information centre. While at the info centre, and needing a toilet, I decided to take a chance and return to his restaurant to use the loo and also get a photo of him. Ruben his name was, and he kindly obliged with my toilet and photo requests.
I figured I’d see if he was working again and go back with Deborah in the hope of talking to him a little more. I was in luck. He was working, he recognised me and he seemed excited to see me again – all in all it was a very nice reception. Deborah agreed he was good looking, and keen, so I decided to give him my number and arranged to meet when he finished work at midnight. We met up with Anais for the afternoon, and spent the time comparing and contrasting France, America and Australia, and discussing the pros and cons of living in each country. Anais spoke French (obviously), English and Spanish, and was doing a degree in Anthropology. She was one smart chick, and stunningly beautiful as well. I now have contacts in many more countries and new places to visit on my wish list!
I flew to Lisbon, Portugal the following day after meeting Ruben when he finished work. I was glad I met him, and spent the next few days trying to figure out how I was going to get back to see him again on this trip as he seemed worth the effort..