Day 8: Madrid

Well I haven’t been having an easy time of updating the last couple of days, so sorry for the delay.

This probably belongs in the Portugal section, but heres what it was like riding the night train. So you get settled in the train about 30 minutes before it leaves, they take your Eurail pass and ticket, then the train starts off. The rooms are pretty small, imagine a walk in closet with 2 bunk beds, and you have an idea, but thats what I expected. There is a little sink and mirror, and they provide you with a bottle of water, and a tiny toothbrush and tooth paste. The beds are short, I find myself having visions of sleeping on Aquavit. The train is also a bit loud, I didn’t expect as much noise, I figured they would sound proof them pretty well. I have 3 roommates, a Chinese man who speaks no english, a deaf-mute who can read lips.. sort of, and a quirky Spanish truck driver on his way home from a trip to Lisboa. The Spaniard is talkative but for the most part I can’t understand him, and he can’t understand me. I’m hungry, and when he figures out how to say “lets go to the dinning car” I’m read for some food. We sat down and I take a look at the menu, and my eyes probably bugged out of my head. A simple salad for 7 euros, a small plate of beef stroganoff[sp?] is 17 euros, hell water was 2. I order the salad because I’m starving, but I can’t bring myself to shell out the money for the real meal. I go to bed hungry. The ride it self is fairly bumpy, more so than I had expected, but for the most part I sleep fine. I have trouble falling back asleep when I’m jolted awake by a bump in the tracks because of the noise, but I find that turning on my mp3 player and listening to some DJ River lounge sessions helps. Before I know it though, 10 hours have passed, and we’re arriving in Lisbon shortly. I went to the snack car to get a drink, and as I turn a corner and look behind me, I see a stunning woman, totally gorgeous, and after 10 hours on a train no less. I sat down at the bar, and she sat next to me, ordering a tea, I can tell she speaks English, I get the feeling she’s probably starved for English conversation after being in Portugal, and nothing to do for the last 10 hours. It turns out shes from Alabama (though I’m sure she grew up either in New England, or the West coast because of her accent, or lack of), and she was in Portugal helping an Artist friend from New York set up a gallery. She says shes going to Barcelona, which doesn’t surprise me since Barca is the hub of Spanish art. In hindsight I wish I had asked if she would like some company since I have no itinerary, and with how the next 2 days will go, I probably would have had a better time. Well then the train reaches its station and we have to split up and go our separate ways. Oh and for Jose, I would say a 9.5.

I then set out to try to find my housing for the night, I have a hostel picked out in the middle of the the important part of town, hotels in Madrid are rarely less than 60 euros, which is about over my entire day’s budget just in itself! Plus the write up in my Lonely Planet Guide says it has laundry service, which would for sure be welcome, and with Madrid being an active town, and me not having much idea of where I should go in Spain, it seemed like a good place for the day. I first tried the Renfe(train company) information desk, but the person spoke no English, and had no maps of either Madrid, or the Spanish or Madrid rail system. He told me to go to the tourist information office (for which there is no sign, but apparently its at the far end of the station.) I find it easily enough, and the women working there were very helpful, they gave me a map, and after I showed the address of the hostel, they even drew it on my map, and told me which Metro station to go to, and what metro lines would get me there.

The metro in Madrid is fairly nice, larger cars than in Japan thanks to larger gage, but not nearly as sophisticated still. They’re also layed out in a very haphazard manor, with some stations being almost able to be seen from one another, and other important land marks like the major Museum in town are so far from any metro, its at least a 10-15 minute walk!

I find my hostel easily, and they have an open bed, the description in my book is wrong in that they have wireless internet, but atleast their sister hostel 4 blocks away does, and I’m able to go there for internet later, though as it would turn out for some reason windows vista wouldn’t connect to the network, I’m unsure if its an issue with the drivers for the mac hardware, or a problem with vista itself, though I was able to connect in Mac OS X, so its good I atleast had that. I also found out that because I split the windows partition I made in windows, OS X couldn’t tell they were split. I can fix this, but it will most likely mean I will need to reformat, so I might wait until the non-beta version of bootcamp(macbook dualboot software) comes out.

Anyways so After noon passes I’m able to go take my bed space. I find I’m totally unprepared for living in a hostel, they only charge 16 euros for a night, but then if you want a lock for your locker that’ll be 5 euros, want a towel? That’ll be another 2, the laundry will be 5. I think some time between now and Paris I need to buy a small beach towel, and a pad lock. I then go get myself some lunch, Burger King looks good because I’m starving, and anywhere in the world, places like that give you the best bang for your buck as it were.

Returning to my room I meet the first of my roomates for the night, Jeremy, hes been in the south of Spain since January, and hes fallen totally in love with Adaluncia(the souther provence). He recommends strongly that I check out Alhambra, a really awesome Moorish castle/palace that he claims is in the running to be the 8th wonder of the ancient world. I decide to try to see that the following day. I then start my laundry then take a quick nap waiting for it to finish. I then hang it up to dry, and set out for the Museo Nacional del Prado, which is billed as Spain’s premier museum, and one of the best in the world. Its a good 20 minute walk away, but its a great chance to soak in Madrid. Madrid is a vibrant city with people and cars going every direction. The main drag in the center of town is a pedestrian street called Arenal(the same name as the volcano in Costa Rica), and is lined with shops of all kinds. The museum itself is large with a beautiful facade, and there is much greenery around town, especially near the museum which has an attached botanical garden.

Though the price to enter is 6 euros for adults, EU students get in for 3 euros, I try my UCR ID which isn’t either really valid or an EU ID, but I still get the discount, score one for the good guys! The collection at this museum is primarily of Spanish artists, like El Greko(though hes actually greek born, as his name suggests), Goya and the like. There was also a section of classical statues. I wanted to take some pictures, but the guards there told me no photos, what a drag, not like it steals the sculpture’s soul or anything. I was really interested in a particular statute entitled El Negro, which was made from a combination of black marble and white alabaster, the combination of which had a really cool effect. There was also a statue of a Roman Legionare made with white marble for the body armor, and bronze for the flesh, I guess I just like things with contrast or juxtaposition. The paintings were all very nice as well, the collection spanning 1100-1900.

After leaving the museum, I took a look around the botanical garden, partly because I had missed out on the one in Sintra. This one wasn’t nearly as attractive as hardly any garden I had seen, it seemed like it was designed by a German engineer, straight lines everywhere, and plans arranged in groups based on their genealogy, really no sense of aesthetics.

Returning back to my room at the hostel, I met another one of my roomates, a Seattlite. He was on a similar no-plan plan as me, though he had been flying via budget airlines from major city to major city, and had just arrived from Sweden. He asked if I was off to anything so I invited him to join me in going to the Palacio Real, this huge palace just to the west of us which housed some amazing armor, and was said to be the residence of Juan Carlos I, though no one actually lives there. The only problem was it was now 7, and the place closed at 6. Don’t ask me how that makes sense closing that early, especially since most restaurants/cafes in Madrid don’t even open until noon. We then set out to see the Debod temple, an old Egyptian complex that was going to be destroyed by a dam, but was given to Spain as a gift instead. It turned out to not be terribly interesting, so after a bit of walking around, we found a place to eat some dinner, an Argentinian grill that was pretty cheap. The service is horrible, my guess because tipping isn’t a part of Spanish culture apparently, though the food wasn’t half bad. The waiter seemed reluctant to even take our order, and half the foods on the menu apparently couldn’t be made today. When the food and drinks were ready he didn’t even bring it to our table, instead he motioned to us to come get it. When we were done, it took me 20 minutes of asking him over and over for the bill that he finely made it up, and again I had to come get it.

We went back to our room, I grabbed my laptop and went off to the sister hostel to upload the previous 2 day’s events in Portugal, then after talking to some friends back home I went back and hit the sack.

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