Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Do as the Romans do?

Before I get on to the big guns (i.e. Rome), more Spanish adventures await - or all of them, since I haven't blogged since we got to Madrid. So here goes

Madrid is awesome. Despite being extremely tired when we arrived, our first impression of Spain was pretty good, especially when we managed to get a train ticker and navigate the metro without making any pathetic 'help us, we're silly and foreign' faces, which I was particularly proud of.

I may or may not have written down the address of the hostel incorrectly, but I also had a map of where it was, so with Kim's excellent skills of deduction at work, we were able to locate it after walking past the street only two or three times. Good job, team. The hostel was really nice, it had a great common room area, with a pretty fountain, floor cushions and tiled walls - very Moroccan. The rooms were the biggest we've been in so far (10 beds), but most nights they weren't all occupied, so it was fine. We shared with some lovely Canadian girls who did a book swap with us (Kim and I bought about 6 books between us, and we've read them all at least twice), and tipped us off on where the good coffee was at.

So all in all, the Cat's Hostel was cool, it had free internet, free breakfast (useless to me of course), a decent bar (which we totally used one night.....I stayed up till 4am!) and great security, which I love. The biggest downfall of the place was that it was fricking HOT and SMELLY at night - mucho unpleasanto as they say in ol espanol (they don't really say that).

Moving on....

Since Kim and I speak no Spanish past "No hablo espanol" (which is essentially a lie, since you're saying you don't speak Spanish in Spanish, therefore contradicting yourself immediately), we decided to take the easy route and have Maccas for our first meal. If it's a Spanish bloody McDonalds, then it's a Spanish bloody meal as far as I'm concerned. Also went to Starbucks, which became a daily ritual so I could get my latte - they only do two kinds of coffee in Madrid, espresso and espresso with a little foam posing as a cappuccino - and it was surprisingly good for an evil soul-sucking corporate coffee. Kim also became quite the fan of the Chai Tea Latte, provided it had a thick layer of vanilla and chocolate powder on top, much as I have to have my 10 million sugars in my huge (grandè is muuuch bigger in Spain than in Melbourne) latte.

I suppose I should try to describe the city. Madrid is beautiful, but in an interesting way. It has this atmosphere of strangely intense energy and a sense of sloth-like calm - during siesta, the city is so quiet, but at about 3am, it's crazy crazy crazy. I was going to use this description for the Spanish countryside, but it suits the city as well.......it's very earthy; it feels like almost every building has been there for hundreds of years (which some of them have).

The colours are neutral and there aren't half as many glass-based buildings as there are in Melbourne, most are made of stone, which adds to the organic nature of the town. It feels rugged and worn, but at the same time, totally full of life - mostly because of the people. Looking around, it's impossible to ignore the history of the city, it's displayed on every street corner, in the tiled street signs, intricate brickwork, and the pride with which it was built. It's hard to explain (clearly, as I ramble on), but it was amazing and I loved it, and I have lots of photos to act as visual aids when I get home.

We decided to keep our Madridian (yes, I know it's not a word) adventures in the same tradition as our Parisian stay, and spend our time soaking up the atmosphere of the city, not the tourist sights. So our first stop was a park, where there was some monument dedicated to Don Quixote and Pancho. It was really nice, and we met this awesome - if a little scary - old dude, who - when he realised we didn't speak Spanish - resorted to gesticulating wildly while Kim and I tried to glean what we could from his manic movements and garbled Spanish. At one point, in order to ask how long the flight from Australia was, he gestured to his watch and started running in little circles making engine noises and little wings with his arms. It was hilarious and a lovely break from the generally brusque nature of the Spaniards we had been coming into contact with.

Our Sydney friend, the now-infamous Danny, rocked up and we all went out to dinner and drinks with Kim's uni friend Robin and his lady Pepix - it was a hilarious night, filled with overpriced tapas, authentic Spanish bars, beer, pigs stomach and crazy old Spaniards with Merv Hughes-esque moustaches. Pepix even taught us a little Spanish....which we never used. We went to this place called Musee du Jamon (direct translation, The Museum of Ham), which was rad....Kim and I went twice.

What else? We went to a traditional flamenco show, which was awesome, despite the male flamenco dancers predilection for smacking his own arse and rubbing his body in a far too enthusiastic way. We also starspotted Mischa Barton - that's Marissa from TVs The OC - only metres away from us, stuffing her face with tapas. For you celeb whores (aka Bards), she was gorgeous (although Kim managed to get a truly hideous photo of her), seemed very polite, and was wearing a longsleeved canary yellow chiffon Chloè dress and she was with friends and family having a night out.

But back to me; we went to see a move, as is our tradition, and this time we took Danny along and went to see The Departed, or Infiltrados as it's called. It was AWESOME. One of the best films I've seen in a really, really long time. All the actors in it are amazing (especially Jack), and I am totally in love with it. Even with annoying Spanish subtitles. The cinema was a little odd. For one thing, it didn't open until about 5 minutes before the session time (hardly enough time to choose appropriate movie snacks), and there were no previews, which we found a strange considering there was a good 15-20 minutes of ads. Still, movies = awesome.

Next up....more Danny, and some Chinese food. Yes, we had Chinese food in Spain. Leave me alone. Anyway, we ordered three orders of spring rolls, which was fine, because there was only one per serve, and we figured wontons were the same. They were not. We got an overflowing plateful of wontons each, and between the three of us, I think we ate about 5. So we had the rest baggied up, and dumped them with Danny, as it's his manly duty to take care of all our problems.

After more shopping, Kim and I headed for a biggest park we could find on the map - we figured the bigger the park, the less chance we had of losing it. So we went to the _________ (yes, I've forgotten the name), and it was ace. It was kind of like Central Park, but more spaced out and landscaped. It had long meandering paths (perfect for us, we like to meander), and this amazing monument to King Alfonso...it was my favourite place in Madrid. Seriously beautiful. Again, hard to explain, but I have photos/visual aids to make up for my lack of writing talent.

There was a massive pond (more man-made lake than pond) in the park, and we saw a few fish...and a massive orangey cloud that we though may be fish. I wanted to know, but didn't want to get deported for being a public nuisance, so Kim dropped a coin on top of said orangey cloud to check if they were fish or not. Of course,being Kim, she missed the cloud of fish, so we'll never know and I'll never get my 10 cents back.

This is getting to be a very long post....quick summary of the rest of Madrid.
Found an awesome jewellery store; arrival of Top Bunk and Bottom Bunk, aka two Sydney accountants Alain and Mark (Alain + Kim = smoochies) who went out with Danny, Kim and I; More Starbucks and shopping; Said goodbye to Danny (we'll see you in London, lovey!!); took the train to Barcelona.

The train trip took about 5 hours, and was totally amazing. It was still quite early, and the moisture on the ground was still evaporating; as we were passing these long, cavernous valleys, a thick, dense layer of cloud was hanging in the air a few metres above the ground. Occasionalyly, the sun would break through the top layer of actual cloud, and shine through the mist; it was seriously beautiful. And of course, there was more countryside (earthy, rugged, blah, blah, blah) Once we arrived in Madrid, we went to book our train to Milan (to get to Rome), but it was full, so in a split second (10 minute) decision, we decided to take a train completely out of our way, and head to Bern to get a train to Rome via Milan.

Best accident ever. Switzerland is ridiculously scenic and gorgeous. It is like nothing I've ever seen before (outside of a television screen), but exactly what I was expecting. The railway runs inbetween and underneath picturesque snowcapped alps, alongside small, completely lovely Swiss towns, wild rivers and deep, green gorges. The alps were very impressive...Switzerland in general was just so beautiful, it's definitely a must-go destination now. Plus they have awesome chocolate and cheese, and plenty of cute soldiers weilding semi-automatics (for a neutral county, they seemed very prepared). Also, had the best iced coffee ever. LOVE Switzerland.

Nearly finished....hang in there.

Train from Milan to Rome was ok. Sitting next to a woman who looked like she had robbed a jewellery store and was wearing the booty for safekeeping. Kim was sitting next to a total loon, who kept whispering to herself, and had no sense of personal space. Got to Rome, found the hostel, checked in, realised we'd booked for too many nights, checked emails, went to bed.

Now we're off to see Vatican City, and totally get in good with his Popeness. Will report back (with a much shorter blog) later.



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