September 3, 2010
I have successfully navigated my way to Madrid, Spain and settled in nicely. I am at a very cheap hotel (called a Hostel here, but not what we would call a “hostel”). It is the second floor of an older building. It apparently USED to be two small apartments on the one floor… it has since been gerrymandered into about 12 TINY little (mostly) single rooms that have JUST enough space for a single bed, a place to hang your clothes, and a bare MINIMUM of floor space in between. I share a bathroom down the hall. Okay… it’s not 5 star, but you know what? It only costs 25 Euro a night! Can’t beat that with a stick! It was quiet last night (or I was exhausted… possibly both!) and the staff (what little there is) is very helpful and nice. The woman on duty last night gave me explicit lessons (in Spanish) on how to keep myself and my possessions safe from pick-pockets and other ne’er-do-wells on the street… then later had another bilingual guest repeat all of her instructions because she wasn’t sure I had understood the Spanish! I had understood, but it was very touching that she was so concerned about my safety! I feel safe in this little hostel… And I’m saving money with which to travel another day!
Yesterday I wandered around quite a lot… as always, I did too much on my first day. I have slowed down on this, my second day in Madrid. I discovered Plaza Mayor today! A lovely large square with shops, cafés, tapas bars… and artists of every sort practicing their trade and hoping to make a sale. It is only one plaza away from where I am staying… a short walk.
Earlier, I watched an artist at work painting a meter square canvas with a beautiful scene of wild flowers… mostly red poppies… with a sea in the background. When he had finished I inquired about it… and the price! You know, it wasn’t all that expensive for an original work of art!
The artist, David de Ubaldis and I got to talking… I asked him if he would consider painting the Buddha for me. He was just a LITTLE hesitant at first… he had never painted the Buddha before, but he IS an admirer of Buddha. He got a far-off look in his eye as he began to visualize some beautiful Buddha statues he had seen when he worked in Germany. A smile began to emerge on his face. “Yes!”, he said. He could paint the Buddha for me! He brought me to his studio not far away. I looked at some of his other work… very beautiful! Tomorrow he will be back on the Plaza and we will discuss my painting further!
So, I have already decided on my one big souvenir to bring home from Spain! David de Ubaldis paints in oils and the piece will take several weeks to dry, so I will pick it up again in three months when I make my way back through Madrid on my way home! I don’t even have to “schlep” it around for the next three months! I am very happy I stumbled upon this square today!
Tomorrow morning I meet my couchsurfing friend, Emilio. I have talked about couchsurfing.org before, but for those just joining me, or having a “senior” moment, let me explain. Couchsurfing is a wonderful service on the internet that hooks up people who are traveling with people who like to MEET travelers… and live in the city to which they are traveling. I spent three wonderful days being treated as “family” in the home of a beautiful couple in Haifa, Israel last year. This time I will be only meeting my CS host for coffee… which is also an option.
For those that worry about me, couchsurfing has some great safeguards and features that help you decide if the person you are about to meet is “kosher” or not… but as with anything in life… you sometimes have to be willing to take some small risks for some large rewards. Emilio, my host sounds very friendly… we have been communicating for several weeks now… and he gets nothing but rave “reviews” from the other couchsurfers he has interacted with. I know I will have a good time! Emilio has promised to help me find a cheap cell phone for emergency use here. I must admit that I have gotten to the point where I feel a bit “naked” going forth into the world without a cell phone. It IS a good safety device!
I am amazed at how quickly the LITTLE Spanish I DO know is coming back to me. There are far fewer people who speak English here than I have found in most of the other places I have traveled. I am finding that I actually have to “cough up” some Spanish in most of my interactions with locals. This is good. I am getting to practice my (very limited) language skills. I have even picked up some new words! I’m having a GREAT time! But then again, I usually DO!
It is about 1930 (7:30pm) and I am still happily people watching and typing from the Plaza Mayor. I’ve found a ice cream / coffee shop that will sell me my usual black tea with milk (té negro con leche) for no more than I pay for it at Starbucks… and I get to sit and watch the “people show”. Across the plaza there is a wedding party. It is quite festive! It really IS true that this city only comes alive at night! There is very little happening before noon and things don’t really pick up until about 7pm… reaching a crescendo about 1 or 2 am… well that’s as late as I stayed up last night, it may have gotten even BETTER after that! Who knows!
I’ve extended my stay at the little hostel to a week, but I am thinking I need at least TWO weeks to truly enjoy Madrid, so I will see if I can extend it yet again! This city really IS beautiful! I’m having a great time!
Life’s a trip!