Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 3

We spent another day walking around and exploring Madrid. In the morning, we headed to the lucotorio on Cuesta de San Vicente. When we made it to the Palace, we were disappointed to find that we had just missed the changing of the guards by a few minutes. The walk today would take us around parts of Old Madrid that we had missed the previous day, to Parque del Retiro, and to some newer parts of town. By late afternoon, we had explored the Plaza de España surrounded with its old, plain, but somehow classy skyscrapers, and the outside of the Egyptian temple with its pond. This area offered a nice view to the part of town down the hill, the area that were were staying in. The soft orange light provided by the setting sun was beautiful on the walls of the Egyptian Temple and the pastel walls of the tall skyscrapers surrounding the Plaza.

Throughout the day, we had walked all around Madrid, through a Chinese and a Caribbean neighbourhood, which looked quit poor and run down. We also walked around a large modern art museum, with some giant kinetic outdoor art installations which demonstrated waves. This building had a large protruding red roof reflecting the cars in the street below it, making it look as if the cars were flying in the sky. We tried to take pictures of it, but the contrast between the roof and sky was just too large and our digital photos would come out either too dark or too bright. And of course, throughout the day, we made sure to stop for some beers to refresh us and push us ever onwards. For lunch, we sat at a small bar on a plaza outside a large modern museum. We ordered some bread topped with Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico to try these Spanish specialities. I found I loved these just as much as prosciutto, one of my favourite foods. This bar, however, charged an extra euro for every item on the menu for sitting outside - once again confirming my view that nothing is free in European restaurants.

After our walk around Parque del Retiro, we visited the Botanical gardens with its wide array of different plants. The things that impressed me the most were a collection of different wine grapes, different herbs, and some plants that looked like giant chives complete with giant clusters of flowers. I requested a photo with these plants, and I got two. The first one had one of the giant blooms replacing my head in the photo. We ended the day with a well earned rest and a long conversation in the square in front of Museo del Prado. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to go in to visit its galleries. Well, this is a regret that we leave for Madrid. As my mom always tells me, it is good to leave some regrets for everywhere you visit, as it will draw you back again in the future.

When we returned to apartment, we found another couchsurfer there. He was from Florida and told us stories of him travelling the coast of the US by sleeping on the beach with his sleeping bag. He said that at least once, he awoke to someone standing over him and watching him sleep. One unsettling thing about him was that he had very high praise for pickpockets. He really liked how they work and loved to watch them target people. Perhaps showing your zeal for stealing is not the best quality to display when you're staying the night in a stranger's home.

Since this was our first Couchsurfing experience, we wanted to thank our hosts by taking them to dinner. Unfortunately, Sebastian was nowhere to be seen. In the end, we went to have dinner with Raquel, Adolfo, and the new Couchsufer. Two of Raquel's friend joined us at dinner, and we ended up paying 30 euros each to cover dinner for everyone! We ate on a sidewalk table, where many restaurants seem to be setting up, and plenty to drink, and plenty of seafood and a few Madrid and Spanish specialities.

After dinner, we prepared for bed as we had to get up early for a flight to Ouarzazate, Morocco the next morning. We said good-bye to the host of our first Couchsurfing experience, and reflected on how Couchsurfing is brining people together from all over the world. In our room, we set our alarms and chatted for quite a while, as we were both very excited to be going to a land with a culture completely foreign to us. Before going to sleep, I looked out over the bright lights of Madrid one last time, and using the light from thousands of dim sodium lamps outside far below, I made sure my alarm on my phone was set.

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