Marveling at Madrid

        I guess my day started after a chilly blend of swearing at the cold and sleeping on the platform at the train station. Dozed more on the train and at the airport as we waited for our flight. Iím not queasy about flying and appreciate Easyjetís low fares, but reusable laminated tickets do make me a little nervous. The plane was way tinier than anything Iíve flown on before and the first time I had to walk oustide to get on: the few other flights Iíve taken have all boarded via tunnels attached to the terminal. I might have been worried during takeoff, but exhaustion prevailed and I was out cold before we finished ascending.
        After arriving in Spain, Mike and I had 2 hours to kill until our friend Riad arrived. Too excited to sleep, we decided to buy train tickets to Pamplona. This didnít work: although we were more than a day ahead of time, the train was already sold out. Others were in the same boat: some Aussies offered us a ride in their rental car for later that day, but we turned them down because we want to have at least a day in Madrid. Hanging around and talking to random people produced a plan. Weíll head to the bus station later on, hoping seats are still available; if theyíre not, weíre going to meet some new friends from Mexico City tomorrow afternoon and stuff 8 people into a 5-person rental car. Looking at my watch, I realize weíve gotten off to a good start in Spain: not even here for 2 hours and already overcoming a travel travail.
        We meet up with Riad without problems and jump on the train, heading into Madrid. We planned on going right to the bus station, but wandering brought us in close proximity to the Prado. I definitely have a preference for modern art and may be a little museumed out, but the Prado wasnít impressive: boring architecture and homogeneous rooms made this museum pale in comparison to the Louvre and the Tate Modern.
        Having received a dose of culture so large it was hard to swallow, we take a long hike to the bus station. Luck is with us: buying tickets is no problem. Next came more wandering in search of a hostel still available at the last minute. The first hostel we tried was booked, but this ended up being incredibly lucky for us: we were referred to a different hostel with just a few vacancies remaining that was one of the nicest places Iíve ever stayed. For Ä18 ($18) per head per night, we received a large room with 3 beds in downtown Madrid. If thatís not outrageously fortunate enough, the flawless view of Madridís downtown from the flower-filled balcony definitely puts this room over the top for me.
        Late afternoon and evening were more random wandering. We got lost in the garden of Palacio Real, ending up close to the rear entrance but even nearer to a guard much less than happy to see us. Chilled in some large courtyard, watching street performers and drinking a tasty blend of juice and wine called sangria. We paid the bill, mildly surprised that our sangria pitcher had cost only Ä6 but happy to actually get a bargain in a city, and continued our wandering. The waiter caught up with us a block later, angrily informing us that the bill had actually been for Ä16. So much for our bargain... The rest of the night confirmed that I should have paid more attention in Spanish class: talking with people was helpful but definitely would have been more beneficial if I knew more than only basic Spanish. What we did know allowed us to have rudimentary conversations, learning that we wonít get into most clubs with out trainers (tennis shoes) on. So, we wandered some more and then zonked out in our beautiful room, a lucky find right in the heart of a great city.

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