We arrived in Madrid late afternoon and walked to the hostel. Our joint knowledge of Spanish helped us check in flawlessly while aiding fellow travelers unable to communicate with the woman who runs this place. I must say being able to speak the tongue — even in a somewhat haphazard way — is making my experience in Spain much more rewarding.
We ate lunch at 4 PM — oh no, does this mean I’m now on Spanish time? Shit! — and I had only two criteria: something quick and something cold. It follows, then, that I ordered paella. Something that takes long and is steaming hot. The waitress was nice but had a serious mathematics problem. She first orally said, "20 euros" (or whatever it was). I said, "Let me see the bill." In Europe they give the bill and then wait there expecting you to pay right away without examining the charges. This has been annoying — in Barcelona we asked for "dos minutos" and the waitress was shocked. Upon examination we noticed a mis-billing. She acknowledged the error. We gave her a 50 euro bill. A few minutes later she came back with the change. She fucked up the change. "Where’s the receipt?" She had thrown it away! Really smart: she had already messed up the original bill and then threw it away before delivering the change. We ultimately resolved the issue and warned some Australian girls who sat down next to us to be careful.
In the evening we wandered out to Plaza de Sol — "all roads in Spain lead to Plaza de Sol". It’s beautiful, totally authentic, some tourists but mostly locals, it seemed. A real cosmopolitan feel. We walked past a blood donation bus parked front and center in the plaza. Not only was the location bizarre, but the patients giving blood were lying down in cots right by the window. So pedestrians walk past expansive windows peering into squeamish people with needles in their arm. An interesting public spectacle! We also popped into a church and caught the tail end of a service. Austin and I debated whether we should go for communion — free bread and wine is hard to pass up — but decided not to. Hearing the choir sing Spanish was cool.
We walked a little farther and bumped into the Museo de Jamon, a restaurant — er, "museum" — highly recommended by a guy we met in an Irish pub in Barcelona. The place is a real trip. Endless ham hanging from all the walls. More dead animals concentrated in a public eating place than anywhere else I bet. The food was fine (free water!), the ambience hip. A good choice.
It was 10 PM and we continued walking near Plaza de Sol and stumbled upon another nice treat: a huge concert and pep rally for Colombian immigrants to Spain. The plaza was packed with people, a band was on the stage, and Colombian flags omnipresent. Viva Colombia! was a frequent chant. Of course, these people chose to live in Spain! Austin and I sat down at a nearby table and got into a conversation with a Bolivian couple who immigrated to Spain. They had vaguely heard of California and weren’t certain where in the world it was. "It’s in North America, right?" This was a real eye opener. I may have guessed this could come from someone across the world, but not someone from South America where so immigrate north. They immigrated to Spain for the wages. The man works construction, the woman hotel rooms. The woman asked, "Do you like George W. Bush?" We responded. I asked the man, "Do you like him?" He responded, "I don’t know. I’m Bolivian." I really liked this…instead of just digesting the popular position, he just says he doesn’t know.
Streets in Madrid are still packed at midnight as many people sit down for dinner then. The temperature at this hour was equivalent to an unusually warm San Francisco early afternoon. Not surprisingly, from midnight to 2 AM I couldn’t sleep; just sweat. I feel good about Madrid — it will be a fun few days.