do I even need to comment on the picture at left?
I´m writing from an empty internet cafe in Madrid on a Friday night at almost midnight. I could lie and say I went out and had a great time in Madrid tonight but the truth is, I don´t really feel like it! My train got in at 11pm (which is what time people start the evening in Madrid) but - well - it´s raining for one thing, and I´m tired for another, but it´s really not the same when you´re in a city like this by yourself. And no offense Madrid, but I basically budgeted enough time to see The Prado, one other museum, walk by a couple plazas, and leave the next day.
The area I´m staying in is Madrid´s theater district and just like Times Square used to be, it´s full of strip clubs and smells like crap, but it´s starting to get taken over by "cleaner" companies like Starbucks, etc. My hostel is way cool though, it´s in an apartment building with a really funky Victorian elevator with mahogany doors that they warned me "sometimes gets stuck between floors" and the dorm room has a little balcony overlooking the park below. You would really never know a hostel was there because you have to call up and get buzzed in like a private apartment.
Oh, but I had the best 1st Class train experience for my first train trip in Spain! I was sortof dreading a 5 hour trip to Madrid, but when I got to the platform, it was like an airport. Really weird but they have you wait outside a gate before boarding the train, then an individual person takes your tickets, and then as soon as you get on board, the stewardesses come through with orange juice or champagne and packages of dried fruit! Hello!
And after an hour, they bring a mini-meal which comes with a split of whichever wine you want (unlike our planes, they had a wine list! at least 12 wines and 2 champagnes!!) In Spain, when you order wine anywhere, you usually get a whole split bottle to yourself. Si. I realllllllllllly like it here.
It´s completely hilarious to me that Eurail passes now require you to be in 1st Class when you´re older than age 26. It´s so funny because I am totally travelling er, um, "economically", so it´s not like I fit in with the 1st Class crowd. But it´s nice to sit in the bigger seats and get the few perks even though I look like a slob.
As I was ordering my food in this internet cafe tonight (where they speak very little English), I thought to myself, "how do you say 'Can I take this beer with me to the internet terminal?' in Spanish??" I mean, come on now, the phrase books these days really don´t provide you with enough essential phrases!
Oh - by the way - everybody who has an iPod is familiar with the mysterious phenomenon, that iPods have a sixth sense and when they´re on shuffle, they occassionally choose the most appropriate song for the environment or situation you´re in. This happens to me enough that no one could ever possibly chaulk it up to coincidence, especially considering the sheer amount of music in my iPod. Perfect example today - as I came up the metro to look for my hostel in this semi-sketchy neighborhood in Madrid, and my iPod was on a random mix, and it goes to the Gipsy Kings' Spanish version of "hotel california" - the one that plays in Big Lebowski while Jesus dances on the bowling alley... yup! I was like, "Uh, I hope this isn´t a Hotel California experience... "
So while I have a minute, I thought I´d write about a few travel tips for anyone who visits Europe at all - mostly things I wish I knew ahead of time:
- if you can carry it / afford it, a laptop is great because you can use the internet when sitting on a train for hours, or waiting in airports, and you never have to deal with annoying foreign keyboards, plus obviously a secure server, your own preferences, etc... second best option is to stay with friends who have free internet!
- try to carry 1 Euro coins (and small bills) because so many things like lockers and vending machines and laundry only take that 1 Euro coin.
- pharmacies are freakin´expensive compared to those in "the states", so buy vitamins, cold medicine, sunscreen at home.
- your ipod is your best friend, your watch is your other best friend, be sure to wear both everyday. a rolling bag is also your best friend, even on bumpy streets, i am so glad i didn´t bring a "real" backpack like the hard-core hostellers.
- you don´t really HAVE to learn languages if you ask in English very slowly and very politely, but saying "thank you" or "please" in the language really really helps plus I do like to learn the language, personally. but I´ve been surprised at how genuinely helpful people are if you just smile and ask nicely.
Before I forget, thanks to Kara for suggesting I write a blog on this trip, it is way easier to stay in touch with everyone and maybe when I get back, people will say "wow, I loved reading about Barcelona" instead of like, "So, where did you go in Europe?" which is a hard one to answer in 5 minutes or less.