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Madrid, Spain

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

In Madrid, I learned something about how I travel. When I set off alone, wandering up and down the twisting streets, I was totally (unreasonably, perhaps) okay with it when I realised I was lost and had no idea where I was. I thought about where I’d been and figured it out easily enough, but I didn’t panic. It was eleven at night (late for us Americans, not so much for the Spanish), it was dark, it was crowded, it was loud, it was amazing. I was glad I got lost. I just marvelled it what I saw, what I experienced there. Madrid in the daytime is pretty but kind of boring. Madrid at night is amazing. That’s when the city comes alive. I guess that’s sort of obvious to most people who go there. Two of the three nights we were there, my grandparents tired themselves out doing touristy things like bus tours and seeing the palace all day, and went to bed really early. I guess it’s understandable, if you’re seventy. But, a word of warning for all going to Madrid: Don’t do that!

Madrid is only alive at night. It’s bright and loud and beautiful and crowded. It’s very Spanish. I knew when I went there that, in Spain, people eat dinner at ten or eleven and even adults with families stay out until the early hours of the morning (not like here!), but my grandparents didn’t know so I didn’t really experience it so much (next time, it’ll be different!). I saw people juggling fire, playing various musical instruments, just walking around with their friends. The people! The music! The sound, the lights! It’s so my kind of city, at night. And I’m a night owl.

We drove to Madrid from Calahonda in our rental car. The driving itself was pretty uneventful, but when we finally got to Madrid, we had some difficulties finding the rental place because of unmarked/badly marked streets and weird internet directions. We drove around for ages, finally asked for help, got weird directions then, too, and eventually ended up with myself and my grandmother getting in a cab and giving the driver the address for the place we were staying, while my grandfather followed behind the cab until we eventually did get there and a helpful desk clerk directed us to a train station where we could turn in the rental car. I’m not naive enough to think this is major hardship, but it was interesting! I would have had more fun wandering around Madrid (getting lost is usually fun to me) if it weren’t for my grandfather in the driver’s seat complaining and generally stressing me out.

In Madrid, during the day, we took tours on the red double-decker buses(I think they’re called Madrid Vision, but I could be wrong. If you go, though, you’ll see them around and see their schedules at the regular bus stops, so you should be able to find them). They make stops most major destinations in Madrid, and have tour narration available in lots of different languages, and it’s fairly inexpensive for a tour and transportation. We went to El Retiro, which is a very nice park (which, for some reason, has people dressed up like disney characters). We saw the Royal Palace (not so great, but the view from the outside is nice). We did lots of riding around on the buses, actually. My experience of Madrid wasn’t what one would call amazing until the last night, when we were actually out at night, to experience Madrid. The squares were nice, though. We sat in squares and watched people and I learned to make a tiny, expensive Diet Coke last for hours since there are no free refills in Europe. We shopped at touristy shops. We ate lots of sandwiches (because they’re relatively inexpensive), and I almost always got egg on it when I asked for a cheese and tomato sandwich (sometimes hard boiled, a couple of times fried), and the waiters almost always got my order wrong even though I spoke Spanish (I guess maybe they couldn’t understand my accent).

We also went to the wax museum in Madrid (Museo de Cera). That was…interesting. I was kind of unimpressed with most of it (I guess Madame Tussaud’s would probably be better than this), although I found the displays were organised kind of weirdly (one included Hitler, Mussolini, George Bush, and Tony Blair; next to it was a display with Mother Theresa, Princess Di, and Fidel Castro). Upstairs was incredibly beyond creepy, though. It was the “crime gallery.” Realistic-looking displays of wax figures being subjected to all sorts of torture and dismemberment. Creepy music. Things that jump out at you. I shudder just remembering it. I was very freaked out by that. Very disturbing. And there were small children there! *Shudder*
As I said about London (and as I’ll continue to say), I would love to go back. I had a tiny taste of the city. I can’t wait to really experience more of it. Only I never want to go to that wax museum again.

London, England

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Obviously, my blogs of past travels aren’t really in order, just the order I feel like remembering them in. London was the first stop on the trip (after driving to to the Charlotte airport and flying to Newark), but I don’t know if that first stop actually counts as a stop.

We flew into Gatwick airport (and walked right through customs with no one stopping us. I don’t think we were stopped by customs once the entire trip), got on the Gatwick Express train into London proper, and then pretty much immediately hopped on a train to Birmingham, followed by a taxi to…Well, that’s another blog (I would have liked to stop in Birmingham, but we never did).

After a week in a canal boat wandering around the vicinity of Tamworth (which was amazing, but that’s another story), we went back to London. We had a day and a half to make the most of an amazing city that I really hope to return to one day.

First, we checked into our hotel, which I can’t actually remember the name of, only that it was on a lovely little square a supposed “fifteen-minute walk” from Victoria station (obviously the people who wrote that didn’t count in that we had tons of luggage–that was a big lesson I learned on that trip: how to pack light!). It was quite a bit longer than that, quite tiring after a day of travelling! IThe staff was nice, and the hotel what is to be expected if you want cheap-ish accomodation in the middle of London (about 40 dollars per person, per night, three of us. We were on the third floor (no elevator), and it was my first experience sharing bathrooms, but it was all very clean and nice. There was a window that opened out on to the square. It was quite lovely, really. It was some kind of old house or something, creaky and twisty and turny, but that just made it interesting. There was a coke machine downstairs in the dark, which was kind of funny because, well, it was dark.
That first night, we first went to see the play Fame, for which my grandfather had gotten cheap tickets online. The theater was small and very nice, and I absolutely loved the play. It’s a musical about some kids in a New York high school for the Performing Arts, based on some TV show I’d never heard of. The cast was amazing, the music great, and the story itself quite good. If I find the brochure, I’ll definitely post some more information about that; it was great.

The next day was our only full day in London. It was the Queen’s birthday, so we couldn’t go to Parliament, but we did get to see some of the festivities (although we did not queue up the night before to see the Queen and the parade like some people). We started out in Westminster Abbey (not of my choosing; in fact, I found the place incredibly creepy–dead people in the floor and walls and everywhere. Though it was also interesting. And creepy.), and outside of it ran into an American, twenty-something woman, who was teaching in England, and so was quite helpful.

Then, we took a boat ride down the Thames, from about Parliament to the Tower of London (we didn’t go into that, either), which I highly reccomend. I found London to be a lovely city. After that, we wandered a bit (I found the Underground quite easy to navigate, thankfully. If you go, you’ve got to get the Oyster card, which saved us quite a bit of money on the underground), and, on the advice of the teacher, visited Covent Garden and the market, which actually reminded me quite a bit of my hometown, Asheville. Lots of interesting street performers, and gorgeous (but expensive) crafts being sold. I also found a nice discount bookshop, owned by The Works (which appears to be an English chain of discount bookshops, and I spent a good forty pounds at one in Tamworth–I would have spent more except that my luggage was overweight as it was and I had to leave some books behind. I’m a huge reader! I read a good twenty-five novels on the three week trip, and don’t feel like I missed anything as it was all on trains, at night before bed, etc.), but with a different name that I can’t remember. Something about bannanas. I love discount bookstores; very random, but with good deals! There are some I’ve been to here in the states, too, but sadly none near where I live.
Also in London, we visited Harrod’s, which was certainly an experience. Huge and random and quite interesting. Department of lighter repairs?? The Egytian escalator was cool, too. Also had to restrain myself from buying more books in the Waterstone’s inside Harrod’s. I think that books by English authors should always be read with the English spelling, grammar, etc., but that’s hard to find in the US! And kind of a weird way to think, I guess, but I like it that way. Anyway, Harrod’s was impressive, but I didn’t find it much more impressive than the Corte Ingles department store in Madrid. Corte Ingles is…Well, that’s an experience, too. It is a department store with a supermarket inside. It’s also a chain, and which departments they put in their smaller stores appears to be a pretty random decision, too. I went to one with home furnishings and a supermarket. But, that’s another story.

London impressed me. It’s a city I’d love to spend more time in, as I only got the smallest taste of it, with just a day and a half. It’s also pretty much the only stop on this trip where I did absolutely no solo wandering, which also makes a difference. I kept seeing things I wanted to see more of, but that’s hard travelling with other people! I can’t wait to go back on my own. London is full of contrasts. Old and new, British and also very international, lovely parks and grimy side streets (both of which I love)….I guess that’s true of a lot of big cities, to an extent, but something about London really appealed to me. Perhaps I could put my finger on it better with more time there.

This Blog (And Its Purpose)

Monday, October 8th, 2007
I've been reading a lot on the BootsnAll travel forums (I don't have a lot to contribute as I don't have a huge amount of travelling experience yet), and I stumbled across a thread on good and bad travel ... [Continue reading this entry]

Calahonda, Spain

Monday, October 8th, 2007
This summer, I fell in love with the world. I know, it sounds cliche. I actually got to experience something outside of the Southeast. I hadn't done much of that before, not when I was old enough to really enjoy ... [Continue reading this entry]

How I Plan To Travel

Monday, October 8th, 2007
I am planning on taking a year or two off between high school and college to see the world. The real world, outside of the education system that thinks it is normal to lock thousands of teenagers in a building ... [Continue reading this entry]


Sunday, October 7th, 2007
Hi, everyone! I am a sixteen-year-old who has always wanted to travel, but that desire became way more intense this summer, when I spent a few weeks travelling, mostly in England and Spain (but also visiting Gibraltar, an English protectorate, ... [Continue reading this entry]