BootsnAll Travel Network

Articles Tagged ‘Spain’

More articles about ‘Spain’
« Home

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.

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 it or understand it. I’d read about far-off places, dreamed about them, but that’s as far as I had gotten. I had visited Vermont, Seattle (and the Washington coast–I don’t remember much, but I did love the beaches there. So gorgeous and drastically different from what we have here), and a few other places before I can remember at all (Toronto and San Francisco and New Hampshire and Texas before I was four, so I don’t actually remember that). I don’t count that as real travel experience, though, because what I remember mostly is whining about the long car ride and staying in a hotel with a swimming pool. Plus, it was all domestic travel (not to discount domestic travel, it’s just way more familiar). This summer, though, my grandparents took me on a three-week trip to England and Spain. We started in England, and moved on to Spain. I’ll blog about England later, but right now I feel like remembering Southern Spain–specifically, the town where we stayed, Calahonda.

We flew from London to Malaga, but we didn’t actually spend any time in Malaga. I helped them navigate the airport in Spanish, and we got our rental car and drove to our hotel in Calahonda (between Marbella and Malaga). It took us a couple of tries to get there, especially because I hadn’t yet adapted to the Andalucian accent (most of the Spanish I hear here is Mexican, and I had a Colombian teacher) and so had some difficulties understanding the people I asked for directions! This was the first of several experiences which make me think that Mapquest is not too reliable when it comes to directions in Spain. We drove around aimlessly quite a lot. I didn’t mind it, but my grandfather has kind of a short temper.

Calahonda isn’t a very big town, and I don’t know that I saw all of it, as most of our time there was spent going on day trips. I saw a lot of British tourists (actually, this applies to a lot of Southern Spain; I guess the English like to go on holiday where there’s lots of sun, as England can be kind of dreary), and the town itself was not particularly special; lots of hotels and resorts, a couple of supermarkets, some bars and restaurants. But I did love the beach.

The woman at the reception desk didn’t give particularly clear directions as to where the public beach was, but I set out on foot to try and find it anyway. I got kind of lost, but eventually ended up at the sea; however, I had to find a gap in a fence at a restricted and deserted beach to get there (I never did find the public beach). I’m glad I did. It was gorgeous; a narow, deserted, rocky beach on the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is so different from the beaches on the Atlantic that I’ve been to, in the Southeast. So gorgeous. I can’t even describe how amazing it was. I am not usually a fan of the beach, but I didn’t want to leave this one. I had to, as my grandparents were waiting for me back at the hotel, but I sure didn’t want to. That was my favorite beach ever (a close second would be the rocky beaches on the Washington coast where I saw bald eagles and sea otters as a child); something about that beauty just makes white sand seem so boring and generic. I could spend days wandering up and down that particular bit of coastline. Except that my grandmother thinks that if I go to a deserted beach I’ll get kidnapped. Now, I close my eyes, I see it, I feel it again, I remember that hike in the hot sun up and down the steep hills not knowing where I was going was so, so worth it.

Calahonda is full of steep hills and twisting streets and people who give directions that are mostly “go up the hill” or “go down the hill” and thus not particularly helpful. It’s also full of drunken British tourists watching football on television all up and down the main street (though that’s not too different from any pub in England I saw, anyway), and African immigrants selling pirated DVDs and designer knockoffs (which I saw a lot of in the whole area of the Costa del Sol). And the only place I could find to access the internet outside of the severely overpriced coin-operated hotel computers was a PC in the back of a little shop selling random junk. Walking away from the street of little tourist shops and restaurants (several Chinese restaurants), down the hill, are the chain supermarkets and the like. Up at the top of the hill is a restaurant called Miel y Nata, which my grandmother loved so much that we ate there four times that week (and, in the same strip, a little convenience store and another restaurant). They very nicely gave us directions and were pretty reasonably-priced, if not amazing food. I would have liked to have gone someplace else, but, well, when travelling with other people I guess you can’t make all the decisions. Lots and lots of tourists in the whole town; there were resorts and hotels everywhere. Still, it was a nice enough town, and I enjoyed wandering down the less touristy, more residential streets.

Down by the resort pool on night, they had a sort of free community theatre production of Mamma Mia. That was interesting, to say the least. The weather was gorgeous, though, so I was glad to be outside. I loved the weather the whole time, actually. Brilliant. Warm, breezy (rather than the humidity at home), just amazing. Anyway, this was a very low-budget production, obviously, and it was also bilingual. Sometimes they spoke Spanish, sometimes they spoke English. The songs were in English, obviously. I am not actually sure they sang them all. I think they were lip-synching a lot, even, oddly, to some of the dialogue. And the costumes were kind of weird. I understood the whole thing, and it was weird for me–it must have been really weird for the people who only understood half of it! It was kind of fun, though. I really enjoyed it, despite (because of?) its weirdness. And the weather, I must restate, was gorgeous! Spain at night was probably one of my favorite things about the whole trip, both because that’s when all the exciting stuff happens, and because it was so cool and breezy and wonderful compared to what it would have been at home!

My main images of Calahonda now are the gorgeous beach, getting lost, lots of Abba songs (they had someone just performing those songs another night, and it drifted in through the window to the room with the weird coin-operated computers) and the steep hills! And the many times that directions said “up the hill” and “down the hill” — even directions from the internet.