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The darkest place I've ever been
Rating: (5.0) (6 Votes)

Madrid, Spain
December 7, 2004

Pros: Magical curtains on the windows
Cons: Madrid is shockingly crowded given the weather

I spent last night in a surprisingly comfortable bed on the train from Lisbon to Madrid. When I got into the cabin, the lights were already off, and I was left with the remaining top bunk (there were four beds in the cabin). Someone turned on a light and I found my way into the bed. Then the light went off – the room was absolutely dark.

There must have been some kind of magical curtains on the windows – when I was in the café car earlier, I could see the lights of the countryside going by, and it wasn’t completely dark outside. But once I was inside that cabin with the lights out, I couldn’t see a single thing – I even tried waving my hand in front of my face, but saw nothing!

If not for the smallness of the bed, I think I would have slept quite well in that pitch-dark room. The rocking of the train was highly conducive to sleeping, but the occasional stops woke me up each time.

We arrived in Madrid around 9:00 in the morning, and I decided that this time I would try finding the hostel without just jumping into a taxi. I used my poor Spanish and eventually found the tourist office and got a map of the metro, as well as a street map. I probably should have asked the woman at the desk to show me the street I needed to get to on the map, but I didn’t think of that until I was on the train. I spent most of the ride studying the map, and I finally found the street I was looking for. I took a guess as to the correct direction when I emerged from the station (there were station exits on both sides of the street, so I didn’t know which way I was facing). Turns out I guessed right, and I was in the hostel just minutes later.

This time I had to reserve a two-bed room, and had to pay for both beds to get a private room. This one is not en suite, so I don’t have my own bathroom, but otherwise it’s okay. I’m on the third floor with a nice little balcony overlooking the street, and the building has one of those old-style elevators inside a cage.

I took a nice long nap this afternoon before setting out to explore. I ended up walking about 12 km – I think that’s a new record, and I did it in just a few hours. Madrid is shockingly crowded given the weather – imagine Manhattan at Christmas time and you’ll get the idea.

While I was in the main square, Puerta del Sol, there was a huge crowd gathered. I try to make it a habit to avoid large crowds when traveling, but the size of this crowd was too big for it to be anything bad. Eventually some guys came out onto a balcony holding up a trophy as everyone cheered, so I guess it was some kind of sports thing.

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I don’t know where I got the idea that Spain would be warm in the winter. When I stepped off the train yesterday, I thought I was going to freeze solid. It warmed a little as the day went on, but tonight it’s downright chilly – probably close to freezing, if not below that.

Since I have no real winter clothes, I made it an early night. I’d read that in Spain people tend to eat dinner around 9:00 or 10:00 at night, and then stay out late afterwards. From the noise on the streets below at 3:00 this morning, I guess it was all true.

Today I spent some time at the Museo de Prado, a very impressive museum right near my hostel. After a few hours, I wandered around looking for something to eat, but since it was only 6:00 (and so nowhere near dinner time), I settled for some pasta at a bar. It’s too chilly for me to be walking around until 10:00 for dinner, so that’ll probably be it for me today. I’ve actually gotten into the habit of just one meal a day, with a light snack in the afternoon, and I’m really not hungry during the day.

Well, it’s an early night tonight – tomorrow I have to get up early and head for the Indian embassy for my travel visa…

09 December 2004

Creepy stuff in Madrid

Just a quick entry – there’s some really creepy stuff about this place:

1. There’s an ad campaign for Xmas with Santa dressed in green and white, instead of red and white. This is about as cheery as that clown in “Poltergeist.”

2. Apparently these people dress up for Xmas, almost like the way we do for Halloween, but not just on the holiday. At night there are people wearing masks and wigs, walking the streets like this is normal behavior.

3. There’s a chain of restaurants called “Museo del Jamon” – literally translated, that means “Museum of Ham.” Every menu I’ve seen has ham in most of the dishes, and it’s even the standard topping on pizzas. They display smoked pigs’ legs, hanging from the hoof, on the wall. I like ham as much as the next guy, but what’s up with that?

4. You probably have to hear this one to really get it – the accent of the locals has a weird, lisping quality. They pronounce certain soft “s” sounds as “th” – for instance, “Gracias” is pronounced “Gra-thi-as.” This may not sound odd at first, but imagine everyone speaking with a bizarre Cindy Brady lisp and you’ll get the idea. When you’re struggling to understand the language, this is both infuriating and hilarious at the same time.

5. There are no ugly people here. Everyone looks like they should be on the WB. At first this might sound like a good thing, but constantly seeing beautiful people can eventually creep you out…