backpacking

¡Madrid!

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(Had this post sitting as a draft. Thought I should go ahead and post it. Written on Monday, March 10th, 2014).
So I have to write this from my iPhone since Internet isn’t as easily accessible in Madrid as it is throughout Ireland–free wifi that is. But oh well, I have time to kill while I wait for my flight.
There is something to be said about traveling alone. I think there’s a bit of a stigma from a young American’s perspective, or at least I get the vibe that there is one. I don’t think that’s the case for other backpackers from Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Flying into Madrid was kind of like passing through the Pearly Gates. I had my face glued against the window as we flew over mountains and circled back to the city. Once inside the airport, it felt like I was going to the beach. The way people dressed was certainly geared for warm weather but there was a kind of touristy air to everyone’s arrival. And yet again, another European country outdoes America in terms of security and passport lines!
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There’s a bit of a constant theme in my posts lately about wanting to get lost. Well I didn’t have to get physically lost in Madrid (though at one point I did circle around one area). The language barrier was enough of a challenge. Though to my surprise, I could understand this Spanish accent well compared to Mexican, or my Venezuelan room mates’s, accents. And un/fortunately, everyone speaks English to some degree. But with the beard and carefully planned outfit, I wouldn’t attract any attention to myself so that on several occasions, I was addressed in Spanish and was able to get away with simple “si” or “no” responses. But then there were other instances where my background in French and Latin actually hindered my pronunciation with generic Romantic rooted words like “chocolate;” I sounded like an idiot at la creperie, ironically, in Spain, with a French accent. Oh well! In many instances, people were understanding and just spoke back in English.
I got into the city by a crowded bus. I was assuming Madrid would be the same size like Dublin and Amsterdam. I don’t know the populations of any of the cities, but Madrid was noticeably larger with high rises and extended city limits. The spotty internet can only take you so far when you’re in a foreign country. In trying to figure out where my hostel was in this astetically pleasing city, I just kind of winged it. A good sense of direction is better than reliance on the internet. So I wandered the streets with a general direction in my mind and eventually found where I was staying.
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The hostel was pretty cool. It had this open roof atrium, a rooftop bar, and a neat lock system that was better than anything I’ve seen so far. (I was so much happier with this than my time in Belfast. And write as I typed this, some survey person was asking me about my trip here in Madrid. “Uh yea overall definitely a 9 or 10 out of 10,” I just told her).
Anyways, I was in a small but nice room. I met some awkward Aussie that came across as though there was a language barrier between us. We went for Indian food at his recommendation. Luckily I was able to find some other people that wanted to more Spanish-esque things later that night. Two guys from LA were backpacking throughout Europe and were spending their last night out in the Spanish fashion. We went for some delicious sandwiches with some sort of toasted cheese ball. The Spanish, regardless of age, go out no earlier than 22:30. So at midnight, this little sandwich place was packed full with 30 year olds. Throughout the weekend I noticed that the lighting in most establishments was quite bright compared to Irish pubs. I thought that related to the pace of nightlife: Irish go out earlier and the pubs close at 2 am. Spaniards start late and go out longer but consume alcohol at a slower rate. That first night, I didn’t drink because Saturday was going to be a busy day. Plus the hostel room mates were catching an early train the next morning.
Saturday was spent in Retiro Park and El Prado Museo. I saw a lot of famous artwork-I get carried away in some of those galleries, particularly the rooms with Romanticism and Naturalism. The prior seemed to be dominated by Spanish painters. I spent somewhere near four hours in there until my feet ached and I had seen ever room.
I was tired and feeling quite lonely while walking through the park. I had no idea Madrid was the new Paris: everyone was kissing, embracing, sitting on each other. All age groups too, which was just  a matter of culture rather than teenage hormones. Tapas was the cure! I wanted to find a good place to experience this cuisine. I parked it at some restaurant where the young bartender gave me some free plate of jamon y queso. I think the Irish came out in me as I drained another beer; the alcohol isn’t the main attraction at what would seem like an equivalent to America’s happy hour. It’s not like more beer meant more tapas as you might find with America and wings. But as I was sitting there, I was able to figure this all out. Europeans  definitely use their smartphones more reservedly than Americans. Like the Irish, Spanish people noticeably enjoy physical companionship in social settings. It’s no surprise that me as the American happen to be sitting alone ad writing this on my smartphone…The smartphone epidemic really doesn’t pervade into cultures that are rooted in such a way, much to my delight.
Saturday night, I had two new roommates who were teaching English in northern Spain. One was a Texan, the other an Irishman. We went for those crepes I mentioned earlier at around midnight. They proceeded to invite me to their friends apartment somewhere outside of the city center. It may sound really wild for me to go out with random people. But if you’re thinking that, you’re coming at it from your biased American perspective. People aren’t dangerous in Europe as they might be back in the States. Backpacking kids in the similar position as I was aren’t some how predisposed to my prejudice that they’re going to pose a threat. Plus, there were more Americans teaching English in Madrid who were at the apartment and locals who were getting degrees in higher education. So I had a blast meeting new faces aside from how crazy you might think I am 😛
The night somehow continued until the sun started to rise at 7:30. My day didn’t start until I was figuring out how to get to a Real Madrid futbol match with one of my new Japanese room mates. I’m glad I got to experience that. Again, probably against the American train of thought, I found it pretty cool to see a sport that is played throughout the world exhibited at the highest level. Cristiano Ronaldo-no idea how much he makes but the fans were about to murder the poor bum that tripped him-scored right in front of me. The fans were wild to no one’s surprise but the coordinate cheers and chants were really cool to listen to; there was only one or two that were repeated but for the most part, it was a symphony that went along with the match. The kid coordinating it all down near the goal was very much the maestro as he waved his hands around as he sang into the microphone. It was all in good taste until a lot of tripping occurred and no calls were made. I know there’s that American view of soccer players as a bunch of pretty boy actors, and there was a degree of that, but this particular game saw I think somewhere near 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, a fight almost break out after some slapped another player, and the security guards number double as a result of it all. It was definitely more entertaining than watching it on TV and though I’m no a huge fan of the sport in America, it was clear that there was a well executed style of play by Real Madrid as they won 3-0. One of those points was scored accidentally by one Levante’s players and good lord, the fans had to let him know he messed up!
(I don’t feel like typing any more since my flight is leaving. Sorry for only two panoramas. Looking to post some more normal photo-posts!)
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Easter Crowds in Prague

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Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven’t found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. 
So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother’s birth place. (I didn’t go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren’t made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says.
The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it’s a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region’s culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they’re touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I’ve preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn’t have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there!
(I don’t have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I’ll post those at some point…)

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