Saturday, January 5, 2013

One Day, Four Parts. Spain, Day 8

Cathedral in Toledo
I'm on a bus to Toledo. It's very sunny out, which becomes a strong reminder that I should have brought my sunglasses. You don't really think about them when it's cold, dark and gloomy. Then when the sun comes out, it dawns on you. Get it...? It dawns on you? Nevermind.

This post in written in 4 parts. The references of time may be inconsistent because I wrote it over 3 days. I tried to add more pictures, too. Enjoy! 

PART 1: On My Own

Trying to navigate with my ripped up map.
I decided to go solo today. Yesterday was fun trekking around with the LA homie to Avila but for a lot of reasons I knew it was best to go alone today. For one, it's my last day and I want to make sure I get everything done.

I also needed a chance to be out on my own. I needed to feel the pressure of having to figure things out by myself. Through this trip I've almost completely relied on everyone else to get around. When in a group I hardly ever know where I'm going. I know I can do it, I just haven't had to.

So this morning it was all me. I left the hostel and found my way to Tribunal metro station. I knew where it was but it's different when you don't have other people to help you. To correct you if you steer off course. This time there was nobody. I was balancing without a net.

My 7-day pass had expired so I had to buy a new one. By the time I finished getting to the platform, there was already a train there with doors ready to close and leave.

Doors closing in 5 seconds.

I didn't really have any time to think. I couldn't study the map. I had to decide whether to get on this train and I had about 5 seconds to choose.

Now to understand this moment, you have know that when me and Simón were going through the city the day before, he was the one leading the way. I had told him that I wanted to start knowing where I was and navigating myself around and not depending on other people. He said, "No worry bro, trust me." I said I don't want to trust you. I want to know where I am and where I'm going.  So when we'd make a turn to go upstairs or to the left in the metro station, I'd slow down to read the sign or orient myself. He's say "Come on, man, I know this is the way." He kept telling me. "Just feel it. You know it's the right way."

Navigating the metro maps

So faced with this train open in front of me, I knew I didn't know. I couldn't be sure. Making a gut decision, I jumped on. Wherever it takes me, I'll find my way from there.

It ended up being the wrong one. Or at least not the one that Ruben from reception laid out for me. But it just meant I had to find a different route. This way took more time, had me running up and down stairs, but I was the one in charge at least. Lost, but in charge.

PART 2: Toledo and the last seat back

By the time I boarded the bus to Toledo, all the window seats were taken. I sat next to a girl who looked about my age, but she napped the whole time so we didn't talk. I didn't mind, I dozed on and off too.

In Toledo, I had no route or plan, but I saw a sign that said Maps. Ahead of me in line was that girl, and the map guy explained to us the route to take. When we stepped outside, I just walked up to her and asked, "De donde eres?" She said, "Peru." That changed everything. No way! I've been there! What part? We talked for a bit before I said - Vamos? Shall we go?

Me later with my Peruvian friend

And so off we went. Instant friends. Just like that. We walked around and joked all day. She commented how it was nice to have someone to take pictures of you instead of setting up the timer and running like she did the day before. She spoke Spanish in her normal fast speed and I was able to keep up pretty fantastically. Although she, like many of my Spanish friends, thoroughly enjoyed correcting me and making fun of me when I misspoke.  I can tell pretty quickly that it's going to be a lasting friendship when I see the sheer joy someone has at my expense. I'm happy to provide the entertainment.

We stopped and bought "mazapanes" which are treats of just almonds and sugar. I had to because Sara la Madrileña told me like 3 times I should, and I didn't want to face her without trying them. Then later we stopped for a 2 hour lunch. I ate quail. Cathedrals, walls, beautiful views, a hundred rolling streets and stairs. It was a cute little town.

Remember this was my last day here, and I still had some things I needed to do back in Madrid, like go see the Prado. My trip could be considered a complete fail if I didn't get to any museums. I HAD to get that done. The long lunch had put us behind schedule, and la Peruana was going at a leisurely pace. I was looking at the time and remembering the traffic jam that delayed our return to Madrid the day before. I was starting to freak out. It was a 45 min bus ride back and the Prado closed at 8. 

At 5:30 all we needed to do was finish the route circling through the town without stopping, and then head back. It seemed to take forever. At one point we went up 6 flights of stairs in elevation. I thought, this is NOT taking us closer to the bus station. 

In Toledo

At about 5:45 we were actually done with the route and heading to the buses. The roads were winding. If you traced our path it might have looked something like when Billy from Family Circus goes and gets the mail.

At about 5:53 we were running. It wouldn't have been the end of the world if we missed the bus, but we didn't want to find out. (We got off easy 2 weeks ago with the end of the world- let's not push our luck, eh?).

We finally got to the bus station. She had her ticket; I still needed one. After buying mine, I bolted downstairs to the bus. She was ahead of me and got to the bus line first. I could see her and a lady behind her. The bus driver took my friend's ticket, and said to the lady, "Sorry it's full" and points to another bus. "You have to wait for the next one."  Then he waved me on. My friend had told him I was coming, so I got the very last seat.

We plopped down out of breath, overheated, and laughing at the whole thing. I couldn't believe we had made it. Another 5 seconds or one more wrong turn would have had us on another bus.

I don't even know what to do with those moments.  I think, what's my takeaway for a day like this? Is it that I might not be so lucky next time, so I should plan out my day better and leave earlier? Is it that everything works out for a reason? Is it that God's looking after me and sent a guardian angel to stop the bus?

In the end I don't know if there's any lesson to learn. I think it's just a moment to enjoy. To feel a little bewilderment at how life rolls out, and know that this is one to savor a little bit and smile. It doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to. I was just happy and relieved to be on the bus, headed back to Madrid. 


PART 3: The Prado and Guernica

NOT the famous painter. (Credit: Google images)
We ended up making it to the Prado and saw works of famous Spanish painters Velázquez and Goya. Rembrandt. Durer and da Vinci. Rafael (can't lie I was pretty excited to see work by the namesake of a Ninja Turtle).  

I don't know what to do with seeing that art. There are so many works. There's so much history spanning hundreds of years. There are different styles and interpretations. It's overwhelming. And many are enormous. How do you transport them? Museums have to be huge just to fit the paintings in them. Owning famous art is a sign of wealth partly because you need to own a big enough house and doors to contain them. And, @nathansaxton, how do you frame them or decide how to?

We had a solid hour-plus there, which was enough to appreciate and check off the list.

The famous Prado Museum

But I wasn't done yet. One of my favorite paintings is by Picasso: Guernica. It conveys the horrors of the Civil War in the 1930s.

Here's an excerpt from the book I'm reading about Spain,

Reina Sofia entrance
"At that point, Nationalist leadership decided that the people must be terrorized into surrender. At their request, on Monday April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion bombed the ancient Basque city of Guernica from the air. Monday happened to be market day and the town was full of people from the surrounding countryside. Those who survived the three-hour bombing were then machine-gunned by the German fighter planes...It was the first time in history that bombers had annihilated a civilian target."

As terrible and morbid as the subject is, it's undoubtedly significant. I always loved that painting. In general, I don't connect with a lot of art. I appreciate the talent and vision it takes to do it, but most pieces don't speak to me. I think I saw Guernica in high school or in my Spanish classes in college, but all I know is I loved it since I first saw it. 
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (credit: Google images)

Well the original Guernica is in Madrid. Only it's not at the Prado like I thought. I still had to go the the Reina Sophia museum if I wanted to see it in person.

The Prado closed at 8 and the Reina Sophia at 9. By the time we got to Reina Sophia, it was 8:30 which is when the last entrances are allowed. Again, made it in the nick of time. She had already been there and it was getting late, so that's when I said adios to my new Peruvian friend.

I headed upstairs straight to the Picassos. Gosh I love his stuff.

Finally I turned around and saw it. It was larger than life. I somehow knew it was big, but it's even bigger than that. And so I just stood there, gazing in wonder, dwarfed in the shadow of this image. 

Apparently it's a big deal. Lots of people come just to see this painting. I have no way of knowing if they're feeling the same as I am. I feel like I've earned hipster status when it comes to this particular work of art. I liked it because I liked it, not because anyone else did, and before anyone else did. Even though it's all mainstream now I still like it just as much. Anyway, that was the last thing I had to do on my list. I saw it just before it closed. I got to see probably my favorite painting in person. What an incredible day!! 

But it wasn't over yet.

PART 4: A final toast with my Madrileñas

As soon as I exited close to 9 I had to book it over to the city center to meet my Madrileña friends so we could say goodbye one last time. They had agreed to extend our meeting time to 9:30 instead of 9 so
I could see Guernica. It worked out perfectly because I arrived at 9:20. Thanks for being cool with changing the time!

It was a goodbye to remember. We went to a pub and ate food and had drinks. We toasted probably a dozen times. Cheers to the New Years. To keeping our resolutions. To el dia de Los 3 Magos. To practicing English for them and Spanish for me. To me not missing my flight.

We had started exactly a week earlier as virtual friends, yet strangers in real life. And now here we were talking about our dreams and resolutions. Teasing one another and encouraging each other. Tomando and promising to meet as a group again.

After the amazing week I had already, I had just wanted to close out the last two days with some checked off tourist sites. I didn't expect for it to be anything that lived up to the other days. But today was yet another fabulous day. 

At about 2 am I walked back to my hostel for one last time. I couldn't have asked for a better sendoff!

...Stay tuned for one or two more blog posts to wrap up the trip. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Spain, Day 7. Anthony goes to Ávila.

Spain, Day 7.

Today was a bittersweet day. Our party of 6 in room 6 had to go our separate ways. Simón and I were heading off to Ávila, the Barcelona girls back home, and the German girls to north of Spain to go back to university. It's crazy we all met only a few days ago. We took our last picture just one table over from where it all began in the Comedor, the dining room. Till we meet again, amigos!

When you have a "hometown" you've always wanted to visit, there's some pressure for it to be good. There's some hype that now it has to live up to. Ávila was definitely worth the trip. The main sight is the castle walls that surround the city. It was just fun mobbing around the town taking tons of pictures. It's higher in the mountains so it's freezing, but we had work to do. We saw everything we needed to in 4 hrs and then sprinted back to the station in time to catch the next bus. There's still some things I didn't see/try but I foresee more brothers/family coming here, so I can finish seeing the city then. Vale?

When I got back to the hostel on my bed there were all these little ripped up pieces of paper. I had no idea what they were. As soon as I started reading them I actually yelled out "nooo waaayyyy!" The Barcelona girls had written little quotes to remind me of our whole trip. English and Spanish words we'd been practicing, funny phrases, things we laughed at or said to each other. The fact that they remembered all those things and then wrote them down, that's the kind of crazy thing I like to do. I remember in Peru I left a note for my Brazilian friends when I left our hostel. But to be on the receiving end of that gesture felt really amazing, actually. It sounds silly, but it's true.
It's the kind of fun but meaningful surprise that will make me smile to think about.

Today definitely felt like the trip is winding down. It's changing from being less about chilling with the people and more about the things to do. I just enjoyed myself at first and now I'm ready to take care of business. I'm starting the think about transitioning home. I'm not ready yet but I will be.

The blog this week has turned into a summary of events and some reflections, but there are tons of more posts I want to write but I haven't been able to flesh it all out. I'm thinking about how this blog will work after I get back. I plan to milk this trip for a lot more posts. There's a lot more to say. This isn't a travel blog. It's a thoughts about life blog, and right now my life thoughts are about this traveling experience.

I'm starting to fall asleep. My body is trying to tell me something. "Duerme duerme!"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Last and the First.

Dia 5 and 6

¡Feliz Año!

It's been about 48 hours since the last post. That's a lot to catch up on. I'm doing these together because the two days kind of blended into one.

On the 31st, I woke up feeling pretty crummy, considering I only had a few hours of sleep because of staying up late planning my trip. My sinus/allergies/cold thingy was pretty bad, and the day was overcast and gloomy and almost bitter cold. I'm not complaining as much as setting the scene, creating a little drama, ya know.

We went to Retiro Park. It's huge, like Balboa in San Diego or Central Park. Was really beautiful. I can only imagine it in the spring or fall when I suppose I could feel my hands.

Later we went back to the hostel to nap before New Year's. I took an antihistamine and slept like teenager before noon on a Saturday. (Facebook reminds me that "sleep like a baby" doesn't work, because babies don't sleep.) This siesta was probably in the top 3 best decisions of 2012. I woke up feeling like Bradley Cooper in Limitless.

For New Year's here the big thing to do is go to Madrid's main square Sol (it's like Spain's Times Square) which has a big clock and bells, and at the stroke of midnight eat 12 grapes, one for each of the strokes. The grapes have seeds so it's kind of challenging. The other challenge? You can't hear the bells, and there's no countdown that everyone can hear. By 12:03 I think most people called it safe to be the New Year and started shoving grapes into their mouths.

But I'm not there yet. After I woke up feeling like Bradley Cooper, the Barcelona girls and the West LA Persian homie (whose main Spanish word he knows is "Simón!") and I went to a Syrian restaurant and hookah lounge. It was about 10:30. Simón and I were the only ones wanting to go to the Sol, so we slammed our food and booked it over there.

I didn't mention that of course it was cold and drizzling. Because I was feeling somewhat like that super human guy in Wanted who can shoot wings off of flies, this only excited me more for the night. I mean of course it has to be raining and cold and slippery when you spend New Years in Madrid. Movie sets pay lots of money to set up that kid of ambience. It was awesome.

We met some Americans while pushing our way through the crowd because they recognized some English swear words homeboy was saying. We spent midnight with them and ate our grapes. Madrid's Sol plaza is the one they show on TV. So if you saw any pictures of a clock in Spain at midnight on your TV or online, then I was there at that place. If you look closely in the reflection maybe you can see me standing there in the crowd, with a bunch of grapes stuffed in my mouth.

After that we followed the Americans to an Irish bar the Dubliner. We were one of the first ones there and they were playing good music. It got packed after a little while and we were dancing and hanging out. Or at least I was dancing.

Soon afterward I had to leave because I was supposed to meet up with the Barcelonas at 1 am. Simón was having a good time so we parted ways and I headed to find the girls. We met up at a cafe and there we waited for my Madrid friend Sara who had spent midnight with her family. I actually didn't think she would come out, but I'm glad she did.

We found a bar and got bebidas and danced. There we danced swing, the twist, all the single ladies, and finally got to do some salsa. Oh and a conga line! cant forget that. It was a good mix and good time.

Next we left to look for a new place and ended up at a Funk and Soul lounge named Mader Faker (*ahem*), which had, well, 60s soul and funk music. Not the type of scene I would have guessed I'd be at. It was a small place and we had a blast. The four of us danced and joked around for the next few hours, taking pictures and meeting other people from Ireland, Holland, Scotland, and other places. Very simple, but when you're with awesome people you don't need much.

At 6 or so I suggested we find another place, so we left. To decide our next move, the girls were feeling tired, the Churros were too far away, lots of places were closed. The night was ending. I was still feeling probably something like Spider-Man in that moment when he first discovers how to web-sling himself between the city buildings and lets out that long yell of excitement, so I didn't want to go home yet. We extended it a bit longer by getting some pizza at a place that reminded me of Brooklyn pizza on 4th ave at 2 am, but better quality and pre-made like No Anchovies.

At this point Sara decided to take a taxi home. We said our good nights, and the rest of us headed back to the hostel. We didn't want to wake our roommates with our conversation and laughter so we goofed around with Reuben at the reception downstairs and walked around the halls. Finally at 7 or 7:30 am we went to sleep.

All in all it was an awesome night. Couldn't have asked for a better one. I'm telling you...that nap was amazing. But more amazing? My Spanish friends! (Awww)

Then today the 6 of us roommates all exchanged stories when we got up and eventually got ready and went to Fres Co, a buffet much like Sweet Tomaoes or Soup Plantation.

I had a scary moment at the end of the meal where I almost choked on a nearly frozen dried apricot. It just fell into my throat wrong. I could breathe enough that I didn't feel like I was dying, but at that moment I didn't feel like I was really living either. It was pretty terrible... Like someone was lightly choking me (I know, sounds so pleasant). I ended up being fine after a few hours but there were some moments I wasn't so sure there wouldn't be some lasting pain. By the way, a goal for this year is to learn CPR and get First Aid certified. Call me inspired.

After that the Barcelonas and I went to the circus. It was similar Cirque do soleil. Really incredible show.

So that's how I spent my last and first days of 2012 and 2013.

Tomorrow (now today) I'm going to Ávila, a medieval town that I feel compelled to visit.

Thanks for the continued comments and "likes." I wish I could "like" them
all back! Keep 'em comin'.

Brindamos! *Tchin tchin* a 2013!