Saturday, January 6, 2007

More tales from HERE not THERE

Just for fun I thought I'd post an entry from my travel journal. Other than this blog and sometimes keeping track of my dreams, I only journal when I travel. I don't know why. I've always equated it with school assignments, I suppose. Although I did find myself journaling for a while after my Dad died. Mostly because my friend Erin (who drove me to the airport when my Dad went into the hospital) bought me a journal and told me to write in it. And yes, I do everything Erin tells me to.

19/20 - Dec - 2006 Train from Paris to Madrid
I meet Maiti in my compartment. Originally from Madrid, she now lives in Paris. She speaks Spanish, French, and English ("Not so good," she laughs, embarrassed. Ha! Better than either MY French or Spanish). She says she misses her family and also finds the French to be cold, grumpy, and always complaining. If I could have understood them, I might have known. She prefers the Metro in Madrid as well. "More room and cleaner." She says the French distrust each other, but this could simply be the effects of such a large population. although, checking my Lonely Planet Guide, Madrid's population is greater than Paris'. I would not have guessed.

Ken and I are in separate sleeping compartments because Spain doesn't allow men and women to sleep in the same compartments on the train. I meet him in the train cafe at 21:30. His compartment-mate Louis (from Madrid) is already a 1/2 bottle of wine ahead of us. The car has a festive atmosphere. A half dozen dark young men speak in fast-paced lines, toast each other and laugh. I begin practicing my Spanish. It flows easier from my tongue than French. Una botella media vino tinto, por favor! I have no idea if I put the sentence together properly, but the cashier smiles and hands us a 1/2 bottle of red wine, so at least I'm understood. After wine, Baby and I kiss and separate for the evening.

There's another Spanish girl in our compartment now. She smiles shyly at me in that "I don't speak English" kind of way and I give her the American version of same smile. Maiti talks to us both, switching languages and translating.

I discover I like sleeping compartments on trains. Although my rest is disturbed by strange dreams, I still love everything about it. The cozy room. The little surprise packages of water, towelettes, toothbrushes, soap, and earplugs. Sleeping to the rhythm of the clicks in the tracks. The movement. The sleeping through movement. The feeling of going somewhere while dreaming. Momentum. I find comfort in it. That someone else is driving while I lie and dream. I decide that whenever possible I will travel in a sleeping compartment on a train.

Palacio de Cristal,
Parque de Buen Retiro,

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At 8 am a buzzer goes off somewhere outside of my head. We slowly stir awake and I grin at Maiti across the bunk beds. I get dressed and find bleary-eyed Baby in the breakfast car, Louis having kept him up all night with frequent visits to the bathroom without his room key. Ah, vino!

9:30 and we're in the station, sleepy and dazed, as we adjust to the new language. We book our reservations for the train to Portugal and then find the metro. Maiti was right. It is cleaner and roomier. We emerge smack in the middle of busy old town Madrid. On the corner, a man with no arms begs for money with a small bucket of coins in his teeth. We turn the wrong way down Calle Carretas and end up in a small square. It seems like everyone knows where they are going except us. We most definitely have that lost tourist look. Perdon, I ask a stooped elderly woman, Donde esta Calle de Sevilla? No se, she responds, but tells me there's a police station around the corner and I could ask there.

We forgo the police station, certain our map-reading skills will get us to our hotel, and they eventually do. After approving of our room (two single beds we automatically push together as we have grown used to this in European hotels, a full bath with tub, plenty of storage, a TV, and a small balcony - ole!). After a nap for Ken and a bath soak for me, we're off to explore the city.

I immediately love Madrid. The narrow streets, the beautiful old architecture, the mix of reverence and celebration, the thousands of people in the streets, the bizarre combination of itmes for sale in shops - kitchy plastic flamenco dancers for tourists, sexy sequin clothing, exotic imports from Asia and Africa, polished stone jewely, and of course food! Restaurants, taverns, tapas bars, cafe's, panerias, chocolate shops, queso dealers line the streets. And the funny as hell pork-o-ramas. Jamon! Museo de Jamon! Palais de Jamon! I laugh and ask Baby if we can visit the Palace of Ham! But the display of hanging pigs wards us off.

My favourite, though, is a shop called Buddha y Jesus. An import store full of laughing Buddhas, textiles, and variations on the suffering Christ. For every shop, there's the one consistency. In every display window, no matter what the store (from the pharmacies to leather goods), rests a nativity scene.

Danika enjoys the Madrid night life.

Ken tries a traditional Madrid favourite: chocolate dipped churros!

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