I arrive to Madrid by bus. After jumping on the metro I meet my work-away host Ana. I’m to help her with work around the house and help her with her english in exchange for a place to stay and meals. It turns out her english is pretty good but she wants help with her accent and pronunciation. She is an actress here in Spain but wants to expand her opportunities into english-speaking roles. We head to her apartment and she shows me around. We decide that the work will start tomorrow. We cook some dinner and two of her friends, Bea and Maria come over. They are both very nice but say they are embarrassed to speak in English because their command of it is not good. They finally warm up to me and speak in English and it’s not bad at all. I assure them of this. And honestly I’m the one that should be embarrassed. I’m in their country and my Spanish is horrible.
It’s Halloween and Bea and Ana do their faces up alá Dia de los Muertes. The three women invite me to go out to the club with them. I decline, saying I don’t have a costume. They say that’s not a problem and, in fact, Maria is not dressing up either. I then counter with “Well, I don’t really dance.” Somehow the three of them convince me to go out. And I’m glad I did. I had a great time in spite of myself. Ana even managed to drag me out on the dance floor for one song. It was some swingy 50’s song the name of which alcohol and time has obliterated the knowledge of. Despite being a dance club, the music here is much better than any other club I’ve been to - Hell, they even play “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones at one point.
The following week I help Ana with work around the house like hanging pictures, cleaning, etc. We take one hour a day to sit down with some english monologues so she can work on pronunciation and accent. Most days are gray, cold and raining. I get out in the city to explore a bit, but not as much as I would like.
Friday the sun comes out and I finally get to see Madrid. I stumble on to Retiro park. Probably on of my favorite places in the city. It’s huge and has a giant lake in the middle of it where people can rent row boats and paddle around. There is a giant statue and marble steps leading down to the water. I take a nap in the sun.
Monday morning I bid farewell to Ana and head towards Granada. On the bus ride I plan on getting some writing done for my blog but I end up sitting next to a gentleman named Tom and strike up a conversation with him. He recently sold his business and is traveling all around. We talk pretty much the entire trip so I don’t get any writing done, but hey, that’s what this trip is about, right? Traveling, living, meeting new people… that has to come before the writing.
I have a wonderful three days in Granada. As soon as I check into the Granada Inn hostel I meet a Canadian, Corrine, who is at the tail end of her three month trip. We talk for a while and she invites me to come out with her and some friends for tapas and to see a Flamenco show. We head up to another hostel where her friend, an Australian named Catherine, is staying. We also meet three others; Chris, Harry and Asa. The six of us grab some tapas and head to the Flamenco show. Afterwards we hit up a shisha bar. We are there until it closes and they practically kick us out.
The next day I walk up to the Alhambra. I heard a lot of people talk about how hard it was to get a ticket and I have low expectations of getting in but I stroll up about 1:45pm and go to the ticket booth. There is no one in line but tickets are still available. I get one for the afternoon slot (2pm to 6pm). That was easy. I have fifteen minutes to kill before they let the afternoon crowd in so I wander around. I end up running into two of the guys from the previous night, Chris and Harry. They have tickets for the afternoon, and their half hour slot to see the Palace is the exact same as mine. Awesome. We end up touring the Alhambra together and I get to know the guys better. I end up shooting a whole series of photos of Chris teaching Harry how to take a selfie with his phone. It’s pretty hilarious.
That evening Corrine and her friend, Honor, invite me out to Tapas at a place called Poë. Not exactly traditional Tapas, because you can actually pick what you want with each drink, but it’s still free with the purchase of a drink. The food seemed much higher end than normal tapas fare. I had three rounds and it only cost me 6 euro. Damn, I love this place.
Later we meet back up with Chris, Harry, Catherine and a guy named Tom. It’s Chris and Harry’s last night in town. We get more tapas and start bar hopping. We end up in some dive bar with a foosball table to end the night.
The next morning I say goodbye to Corrine and Honor. They are heading to Madrid. I grab some churros and chocolate with another American named Oscar who is staying at the hostel. He is on his way out of town today as well. Man, I just got here and everyone else is leaving.
At 4pm I attend a walking tour called the “Cave Tour”. It hikes up through the Albayzín, the old moorish neighborhood, and into the hills where people have dug caves into the side of the mountain and made homes. A lot of people still live there. Mostly off the grid and not part of the system. It’s a strange and wondrous place.
That evening I meet up with Catherine (The only one still in town) and some people she met at her hostel. We do a tapas buffet and then half the group goes to see a flamenco show. Catherine, myself and two other Australians - Joel and Ryan, who are biking through Spain - decide to go out for some drinks and meet up with the rest of them after the show.
We bar hop for a bit and head back to Plaza Nueva to meet up with the others. We are a little late so we can’t find them. We head on and get sucked up into a crowd of people who all seem to be having a good time. They say they’re heading to some bar with 1 euro beers and we should come. So we do. Once there, I order a beer. I get a Budweiser. What the fuck. I don’t even drink this back home. And here’s the kicker: It was 3 euro! Fuck. I’m pissed. I thought the night before was a scam when some guy in the street lured us to a bar with promise of a free shot, 1 euro beer and free foosball. That turned out to be totally legit. This, however, where we were sucked up into a crowd of jovial college students - seemingly spontaneously - was a scam. I’m pissed. I tell Catherine, Ryan and Joel that I’m finishing the beer I have but after that I’m bailing. They all agree.
We later meet up with another girl from Catherine’s hostel at a bar called Goma. We have a few more drinks there. As the bar closes we buy a bottle of wine for the road (which I guess was legal) and head back towards the Makuto hostel (the hostel everyone but me is staying at). Between the four of us we finish the bottle quickly. Once at the front door of the hostel, the other girl suggests we climb to the top of the neighborhood so we can overlook the city. It’s late and everyone is pretty beat, but we all agree.
Man, am I glad we did. The view from up there is amazing. Four AM in the morning and the city below is all lit up and twinkling. It’s gorgeous. Coming from a flat area like Hampton Roads, this kind of vantage point always blows me away. Sitting on top of this stone wall with fellow travelers sharing a brief moment of beauty in time and space. It’s a been a good night.
The next day I wake up with a sore throat, completely out of the blue. Great. I don’t do much at all this day. In the evening I hit up Poë again with an Italian named Francesco, who is volunteering at the hostel.
The next day I’m on a bus to Málaga and I feel pretty crappy: sore throat and a bit of congestion building. Damn. Being sick is bad enough at home - It really sucks on the road.
I arrive at my AirBnB and take a nap. I go out to find some food and have a quick drink. Seems like a cool town but I decide to just go back to my room and go to bed early.
Just as I’m about to go to sleep, Natalia, someone I contacted through couch surfer, sends me a message and says she would like to show me the town but she is only available tonight. Well, damn. I suck it up and go out to meet her and her friend Sergio. Natalia walks us around - Sergio just moved here from Valencia a couple days ago - and points out various points of interest. We bar hop for a bit before climbing a hill to overlook the city. Again another great vantage point that blows me away.
It’s pretty late and my congestion has built to a monstrous force, so much so that I start feeling pressure on one of my ear drums. My hearing is muffled, like there is water in it after swimming. I feel horrible. It was a nice night, but it was just hard to enjoy it.
Saturday I sleep until noon but finally drag myself out of bed to climb the Alcazaba to the Castillo. The next day I sleep a lot once again and in the early evening venture out to the waterfront beach area for a spell. Málaga is beautiful, I’m sure it has a lot more to offer me than I’m taking advantage of right now. Damn this frail human body.
Monday I head back to Madrid and stay at Ana’s place again. The next morning I head to the airport to meet my friend Keith who is flying in from the States to travel with me for three weeks. We take the metro into the city centre and grab some breakfast at this joint I found the first time I was in Madrid - Tapas 44. There you can get a “Desayuno Americano”, the closest I can find to an American breakfast. It includes an egg, bacon (or the Spanish equivalent of it - which is awesome) some fried potatoes kinda like home fries, some bread - not toasted but really good, a coffee and orange juice. And the best part, it’s only 4 euro! (Damn. I’m always talking about price… Do I sound like a tight-ass?)
We venture across town and hang out in Retiro park to kill some time before checking into our hostel. We grab a coffee at a cafe there and a waiter tells us about the rooftop terrace at the Circulo de Belles Artes that’s supposed to have a good view of Madrid. We decide to put that on our to-do list. Later we check into our hostel.
We find a little hole in the wall place called Conspiradores. Amazing little tapas place. We end up going there three time during our stay in Madrid. The next day we go see the normal sites, the Cathedral, the Palacio Real, etc.
The following day we take the Renfé train to Cercedilla, a small village an hour outside of Madrid proper. We hike a trail called the Camino del Agua. It’s a beautiful day. So far most of my trip has consisted of major metropolitan areas, which I love, but every once in a while I need to get out in nature. This was the perfect retreat. By the evening we are back in Madrid and grab some tapas at our new favorite joint.
Soon we are on the road to Granada.