Tuesday, March 31, 2009

24 Hours in Madrid

After writing 2 film essays, taking a German language final and moving across the city, I headed out on an early flight Thursday morning for 24 hours in Madrid before Thiago and I were to leave for a week in Portugal. As I tried to keep my eyes open on the train ride to the airport, I was thinking how nice Spain was going to be since it was going to be the complete opposite of Berlin in many aspects: warm and sunny plus the cultural. I further decided in my head that if any one culture in Western Europe were to be the complete antithesis of German culture, I would probably pick the Spanish culture to fill this category. Having already seen Barcelona but not yet Madrid, I was fairly confident this was true. However, should there be any doubt left in my mind, a 2 hour flight day (all of French public/private transportation decided to go on strike this day messing up flights throughout Europe) erased any residual doubt. Germans, for the most part, tend to be very much to themselves especially in public places. No one makes eye contact, people talk very quietly amongst small groups, and body language is at a bare minimum. So while sitting/sleeping in the airport waiting for our flight, I awoke to a group of Spaniards sitting in a circle playing the guitar, with the German's just looking at them awkwardly, yet trying to hide the fact that they were actually looking. I just started laughing, and frankly I was pretty excited to be jetting off to a different culture. A change of pace was going to be nice.

Finally I got to Madrid and met Thiago at my hostel for the night. I wasn't able to stay with him at his homestay - in Spanish culture it is apparently not common to invite guests into the home until you have known them for a least a full year. Instead, they meet at public places such as parks, bars, and restaurants. The Stanford in Madrid program is very different from our Berlin program in many ways, one of which is that the students in Madrid eat lunch and dinner with their host families every day. So, upon meeting Thiago, he immediately had to leave for lunch which was completely fine with me as I wanted to go do sightseeing stuff that he had undoubtedly already done. Walking around the city was extremely nice, for the most part because it was 72 degrees and I saw the sun the entire day! This just does not seem to happen back in Berlin. I walked throughout Sol, an area of the city near my hostel, through plazas and down streets that had what I thought was some pretty cool architecture. During the day, I saw Plaza Mayor, Plaza Espana, and the Palacio Real. The Palacio Real was incredible, wish I could have gone inside, and had a nice garden/park area at the base of the palace in which hundreds of people were lounging and soaking up a few rays. After spending a couple hours roaming the city, I met up with Thiago in Retiro Park, the only thing I told him I had to see while I was in Madrid. The park is incredible and extremely massive, likely comparable to Central or Golden Gate Park. While I have been to the latter of those two but not Central Park, Retiro Park is definitely my favorite park I have seen. There were thousands upon thousands of people in the park, an enormous lake, plenty of green space, and paths lined with flowers, street vendors and artists. We spent probably an entire 3 hours in the park, just laying around, messing around with a mini soccer ball, and also running into at least 7 or 8 other people from the Madrid program. The nice thing about Spanish culture is that it is so laid back: the people walk slower, eat at 2 and 10, use the parks on their lunch breaks, and are generally not concerned so much with time. It was perfect just to lay around in the sun for the day as the sun is the thing I have missed the most while being in Berlin (after my family of course!).

After spending some time hanging out with Thiago, he eventually had to go back to have dinner with his host family, so I went and hung out at my hostel for a few hours before going out that night. One thing I noticed in Madrid during the day, or maybe I should say one thing that was impossible not to notice, was that Madrid has the most beautiful women you have ever seen in your life. And I'm honestly not exaggerating. At least 1 of every 2 women you see is not just good looking but is absolutely gorgeous. If you follow soccer, I can now see why Cristiano Ronaldo said he would consider a move to Real Madrid just for the women. Anyway, I don't know how this many attractive people ended up all in one place, but I can understand why Thiago enjoys Madrid so much. After Thiago had finished his dinner with his host family, I met up with him and 3 other girls from the Madrid program that night to go out dancing. As I've noted before, it's been an interesting scene throughout Europe going to a club to dance, usually more so on the negative side of things than the positive. On the whole, I've enjoyed bars much more than clubs, but Madrid definitely made me question this. As I told Thiago, if every night at a dance club were like the night in Madrid, I would be at the club every night. We had a phenomenal time dancing all night with the girls, the club had a great setup and played great music, and overall it was by far my best club experience. The key really to having a good time is to make sure you go with a group of girls, because contrary to the US, you do not meet nor dance with girls you just met in the European clubs. It's just a different scene. So, after getting home from the club and getting 2 hours of sleep before I had to check out of my hostel, Thiago and I headed off on Friday to Portugal for our spring break week. Madrid was an incredible city, and I truly wish I could have spent more time there, but for only having 24 hours, I'd say I definitely made the most of it. Just means that someday I should go back, which is never a bad thing.

As always, photos have been updated.

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