0088 Arrival in the Old Continent (Spain 001—revisit)
Madrid Travel Blog› entry 1 of 35 › view all entries
Episode 01: Iberia and Morocco
As my plane lands at Barajas Airport in Madrid, Spain, it slowly sinks in what this trip is all about. Unlike my Southeast Asia saga, this trip isn’t exclusively in Adventure Mode, I’ve come to this part of the world to take care of some work matters. But I’ve got my guitar and my camera with me and I’m determined to switch to Adventure Mode the moment I have the opportunity. I’m optimistic that this new lifestyle that I stumbled upon six months ago is going to stay alive on into the new year.
And I also realize that this isn’t the first time I’ve landed in this airport. My first arrival here was way back in 1996 with a couple of other students.
Madrid was my transit point several times after that, but I never really felt the urge to get out there and explore the city, not even when I spent 11 hours here at the station waiting for the bus. It seems that at that point in my life, I really didn’t understand what it meant to “discover” a place. I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of just walking up and down the streets, soaking in the little details and finding the soul of a city and its people.
So even though this technically is a revisit, it’s really going to feel like I’m discovering this place for the first time.
I hop on the subway wondering what all has changed since 1996. What immediately strikes me was how many Latin Americans there are on the subway--they almost seem to outnumber Spaniards! Later on, when I ask folks about this, people confirm that there's been a huge influx of South Americans in recent years--and for the most part they seem to be adjusting well... Also, there are a lot of Eastern Europeans... It's going to be interesting to see how this all works out in the long run.
I drop off my bag at the bus station and head out to explore the town. This time I decide to make an exception to my rule of not using a map, today I want to go straight to the “cool” stuff and make up for all my missed opportunities to explore the city. Not long after I leave the station, the sense of grandeur of this city starts to sweep over my as the building get more and more elegant. This grandeur that I never saw during my 6 month tour of the USA—except for maybe a few glimpses in Washington DC. I suddenly find myself falling in love with Europe all over again and feel the thirst to explore every single city on this continent.
Facing the train station is a stunning columned palace with enormous statues of angels and winged horses on the top.
It’s beautiful columned monuments around the pool… up to the grand Puerta de Alcalà on which all the main roads of Spain originally converged… then over to Gran Via, boiling with activity and excitement and down the narrow streets through the Barrio del Letras. I feel like I’ve been in an architectural desert for a long time and suddenly find myself in a lush forest of man made beauty. Centuries and centuries of inspiration preserved within a few square miles.
I stop for my favorite European meal: the Turkish doner, which is the staple fast food snack all throughout the continent.
And so night falls on my first day in the Old Continent while in Dream Mode. I feel thoroughly refreshed and even though I’ve travelled quite a bit in this continent already, I’m confident that I’m going to be able to see everything through new eyes now.
And so I slowly make my way back to the bus station where I pull out my old six string in a scruffy little park near the bus station with a couple of down on their luck Bulgarians as an audience. Afterwards they kindly offer to share their carton of cheap wine with me—a thoughtful gesture. I’m looking forward to playing music all over this continent and seeing what might happen.
And so Day 1 of this Tour is over. I hop on the bus to Algeciras, remembering how 14 years ago Moroccans and Spaniards were segregated, put on two different buses to Algeciras. Fortunately this is no longer the case… which seems to me like a hint of positive change.