The Spanish Experience – Madrid

We left Toledo on the morning of Tuesday August 16th to go to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The drive was about an hour and the bus dropped us off in the Southern part of the city: Calle de Anoeta at Instituto Theodoros Angeles.

We were greeted by enthusiastic Lebanese who, at first, made it seem as if the location actually had beds and separate showers. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when they took us to a gym, already filled up with a huge group of Lebanese from Jounieh, but with enough space for us to put our stuff. The ultimate shock? The place only had one electrical outlet to recharge our cameras and phones. And no extensions were allowed.

We left our bags in the gym and went to take the subway to the city center. For many, including me, it was our first subway ride – ever.

The subway station had a glass cube entrance. Pretty cool. We went down electric stairs and we were lucky enough to find the subway train we were supposed to take immediately on the first level. Villaverde Bajo-Cruce. Remember the name. Subway line 3 to Plaza del Sol, Madrid’s center. The subway was exactly as I had expected it to be, based on the many movies and TV shows I had watched. Not too big and, lucky for us, it wasn’t too crowded as well.

There, we were given about thirty minutes after lunch to go and shop. I personally had no intention to buy anything so I just ventured into shops that looked familiar, the first of which was Springfield. There, I was hit with such low prices that my non-shopping-loving-self fell in love. Four shirts and some cool shoes for 39 euros, I say that’s a bargain. If I were to buy the same stuff in Lebanon, my total would have been multiplied easily by five.

From Sol, we kept walking in Madrid’s center to where the World Youth Day opening Mass was supposed to be held. It was too crowded and also too hot. So before attending Mass, outside, and get sunburnt, we decided to visit a interesting-looking Cathedral nearby. Needless to say, the moment we got out and sat in the shadow cast by the Cathedral, no one of us wanted to move. I literally made the Springfield bag, with my newly purchased clothes in it, a pillow and slept throughout Mass and was woken up by some clumsy German girl who mistook my feet for the ground some two hours later.

Soon after the Mass we were supposed to attend but slept through, we went to have dinner. Our mistake? Not going too far away from Madrid’s center when over one million people visited the same restaurants we wanted to eat at. What did we end up eating? Some horrible kebab, which even hunger barely got down my throat. When? Three hours after Mass was over, at 12:30 AM.

Then, running like maniacs, we caught the last subway back to the region we were supposed to sleep in. We got out of the subway station and started walking. The area wasn’t familiar to me. After all, I have a pretty good photographic memory and, despite barely walking through the region a few hours ago, I had a pretty decent mental image of the region. And this was not it. I tried communicating this to the group but they refused to listen. It wasn’t until we reached a Mosque that the group decided to split into smaller groups in order to find Calle de Anoeta. What did I do? I sought my iPhone’s help. And what a blessing it was. Soon enough, the other groups figured I was on the right track and joined me. This was my iPhone’s way of telling everyone who kept telling me I was too obsessed with it to suck it.

Day two in Madrid was much more fun. Our group split in two: one that went to an amusement park and my group which went to sightsee. I figured I’d rather go to an amusement park in a country known for them and sightsee in Madrid, since I might not get the chance to do so. We went and saw Cathedrals, Museums, had lunch in Madrid’s center, visited Parks, saw the Royal Palace…

Day three, however, was so similar to day 2 that I figured I made the wrong decision the day prior. We became one group again and those who went to the amusement park were taken to see the same landmarks we had seen the day before, with the addition of a few extra places. At one of those extra places, there was a queue line to see a golden edifice in some Church. And naturally, some of the Lebanese started to cut through the line. I was furious but couldn’t say anything. A few minutes later, a Brazilian tells me that: “You, Lebanese, are an impolite people” because my “friends” had apparently cut him in. And he was right. The sad thing is? the same people that cut the line were telling me yesterday how great life was in Spain because of all the rules. If you like rules, why don’t you apply them if they exist, right?

Also, day three was when we had direct contact with the anti-World Youth Day protests taking place in Madrid. While walking to Domino’s Pizza to have dinner, we were met with three people dressed in black, wrapped up in chains, with a black and white picture of the Pope and reciting some weird sentences. On our way back, some people started to throw bricks on World Youth Day participants and on cars.

The day wasn’t all too bad, though. I was hugged by an Italian girl in the streets of Madrid and she gave me her country’s flag and signed it. Luisa, where are you?

The following day, we went to visit our French friends in the northern part of the city. And once again, the northern part of a city is much tidier than the southern part we were staying in. I’m beginning to think it’s a common characteristic that applies everywhere. Our friend’s school was located on a street that made my nerdy self really happy: Calle de Ramon Y Cajal 1. For those who don’t know, Ramon Y Cajal is a very important Nobel-prize winning Neuroscientist. And once again, my iPhone came to the rescue and got us there. That’s a second “suck it” to those who thought I was wasting my time being connected. Soon after meeting our French friends, we took the train for the first time. And it was very similar to the subway, except bigger and more comfortable. Also, you kind of appreciate being able to see the scenery as you travel.

As day four drew to a close, we began preparing to the two most tiring days of our whole trip: the last two days of World Youth Day. Location: the airport of Cuatro Vientos. And if you’re interested enough, tomorrow’s post will be about those two days.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I have left from Madrid. Lost almost all of the pictures that were on my phone:

The awkward moment when this makes perfect sense :D