One of my greatest inspirations for travel has been E.M.Forster's Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine of a Room with a View. The book and the movie have always been a source of inspiration while travelling - ever reminding me that there are always other ways to travel. My Lucy fantasy also makes me pack a thin, white cotton nighty to wear around my hotel room, lets me let my hair blow in the wind, try everthing new and different I can get my hands on and attempt to see things in the light of truth, beauty and love, as George Emerson would have it (another character in the book - Lucy's paramour and catalyst for change).
So when things get challenging, I have to ask myself, "W.W.L.D." What would Lucy do?"
Things got a little challenging yesterday, which was to be expected. There are going to be days when things get a little strained. After a very early start and saying goodbye to JP at Schipol Airport, it was time to catch the plane to Madrid. The first realisation was that I was saying goodbye to somebody who I don't know when I'll see again. The second realisation is that I'm on my own for ten days. For the last three weeks I've had somebody to eat with, talk to, explore with - and at times, translate and explain stuff - now I'm on my own to do all this.
On arrival after then short flight, it came to my notice that Spain was going to be a slight culture shock for me. First observation. It smells good here. Second observation, everything is in Spanish. I really should have done that CAE course...
My Offspring Spanish isn't going to cut it. (Offspring Spanish, you know, uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinqo, cinqo, ses...) I've picked up all of the Spanish I know from Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. Not a great start, but I know the fundamentals of "two beers, please", hello, goodbye, count to ten, please, thank you and excuse me. That's it. Luckily, the Spanish gestiulate a lot so the conversation is not lost. (Actually, as I speak French, I pick up far more, I just can't talk back - had the same experience in Greece)
Second realisation - I get fractious when hungry. With only a packet of crisps on the plane to fortify me for the day, I tried to navigate the Madrid Metro early afternoon. There was also 15 degree temperature difference between Amsterdam and Madrid. So hot and hungry I went to find my hotel. The Madrid Metro is great. Quick, easy and clean, though rather confusingly signposted in places. Making my way to Placido Domingo, whoops, Santa Domingo station, Barney and I had a reasonable run.
I don't think I've mentioned Barney yet. Barney is my luggage. A very large, purple duffle bag on wheels. It is soft, cumbersome and you want to throw it off a bridge - just like the children's television character. Barney is also very heavy, something to do with me failing to pack light and having to take winter clothes. Lugging a case around the Spanish metro at most stations is fine as there are lifts in place. Santa Domingo station is one of the stations without a lift.
Next mission, find the hotel. The trip advisor website made mention that the hotel was badly signposted. After fifteen minutes of hunting around knowing I was close, I finally asked a shopkeeper who sent me two doors down. Thankfully there was a lift to get me and Barney up the stairs to my small, well decorated but thin walled room. The trip advisor website also made mention that like most Spanish hotels, expect noise - with no carpet and little insulation, expect to hear your neighbours snoring and flushing toilets. When expected, this is fine - I have earplugs and they work well. The room also has the best shower I've encountered in a two star hotel - it's glorious.
So after a shower and a lie down it was out to explore with my metro ticket in my pocket and leaving the guide book and map behind.
This place is wonderful. I've seen nothing yet, but the streets are filled with life. The wide roads, ironwork balconies, lively people, amazing buildings to be explored - this wasn't going to get done on this evening as I only left the hotel at four.
Next mission, something to eat. Madrid allegedly has some of the best food in the world, however, in my over tired and uncommunicative state, the fear set in. What do I want to eat? Where do I want to go? I'm a single woman - where should I go that's good where I wont get stared at?
Another thing about the Spanish. They seem to have their main meal at lunch and only graze for breakfast. Dinner is rarely had before 9 pm. After walking about for an hour I settled on this cafe in a tree filled square. I sat down, ordered a beer, scanned the menu - only to be told, "No Patatas Bravas. Only this side of the menu." Bastard. After a bit of chorizo, I paid the bill and walked on.
Madrid without a map was lovely. I had a great walk around the streets, noticing how things change so quickly from one street to the next. How enclaves of grocers and supermarkets and electrical shops make way for boutiques and banks just around the corner. It's a picturesque place, with the the leaves just turning and the heat taken out of the cobblestones - it must be like an oven in summer. I can't wait to see more today.
Then, as would happen to Lucy, it started to rain. The plan was to find a metro to get me back to the hotel. With no map on me, this proved to take longer than expected, wandering the streets at twilight, leaves being blown about, no umbrella, getting more soaked by the minute, on top of the tired and hungry strop. 45 minutes later a metro station was found. I'd walked farther than I thought, further north and west than the regular tourist traps take you.
After a stop at the corner shop for more fortification, I went back to the hotel for a much needed early night. I think Lucy would do this - fortify yourself with sleep before a busy day of taking in a new place. Now, the next morning, I'm feeling wonderful. The earplugs worked well and the decent night's sleep has made all better again.
I'll start exploring properly today. Firstly, I'm meeting up with Georgie, a friend from book group and her fiance, Thom. They've been on the road for three months and they've stopped by Madrid on their way to Granada. Can't wait to see them, hear about their adventures (and hopefully get a few tips on getting round this fascinating place).
I also can't wait to get into Spain properly. It's fascinated me for years. I've allegedly got some throwback Spanish genes if my hair, eyes and temperament are anything to go by.
Besides, it smells good here. What more do you need?