Wine gives great pleasure; and every pleasure is of itself a good. It is a good, unless counterbalanced by evil.
– Samuel Johnson
Many, many years ago, the Elder Wanker regaled me with tales of Spain. From this I developed a mental image of a beautiful country, filled with beautiful people who take their time with most things, but especially meals. The vision of sitting at an outdoor café, enjoying red wine and some tapas in the warm night air, music wafting gently, people chatting happily in Spanish as the night ages into the wee hours of the morning, with the thick smell of an historic city around me, has lingered as one of my dreams for traveling for over a decade.
So it was that I landed in Madrid with lofty expectations. From the plane the countryside is picturesque; rolling hills with winding roads connecting tiny hamlets with red-tile roofs. As Madrid comes into view, I notice a sprawling city with 4 impressive skyscrapers jutting to the sky. To view all this, it seems my dreams are not far from reality.
Once out of the airplane, a little reality creeps in: I’m on my own, with a tenuous grasp of Spanish, in Spain where I hear people speak so rapidly that even fluent Mexicans have trouble understanding sometimes. I have only an address to go by, and it’s another of those strange ones that I’m not sure how to parse:
Calle amour de dios n8 2
The first part (street name) is clear, and the “n8” is likely the apartment number, but what is this extra “2” there? Hopefully it all makes sense to the cab driver.
Once I tell the driver “calle amour de dios” he has enough information, and we take off through the city. The streets we travel are wide, clean and busy. The buildings are a mix of old and newer with some that stately declare their age to be more than 2 centuries old simply by the ornateness of their roofs, windows, doors and walls. Eventually we thread our way through a tiny cobbled street with multi-floor buildings close-in on both sides, barely enough room for a compact car to get through. We come to a large green door with the number “8” on it, and the driver lets me out.
I figure this is building 8, and the “2” in the address is for apartment 2. There is a call button array by the door, so I pay the driver and am ready to meet my new landlord.
Unfortunately, there are a lot more buttons than anticipated. For the number 2, there are actually 4 buttons, each with some words that I have no idea how to interpret (izda, dcha, ctro).
So, nothing for it but to try all of them, which I do. This yields me one reply from a somewhat terse sounding woman, whom I shakily squeak out “Perdon, eres Antonio?” thinking perhaps I misunderstood the name I got from airbnb and it was actually Antionia, instead of Antonio. No such luck; she mutters something that I can only interpret as negative and I’m left again on the street. Luckily, there is an internet café right next door, so I get a station, log onto mail, and see if Antonio has replied to my mail from yesterday asking for more specific directions. He has not. I also find they have public phones at this tiny café, so I try the phone number provided. No answer.
It is, however, a beautiful day. The weather is perfect: about 22 (71F) degrees with light clouds and mostly blue sky. I decide to lug my 400 lbs of backpack around the town to take in the sights while I wait for either inspiration or Antonio to strike.
Now, picture an old European town. Cobbled, winding streets, old, stately houses and buildings, pedestrian-friendly with quaint shops and little cafe’s punctuating every block. Now picture what happens if a city with over 3 million people (more than 6 if you count the surrounding areas) grows up. Potential disaster, no? No. Madrid has weathered the growth amazingly well. The city still feels small and welcoming, even though it spreads in all directions for miles. The streets are just as described above. I find myself lost amid the architecture and winding streets, but once I mark a couple main streets in my memory I feel confident to wander ever wider.
After some hours of this, I check in with the internet café again. Nothing. As I leave again somewhat deflated, I realize that now is the time to get a phone. I’ve heard that phones in Europe are very cheap and you can easily live on a pre-paid plan, no contract required. This is so foreign to my American sensibilities that I distrust it. However, it turns out to be exactly true. For 27 euros and 5 minutes of time I have a phone with it’s own number and 5 euros credit on it to get me started. Fabulous. So now I try Antonio from MY phone.
Success! He answers and I try to explain in my stumbling Spang-lish who I am and where I am. He tells me to meet him at the house in 5 minutes. He turns out to be a man with a broad and quick smile, probably in his early 30’s, and in possession of much better English than my Spanish. he sets me up with a room, keys and internet. all is good with the world again.
Once in my bedroom I realize I’ve been awake for around 24 hours, so I am unable to refuse the call of the bed. However, at 10 I wake, walk to a local tapas restaurant I saw earlier, and my dream from so many years ago is realized: