Thursday, October 25, 2007

Madrid 17th September 2007

Well, our first day in Spain is nearly over and we are having a ball !!!! We had a long flight between Taipei and Amsterdam with a stop-over in Bangkok. This was for 1 ½ hrs at 2.30am - just what we didn’t need or want !!! But, we made it through. We were very disappointed with the in-flight entertainment on the longest leg of our trip - there wasn’t any - apart from the one screen at the front of each section of cattle class. They showed three movies over the 16.5 hrs - Marvel (twice), Pirates of the Caribbean (1st movie) and The Wendell Baker Story (which we all started to watch but then gave up after a short while). We ate meals at the most odd times - noodles and pork / fish and spaghetti at midnight, similar again at about 3.30am and then minced pork and fried rice / scrambled eggs in pancakes and a chicken sausage at 7am. Thank goodness they had nice rolls and yoghurt and we could say no to the meals which we didn’t want.

We made the connecting flight but only just ! Landed in Amsterdam on time but then had to walk miles to the transfer counter - got there and the lady told us to wait in the queue with a gazillion other people. Al went to check we were in the right place and she looked at the tickets and said yes. When it got to 9.40 and we were still a way away from the front of the queue I went back to her and said “Are we in the right place if we are supposed to leave at 10am” “Oh no - I’ll issue your boarding passes for you”. Then we had to walk another 15-20 mins to get to the departure gate plus we had to go through customs. We were waiting there and the lady a few people in front of us was with the customs guy for ages before another customs chap came and took her away - the queue went a lot quicker after that.

We ran down to the departure gate and managed to tag onto the last people who hadn’t walked onto the plane yet. Needless to say, we didn’t even have three seats together but as the flight was only 2 ½ hrs, it wasn’t a problem. I think Al slept a fair bit and Kaitlin and I read. Our luggage made it all the way (Kaitlin watched them unloading it while waiting to disembark) so while we were waiting for it at least we were reasonably happy that it had made all the connections with us.

The airport is a little old and they seem to be doing lots of renovations - there was one lone customs chap at the exit - nowhere near the “Goods to declare” sign. When we walked out there were a couple of TV crews waiting to film someone (was everyone so happy / keen to see we had arrived ?????) - there was lots of speculation between us about who they were waiting to film and when we were trying to organise a lift to the hotel, the chap at the desk said it was a soccer team who were coming to play against Real Madrid - if only we could have got tickets !!!!!!

The desk couldn’t organise transport for an hour so we decided to brave the taxi rank and see how successful we were - initially, it was a bit of a mess trying to find where the queue was but then a whole bunch of taxis pulled out, another bunch took their place - stopped in both lanes and Kaitlin managed to find a price for us to get to the hotel (2/3 of the price of the shuttle service) so we had made (saved ??) some money before we even got to the hotel. What a taxi ride - weaving in and out of traffic, taking gaps that nobody should be allowed to take, and driving up the loveliest little cobbled streets - barely wide enough for a car never mind a car, sometimes a scooter or two as well as some pedestrians who were brave enough to step outside of the little barriers that mark the line between road and pavement !! What an experience - they really are up there with taxi drivers from New York and Taiwan !

As we were driving from the airport, we couldn’t help but notice how dry and barren the landscape was - no doubt they don’t get much rain here during this time of the year. It also reminded us a little of Taiwan - lots of high rise buildings with washing hanging out and satellite dishes balanced precariously between balconies.

We arrived at our hotel and paid the taxi driver (20 euros) only for him to open the door and show us a sign (in Spanish) which said to add 5 euros to the price if being collected from the airport - why they don’t just start their meter at 5 euros is anyone’s guess. The room is good - very Ikea style - not much in the way of furniture. Kaitlin is sleeping on the bottom of a double bunk with the top bunk turned into the wall - she has already hit her head on the top bunk and managed to fall out of bed when turning over as there are no night lights of any sort and the room is pitch black when the lights are off - we did leave the curtain open a little but that didn’t really help much.

We decided not to have a lie down (although maybe we should have) and rather go out walking and try to get into the same time zone a little quicker - not many other people had this idea as a lot of shops were closed for siesta time !!!!! We left the hotel at about 2pm and (except for a few trips back for various things - see later) we only got back at about 8pm - 6 hrs of walking and just being amazed by the sights. Well not even the sights - the work that has gone into the buildings is just amazing and the photos that I took really don’t do them justice. I could have just wandered around looking at the buildings all day. Kaitlin found a bag shop (2 mins from the hotel) and we were in there for a while - she is deciding on whether to buy (another !!) bag and will think about it over the next couple of days before we leave. Shoe shops abound as well - her bank balance could be reduced very quickly at this rate !!!!!

We walked to Plaza de Espana and took some photos as the fountains there. Walked up Gran Via to lots of little squares with statues galore. We went to the Sabatini Gardens and Royal Palace but at this stage Kaitlin was getting blisters (from wearing shoes Al and I said weren’t suitable) and she said “I know you are going to say I told you so but could we go back to the hotel to change my shoes !!!” We both laughed and said no problem but in future when we say put runners and socks on - no argument !!!! Just hope the blisters don’t bother her too much until they heal. Having said that, I’m not sure how much walking we will be doing today - when we were walking back from Puerta de Calcala my legs felt a little itchy and I looked down and I had the most amazing rash on both my legs from the knees down. We were going to a chemist to get something for Al’s lip so thought we would ask there at the same time - she said to take an anti-histamine (we had at the hotel) and put on some cream (we bought from her). We went back to Plaza de Espana to a little market we had seen during siesta time (most of the stalls were closed) and then went to a store to get some drinks before heading back to the hotel. We didn’t land up having any supper as after showering none of us felt like going out again so we were all in bed by about 10pm. Thank goodness the beds are really hard as my back was starting to feel it after all that walking.

The room has WIFI in it but unfortunately our WIFI card isn’t working - Al is going to see if he can connect and download something to get it working otherwise I am going to type up our travel diary each night and will just mail it when I get a chance.

I woke up a few times during the night and we were all awake by 6am this morning - it was pitch dark outside so Al tried to get us to go back to sleep - no such luck - Kaitlin and I kept on finding things to make us laugh and so he decided to let us wake up and wish him happy birthday and give him his presents.

While I wouldn’t say we have already had our money’s worth - we certainly have enjoyed the 18 hours we have been in Spain with lots of laughs between the three of us - lots of smart alex bantering - and lots of wonderful memories to share for years to come.

Unfortunately there is no improvement in my legs this morning - if anything they are worse so I think we will go back to the chemist to see what she suggests. While they don’t look very pleasant - the problem is that it feels like I have a band of barbed wire around above my ankles and this causes shooting pains up my legs with each step - not a good start to a holiday which I see as being a walking holiday. But, I am sure that we will find out the problem, it certainly isn’t life threatening - just a little inconvenient.

There are a couple of things we noticed while walking around which haven’t impressed us - all the people who smoke in the streets, restaurants, cars and taxis as well as all the graffiti around the city. The other thing is that there are quite a few beggars around - something we haven’t seen since in Taiwan when we went to visit Alan. There are times when it seems like we are in a Star Wars movie - the pedestrian crossings make a noise like you hear in Star Wars and when there are a couple of pedestrian crossings close together, it can get really annoying !!!!!

On that note, our stomachs are telling us it is time to get moving and find something to eat for breakfast. We are not sure of our plans for today - depends to a certain extent on my legs - possibly a bus tour around Madrid then tomorrow it will be to the Prado Museum, the Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace (we only passed those on our way back to the hotel for Kaitlin to change her shoes yesterday).

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