Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

6/6/10: Madrid, Spain

Back in November after the original “Homeless Kevin” post appeared on the blog, I received tons of fan mail. Most messages were simple one-liners (“You are awesome,” “I want to be you,” “I want to have your babies” – you know, that kind of thing), but one stood out. It was from an old man named Bruce, and for some reason it stuck with me:

“Kevin, excellent post. It reminds me of one of my very first movies, Die Hard. Original, powerful, action-packed. Your post will probably inspire generations of blogs to come, just like my movie did. My advice: ride the coattails of this post someday by giving your readers a sequel. Regardless of how much time you put into it, it will make a lot of money. Look at me now. – Bruce W.”

Bruce, I didn’t forget about you. Millions of fans, here’s your sequel.

I woke up this morning expecting a full day of sightseeing with my lovely wife, but lo and behold she was not feeling well. Maybe it had something to do with the ridiculously-large sandwich we had two nights ago.

We were scheduled to check out of our hostel by noon, but unfortunately Zhou was in no mood to do so. We reluctantly paid for another full night that we wouldn’t use, that way Zhou could spend the day sleeping in a comfortable bed. Me though? I still had a schedule to keep. It was, after all, our last day in Madrid, and the sights weren’t going to see themselves.

My plan was to go enjoy the hustle and bustle of the famous El Rastro Sunday flea market located on the south side of town. It being a flea market and me being a scrooge who doesn’t buy crap, I had no plans on actually shopping. Then the voice of a dying woman croaked from the bed, “Kevin, will you please buy one thing and bring it back for me? And win one for the gipper…” And with that, Zhou fell back asleep.

Probably dreaming of better things, like Haribo.

What was I to do? I had to go get something. I headed out the door, confident in my abilities. First, I passed Plaza Mayor, where they were selling lots of stuff that boring people collect, like coins and other boring stuff that I’m too cool for. No way was I going to buy before I even got to the actual flea market.

I then passed a polar bear.

And arrived at El Rastro. Wait! A polar bear?! What in the world was that doing there? I felt like I was on the set of LOST (and on that topic, nobody better mention anything about season 6 unless you want me to hurt you). Oh well, moving on. Upon setting foot at the outskirts of the market, claustrophobia began to kick in. It was so crowded!

But I had to brave the conditions and bring something back to my wife. I pushed forward.

What to buy though? Everything around me was crap. I could buy some cheap knock-off Asian fans.

No, Zhou is Asian – she’d know they weren’t real. What about paintings? We’ve been collecting paintings ever since Africa. Good idea, me! I headed to the street with the paintings.

Ooh, no good here either. They were all either too expensive or too ugly. Maybe some gas masks. Zhou might appreciate those – I’ve been having stomach issues lately.

Too much information? Sorry. Didn’t end up buying one anyway. I ended up walking past everything one could possibly imagine, except things people would actually want to buy. Before I knew it, I had done two full passes of the main street, and was still empty-handed. I thought I’d just have to trick her by buying something on the way back to the hostel. What is that lovely tune? I heard an interesting trio of street musicians playing in the distance, and immediately thought I could purchase one of their CDs for cheap. I rushed to the noise and – nuts! – some lady had just bought the last one. You can tell because her butt is in my picture.

I sullenly walked back through Plaza Mayor, but still managed to smile in front of the famous statue in the center of the square.

I hung my head in shame all the way to the hostel door. As I looked up to put in the key, something beautiful appeared just a block away. Gold shone above a building like a light from heaven – the perfect thing to bring back! I ran into the shop, waited in the long line and a few minutes later I had it. Zhou was going to love me!

A nine piece chicken McNuggets combo with an additional cheeseburger. My lunch from McDonald’s! I ran upstairs, glowing, and awoke Zhou as I barged in the door. “Want some McNuggets?” She coughed, sneezed, then took a look at me. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Oh well… At least I tried.

Picture of the Day: The giant moves his light post toward the lower left corner of the Tic-Tac-Toe board. “X!”


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6/4/10: Madrid, Spain

[Editor’s note: Whoa! Sorry for the faux pas yesterday – not really sure what happened (oh wait, yes I am – I screwed up and accidentally scheduled two blogs to post today and none yesterday). Yesterday’s post, Kevin and Zhou Go to the Museums, is now available for your reading pleasure. Think of today as a lucky Two for Tuesday!]

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that not once during this trip have I been jet-lagged. I’m pretty impressed by myself and proud of me all at the same time. (Come to think of it, I’m always impressed with myself. Have you seen my beard lately?) After all, we have now done four flights where we changed at least five time zones, and by my count we’ve changed 46.5 time zones in total (the half coming from our trip to Nepal).

These past few days in Spain though, we sure have been sleeping a lot. The staff at our hostel cleans the rooms until 1pm each day, and only once have we been out in time for the to change our towels and make our bed. (Side note: most hostels we stay at don’t have towels, or a cleaning crew, it seems. Here at Hostel Patria we got lucky and found a cheap, clean private room smack in the middle of town. However, with the good comes the bad – this hostel has no place to hang out and meet people, and there’s no one to tell us the good places to visit or eat at. We’ve pretty much been doing Madrid on our own.)

Back to the sleeping introduction: we sleep a lot. We bought cereal from the grocery store on our first day, but haven’t needed to eat it yet. We wake up, get showered, and it’s time for a 2 or 3pm lunch (right on schedule with most other Madroids). Today was no different. We slogged out of bed and were hit the face by the bright sun as we left the building (one contributing factor to sleeping late: our room has no windows). We bought a picnic lunch at the grocery store and headed to Retiro Park (similar to New York’s Central Park), where, guess what? Zhou took a nap.

The other thing that we do here is eat. I talked about the terrible service at many restaurants here yesterday, but I have another food-related rant to share with everyone. This one is regarding food prices.

Dinner bills here remind me of airline tickets and all their hidden fees. A flight itself may only cost $35, but with taxes, baggage, bathroom usage, departure fees, etc. you might end up paying $135. The same goes for Madrid dinners. For example, you may order something as simple as paella and a Coke. A sample bill for this meal may look something like this:

Paella: €7.69
Coke: €2.20
Bread: €1.20
15% terrace fee: €1.66
17% IVT: €1.89
10% random fee (not tip, apparently): €1.11
Total bill: €15.75

You knew from the menu that the paella would be €9 including IVT, plus there’s that mysterious Coke price, but you didn’t even order bread! Why’d they bring it to you? And who could possibly get away with charging so much just to eat on the terrace? Spanish restaurants, that’s who. And despite the fee, the terrace is always packed. People eat up the outdoors here (not literally). By the time you leave and pay a small tip (the tip is assuming you don’t have the waiters I described two days ago), you’re out over €17 on a €9 meal. Even though the dollar is killing the Euro right now, this is still hard to get used to.

Pictures of the Day: Zhou made a daisy necklace just for me! Then she took it for herself.

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6/5/10: Madrid, Spain

I love the idea of going to museums. I love the idea of going to museums almost as much as I love the idea of going to the beach – and boy, do I love the idea of going to the beach. The sand, the sun, the waves! Then you actually get to the beach – and the sand is so itchy, the sun is too hot, and the waves seem to exist solely for the purpose of smashing your face in and forcing as much saltwater down your throat as possible. What’s the moral of the story? Museums: they’re just like the beach. When you think about it, you think – the culture, the highbrow-ness, the art! Then you actually get to the museum. You’re constantly lost in a section where all the paintings are self-portraits of old, bearded men, it’s more crowded than the Jersey shore, you don’t understand any of the paintings and you really don’t understand any of the sculptures.

Yesterday we went to the Prado. We got there at 6pm (otherwise known as free entrance time), which was exactly the time everyone else got there, which means we had to stand in a really really long line. Luckily, the line moved pretty quickly.

Boning up on my art history facts while waiting in line at the Prado.

It’s hard to appreciate an art museum when you don’t know anything about the art, so I picked out three paintings I remembered from my high school Art History class (Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya’s The Third of May 1808 and Velazquez’s Las Meninas) and saved the information from Wikipedia onto my iPod so I could tell Kevin all about them. I don’t think it was a success.

Today, we went to the Reina Sofia. If the Prado is like the classic and stately Met, then the Reina Sofia is like the Met’s hip younger sister, the MoMA. Mindful of yesterday’s non-success when I tried to educate the two of us about art, I didn’t do any research for the Sofia.

Waiting in line – again – for free tickets.

To get the full effect of what's happening here, picture me squealing “eeeeeee!” as the glass elevator rises.

The Sofia had works by more modern artists – most notably Spanish greats Picasso and Dali – which were fun to look at because even if you don’t get the art, it’s still pretty visually interesting. Some of the other stuff though, just completely blew my mind. Not in a good way, but in a “This is art?” kind of way. I belong to the school of thought that if I could have done it in ten minutes, then it’s not art. There were a couple of times that I wandered around a room and couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be an exhibit or if it was just a room with a bunch of bookshelves. Does this make me uncultured?

Is this art, or is it for sitting? I

Is this art, or is it for sitting? II

Face to face with a giant spider.

Our favorite piece.

The crown jewel of the Sofia is Picasso’s Guernica, an anti-war piece. (Hahaha, when I first wrote the previous sentence, I wrote “anti-war peace” by accident. Funny.) You can tell it’s the pride and joy of the museum because it’s guarded by two people and the room it’s in is the only place in the museum where you can’t take pictures.

Um, we were technically outside the room when we took this picture.

All in all, I’d have to say that I very much enjoyed our two museum visits. It was free, it was air-conditioned, and now I know what Guernica looks like! How cultured am I?

This chair is definitely art.

But this chair is definitely for sitting.


Picture of the Day: Looks like someone’s been to Easter Island.

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6/1/10 – 6/3/10: Madrid, Spain

I never thought I’d say this, but Spain feels a lot like home. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been in South America for the past three months and after too long in one-of-a-kind countries like Bolivia, just about anything would feel like home. Perhaps it’s because we can once again drink the tap water, order ice in our beverages and throw toilet paper in the toilet. Perhaps it’s symbolic: we just left our vacation with our families, so it’s as if we are moving away to college and then work, just like we did a few years ago in the States.

My gut feeling though is that it’s the people. Madrid is Bizarro America. In Bolivia and Peru, I could usually take one look at someone and decide if they were a local or a tourist. (Keep in mind, I’m generalizing here – I probably didn’t correctly spot 100% of the locals there, but there was usually a common look amongst most local men and women.) Many women, for example, wore very colorful and ornate outfits. It seemed like almost every Bolivian woman had on a bowler hat and carried a brightly-colored blanket full of stuff on her back.

Upon arriving in Madrid though, I was amazed at how – for lack of a better term – not Spanish people looked. The darker skin of South America? Gone. The flamboyant clothing? Gone. Instead I saw thousands of people who looked exactly like people I know. If I weren’t in Madrid, I probably would have gone up to many of them to say hi. Instead, I looked on from my safe distance, whispering to Zhou:

“It’s the guy I worked with at Wachovia!”
“Look, there’s Nick Nolte!”
“Hey, there goes my friend’s girlfriend! What’s she doing with that guy?”
“I’m pretty sure that was my next-door neighbor growing up!”

I didn’t write down a full list, but I’m also positive I saw Roger Ebert, my old boss and two other co-workers, Jon Lovitz, the local weatherman and even Minnie Mouse.

Doesn't she look just like Minnie?

If I had wanted to, I probably could have got a poker game going with just old acquaintances from high school. (Unfortunately I didn’t know how to say “poker” in Spanish.) Although it is a bit weird seeing so many people I know, it’s also kind of nice.

My other subtle, ingenious observation here has been regarding restaurant service. I had heard that waiters in France were rude, but never did I expect the same out of classy, awesome Madrid! Before I make my next comment, let me preface with a short story.

Zhou enjoys eating out at a nice restaurant occasionally, so back when we had jobs I would take her to the Melting Pot every year on our anniversary. For those of you who’ve never been: don’t go. It costs a fortune, but the food is so good that it sucks you into returning again, and again. (Remember, this is coming from a guy whose favorite restaurants are Skyline Chili and BW3.) And to top it all off, we’ve had excellent service every time we’ve gone. One waiter was so good that I tipped over 25% on a $100 meal.

Story’s over. Here in Madrid, for the first and second times that I can remember, I left a restaurant without giving a tip. (Zhou has been leaving me in charge of the money lately.) At one restaurant every single waiter ignored us for about 20 minutes, and when one finally took our order he wouldn’t clear our table of the previous customers’ dinner remains. In fact, he later brought us our dishes and squeezed them into the small gaps between the leftover trash, plates, cigarettes and spilled food. At another restaurant the waitress refused to put anything down in front of us. Instead, she put everything, one-by-one into the far corner (closest to her) of the table behind the salt shakers and olive oil. Only after we reached over and got it for ourselves would she bring another dish. And not once did either of the servers say a word to us. Maybe that’s just how it is here in Europe. It really makes me miss the over-friendly service workers that we encountered throughout South America.

That being said, I really like Madrid.

Full of character.

Colorful gardens.

Magnificent buildings.

Vivid skies.

Real-life statue people making out.

The Royal Palace.

Ornate lampposts.

Picturesque narrow streets.

Historical churches.

Egyptian temples.

Beautiful sunsets.


Puzzles for Postcards

The Truth Behind This Famed Man Anagram

Taunt-Making Hunk

Pictures of the Day: Zhou The Photographer doing a compare and contrast of the Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor.

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6/1/10: Madrid, Spain

Sometimes we go to pretty stupid lengths to save money. Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say Amy had a flight out of Lima two nights ago around 10pm, but our flight out of Lima wasn’t until 12 noon the day after hers. Rather than take Amy to the airport by cab (35 Soles), come back to our hostel by cab (40 Soles), stay at our hostel for the night (54 Soles) and then go to the airport the following morning by cab (35 Soles), we would instead decide to go with Amy to the airport and spend the night there. And accidentally let a cleaner throw away the change from our dinner, which I would accidentally leave on my tray (40 Soles).

Ok, that wasn’t as much a hypothetical situation as it was, um, a real situation. On the one hand, we threw away 40 Soles, had the worst night we’ve ever had in terms of airport sleeping and were forced to eat only fast food for two meals (actually, for Kevin, this wasn’t such a bad thing). On the other hand, we managed to get rid of all or our Soles and hey, we saved almost 90 Soles!

Sigh. Thinking back on it – I don’t think it was worth it. I think if we went back and did it again, I’d insist on spending that night in the hostel. I would spend the extra thirty bucks and get a good night’s sleep and go to the airport feeling refreshed and well-rested. Yes, that’s what I would do. But guess what? Despite this experience, we’ve already decided to spend our last night in Madrid at…the MADRID AIRPORT! What is that word again for when people can’t seem to learn from their mistakes? Oh right, stupidity.

Anyway. The flight from Lima to Madrid was probably the worst flight we’ve had on our trip so far. Between the middle seats and the absence of personal screens and the incessant kicking and screaming (not crying, just plain screaming) of the small child who sat behind me – well, it was a really, really long eleven hours. Considering that our only other experience with Europe on this trip so far was that horrible night we spent at Heathrow airport (another horrible airport night- when will we learn?!) where the following morning I practically threw up on the security conveyer belt, well, Europe really hasn’t treated us very well so far. In my mind, it’s got a lot to make up to us.

We arrived in Madrid early this morning and after we checked into our hotel, we spent the rest of the day just walking around in Madrid. First impression? I LOVE Madrid. I really do. I want to transport it to America and then live in it. It’s funny, because for the last three months, we’ve spent a lot of time avoiding spending time in big cities. We did just a couple of days in Buenos Aires, a couple of days in Santiago and only a few hours in La Paz, and we never felt like we missed out on a lot. A lot of people we met in South America seemed to feel the same way. They often described the large South American cities by saying: “Oh yeah, you don’t need to spend that much time there. It’s just like any European city.” And I would nod sagely and agree. But now that we’re in Madrid, all I can think is – are those people completely crazy? Buenos Aires ≠ Madrid. Not in any way, shape or form. Ok, that’s exaggerating. They’re similar in that they’re both big cities with lots of people. I think that’s where the similarities end. Don’t get me wrong – I liked Buenos Aires just fine, but I LOVE Madrid. I love the huge pedestrian areas, the cafes with their cute outdoor seating, the people walking their Yorkies down the street, the building balconies decorated with potted plants… I just really like the character of it. I know that’s really vague and doesn’t explain anything at all, but that’s all I can say. I love it. I’m really, really glad we’re here.

Picture of the Day: This dress and a cardigan Amy brought me has doubled my outfit count.

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