I immediately started wandering, in hopes of finding a decent hostel to stay in. It was easy for me, with no map, to get lost and in my tired state, I began to dislike Madrid immensely. I’ve had more than enough experience to realize that rarely is travel easy, and rarely does everything work out perfectly, as planned. So I gritted my teeth and stopped at a little yogurt cafe which boasted a WIFI sticker on the window and figured out the situation.
Rested and ready to take on Madrid, to give it another chance, I took the metro to the Buen Retiro park. It was early in Madrid, with the noon sun yet to reach its peak, but the park was coming to life. There were tourists from all over the world, vendors setting up shop along the main paths of the park, musicians taking their place, and artists working on their canvases. I stuck my earbuds in my ears and started my traditional European playlist of various musette and local sounds. Strolling the park in perfect weather, with so many interesting people and beautiful architecture was one of the happier and more relaxed times of my trip thus far.
I walked from the park and began losing myself in the city again. I wandered down the Paseo del Prado, leisurely strolling through the mid-street parks and admiring the various statues and monuments that littered seemingly every part of the city. I found myself going aimlessly through the areas between Ronda de Atocha and Calle Gran Via, where I found a brilliant Belgian beer store and a great little tapas restaurant. At the end of this wonderfully artsy and whimsical street, I found myself on my Motion hostel map at the Antón Martín metro station plaza. I turned right and was excited to find the hostel that I had hopes of heading to at some point during my trip in Madrid. My friends over at HostelsClub.com set me up with a two night stay at the infamous Cat's Hostel.
The Cat’s Hostel in Madrid was seriously beautiful inside. The building is one of Spain’s protected historic sites. Once past the reception desk and bar area, you enter into the covered three-story plaza. It’s furnished with an Middle Eastern feel, with original decor walls and a stained glass ceiling. Winding through its hallways and up the stairs leads you to many different rooms. My room was in the newly finished wing of the building, titled the ‘Attic,’ which was a really interesting room. It had vaulted ceilings with old wood beams stretching across. It had beds galore, here and there, some hidden around a couple of corners and others stood straight across lining the separated glass walls facing the three ensuite showers and toilets.
My first night at Cat’s was a huge party night (of course). I was relaxing, fresh from a shower following my wanderings. I sat at a lone table furthest from the bar and a friendly, hyper fellow from Australia stumbled over and took a seat. He had sandy brown hair and a big crooked smile. He talked in a heavy accent, as he was from the Brisbane area. After talking for a bit, we were roped in to play a pair of over eager Serbians in a game of European-style beer pong. James (the Aussie) wasn’t too sure about playing, and had a pretty rough aim, but it was good fun. I’ve had more than enough practice playing the game in my lifetime thus far, so we took down the first three opponents and then it was time for a ‘showdown’ championship game. The Serbians knocked out the two groups of French guys and Canadian women, and were obviously fired up, ready to take us on again. In the championship game, it was James and I versus the two Serbian guys. They started out strong then faltered toward the end. We evened up the game, down to one cup and then they sunk the final cup twice, to end the game – before we had a chance to rebuttal to give ourselves another chance. By this time, a group of 40 or 50 people from all over the world had assembled around us and most were joining in with the intensive celebrations of the victors. I attribute it to the anti-American feeling that is still quite existent in many parts of the world.
#1: I plan to write a piece about this further, but while I’m on the subject, I’d like to say that there’s no better language to speak than English while traveling the world. It’s become sort of the international language to get around with. Even in rural parts of the world, English is more common than any other foreign language – even if most people aren’t quite fluent, they typically know enough for you to get your point across. I say this not to distract those who are working hard to learn other languages of the world, but to reassure others that it’s not impossible to get around in the world, if all you know is English – but it’s super important to learn the basics, even just as a sign of respect.
#2: Even though there’s still a sense of distaste for Americans around the world, I find that most start with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths when they hear the works ‘United States of America,’ but people (or at least EVERYONE I’ve met abroad) are more than willing to give you a chance. They WANT to be proved wrong. No one wants to really hate anyone, especially if it’s because of someone’s government. While I don’t agree with 90% of the things our government does, I’m still an American and try to represent my country as best I can. When traveling abroad and if you’re from a country that gets a bad wrap around the world, then it’s ever more important to travel, as you’re sort of a PR representative of your nation. And the things you do and say, and how you connect with others from around the world speak volumes to those people, which turn into waves that can create a better and more connected and accepting world. I suggest reading Rick Steve’s “Travel as a Political Act” book.
The night went on with Estrella beer flowing all too freely from the bar. James’ eyes began to close to tiny slits and then he randomly disappeared through the crowd of what now grew to over 150 happy revelers – all gearing up for the pub crawl that night. I met a few interesting people from the San Francisco area and from Vancouver, Canada. Some were on holiday from their university’s in Europe. The guy from the San Francisco area was on one year, around the world trek, before he goes back home and continues working on his dad’s internet startup. He seemed too smart for his own good, but he was that awkward conversational-type smart – perhaps too book smart.
In passing, before my new Aussie friend took off (to what I found out later, was his bed – he said he felt as though he had enough and had to stop himself from drinking more), I invited him to join me the next morning, as I was planning to take a train 30-minutes south to Toledo. To my surprise, he was up and ready at 6 AM. He showed no sign of a heavy night drinking, which surprised the hell out of me – I could remember him taking on five liters within a two hour period.
Stepping off the train, we could see the ancient city of Toledo in the distance. We set off walking and eventually found our way into the city via a long bridge. The clouds were grey with peaks of light blue, and even though there was a soft breeze and it looked as though it might rain at any moment, but the weather was kind enough to hold off for us. We strolled around, doing my oh so favorite past-time of wandering aimlessly. The streets were all stone, and narrow, and winding haphazardly. We went from one end of the city to the other. We found a few dangerous paths that wound down the side of the mountains of the city. We found a hiking path at the bottom, which kissed the edges of the river mote that surrounded Toledo. Beautiful scene after gorgeous terrain met our sights. There were remnants of old bridges and ancient stone buildings, and some were set high upon the cliffs above us. We were met by several adventurous souls who climbed the massive cliff sides and other’s were hiking with their dogs. It was one of my favorite hiking trails so far, because of the stories, and remnants that I was able to find – plus the countless mesmerizing views from below the old bridges which looked as though they came straight from a Lord of the Rings movie.
Other travel updates:
Travel update I – Barcelona, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco
Travel update VI – Marseille & Nice, France