Monday, December 19, 2011

Last of Freezing Madrid

Today is our last day in Madrid; we leave early tomorrow heading south. If last night was an indication, I am glad to go. Our hotel takes up one floor of a building. Some couple, presumably not guests, were fighting last night starting at 11:30 pm, but making a marathon of it. By 1:29 am, they had not wound down, no loss of momentum. I wanted to scream out the window, but knew I would be easily identifiable even if I screamed in Spanish. I kept hoping someone else would also be swayed to split their stream of oratories with a splay of curses, but alas no. 

The walls here are as thin as a communion wafer. I can hear other guest clipping their nails. We have our own bathroom, but there is a shared one also which is right next to our room. When someone walks the hall to the bathroom, it sounds like Big Foot has been set loose. All of these diversions are included in the price of the room, explaining why it is such a bargain. If only we had remembered where we stayed last time.

Without an alarm, we finally roused out of bed by 9:30, making us rush to get ready for the "Free" walking tour of the city at 11am. Meeting in the Mayor Market place, there was our soon-to-be guide wearing the name tag "David". His name is Mark, but he explains that the name tag is just one symptom of the problems in this country. Mark aka David is from Dublin, but has lived here for some time on and off. Our English tour will last three hours; it is a large group. David has a booming voice. 

Fast forward to the end of the tour. What did I learn today? Spain has as many problems getting their act together as any other country. The unemployment rate is 43%. It is a nation divided between those who want the monarchy, Catholicism, and traditional values on one side, while the other side wants an end to the monarchy, wants no religious affiliation and embraces liberalism. There was an election recently and today they will choose the new prime minister. We were outside of the parliament as it was happening along with a half dozen reporters and TV crews. Mark gave us a great deal of history too. Like most history it went in one ear, vegetated for 2 minutes and was excreted out the other ear. He was talking and in my mind, I was designing a pick pocket proof shoulder bag. We all have our priorities; my mind was roaming.

During the tour, on a break, he took us to a pub where they sell beer mixed with lemonade and coke mixed with wine. According to Mark, the Spanish are proud of their mixology traditions and these drinks originated here. We had the beer; had it been a hot day, it would have been very refreshing. We also passed a chocolateria where they serve hot thick chocolate and churros to be dipped in it. This was on our 'return to' list. 

The three hours went surprising fast. At the end, of course, you give a tip. It was sad to see those who have him 1 or 2 Euros, but had spent much more in the pub during the break. We bought our tickets for the Tapas Tour at 6pm. Mark would be leading this one too. First we had plans on going back to the hotel for a nap to try to catch up on the lost sleep from last night. Not in the cards. The bathroom at the end of the hall was being repaired; construction went on past the time we left for tapas.

The tapas tour was great. After learning that the law was if you served alcohol, you had to serve some food with it. Hence, tapas were born. We went to 3 bars, had our choice of beer or sangria at each and one tapa at each. We had choices to buy more as we wanted. Mark stopped at various points to give social, cultural, or gastronomic information. He is quite knowledgeable having earned his degree in Spanish history. One thing worth mentioning is that during the Spanish Inquisition, you had to be Catholic or given three choices. Convert, leave or be killed. Those Jews or Muslims who chose to convert had to prove they did not convert just for convenience, so pork became the main meat of the country. It still is and ham shops are as abundant as bars. As Mark pointed out, this is a nation of pork eaters. It is rare to find beef on the menu and poultry is also a rarity. Vegetarianism is almost impossible as we discovered for those on our tour who did not eat meat. Even in the markets, vegetables were not overtly in evidence. There were some fruits, but pork was the dominating theme. 

Tomorrow morning we fly from here to Miami to Guatemala. I am just hoping it is warm. It has been beyond cold here today.  

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