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Final Days of Fun & Sun in Madrid

After a week in El Barco de Avila, we took the VaughanTown bus back to Madrid for the last few days of our 30/40 World Tour. It was a bittersweet time. On one hand, we were excited to go back home to a life of more than 3 pairs of underwear and the same bed every night. But on the other hand, we were embarking on the last few days of our life of leisure and exploration together. Work? A job? What’s that???

View along Calle Alcalá

The French architecture of Edificio Metrópolis is a focal point along Calle Alcalá near our hotel

Once we got to Madrid, we took the subway to our hotel, but we had no idea the ride would be so exciting. We were joined by a rapper who traveled with his own microphone and speaker to “entertain” us. I think most of the passengers would have paid to make him stop.

Nun outside Retiro Park

Ms. HalfEmpty encounters a nun outside Retiro Park

The pope was about to visit Madrid for World Youth Day, so the city was aflutter in preparation. Workers were erecting stages, screens, speakers, and bleachers in the city. Nuns in habits and volunteers in official t-shirts were a common sight.

During our final few days of touring, we took advantage of the sun and explored outdoor sites in Madrid including Parque del Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Plaza de CibelesPlaza de España, and Parque del Oeste.

Headless Man in Retiro Park

This headless man in Retiro Park was one of the best. We saw various inferior imitations throughout the city.

Remember how we talked about street performers in Barcelona? Madrid seemed to be the Mecca of street performers in comparison. We saw several headless men reading newspapers. The first time was a neat sight, but after we saw the same act all over the city, it wasn’t so novel.  Quite a few of them could have used an outside eye to help them look more realistic.

Petrified Street Performers

These guys held the most awkward positions for long periods of time and really looked like clay until you saw the whites of their eyes. Very impressive!

There were street performers who posed as statues with their entire bodies and clothes painted a single color. Some of these guys were just amazing; they were in impossible positions and completely lifeless. You didn’t know they were real until one guy would show the whites of his eyeballs.

Bubbles in Retiro Park

Kids loved the huge bubbles in Retiro Park

Bubbles were another favorite performance art form. Every park, plaza, and monument had a bubble man or woman. The giant bubbles were certainly a winner with the kids.

Of course, musicians staked out their territory throughout Retiro park, as well. The park is beautiful with green spaces, statues, fountains, and waterways. It was filled with people enjoying picnics and exercisers in hot pursuit of fitness. We even saw an inline skating class.

Lobster & Clam Paella

Lobster & clam paella and sangria — delicious!

After a disappointing paella experience in Barcelona, we knew we had to try again before leaving Spain. This time we got recommendations from our VaughanTown friends who lived in Madrid, and scored with lobster and clam paella.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is filled with people

The next day, we ventured to Puerta del Sol, a huge square filled with tourists. Earlier in the summer, it was an occupied tent city. It seems unimaginable since it was already so crowded with tourists and no tents while we visited.

Chocolatería San Ginés

Ms. HalfEmpty dips a churro in chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés

It is also home to the popular Chocolatería San Ginés where patrons dunk churros in chocolate.  After waiting in line, we purchased our chocolate and attempted to find a place to stand along the crowded bar. Fortunately, Mr. HalfFull and I only ordered one cup of chocolate to split. It was so rich, we didn’t even finish it.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

After getting fueled with chocolate, we headed to Plaza de España.  The main attraction is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; everyone wants their photo with this duo.  But the park is also full of statues of other famous Spaniards like Cervantes.

Egyptian Temple

Egyptian Temple in Parque del Oest

Our final destination of the day was Parque del Oeste where we saw an Egyptian Temple.  I’ve been to Egypt, but didn’t expect to see such a sight in Spain!

Go-kart ran out of gas/electricity

Not a good day for the guy pushing the go-kart that ran out of gas/electricity!

On our way back to the hotel, as we thought about our tired legs, we felt like we were running out of fuel.  But we weren’t the only ones…there was a man pushing a go-kart down the street.

Gin Bar

Massive drinks at Gin Bar.  I know it doesn’t look massive in this photo, but it’s all perspective.  You’ll have to trust me.

On our final night in Madrid, we met the VaughanTown program director for drinks out on the town.  Apparently, she is an avid gin drinker, so we all met at Gin Bar.

XXX Café

For some reason (perhaps the drinks???) Ms. HalfEmpty ended up in sunglasses at XXX Café

The drinks were massive and I only planned on having one, but of course the program director bought another round!  Then she suggested we move to a bar down the street — XXX Café.  Woah!  I certainly didn’t need any more drinks, but when in Spain…

When we arrived at XXX Café, we were the only patrons.  Perhaps it was too early for Spaniard night owls.  We sat in the window and could see a few passers-by check out the scene inside.  The program director informed us that it’s a gay bar, so perhaps we scared all the regulars away!

End of Night

Ms. HalfEmpty collapses on the hotel bed after a night of drinking

By the time we got back to our hotel, I was certainly feeling the effects of the alcohol.  Plus I knew I had a flight back to reality the next morning.  A rough transition lay ahead…

 

 

 

  • Do you start thinking about going back to work toward the end of your trip?
  • Is it better to give money to a performer to satisfy his monetary needs for the day in hopes that he will stop, or does this encourage further “entertainment?”
  • What beautiful or intriguing sites have you seen (or do you hope to see) in Madrid?
  • Is drinking the night before your flight a good way to cap off the trip or a recipe for a painful ending?
Cibeles Palace

Cibeles Palace (now City Hall)

Royal Palace

Royal Palace of Madrid in Plaza de Oriente

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metropolis Building

Metropolis Building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía

Royal Palace

Manicured gardens and statues surround the Royal Palace

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Worst Flight Ever

Thankfully for our livers, all things must come to an end.  After a weekend of partying in Germany, it was time to depart for Spain — the 8th and final country on our 30/40 World Tour.

Everyone has heard of “German efficiency,” but there was none to be found in the airport security line.  The line wasn’t very long, but was so slow!  They were basically taking apart each person’s carry-on bag despite having a perfectly serviceable x-ray machine.  They even examined my empty water bottle and told me I was not allowed to take more than 3 ounces of liquid.  My water bottle was clear plastic and attached on the outside of my bag.  This extra scrutiny seemed ridiculous.  But I assured them that my visibly empty bottle was indeed empty by shaking it for them.

Our flight to Spain was not direct.  It was also one of the only flights we did not book through STA, since they didn’t have any deals.  We couldn’t find any reasonably priced direct flights from Munich to Barcelona, so we used a discount carrier with a one hour layover in Düsseldorf.

Of course, nothing could be that easy.  Remember how we always say you get what you pay for?  This was another case in point.

The flight from Düsseldorf to Barcelona was delayed.  We had done a great job of booking direct flights with week-long layovers in exotic locales.  Our only true airport layover of the 30/40 World Tour was at LAX, but even then we planned a beach outing in Santa Monica.  This time, all we were able to do was hang out in a terminal filled to capacity with people from various delayed flights.  There weren’t any seats; even the nuns were sitting on the floor.  So we headed to the bar to wait.

Once it was finally our boarding time, they packed us into busses en route to the plane.  Finally, we had made it to the plane.  Thank goodness!

Not so fast.  Our journey was not yet over.  It was not yet time to relax.  This flight involved screaming children from all directions.

AirBerlin plane

After escaping the worst flight ever and arriving in Spain, we paused in the terminal to capture photographic evidence of our tormentor

The irony is that we had been on plenty of other flights with children.  Long flights.  Hours and hours of being constricted to a little seat.  But this tiny little 2 hour flight was horrible.

Perhaps I have a special intolerance as a person without children, but it really didn’t seem like the parents were doing anything.  The little girl in front of us was traveling with her German mother and Spanish father.  She was perpetually backward in her seat so that she could stare at us during the flight.  She got increasingly bold and started sticking her arm through the gap between the seats.

This was a nuisance, but not a major problem…until her arm swatted my drink.  Of course, it spilled all over my legs.  So I got to spend the rest of the day with sticky legs and socks.  Just lovely.

To understand just how much I disdain messes and sticky things, I will take you back to kindergarten.  I hated using glue because it could get on my fingers.  Other kids would smear glue all over their hands and wait for it to dry.  I found this appalling.

Back to the flight.  In the US, they would never serve food on a 2 hours flight.  But this was Europe.  They gave us some sort of boxed meal, but all the “fresh” food was inedible.  I think the sandwich was just mayo — gobs and gobs of mayo.  Perhaps there was something else in the sandwich, but it was hidden by the mayo.

We eventually arrived in Barcelona where we had to hurry up and wait for the train.  Despite visiting Dubai, it seemed excruciatingly hot in the train terminal with little air flow.  I expected it to be cooler in the evening as the sun descended.  Perhaps I was just being my half empty self with additional annoyance and stickiness.

We ended up in a train car with a group of boys on vacation.  With a liquor bottle.  They ended up making quick friends with the two girls nearby, and the liquor went back and forth across the train.  Hilarious people watching!

Barcelo Sants elevator lobby

Can you spot Ms. HalfEmpty? She's sitting in the spacey egg chair in the Barcelo Sants hotel elevator lobby.

After an afternoon of travel that seemed like days, we checked into our hotel — conveniently located above the train station.  This hotel had a space theme.  All the hallways were dark until you walked by the sensor and then a group of vertical lights from floor to ceiling adjacent to each door would illuminate.  It was a neat effect and probably saved a good bit of electricity too.

Barcelo Sants room

Outer space portal above our glowing hotel room bed

Our room was elegantly modern with space touches including a captain’s swivel chair.  There were also round portals in the room with pictures of the moon.  Oddly, one of them was above the toilet.

Barcelona taxis

During our 4 days in Barcelona, I spent a lot of time watching the parade of taxis from my hotel room window while waiting for Mr. HalfFull to coif himself. He takes longer than me! It was great people watching to see the drivers smoke and chat. It was like I was spying from space!

We even had multiple sizes of pillows with varying degrees of firmness.  Plus, there was an amazing ergonomic backrest for sitting up in bed, and a perfect bed tray. Our room was so awesome and relaxing that we didn’t leave until 1 PM the next day in search of food.

Maybe the flight wasn’t actually that bad.  I mean it wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse.  Perhaps we had just been spoiled by awesome airlines with hot towels, edible food, and the gift of silence.

  • How do you select flights?  Price?  Schedule?  Number of stops?
  • Describe your worst flight.
  • Does a dislike of glue as a kindergartener make me an old soul?
  • Is it a sin to spend the whole morning of your first day in a new country asleep?  Or is sleep important to help you enjoy it?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Ich bin ein Münchener!

After our 36-hour whirlwind tour of Dubai, we landed in Germany to spend the weekend with my two German cousins and their significant others.  The younger of those cousins, Herr Newlywed, inspired us to visit Mauritius.  He and Frau Newlywed got married there the summer before our 30/40 World Tour.  Mr. HalfFull was so intrigued by the photos that he added it to our trip itinerary.

Herr Newlywed was gracious enough to pick us up from the Munich airport while Frau Newlywed was at a Robbie Williams concert.  I’d actually never heard of Robbie Williams, but apparently he’s quite the heart throb.  So it was especially awesome for Herr Newlywed to chauffeur us while wondering about his new bride and her teenage crush.

In my younger days, I went on vacation with Herr Newlywed.  My first memory of spending time together one-on-one was when his parents took the two of us skiing in Italy.  At the time, I was 13 and Herr Newlywed was 16-years-old.  We were having a great time skiing together until he made me hike up to the highest point of the mountain in ski boots.  He had been skiing his entire life in the Alps, and was an expert skier.  I was not.  When he decided to take the most difficult ungroomed path in unmarked terrain, I opted to find a less challenging route.  I felt sure that he would wait for me at the bottom.

But as we all know, you can’t trust a 16-year-old boy.  He ended up abandoning me for a 16-year-old German girl.  I never found him that ski day.  I was just a little abandoned 13-year-old girl — scared and alone in a foreign country.  I didn’t speak any Italian at the time, and had to make my way back to the hotel on the buses alone.  When I found him again at the hotel,  he had the gall to ask me to go to the ski locker room with him to find that girl’s skis, so he could write down her name to look her up back in Munich.  Ah, young love…

It’s not like I’ve harbored hard feelings all these years.  Okay, it’s exactly like that.  Each time I see him, I take the opportunity to remind him how he abandoned me in Italy.  You know, in a good-natured way.

Alcohol Bottles in 2002

Herr Newlywed and Ms. HalfEmpty out on the town with multiple Bacardi Rigo bottles in 2002. Don't we look young???

My next memory of hanging out one-on-one with Herr Newlywed was when I was in college on a scholarship to dance in Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  During that time, I took a quick break from dancing to visit Herr Newlywed’s parents, my aunt and uncle, in Germany.  One night, Herr Newlywed picked me up to take me out on the town.  At the time, he claimed to be a teetotaler and nonsmoker to his parents.  (This was odd because I’m pretty sure his parents would not have minded.)  I discovered a different reality during our outing.  But to preserve the image he had created, all photographic evidence was staged to look like I was the only one drinking.

Alcohol Bottles in 2002

Herr Newlywed and Ms. HalfEmpty recreate the photo of 2002 in 2011

We recreated that same photograph almost 10 years later on Herr Newlywed’s balcony, with beer instead of Rigo, as we waited for Frau Newlywed to return from the concert.  Even though all the bottles are once again in front of me, please don’t get the wrong idea.  I am not a lush.  There were 3 of us drinking on that balcony.

After Frau Newlywed arrived home raving about Robbie Williams, we all headed to an outdoor bar where a friend was spinning the tunes.  Herr Newlywed’s brother, the Prince of Munich, joined us as well.  The Prince of Munich is one of the most gregarious guys you’ll ever meet.  He knows everyone!

Munich Outdoor Bar

Herr Newlywed with his DJ friend watching the crowd, including the Prince of Munich at the head of the table

Currywurst @ Gartencafe

The Prince of Munich and Ms. HalfEmpty with currywurst at Gartencafe. You can still see my henna tattoo from Dubai, but not the "poop finger."

I’m not a huge fan of German food, but I tried currywurst at Gartencafe.  It wasn’t the wurst, but I can’t say I’d order it again.  It mostly tasted like ketchup to me.  After a short time at Gartencafe, we headed to a dance club.

Bucket of Alcohol

It wouldn't be a Friday night without a bucket filled with Red Bull, vodka, and champagne!

There, my cousins ordered a bucket of alcohol.  More drinking ensued and the Newlyweds hit the dance floor.  By this time I was exhausted.

Remember how we did some cultural immersion training to keep up with the party crowd?  Apparently, we didn’t practice enough.

The next morning, my cousins arrived with their Porsches to pick us up for a drive to the lake.  Mr. HalfFull got the chance of a lifetime when the Prince of Munich offered to let him drive on the autobahn.

Porsche on Autobahn

View of Mr. HalfFull driving the Prince of Munich's Porsche from Herr Newlywed's Porsche

Mr. HalfFull with Porsche

Mr. HalfFull poses with the Porsche he drove on the autobahn. He seems quite pleased with himself.

Apparently, it’s not a free-for-all on the autobahn as we originally thought.  There are actually sections with speed limits.  I learned this while sitting in the passenger seat of Herr Newlywed’s car after he said, “Mr. HalfFull is going to lose his license.”  Um…what?  Shouldn’t someone tell him there is a speed limit here???

Biergarten

Tutzinger Biergarten at Lake Starnberg

Eventually, the Prince of Munich must have clued him in on the rules of the road.  But Mr. HalfFull did get up to 250 kph.

Tutzinger Biergarten

Mr. HalfFull found a helpful German mann to point us to the beer garden

When we reached the Lake Starnberg, we enjoyed one of my favorite consumables — coffee!  It was actually a beer garden.  But since it was still early, and we had already sustained a big night with more to come, coffee was in order.

That evening we were invited to dine on fondue at the home of the Newlyweds.  It was a beautiful spread and so much food!  I only lost a few pieces in the fondue pot.

After dinner, we headed out to a VIP party.  The Prince of Munich had warned us that it would be a dressy affair.  But our duffels didn’t really contain many options.

VIP Party

Ms. HalfEmpty chats with the Newlyweds, the Prince of Munich, and his Princess over drinks

Even though Mr. HalfFull has never met my German uncle, they now have a special connection.  We were staying at my aunt and uncle’s house while they were celebrating my aunt’s birthday in Italy.  I’m sure they would not have minded if we borrowed their stuff, so we took a look in the closet.  As it turns out, my uncle and Mr. HalfFull wear the same size shoes!  So Mr. HalfFull borrowed some black leather shoes and a black button down shirt for the party.  I made do with what I had, but felt underdressed.

Dancer on Stilts

No, that's not a super tall woman. I actually think she was on stilts while grooving to the tunes in her long gown.

The party was quite a spectacle with candelabras, party dresses, and women on stilts.  Of course, it was a night of more champagne and more vodka.  Although this time, we mixed the vodka with ginger beer instead of Red Bull — much better for Mr. HalfFull’s blood pressure.  I called it a night early, but my cousins and their ladies partied hard (as was evidenced the next morning).

Urban Garden in Munich

Urban Garden in Munich

The next day, we tried to walk to the subway.  We got quite close, but our directions were slightly off and we never actually made it there.  However, we did stumble upon some lovely gardens.  Since land is so expensive in Munich, most people don’t have yards.  But they still want to cultivate plants and flowers, so they rent nearby plots.  Each plot had a shed or small house and beautiful landscaping where people could spend the day and escape the concrete jungle.

Prince of Munich Grilling

The Prince of Munich grills sausages on his balcony

For our final dinner in Germany, the Prince of Munich invited us to the penthouse apartment he shares with his Princess.  I’m not usually a fan of sausages (I know you can’t say that in Germany!), but the ones grilled for me by the Prince of Munich were delicious.

Sausages

Delicious spread prepared by the Prince of Munich

We had a lovely evening with the Prince of Munich, his Princess, the Newlyweds, and another couple.  Afterward, Mr. HalfFull and I decided to take a stroll through the city on our way back to the suburbs.  We found some beautiful photo locations and enjoyed being tourists.

Even though both of my cousins are older than me, that weekend taught me that I am old beyond my years.  I think I may need to continue my study of the party culture.

  • What secrets did you keep from your parents in your younger days?
  • Were you ever abandoned in a foreign country?
  • Do you like to party?
  • How fast have you driven?
  • Do you feel self-conscious when your attire is more or less dressy than the crowd?
  • Do you feel old beyond your years?
English Garden

Ms. HalfEmpty in the English Garden

Touring Munich

Ms. HalfEmpty on the walk home from the Prince of Munich's home; surprising that he doesn't live in the castle!

Lederhosen

My cousin has a work party every Oktoberfest where everyone wears lederhosen. Since we were out of season for that party, at least we found these guys outside the Hofbräuhaus on our walk home.

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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