Posts Tagged friends

One Day Layover in Madrid with my “Dog”

We arrived in Madrid early in the morning after our overnight train adventure.  Officially, our hotel check-in was at noon (which is pretty common elsewhere in the world, but is usually 3 PM in the US).  But we were so tired after missing a night of sleep that we hoped they would have a room ready for us when we arrived.

They did!  We enjoyed glorious slumber in a fully reclined position (including our feet) with clean sheets, an abundance of pillows, space to spare, and silence.  Beds are so wonderful after trying to sleep in a full train compartment.

Laundry

On this leg of the 30/40 World Tour, we only had a day in Madrid before joining VaughanTown early the next morning.  The program organizers told us that laundry service would be very expensive at the hotel in Gredos, so laundry was one of our priorities. With 3 pairs of underwear, laundry was a consistent concern on our 10-week trip.

We asked at our hotel in Madrid; they didn’t have weekend laundry service.  We wouldn’t have gotten our clothes back until Monday, but were leaving on Sunday.  So we scoured the internet for local laundromats and wrote down the addresses.

We had 3 laundromats on our list.  Surely, one of them would be open.

Lavanderia in Madrid

Closed lavanderia disappoints Ms. HalfEmpty

The first one no longer existed.  We walked up and down the block, but it was long gone.  The second laundromat was still in existence…yay!  But it was closed for the entire month of August…boo!

Isn’t it amazing that much of Spain takes the entire month off?  Plus, they get siestas when they are working!  I think I need to move.

We still had one final laundromat opportunity.  The third time’s the charm, right?  As we approached the third establishment, it looked open.  Our excitement started to build when we saw people inside!

If you remember our laundry experience in New Caledonia, speaking the native language was rather important in a laundromat.  The same was true in Spain.  Between bumbling our way through Spanish (difficult) and reading the signs on the wall (much easier), we learned that they were getting ready to close and were also closed on Sundays.  So once again we wouldn’t get our laundry back until Monday; by then we’d be long gone.  Super bummer!

So we ended up taking our dirty laundry to VaughanTown and planned to do some sink washing.  Apparently, there are many people who are not able to bring clean laundry to VaughanTown despite the warnings, so there was a special announcement about laundry when we arrived.

Before we were even allowed to check into our rooms, Mr. MC gathered the group in the meeting room to go over a list of rules.  Mr. MC was a young humorous Brit, so don’t think it was a long boring lecture.  There were definitely lots of laughs.

One rule concerned laundry:  we were not allowed to do laundry in the bathtub and turn on the jets.  Hahahaha!  A DIY washing machine with agitator!

I know that rules only exist because it happened before.  So I asked Mr. MC about this afterward, and learned that pair of underwear got clogged in a jet during a past session.  How embarrassing is that?  I wonder if the person reported the broken jets or if the hotel staff found the rogue underwear after check-out.

Lunch

Our short trip in Madrid (this time — we’ll have more for you after the VaughanTown posts, Tracy) wasn’t a total bust.  One of my dear friends from home introduced me to her friends from Kansas City who now live outside Madrid.  Mr. and Mrs. Missionary met us for lunch at El Museo del Jamón.

El Museo del Jamón

Mr. HalfFull with Mr. & Mrs. Missionary at Museo del Jamón

As we learned in Barcelona, Mr. HalfFull is unable to resist hanging legs of meat.  I think they make him feel like a manly hunter.  So how could he resist a restaurant called The MUSEUM of Ham???  A museum where you could eat the exhibits!

He was irrationally excited.  In fact, I think he picked our hotel because of it’s proximity to El Museo del Jamón.  Plus, Mr. & Mrs. Missionary didn’t object, so the location was decided.

I’m not sure if Mr. HalfFull realized El Museo del Jamón wasn’t really a museum or that it was a chain restaurant.  But it was inexpensive and the tapas weren’t bad.

The company was great.  We learned that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary had just come from the protests in Puerta del Sol.  As part of the 15-M Movement (because it began on May 15, 2011), young Spaniards occupied the square to protest high unemployment and the political establishment.  Earlier in the summer, they had erected a tent city like the Occupy movements throughout the world.

Mr. HalfFull and I aren’t religious and we didn’t know that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary were missionaries before we met them.  But we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were not singularly focused proselytizers.  We had great conversations on a range of topics.  I don’t think we discussed religion at all.

¿Cómo se dice “Dog?”

Perros No

Mr. HalfFull pretends to tinkle by the “Perros No” sign

I often call Mr. HalfFull Dog (or Dogg, Dawg, etc.).  I’m quite bad with names, but I don’t think I started calling him that until we were married.  So I doubt it was a name placeholder (like the way my dad calls all 4 of his children “Baby” because he can’t remember our names).  I think Dog was in the media at the time and it just stuck.

So in the French-speaking countries on the 30/40 World Tour, like New Caledonia and Mauritius, I would call him Chien.  Of course, in Spain I had to call him Perro (and practice my rolling Rs).

Walking back to our hotel in Madrid, I saw the perfect sign.  It read “Perros No.”  So of course, I had to have my dog pose with it.

Anglos

Eurobuilding 2

Ms. HalfEmpty @ Eurobuilding 2

Our final activity in Madrid before heading off to VaughanTown, was to meet the other VaughanTown volunteers (aka Anglos) at a tapas reception the night before our departure.  Free food and drinks are always a great way to gather a crowd, but this was probably a brilliant idea to make sure everyone could find Eurobuilding 2 and not be late for the early bus departure.

I was surprised to find that many Anglos knew each other and had already been to VaughanTown.  Many of them were expats from the UK and US living in Spain, mostly as English tutors/teachers.

It seemed like an interesting mix of people.  We were nervous and excited about the upcoming week at VaughanTown.

  • When did you most appreciate a bed?
  • Have you ever lost an article of clothing in a laundry attempt?
  • Have you met a friend-of-a-friend abroad?
  • Do you have a silly name for your significant other? 
  • Have you considered living and working abroad?

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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Mr. HalfFull’s Beautiful Day

It’s almost been a year since Ms. HalfEmpty and I packed our tiny duffels and journeyed west around the world.  People still ask us, “What was your favorite thing?”  As we’ve learned through numerous attempts, it is simply impossible to tell our story of last summer in any reasonable amount of time. These blog posts capture the basics, but still seem to barely skim the surface.  That said, for me there was one day of the entire world tour that was probably my favorite.

Like any good story, this one requires a touch of background — in this case, the conclusion of our stay in Nouméa.  You see, New Caledonia’s Tontouta International Airport is located 51 km north of Anse Vata beach where we stayed, requiring shuttle transfer from our hotel/casino.  Our shuttle van was piloted by a crusty old French woman who drove sans concern for human safety.  We found ourselves stuffed into a rickety van, serendipitously sandwicheried behind a lovely Australian girl and her mum.  Perhaps to keep her mind off imminent death in a fiery crash, Ms. HalfFull uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with the Aussies squished in front of her.  By the time we all checked in for the same flight to Sydney, friends were made and e-mail addresses exchanged.  Hopefully we’d cross paths in a few weeks on the outskirts of Melbourne where they lived.

Heidelberg Train Station

Ms. HalfEmpty @ the Heidelberg train station

Fast forward through Sydney, a bus safari, and a few tears. We find ourselves stepping on to the platform of gorgeous Flinders Street Station with tickets outbound on the Hurstbridge railway line destined for the northeast suburbs of Melbourne.  As luck would have it, the train preparing for immediate departure was an express with a stop in Heidelberg, where Ms. HalfEmpty’s new Aussie friend planned meet us with her boyfriend. We ensued on a drive west into the Yarra Valley for a bit of sight-seeing and wine tasting!

Note to reader: at this point, feel free to quietly play Eels’ “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” in the background whilst reading the remainder of this post.

We hadn’t traveled by private car since New Zealand, so it felt almost luxurious to be chauffeured for the nearly one hour road trip from the ‘burbs into picturesque countryside that oddly reminded me of wine country here in Virginia. In this brief time, I was already smitten with the Aussie boyfriend who reminded me so much of my dear friend who’d married us a few years ago. As a couple, they were brilliant tour guides.

View of Melbourne

View of Melbourne from top of lookout tower

We pulled into a quaint, wooded parking lot that could maybe fit 10 cars or so. They were hoping the sky would clear so we could see Melbourne from one of the Yarra Ranges National Park lookout towers. We learned these towers play an important role in the early detection of fire. Anyhow, I’ll let the image we took up there speak for itself, but it was one of those moments when you feel lucky to be alive.

Wine Tasting at Chandon

Ms. HalfEmpty tasting a flight of white wines with our brilliant tour guides

Next stop, vineyards! We started out at Chandon, probably the most well-known winery in the region. To avoid the throng of tourists at the free tasting bar, I suggested we sample a range of white and sparkling wines at their Greenpoint Tasting Bar. Although the atmosphere was a tad corporate, we had a fun time with our Aussie friends and bartender. For you sparkling wine fans out there, grab a bottle of Chandon Z*D Blanc de Blancs if you stumble across it.

Punt Road Winery

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying wine with our Aussie friends near Punt Road's pétanque court

The next stop was our amazing Aussie hosts’ favorite Yarra Valley vineyard: Punt Road Wines. I’m not sure where to start. Suffice it to say I felt like the cosmic tumblers of the universe had all fallen into place. Brilliant new friends. Delicious wines, especially their Pinot Noir. Friendly, yet knowledgeable bartenders. Tasty snacks that perfectly complemented their wines. A few other like-minded strangers up for a fun time filling out the tasting area, giving the room just enough energy. Even solid background music.

Samples turned into glasses. Glasses turned into bottles…leading to one of my most enjoyable conversations of 2011. I learned why you would never want to be nicknamed “FIGJAM” and why Aussies begin their answers to many questions with the words “Yeah, no.” By the time we were done out on Punt Road’s wine garden, our friends had become members of Punt Road Wines’ Punters Club!

Kangaroo Steaks

Mr. HalfFull finds kangaroo steaks in the grocery store (nestled between the ham and the chicken)

During our conversation an epiphany hit me that Ms. HalfEmpty’s personality was Kiwi, while mine was Aussie. Our hosts were interested in our trip and especially what we thought of Australia so far. I said my only regret during our time in Oz was that it didn’t seem likely we were going to be able to taste kangaroo steak. Our friends looked at me like I was crazy, noting that we could stop by the grocery store on the way home and pick up a few!

On top of being amazing hosts, it seems our friends were amateur chefs as well. I didn’t realize how much we missed the simplicity of a home-cooked meal. So my favorite day culminated with a scrumptious meal at our friend’s home back in Heidelberg: fresh steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, and seared kangaroo steak. It was delicious, and apparently benefited the Australian environment.

We settled in to the couch after dessert for a recorded episode of one of our friend’s favorite British television shows. I don’t remember much about it due to wine and kangaroo euphoria.

Katie's House

Ms. HalfEmpty bids farewell to our gracious host's Heidelberg house the next morning

She graciously offered her guest house. Apparently some people have to work, so we woke up to an empty house. The kitchen was a mess from the previous night, so we gave it a thorough cleaning before letting ourselves out.

I will never forget that beautiful day, and hopefully one day we’ll be able to repay the hospitality when our friends get the opportunity to visit us here in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

  • Do you have a hard time picking a favorite day/experience to share with friends after traveling?
  • Do you find yourself talking to strangers more easily when death could be imminent?
  • Do you enjoy wine tasting?
  • Have you learned interesting slang while traveling?
  • What exotic food did you try that was commonplace for locals?
  • Would you offer your house to people you met on a shuttle in a foreign country during your vacation?
  • What would you show foreigners who come to visit you?


Mr. HalfFull is a 40-something extroverted optimist who spends his days teaching and coaching teenagers. He occasionally authors posts on his wife’s blog halfempty4now.com in support of his life’s work to help her see life from his sunny point of view.

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