The first day of our 87-day trip to Spain was fun, but a little overwhelming at first. Both Marcus and I had the same thought when we first stepped out of our rented apartment into the street by ourselves for the first time: What have we done??? Our host (Airbnb-speak for owner or manager of the property; once he gives us the orientation spiel and the key, we’re on our own.) Carlos picked us up at the airport and took us to the apartment. Don’t know how we would have done it on our own. Barajas, Madrid’s airport, is about an hour from el Centro Histórico, where we are staying. One of our three suitcases had a broken wheel on arrival, and Carlos (who very graciously offered to help with our bags) dragged 48 pounds on dead wheels across cobblestoned streets to get it into the apartment.
After Carlos bid us buena suerte (good luck) we changed clothes and set out in search of food, a Spanish SIM card for my phone, a new suitcase, and a few groceries. We headed straight for el Mercado de San Miguel, an upscale food emporium of tapas and bebidas (drinks). Spaniards really know how to eat well, and Madrid is a center of haute cuisine (don’t know how to say that en español yet!).
Then we hit la Puerta de Sol, one of the biggest and busiest squares in Madrid. Once a medieval gate (puerta) of the Old City (back in the day when they walled in cities to protect the citizens), it is aptly named. The sun (sol) beats down on this square without mercy; it is almost impossible to walk across it during the day. Now it is a center for all things turisticos and telecom. In the Orange store, where we bought a SIM card for my cell phone (so we can communicate with other Airbnb hosts down the road), we heard more English spoken by los turistas than we do in Miami from los locales!
While most Spaniards in Madrid speak English, the saleswoman in the suitcase store did not. I was tempted to flee and find someone somewhere else who did, but I decided to stick it out. She was oh-so-patient, had no other customers, and spoke slowly and clearly. I had to start sometime; I took the plunge. I was able to ask her all of Marcus’s many questions (those of you who know him will appreciate how difficult that is even in English!) and even understood her answers! I walked out of the store with a new suitcase and a huge smile. Four years of high-school Spanish and two years of Rosetta Stone had just paid off!
On our way home we stopped at an outdoor cafe for a beer and met three young men from Germany. One had just arrived to study finance at a university in Madrid. His two friends came along for the ride, literally. (They have been friends since boyhood and had a fantastic joy ride across France from Köln.) We told them about our two years living in Munich, and then they had to buy us a beer. We ended up staying out very late talking and laughing with them. Every time we told them we had to leave, they’d buy us beers to get us to stay! It was a perfect way to stay up late to help us recover from jet lag and acclimate to the Spanish way of life. Everyone stays up until the wee hours of the morning here, most of them in the bars below our apartment! We didn’t get to bed until 1:00am, after having slept very little the night before on the plane, and woke up at 9:30, so we got a good, solid 8.5 hours sleep and woke up rested. And now, on to Day 2!