Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

My trip started with lunch at Waffle House with my mom, then being dropped off at the Nashville airport.

My flight to Philadelphia left on time, and was the first time I'd ever had to walk out onto the tarmac to board a plane. Luckily, once I got to Philadelphia, my departure gate was relatively close to where I had arrived, so I didn't have to trek a million miles with my backpack to get to my next flight.

Creepy artwork in the Philly airport

While in Philly, I decided to try my first cheesesteak...bad move! I don't usually eat much meat, so my intestines didn't have kind things to say about that sandwich! The service in the restaurant was really slow too...took me 45 minutes to get my sandwich...almost making me miss boarding my flight!

Ok, lets go!

The flight across the ocean was so hot! The seats had very little legroom, plus there was some sort of box under the seat in front of me, so my personal bag had to sit at my feet the whole time. I kept turning my air vent on, and the lady next to me (who was cuddled up in a blanket!) kept turning it off, until one time I finally told her that I was burning up even with the vent on, and to stop turning it off.

The meal was also really bad. I'd requested a veggie meal, and I got a tofu and steamed veggie meal...might as well have been O-cel-o sponge with kindergarten paste, it was so tasteless. I slept some, listened to my iPod some, and watched an episode of the Simpson’s...

...and soon I was catching my first glimpse of the Spanish countryside.

Needless to say that it wasn't the most pleasant flight ever, and by the time I was on the ground, I was wanting a shower badly! But somehow, despite being about 8 hours long, the flight didn't feel insanely long. I found Kevin in the Madrid airport somewhere around 8:00am...

Kevin buys a Madrid Metro pass

...we took the Metro to the Sol station...

...then walked to our hotel, the Hotel Plaza Mayor.

Hotel Plaza Mayor was on the Calle de Atocha

Hotel Plaza Mayor

Kevin in the Hotel Plaza Mayor lobby

The Hotel Plaza Mayor restaurant

The view from our room in the Hotel Plaza Mayor

Kevin had already been there for three nights, but was moving to a room with two beds the morning I got there. The first thing I did was to head up to his current room for a shower. The housekeeper was already in there cleaning, but luckily she let me back in to take my shower. There have only been a few showers in my life that have felt that good!

After my shower, I realized that the power converter I'd purchased wouldn't fit into the Spanish outlets since they are recessed, not flush with the wall. With my hair still wet, I went back down to the lobby where Kevin was chatting with some American friends he'd met in the hotel. They were leaving that day, but we made tentative plans to meet up with them in Sevilla over the next couple of days. Kevin had eaten breakfast while I was in the shower, so when he was done, we headed out for my first bit of sightseeing in Madrid.

A street in Madrid

Kevin visits the ham museum. Yep, the ham museum.

Pretty much the first comment I had made about Madrid was that it looked like Epcot! Everything was completely unlike anything I'd seen in the States, and it really looked like all the pictures you see of the major cities in Europe! The areas we were in were nice areas, and everything was so pretty and picturesque. The first place we went was to the Plaza Mayor, which was only about two blocks away from our hotel. From there, we headed on a bit further to purchase all the train tickets for our trip from the RENFE office in the El Corte Ingles.

Before we got the train tickets, we did something that I had been looking forward to an inordinate amount...

...we went to the grocery store! For whatever reason, I find stuff like grocery stores, drug stores, candy stores and stuff like that really interesting when I'm away from home, because I like to see what other cultures have that my culture doesn't and vice versa.

Kevin loves Lemon Fanta!

AHHH!!!! This is NOT something you see at Walmarts in Nashville!!!

Kevin easily finds the Canadian beer in the Spanish supermarket

There was very little in the Spanish supermarket that I recognized from home aside from a lot of the drinks and snack foods. And anything that had the word "American" on it was oversized! There was regular bread, then there were the huge loaves of "American bread." There were regular donuts, then packs of huge "American donuts" hahaha

When we were done in the supermarket, we went to the RENFE office, which was located next to the women’s underwear department! We got almost all the tickets for the rest of our trip, with the exception of a couple towards the end that we were going to play by ear.

With train tickets in hand, we stopped at a snack counter where we both got a chocolate covered pastry. As we left, we walked down the Calle Mayor and ended up going into the main cathedral of the city. As we approached it, the new X-Car coaster at Parque de Atracciones caught my eye from WAY off in the distance...

So I say "Kev! I see the X-car!" which caused him to make fun of me for spotting something probably over a mile away on the horizon instead of seeing the massive cathedral 100 feet in front of me! hahaha

I actually thought the cathedral was very nice, though they are not my thing as far as tourist attractions go.

Inside the Catedral de la Almundena

Stained glass inside the cathedral

It was architecturally very beautiful, and was well decorated but didn't seem overly gaudy to me. After a quick stroll through, we left and walked past the Palacio Real. That day was a day when tourists could get in for free, but the line to get in was huge, and I didn't feel like waiting to go in (Kevin had gone in earlier in the week and didn't seem to be saying "Yes, it's worth the huge wait!" either).

Does anyone else find it strange that the guards at the Palacio Real look so stoic and formal while they are standing behind giant piles of horse poop???

From there, we walked up to the Plaza de España to check out the statues and do a bit of people watching.

A building in Madrid

Another building in Madrid

Kevin takes a moment to bond with the locals

No Kevin! Don't eat it! You'll chip a tooth!

Afterwards, we decided to find the Teleferico sky ride and ride it over to the area near Parque. Well, it seemed like we walked and walked and walked, and it all seemed up hill, and once we got to the top of the hill, there were stairs to climb. By the time we finally found the entrance, I was completely exhausted. I had worked all night the night before, only gotten about 3 hours of sleep on the plane, and had easily walked at least 5 miles already before finding the sky ride.

Our round trip ticket was in the neighborhood of 4 euros, which I thought was very reasonable.

The view of the city from the Teleferico was really awesome! It was quiet (ok, except for the crackly Spanish narration) and you could see for miles. I also noticed that all the trees in the parks were planted in lines! Weird! I had noticed that from the airplane, but had wondered if maybe they were groves of some kind. Nope...just ordinary trees planted in lines. When we got to the park on the other side, we decided to take a breather and enjoy the nice weather, so we both laid down in the grass and relaxed for a bit.

Kevin resting in the park

And this was my view while resting. Ahhh.

At times I had to struggle to stay awake because it was so relaxing. We took the opportunity to catch up a bit, and we had some good laughs while relaxing there. We stayed there for well over an hour just chatting and laughing, and at one point...

I got a great view of a guy in a Speedo! It was the perfect way to decompress from regular life and slow down to vacation speed.

The ride was closed for siesta while we were lounging, but when it opened back up...

...we rode it back across and headed back up to the Plaza de España to meet up with the guide for our Segway tour. His name was Antony, and he was Scottish by way of South Africa. I felt very uneasy when I first started learning how to ride my Segway, but both he and Kevin assured me that it was easy to catch onto, and assured me that no on had ever fallen off of one during a tour. It took quite a while before I was comfortable leaving the immediate area and going out onto the sidewalks with pedestrians.

Both of us, learning to ride the Segways

Kevin, ready to head out and see more of the city

Us in front of the Palacio Real

Us in front of the Templo del Debod

Kevin demonstrates how you can control the Segway even when sitting

Time to return the Segways

I'd like to say that I remember everything about the Segway tour, but I was almost too exhausted to enjoy it. Not to mention that the tour itself went on for four hours, which was just too long in my opinion. By the end, my legs had fallen asleep below the knees and my calves and legs hurt very badly. And of course, at one point we were slaloming through some poles in the sidewalk, and I clipped one of them with the side of one of the wheels and went flying off of my Segway, landing square on my lower back on the pavement. So much for no one falling off of Segways!

My view during dinner

We also stopped for dinner as we passed through Plaza Mayor, but they ended up ordering three dishes that either I wouldn't eat, or that I tried and disliked. When Antony handed me the menu and asked what I wanted, I basically just sat it back down because there wasn't a single thing on the menu that sounded appetizing to me. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a weeklong trend! We ended up with tortilla española (*cold* egg and potato omelets...edible, but not enjoyable in the slightest), potato salad (yucky) and some potato and meat dish that I didn't try. So at this point, not only was my back and left arm in pain from falling off the Segway, I was starving!

We stopped for ice cream one time, and while Antony and Kevin were content to drive their Segways one handed while they ate, I insisted that I had to stop because not holding on was throwing me off balance. We stopped in a park, and I was in pretty rough shape by the time we stopped. I really just wanted the tour to be over at that point because I was exhausted, starving, and in pain from my fall. All that on top of the fact that I had been getting familiar with bathrooms all over Madrid all day because of the cheesesteak I had eaten in Philadelphia! I tried to stretch out my legs while I was stopped since I knew they were going to be inoperatively sore the next day from all the walking and the Segway.

Eventually the tour was over, but not without first having to climb up into some monument in town, which was nearly excruciating. We rode back to the tour guide's office, finished paying for our tour, then walked back to the Metro. On the way back to the hotel, I spotted a KFC and decided to grab a meal that I knew was going to be something I'd eat! I got a chicken sandwich and fries, but the fries were cold by the time I got them back to the hotel so I didn't eat many of them. As soon as I was done eating, I collapsed into bed and must have been asleep within seconds because almost as soon as I laid down, Kevin was waking me up because I was snoring so loudly!

Continue to Day 2 - Parque de Atracciones de Madrid
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