Thursday, May 22, 2014


Last Friday, Ramona, Susan, and I decided to try and check out Toledo. I had yet to have any luck getting tickets, as I had tried both in person and on the website and was met with various roadblocks. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare to catch the 10:08 train, but the ticket vending computers kept giving us an error after we picked out all the tickets (it showed plenty of open seats). I guess that explained why everyone was in the ticket sales office. We had to get a number and wait in line until well after the 10:08 train had already taken off. We did get a seat on the next train, though, which was a relief.

I had been wanting to visit Toledo since the last time I was in Spain. The last time, I got confused by the train system and didn't want to mess with getting there, but I later kind of regretted not making the effort. With the recent setbacks and mishaps, I was nervous that we wouldn't get to go this time either. Luckily, this time around, I'm more familiar with how everything works and my Spanish is comparably quite good. We ended up taking the AVE high speed train, which went at a steady 170 mph most of the way, taking about half an hour to get there.

The train station was an excellent preview of the beautiful architecture to come. It reminded me a lot of Teruel, where I lived before.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ramona in Madrid!

Thanks to the infinite hospitality of my Swiss friend, Ramona, and her family, I've been fortunate enough to have visited Switzerland twice now. Until this week, I had been unable to really repay her the favor (and I still don't feel like I've repaid her enough!). Although I lived in Spain for a while before, Ramona never made it to visit (though I did visit her). But this time around, as we are living in Madrid, it was much more convenient for her to stop by for a few days.

I went to the airport to meet her. Thankfully, her flight arrived in the afternoon, so I didn't have to get up and rush to the airport early in the morning. She had come from Switzerland in what looked like about five or six layers of clothes, as it was 40-some degrees and raining there. By comparison, Madrid was in the upper 70s with not a cloud in sight. Needless to say, she was excited to shed a few layers and get some sun.

I led her back to Getafe on the train and we decided to get something to eat. I wanted to take her somewhere really Spanish and get some tapas, but Ramona is a vegetarian. Typical Spanish food is almost entirely meat and seafood, so it proved difficult. We ended up just going to the cheap Turkish restaurant on Calle Madrid and getting something simple. She loved the falafel, so it worked out.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Alcalá de Henares

On the first Friday of May, Susan and I had made plans to go to Toledo, as I'd never been. We got up somewhat early and headed to the Atocha train station. Although we arrived around 9:00, we quickly found out that all of the trains until 3:00 in the afternoon had already been reserved. We decided to change our destination and instead headed to Alcalá de Henares.

I'd only heard of Alcalá de Henares when Susan mentioned it a few times before when we were discussing day trips near Madrid and on an ad for a museum exhibit entitled La cuna de la humanidad, which I really wanted to see. Apart from that, it does seem strange that I wasn't very aware of it, because it is the supposed birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) and has one of the oldest universities in the world (or at least the building).

We arrived and grabbed a coffee at a little coffee shop and I watched some Spanish news. It is always fun to watch how other countries portray the United States' interactions with other countries. They were showing Obama's recent meeting in Japan and also covered the South Korean ferry sinking. One of the things I've noticed from my limited viewing of Spanish television is that there seems to be pressure to have pretty women in news and commercials, but men don't necessarily have to be good-looking (though it may just be due to my limited sample size).

Monday, May 12, 2014

El Escorial

The last Wednesday of April, at the suggestion of my friend Ryan, I met up with another Kentuckian who is living with a Spanish family here in Madrid. Her name is Ronnee and she was honestly not what I expected (though in a good way). In many ways, she exemplifies qualities that I've come to associate with good people from my homeland - her thick accent, headstrong but welcoming mindset, a curious mind, and a refusal to apologize for who she was. She seemed to be enjoying her time away from the States, although Spain wasn't necessarily her idea of a utopia. She told me lots of stories and a lot about her family, who frequently invite foreign exchange students into their home. One of those visitors is the reason she is able to enjoy an extended stay in Spain now. Not a bad deal.

Our idea was to meet up in a station and leave from there. I don't think we thought it through really well, because any given station in Spain's largest city could be packed with people and I don't have a functional phone. I managed to catch sight of her going up an escalator somehow and I creepily stalked her and yelled at her. I am glad she doesn't look like a typical Spaniard...

We took a train to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a small city outside of Madrid, mostly known for the royal monastery there. Susan suggested the site for a day trip, since she and Ana are normally at work during the day and I have plenty of time to explore. It took about an hour to get there and the change of scenery was very welcome. Living in Getafe, you sometimes forget what it's like to see far-reaching, green landscapes.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Greece, Part Three (Santorini)

This is a continuation of my previous post here.

Despite the late night, we were able to wake up successfully and head out for the bus on time. Unfortunately, the bus driver was less than helpful in notifying us of our stop and it was never obvious that we had passed the place we were looking for. So we wasted a good forty minutes riding the bus and then backtracking on foot. Somehow, we still made it to the metro and got to the port on time. When I say on time, I mean we got there according to the time we thought the boat was leaving. In fact, it had already left an hour before.

Needless to say, we were a bit upset. Susan may or may not have cracked for a minute. I tried to talk to the only employee in the entirety of the port of Piraeus that represented Sea Jet, the company that we were traveling with. She was on the phone for a while, so I just waited patiently at the window. At some point in her obnoxiously long phone call, she stopped and asked what I was waiting for, at which point I briefly described our mistake. She told me to wait one moment and then resumed her conversation. After a while, she hung up the phone and then very briefly told me that we had missed the boat. That was that. I asked if there was a way to get a partial refund or to change our tickets, even at a fee. Her reply was to smile and say, in the most arrogant manner, "No, of course not!" It took every bit of my being not to jump through the window and dismember her where she stood.

Apparently Sea Jet has a "no tolerance" policy and just hires vile-mannered representatives to work in their customer service locations. So I demanded our pre-purchased return tickets and then we went elsewhere to purchase tickets to Santorini. We had already invested so much in the tickets and hostel reservations that it would have been too much of a loss not to follow through with it. The new tickets were about half the price of Sea Jet's tickets too. The only problem was that the boat left at 6 in the evening and it was 8:30 or so in the morning.

We found a nice little coffee shop with Wi-Fi and emailed the hostel so that they would know we weren't going to be arriving that afternoon and would instead arrive at 1 a.m. We were hoping they'd still come pick us up at the port, as transportation to our part of the island at that hour would have been nonexistent or extremely expensive. They never emailed us back. We passed the day in various coffee shops, buying freddo cappuccinos to try and maintain some kind of consciousness.