A Summing Up

Our final days in Madrid were spent wisely.  Butchering the Spanish language.  Sometimes receiving warm smiles in return.  Sometimes receiving gruff service from busy women in coffee shops. Wandering the neighborhoods.  Sitting in the Buen Retiro (hard chill out park).

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Fulfilling every creepy high school boy and girl’s (both of us included) bedroom wall poster dream by seeing Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado. Eating free olives and potato chips and crushed tomato on toast with salt.  Shopping a bit on the fancy streets then giving up and going to the three floor hipster Goth flea market/shopping mall. Enjoying the absolutely ridiculous weather.

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Jon and Dave have become soccer nerds in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. Thus, we took a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s famous stadium. You get to go in the locker rooms and sit on the benches and go on the field and take corny fake photos with the team.  It was awesome.  Every stadium should have a tour. Jon and Dave and the rest of the 14 year olds enjoyed it immensely.

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On our last night, Real Madrid had a big tournament game that we got to watch in a cool part of town in a bar filled with fans.  They got trounced.  It wasn’t Jon or Dave’s fault they gave it their all.  We did run into two American girls who live in Madrid teaching English.  They drew us a map to an awesome brewery and generally illustrated all the best things about meeting people when traveling in a quick 15 minute burst.  Oh, and on the walk home we found the red light district and several of the most refined and civil instances of open air prostitution that you will ever see.

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Sitting now, groggy after the 8 hour flight home, we feel the need to speak on our time without stopping to properly rest and recollect. Being in a big European capital like Madrid (or Paris or Berlin or Lisbon or London, all of which we’ve been lucky enough to visit in the past few years) you are struck by the sheer number of shops and stores and restaurants and bars.  They line absolutely every street.  They never seem empty.  There are always people out.  By the end of the night, they are busting at the seams.  In contrast, in our neighborhood in Philadelphia, a popular one in a large city filled with many excellent bars, there are only handful of people out even on this immaculate, 66 degree evening.  Why is that?  Are we in our cars?  At work? At home? Buying things online?  There are a lot of us.  More than the Spaniards.  And on paper, we have more money.  But what are we doing with it?  We read a quote from a prominent Madrilleno fashion designer during our stay.  Among other things, she claimed to love her city and its people for their desire to chase life.  We can’t help wanting to see more of that desire from our own people, City, and culture.

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Why stop there?  Let’s review it all.  To anyone (those who’ve never been to Spain or Europe or out of the country or those that have been everywhere twice) we recommend a couple days in Granada.  It’s small and charming yet an extremely historically important crossroads of culture.  No one will be disappointed.  It’s a perfect introduction to the Spanish lifestyle which we can only describe as looking down at your watch and realizing it’s 9PM and you haven’t eaten dinner yet because the sun is still out.  Then, suddenly, it’s midnight and all you’ve done is sit on the street drinking and eating snacks for a non-descript period of time.  Then it’s 3AM and you’re playing cards on the roof of your hotel.  Spanish time does, however, kind of suck at 8:00 in the morning.

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Tangier isn’t as beautiful as Spain or as culturally immersive as Marrakesh, and if your cruise ship dumps you off there for the afternoon you might get taken advantage of if you’re not paying attention.  That being said, if you do your homework, there is so much beauty at the crossroads.  Wonderful meals, sitting in the square watching the call to prayer, staring at the point where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean from the top of a crumbling castle.  It all comes recommended.

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Marrakesh walks the fine line between fabulous disorder and rampant, enervating chaos.  That line is thrilling.  All at once, you feel as if you can’t possibly do it another day and that you can’t wait to see it all again.  Once they’re gone you miss the way the hustlers call to you on street, running their finely honed game on anyone that walks by, anyone that cracks open a map or makes eye contact.  We can’t help feeling that behind their desire for your tourist dollar there is a warmth there, a desire to connect, to make you laugh, to teach you about their culture, to hear a bit about yours.  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced and the wildness of it has us feeling ready for more.  More masses of humanity.  More drums.  More smoke from the fires.  More.  More.  More.

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