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Okay, let’s be honest. Long plane flights are not the most fun. The flight over was harmless and the flight attendants were very pleasant, but the length of the flight was the pits. We were lucky enough to have seats with extra leg room, but even that did not ease the cramped feeling (and ouchy tush) that comes with sitting in the same seat for 8 hours or so.

Our arrival in Madrid was easy. I had forgotten how far you have to walk to get to customs, but the officers are pretty friendly and quickly passed us through to get our baggage. This is the second time I have been to Madrid Barajas airport, and the last time it was a bit of a zoo… this weekday flight meant that the airport was calm and easy to navigate after being awake almost 24 hours. The shuttle took us to our hotel, and I was very pleased with the room. The hotel, Axor Feria, is modern minimalist, and almost refreshingly austere. Michael, Kevin, and I decided to go for a walk before taking a nap, so out we went. The weather? Perfect. Crisp, sunny, and pleasant. The hotel is near the airport, so not really much to see as far as shopping and eating, but it was a nice reward after being cooped up on a plane.

Thursday night, we took a taxi into Madrid proper, into an area called Chuaca to hunt for dinner. It was chilly, and we found several warm places to be to watch people go by. Dealing with hunger first, we got a slice of pizza at a small stand-in place before looking for the Spanish equivalent of a pub. We finally found a cozy place that had window nooks, one of which was the perfect size for the three of us. It was nice to people-watch with a coffee, a drink or two, and a couple of hors d’oevres to pick at. (Note to self: the potato chips with the fish on top was a bit unexpected, but so was the pickle-pepper-olive-pimiento-onion thingy. And the capairiña was delicious.)

Wandering the streets again, we went into a Mercado-style grocery store and marketplace, which was a distinctly non-American experience. Michael wanted to set the crazy variety of crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans in a huge tank free, but reconsidered… I really admire his caring spirit. Eventually, after toddling around some more, we found three other places of significance. One was a bar where they had WIFI, which was significant because none of us had the address of the hotel on us, regardless of best-laid plans and organization. One was a bar called “Underwood” bar, replete with typewriter in the display window, which gave us all a chuckle, and the third was a little commissary-video rental place where we had something to eat and a very pleasant conversation with the person working behind the counter who used to live in New York City.

What have I learned so far? The Spanish that I have learned is useful, and was exactly what I needed to speak with cab drivers, restaurant people, and ticket agents. (More on the ticket agents in a bit.) That is a very gratifying feeling… and I am really glad that I am learning Spanish the way I am. I really understand more than I thought I would, which is a relief if you read some of my earlier posts.