A not-so Foreign Land

The sun is gleaning off the tracks parallel to our Renfe highspeed train en route to Seville. Small towns and innumerable olive plantations south of Madrid fly by the window as the train and our trip whir along. Having just popped in some headphones, I threw on Neil Young’s album Harvest to help me reminisce…

We just spent three nights in Spain’s capital city. We encountered yet another brand new culture but were very thankful for the ability to speak a little, I mean poquiotitito, Spanish. Having traveled to Mexico a few times, I have become familiar with the dialect of our neighbors to the south; while helpful, it’s also made it a bit difficult for these Spaniards to understand the version of the Spanish language I know. We give it our best shot and everyone we have come across has been incredibly gracious. Just this morning, while navigating the Metro station near our apartment in the city center, I had to ask a gentleman for help. My question yielded a puzzled look and the universal gesture of confusion – a shoulder shrug with the palms of his hands held upwards. I attempted again to ask my question, he strained to understand and then the lightbulb over his head shown brightly. He wasn’t sure exactly where I should be headed but asked some of his compatriots for advice when a well-dressed woman kindly offered to walk us to a nearby catwalk overlooking signage to our platform. We found the platform and successfully made our way to the train station. The people of Madrid had a very laidback and calm nature about them, something we found to be quite different in comparison to the Italians who, at times, were a bit overly-passionate. As Tarin has always maintained, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different”. The statement could not be more true about these EU countries.

There was no particular itinerary in Madrid, so we simply treated our days as we would any Saturday spent at home. We shopped at the supermarket for daily provisions including fresh produce, meat, eggs and bread. Mornings were spent trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker, a three pieced puzzle we likened to a reverse french press. We sampled churros (without cinnamon and sugar) which is a morning snack dipped in coffee or hot chocolate in Spain. We stopped to sip on local beers and wine while feasting on tapas as we strolled the city streets. Our AirB&B host, Jose, was an older gentleman who had prepared an incredible amount of information which was separated into two spiral-bound notebooks: one for a sightseeing itinerary complete with a suggested route map and the other a collection of he and his wife’s recommended restaurants and markets. We made regular use of this info and found our way around the city quite easily. We found Madrid to be extremely walkable as most of the major destinations weren’t more than a 25 minute walk from our centrally located apartment.

We visited the Royal Palace, current home of the recently appointed King Felipe VI as well as the rest of the Royal Family. My favorite section of the tour was the Royal Armory which housed examples of nearly 600 year-old tools of war used to lead the Spanish conquest carried out over the vast oceans and seas of the world (turns out the world isn’t flat) as well as throughout Europe. It was quite interesting to see how quickly the materials and techniques used progressed from armor strictly war-purposed in the early 1500’s to plate armor covered in goldleaf, more fashion than protection as the weapons progressed during the late 16th century. The latter provided a physical representation of the rise of the Spanish kingdom in the 16th century; as a result of their gold-lust born out of their exploration in the Americas, as well as their conquest of Europe. The Royal Family’s use of their wealth was ever-present as we visited the rest of the 2800 room palace (only 51 rooms were available to the public for viewing). Each room presented a new form of opulence which the Spanish obtained throughout their kingdom. It was simply overwhelming to see how gaudy the Royal Palace had become in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, they needed a room completely made of porcelain (and I mean COMPLETELY – not even a wooden seam is visible), followed by a room with silk walls, hand-woven rugs depicting the Spanish conquest, and gold-adorned furniture, clocks and mirrors not to mention the hand frescoes upon the ceiling of every room. They commissioned the most skilled craftspeople of their time to complete this palace which represents work from the most well respected artisans of the 16-19th centuries. Aside from my obvious distaste (I laid it on a little thick, eh?) for the over-the-top nature in the construction of the palace, the Spanish Royal Family holds an important place in the documentation of art throughout this time period. Their concerted effort to collect the finest artwork and materials still encourages the youth of today’s Spain to carry this component of their culture forward as these works of art continue to be displayed and made available for public viewing. The collection was nothing short of impressive and the quality of workmanship was magnificent.

We awoke on our last morning in Madrid to learn of recent terrorist attacks in France, and we have started to explore the option of removing Paris from our travels. While it may seem like commonsense to avoid an area which has succumb to several terrorist attacks this year, we are left with something we began to hold very near to our hearts as we executed the planning of this travel: we will not let fear rule our lives or make decisions for us. Fear of not having something, fear of failure or fear induced by others cannot control us. We will not allow this to shape who we are or where we will be physically.

Stay tuned while we continue on this journey!

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