Monday, April 26, 2010

Madrid and Toledo, Spain: Times with Tapas and Turtles

Right now Oslo is an exciting as it has ever been. For one, Ulleval Stadion, which is a 5 minute walk from my house, is erupting with soccer fans who are cheering for Oslo's team - Vålerenga. I could hear the game today from my room which reminded me of some of my experiences in Madrid, and thus beckoning me to write a blog. Also, right now is an important time for all of those recently graduated high school students within Oslo. It is now officially "Russ" which is a unique right of passage in Norwegian tradition. Recently graduated students don vibrant red pants, with matching attire and vehicles, and party like the world is going to end. Traditionally they must don this clothing from May 1st - May17th without changing or washing their garments. They also have these mock business cards called "Russ Cards," which they hand out to any that ask. It is a fantastic sight to watch, and currently I have snagged a few cards. In fact, just last night I ran into a chap by the name of Henrik Lekeland and happily took a card from him. This is what they look like in action (pictured left). It is, to put it simply, an absolute one month party which livens up Oslo like you wouldn't believe. Out on the town it is almost impossible not to seen them partying which includes massive party buses that blast music through the streets with complete and utter disregard for human life. Right now Oslo is simply overrun with students and I am absolutely loving it. Also, this is my tenth post which is encouraging because many people I know have simply forgotten about their blogs. I really feel a sense of pride in the constant maintenance and writing of my blog, and the warm comments I have received have only added to my egoism. I couldn't be happier right now to be writing a blog, avoiding house cleaning, and streaming some great playoff hockey (PHO vs. DET) online.

Madrid was, for all intents and purposes (Fun fact: "for all intensive purposes" is merely a misheard version of the former), quite a cool city. However, it was the only city I have visited thus far that has merely "met" my expectations and not in some form or another exceeded them.
I think this is due to the fact that Madrid was exactly what I thought it would be and didn't necessarily have a plethora of small and intriguing surprises waiting for me. However, the nightlife in this city is simply undeniable. The Spanish most certainly know how to live, but know more about partying. I no longer question why Spain needs their daily siesta because it is really a matter of survival for this country. The clubs are rarely packed until 2 or 3am and I can't recall any mention of the words "last call". Furthermore, it is always a great time traveling with the amazing grouping of Jon, Grant and I. We could have the greatest time in any city with a bottle of alcohol and a dream. This trip had some hilarious undertones due to this grouping such as the continual purchase of Magnum ice cream bars. We must have tried most of the flavours that they offer at this point. But honestly, this trip had more inside jokes than fans at a Star Trek convention.

The first night we arrived quite late in Madrid because we did not encounter "another on time flight from Ryan Air". Also, Ryan Air wouldn't turn off the lights the whole trip and insisted, as usual, on bombarding us to purchase food, smokeless cigarettes, more food, and lottery tickets. Ryan Air is without question the most hilarious and outlandish airline in the skies. Honestly, check out their new concept for seating with in their planes (pictured right). Don't rub your eyes because you are seeing correctly, these are actually standing seats on a plane. "A" for effort for Ryan Scair and Sleezy Jet. As I was saying, we arrived at our hostel (Mad Hostel), which was rather grungy at around 2am. We decided we would go out anyways to check out what Madrid had in store. We dined on street sandwiches and sipped upon the finest street beers Madrid could offer. The street beer phenomenon in Spain is nothing short of spectacular. Men walk around the streets with bags of beer mumbling "cerveza" and hoping for customers. I actually saw one of these street beer musketeers get arrested in Barcelona, but that is the only reason that I concluded it was illegal. There are other phenomenons that I noticed that seem to resonate throughout Spain such as the propensity to protest. I spotted a massive protest that literally traversed the whole city for hours in Madrid. Also, in the train station itself there was a labour protest. I know this because I found one of the protesters who spoke English and chatted with him about his views. The Spanish seem to really enjoy the "sport" of protesting as the picture on the left will suggest.

After a great night out that included a brief, but fantastic, appearance at a salsa bar we headed off to explore what the city had to offer. Before we headed off though we dined on some delicious Paella and a cerveza. Paella is a traditionally Spanish dish that originated in Valencia and involves meat, seafood, vegetables, rice and sometimes beans. It is coloured an appetizing off yellow and the smell wafts through streets of Spain. It was actually great though to have the freedom to stop for food and beer on our accord. The prices in Oslo make it almost impossible to stop for a beer anywhere unless you have really deep pockets. After our stop we headed down to the Paseo del Prado which is one of the main boulevards of Spain. It is adorned by the Feunte de Neptuno which is a gorgeous fountain and also the famous Museo del Prado. The museum was by all standards quite impressive. It features one the greatest selections of European art ranging from the 12th to the 19th century. It makes sense that Madrid, the Spanish capital, would boast this collection as opposed to any other city in Spain because it was based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. It would be astounding to inquire about the cumulative value of all the art in that museum. Madrid is certainly a well established city and capital which can be proven by the fact that the building for a fairly anonymous administrative grouping (Agriculture) looks like this:
We headed back to the hostel and Jon and I surfed the internet with some Spanish Beer known as Estrella Dam and Voll Dam (a 10.2% monster of a beer). Either way there was a beer vending machine in our hostel and it was only a euro which was just fine by me. Grant went to get his girlfriend at the airport so Jon and I did what we do best - enjoyed some brews together. It's great that in every hostel you  seem to meet a wide array of people, some of which you actually end of traveling with again and others that you don't - like this guy! (left). Grant and Sarah returned, and We went out to a bar called "El Tigre," which was just about the greatest bar on the planet. This is largely because they served "Tapas". Essentially, you could purchase a beer for 6 Euros and it would come with seemingly endless plates of Patatas Bravas (potatoes with chili sauce) and Chorizo. Grant and his girlfriend headed home early for the evening but Jon and I decided to stay out --> good choice. We ended up sarinating the square of Peurto del Sol with our lovely voices due to the fact that we found a few gentlemen who were readily equipped with a guitar. It was really something to behold and one of the most fantastic memories of the trip for me. I mean look how happy me and Jon are (pictured right). It is a little dark and difficult to see, but I assure you there are some appeased faces in this photo. The whole sequence of events was not overly surprisingly considering that Jon, Grant and I regularly sing and freestyle over the chords of the guitar in our kitchen. It is not uncommon for us to issue a requirement that you must sing a verse if you are to enter our humble abode at 46 Sogn.

We awoke nice and early to go on a day trip to:

Toledo is absolute gem within Spain that was one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. However, I should mention before I start on our adventures in Toledo that the train station in Madrid is certainly something to behold. This picture should suggest exactly that because there is indeed a full fledged rain forest in the train station behind me. The best part was the abundance of turtles that were all relaxing in the front of the rain forest, and basking in the flash of cameras. Toledo was certainly a destination that vastly exceeded my expectations. Even better we arrived at the hostel to find out that we had a hotel style 4 person room waiting for us. Just a side note for those who aren't currently on exchange, and thus not utterly familiar with this site, that the premier site for finding hostels is definitely --> hostelworld.com - no questions asked. We dined on a nice meal together complete with wine, and then headed back to the hostel. We all enjoyed some beverages and then Jon and I headed out on the town. We ended up going to a club called Agarcia which was an old converted church. It was an impressive club and outlined the diverse and surprisingly exciting nightlife in Toledo. We had a great time there and then headed back home. Well, not exactly, we ended up grabbing some kebab and then heading to a bar near our hostel. Our fortunes led us to hang out for hours with Spanish people that didn't speak a word of English, and really ended up putting the cherry on top of our already amazing night. It reminded me of when I was in China and ended up making some great relationships without having any significant amount of Mandarin at my disposal. This was generally accomplished through laughing, and the famous Chinese drinking games that only require the slight of hand and not necessarily tongue.

We awoke the following morning to a gorgeous day in Spain. The city was really something to behold and we enjoyed every minute of it. We were joking that all the history from Madrid marched down the road to Toledo. I was utterly impressed with the culture, buildings, and people, and couldn't have been happier to share it with my three amigo's. We got lost in the intimate streets of Toledo and of course grabbed some delicious Tapas before we left to go back to Madrid. I would have loved to have spent another day in Toledo, but certainly wouldn't have because I had an impending date on Sunday with Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

We arrived back in Madrid with high hopes and warm memories. We grabbed some wonderfully cheap beer and headed out on the town. We ended up at a club called "Sweet" which turned out to be pleasant surprise. It was another night of great fun in the streets of Madrid. Once again Jon and I stayed out late and enjoyed the spectacle that is Madrid at night.

Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid - March 28thThis picture signifies the true passion that these people feel for soccer as the Real fans remind Atletico of what a nightmare it is to play in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. This game was easily one of the greatest experiences of my entire life. It was the one and only Madrid Derby, which is an iconic day for any Madrid resident. The stadium was absolutely rumbling with 80,000 die hard fans. The Atletico fans were literally carted into the stadium with police escorts trying to drown out the screams of the Real Madrid fans. Atletico struck first, but early in the second half Real struck back with a goal of their own. The stadium was constantly chanting and upon the arrival of Real's second goal the stadium erupted into a sublime cheer and the flags sliced through the air. To be part of such a passionate event was something I will remember for the rest of my life. After a penalty by Atletico, Real Madrid struck once again to make it 3-2. The Real fans once again poked fun at the Atletico fans when they placed these signs in the die-hard fan section. It essentially says "Real Madrid 3 - Atletico Madrid 2. Ten years without a win for Atletico. The nightmare continues," which was in reference to the original image. I thought this was just about the funniest thing on the planet. I am sure Grant shares my feeling that this game was worth every penny, or should I say Euro cent. Madrid provided some of the greatest memories I could have asked for, but a city called Valencia was calling for me in the distance.

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