We left Pont-Aven before the sun came up on Saturday morning, around 6:30am. After a 30 minute drive to Quimperle, and a 45 minute wait at the train station, we were on our way to Charles de Gaul airport in Paris to catch a flight to Madrid. It seemed like a typical start to a trip. Everyone had what they needed, except Maliya, who had emptied the contents of a wine soaked backpack into the river a few days before, not realizing that her passport was also in the bag. I had convinced her to be optimistic and told her the time I flew from Valencia to Paris and no one even looked at my passport. At least she had a copy of her passport and visa. The train seemed like it was from the future. A brightly colored interior, it certainly topped my experiences with the Cardinal traveling to Charleston from Philadelphia…or so I thought. After about two and a half hours I was awoken by an announcement. Something about having to switch trains…because we hit an animal on the tracks. Everyone was in a daze but as we got off the train in Auray we realized what had happened. The train, traveling at full speed, had hit a cow that was on the tracks. A few of us brave souls ventured to the front to really take in the damage. It was graphic and I will spare you the details, but needless to say the train was in need of some serious work. We were forced to wait 45 minutes until we could squeeze onto another train destined for Rennes. After an hour of standing in the aisles we got off at Rennes and quickly jumped on another train headed for CDG and beyond. While waiting in Auray it became clear that we were unsure whether we could make our connecting flight to Madrid. By the time we were approaching CDG we knew we had about 45 minutes for all 29 of us to clear customs and board the plane. Luckily most of us chose to only bring carry on bags. Nate and I decided that we were going to be in Madrid that night, with or without everyone else. We hustled to the check in counters of Terminal 2F, quickly punched in our ticket numbers and the automatic machines printed our boarding passes. We cleared customs without a problem and made it to the gate. With about 15 minutes to spare everyone made it to the gate, including Maliya who got a nod and a smile when she presented her photocopy instead of her real passport. Despite the sabotage of a suicidal cow everything worked out fine. We arrived in Madrid around 6:30 and headed to our hotel in the center of the city on Gran Via. After getting our rooms sorted and unpacking a bit a few of us headed out for a walk. We needed coffee desperately. I spotted a cafe and after walking inside and peeking at the menu we all realized they only served coffee with booze, and some great looking combos at that. We went with the flow and sat down upstairs on a long red velvet couch. I went with the Jamaicano, a mix of coffee and sweet coffee liqueur. We sampled each other’s drinks and then headed back to the hotel to meet the whole gang for dinner. After about 3 minutes of standing outside the hotel in a mob of 29 I announced that I was heading out and was not interested in dining with a million people, let alone waiting for everyone to make up their mind on a restaurant. Nate, Allison, Mailya, Danielle and Daryl all tagged along. We wanted something good an cheap which meant we had to get off of Gran Via. We made a right and stumbled into the Brooklyn of Madrid. A few blocks of restaurants covering everything from Indian to Siamese food. We explored our options but eventually settled on the first Indian restaurant we saw. Then we saw it, the “Luvin’ Hut”. Our concern with dining were always Nate’s options, being the only vegan of a group of mostly vegetarians. “Luvin Hut” was an all vegan restaurant, and a good one at that. We immediately went in and sat down excitedly for what we knew would be a good meal. The waiter was a little creepy but the food was great. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to meet up with everyone else. After exchanging stories we knew we definitely had the best meal. We hung around in Mac and Nate’s room for a while and then went out to find a bar in the neighborhood where we had dinner. We came across a pretty cool one but eventually followed a local across the street where the drinks were cheaper. I started talking to a group of guys outside and was immediately presented with a CD. “Los Ultimos Banditos” were a band visiting from southern Spain to shoot their first music video. We talked for a while about music and I told them they were welcome to play a show in New Brunswick if they every made it across the great divide. They told me I should come to their music video shoot tomorrow. They had rented out a club and were just having a bunch of friends come. They made me tag along after my fellow students headed back to the hotel. After walking around in search of a free club with them I finally gave in and headed back to the hotel. I told them I would meet them for the video shoot the next evening, after ARCO. I knew it was unlikely. I woke up with 15 minutes to spare before the free breakfast ended, a recurring theme in my travels. It was the best breakfast display I had seen in a long time and I was thrilled to have made it in time. We met in the lobby and took the metro to ARCO, one of the biggest art fairs in the world, similar to New York City’s Armory Show, which I saw last year. It was a maze of stalls featuring galleries from around the world. I spent about 3 hours wondering around, jotting down names of artists I had never heard of before. Eventually I had to head back to the hotel and crash. I decided that if I woke up in time to go to the video shoot, I would. I didn’t but the sleep was worth it. We spent the night in the hotel watching “What Women Want” overdubbed in German and drinking cheap wine. Today we walked to the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s contemporary art museum that houses “Guernica”, one of Picasso’s most famous paintings that I had studied last semester in my art history class. It was a huge museum with lots of amazing work from lots of artists I love and some new ones I didn’t know about. After three and a half hours I walked back to hotel for yet another well deserved siesta. Our hotel is very nice but the wifi is expensive so I am currently soaking of some free internet at a nearby starbucks.
The Prado museum was a great place to spend my last day in Madrid. I saw a lot of famous paintings that I studied last semester in art history. My favorite pieces were Goya’s black paintings. After the museum we explored a medieval sword and armor store then went to get some espresso. The last night was fun but we had to wake up early to catch a flight to Paris.