Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to travel to some pretty amazing places. A few years ago I decided that photos alone were not cutting it. So, I picked up a video camera and started shooting. It’s been quite the learning experience and isn’t always easy. It’s amazing the added challenges you face as a travel videographer – things like wind, moving objects and shaky hands – which just aren’t real issues when shooting travel photos on the go. You can find all of my videos on my youtube channel. But, now without further adieu I give you five of my favorite travel videos.
Number 1 – Argentina
Number 2 – Scandinavia
Number 3 – Central America
Number 4 – Mixed Locations
Number 5 – The Grand Canyon
The footage in the above shots was taken on a Canon Vixia HF200 and a FlipUltra with waterproof casing.
Have a favorite video which I didn’t include on this list? Tell me which one. I’d love to know! Personally, I’m a huge fan of my Argentina series in particular – though I’m only including the summary video in this post.
Over the last decade Argentina has gone from quiet tourist destination to one of the world’s most sought after. With world famous steaks, an absolutely delightful wine industry, and incredibly captivating Argentine Tango the country has stolen the hearts and minds of 20-40 something adventurers throughout the world. I have to admit, I wasn’t any different. Hailed as the Paris of South America Buenos Aires offers a rich cultural experience and serves as the main draw for aspiring visitors. In reality, most of the visitors I met in Buenos Aires intended to spend almost all of their time in the city chasing great dances, food, and drink. I was initially drawn to Argentina by those three factors and in the early stages of my trip planning, envisioned myself spending nearly all of my 21 days in Buenos Aires learning Argentina tango, feasting on cheap meals, and finding grand adventures late into the morning. If I had I would have never truly experienced Argentina and would have made an egregious mistake.
Luckily, as I researched the country in greater depth I had several close friends suggest that I leave the city to explore some of Argentina’s natural beauty. Driven in no small part by the simple desire to get as far south as possible, I researched the southern Andes and was captivated by Tierra del Fuego, and the world’s southernmost city – Ushuaia. As my research unfolded I quickly realized that Argentina is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders and offers natural landscapes and terrain that can easily give New Zealand a run for its money.
The incredible thing about Argentina is that it allowed me to go from hiking out to the middle of a glacier and sitting with thousands of penguins on a pebble beach to lazily swimming at the base of one of the world’s most incredible waterfalls situated in the midst of a massive, sprawling jungle filled with vibrantly colored toucans and other exotic wildlife. I feasted on delicious gas fed steak, mouth watering seafood, and split lamb cooked over an open fire, all washed down with fantastic wines while relaxing after watching a heart stirring Tango. In short. I fell in love with a country I merely expected to enjoy. Sounds good right? Ready to go? Before you do here are a few of the surprises I ran into.
The Cost – One of the first things you hear when listening to people talk about Argentina is how cheap it is. I say bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that its an incredibly expensive country, but its also not an incredibly cheap one. With massive inflation over the last decade and an incredible surge in the tourism industry prices in all of the places you’ll probably be visiting as a tourist, even an off-the-beaten-path backpacker will still be fairly expensive. Believe it or not Argentina was my most expensive trip to date, yes, even more so than my recent 18 day trip through Europe and Scandinavia. In no small part, that was due to airfare, the size of the country and the pace at which I was traveling but it also had a lot to do with the general cost of, well, everything.
Street Food – I love street food. Yeah, that stuff that comes out of a cart, people are afraid will kill them, and which usually tastes absolutely delicious all for dirt cheap. I had mental images of incredible street side vendors selling mouth watering food lining Buenos Aires’ grand avenues. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. Apparently they’re banned from operating in the city (possibly the entire country). I was incredibly disappointed. On the upside, the classic Argentine grills/holes in the wall do exist, typically boasting a large open faced grill covered in the meat(s) and cut(s) of the day.
Steaks – Argentinian steak especially “Bife de Chorizo” really is as good as everyone makes it out to be. However, to really find a good steak you’re going to need to hunt for it and take care in how you order it. I ate a LOT of steak during my trip but unfortunately I didn’t figure out how to order it until about half way in. In your standard cafe or low-mid range restaurant in Buenos Aires they will consistently do two things. Under salt, and over cook. When you order make sure that you specify that you want it medium-rare or pink, they probably wont ask and the default is a great way to waste an even better steak. It also never hurts to make sure the steak is properly salted to really bring out the flavor. Also, don’t assume that price means anything. Some of the best steaks I had were also some of the cheapest. Similarly some of the worst were the most expensive. Also, the stories of $3 steaks? They’re a lie. Expect to pay at least $7 and usually closer to $12/meal for a decent steak in any of the main cities.
Spices – Sure, its a bit dense of me but I honestly assumed all of Latin/South America was powered by strong spices with a passion for spicy food. Not Argentina. In practice they avoid anything spicy like the plague.Even the various spiced sauces they serve with meats and meals is a bland, but flavorful mixture of spices and ground peppers without any bite or zing.
Buses – I’m a train guy. To say that I didn’t like traveling by bus before Argentina is an understatement. That said, you don’t take the trains in Argentina. It took me a long time and a lot of conversations to finally be dissuaded, but it’s the simple truth of the matter. You fly, take a bus, a ferry or a taxi. That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you spend a little extra for an upgrade and skip the chicken buses, the buses are actually fantastic. They are clean, modern, surprisingly fast, and if you invested in a cheap upgrade you’ll find great food service and an experience that rivals a commuter 1st class on an airline. Those 17 and 26 hour bus rides you hear about? They’re not a bundle of fun, but they’re not nearly as dreadful as you might imagine.
Distance – While this can’t quite be considered a real surprise, it bears repeating. Argentina is large. Very large. Massive in fact and getting around isn’t the worlds easiest (or hardest) task. The nation is also dominated by two major airlines and lacks any major budget airline presence. So, you’re either left with long-leg, sometimes multi-day bus rides or somewhat expensive flights. It sucks. It’s also totally worth it.
Tours & Trips – There’s a lot in Argentina you can do on your own as a traveler. There’s also a lot that you can’t or really just shouldn’t. For some of you jumping on a guided tour of something may be par for the course, for others it may be the last thing you want to do. Especially if that tour is relatively expensive ($50-$200 USD). Do your research, but when it comes down to it, if you’re doing Argentina you need to bite the bullet and do it. Two of my favorite experiences on the trip were my Penguin adventure and guided hike to the center of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Neither was something I could have done on my own, and both were well worth their near budget-busting price points. I spent the extra $50 to do the on-glacier hike, which was a full $130 more than just visiting the national park’s boardwalk across the bay. It was worth it. It was incredible. Similarly, the extra money I spent for a guided tour out to an island with 4,000 penguins on it. It was slightly more expensive. It was guided. It was the only one that landed on the island and gave us an hour 2 feet away from the Penguins. They only allow 40 people on the island a day. Of the places that I visited where I didn’t need a guide and can be done freestyle I strongly suggest doing Tierra del Fuego National Park, the hikes around El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls.
Language – One thing that took me by slight surprise was how difficult it was to speak English in Argentina. Which is not to say that it was difficult to get around, only that it is fairly common that most Argentinians only speak limited English or none at all. While this can be a slight challenge in taxi-cabs and elsewhere, I never found it to be anything more slightly surprising. For those more familiar with traveling in parts of Mexico or Europe, be aware that you may have to do a little more work to ask questions, seek directions, or engage in conversations. Luckily the Argentinians are delight, friendly and welcoming people.
Must See Destinations
While I feel a bit guilty in constructing this list I have to admit that there wasn’t a single stop along my trip which I would have skipped or shortened. For the specifics of each stop along the way I encourage you (if you haven’t already) to read my blog posts on that leg of the trip. You’ll note that Buenos Aires is NOT at the top of my list despite being a required starting point for any trip through Argentina. More on this later.
Iguazu Falls – This is hands down one of the most, if not the most, spectacular place I’ve ever been. I’m a huge waterfall guy and these falls did absolutely nothing to disappoint. Even if your skeptical about major tourist destinations, this will impress, awe and amaze. It’s a bit hard to get to but well worth the effort.
Perito Moreno Glacier – The Andes are incredible, Glaciers are spectacular and the Perito Moreno Glacier combines the best of both. Accessed through El Calafate this was an amazing experience. Don’t just settle for seeing the glacier though, make sure you book a tour and hike it as well.
Tierra del Fuego – There’s something magical and exciting about being as far south as you can go without heading to Antarctica. The landscape is beautiful, the weather was energizing, and the chance to see and spend time with wild penguins was fantastic. While not as majestic as other National Parks in the area it’s a great starting point (do it first) and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Also, as the base for most Antarctica trips, be prepared to want to stow away.
Buenos Aires – A great city, especially for those who love a European influenced feel and spirit. While the city has some historical draws the main things to see are cultural and revolve around tango performances, social dancing, food, and night life. The city never sleeps and its impossible to experience both the day and night life simultaneously. Set aside a few days to focus exclusively on one, then on the other.
El Chalten – Located just north of El Calafate the hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy is stunning. If you want nature, awe inspiring grandeur and mountains that look like they’ve been photoshopped this is a must. Make sure to hike, and to set aside some extra time in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
I’m sure a lot of other travelers who have been to BA will disagree, but I’ve got to beat up on the city a bit. Buenos Aires was one of my most heavily anticipated destinations. It was also the one disappointment on my trip, though I hesitate to say that as it was still delightful and I’d go back in a heartbeat. The people I met in BA were incredible, the dancing I did and saw was absolutely some of the best in the world, and the food I found was great. The night life in BA is also some of the best you’ll find anywhere. The real disappointment for me was the city itself. La Boca was dirty and seemed more like a cheesy ride at Disneyland. People often compare BA to the Paris of the Americas. I disagree. I wasn’t overly impressed and found it to be more like a dirty, run down version of Madrid than anything. The old districts and the San Telmo market are great, but they’re nothing special. In truth, that’s how I felt about the majority of the city. The main architectural and historical tourist draws are interesting, if nothing to write home about. So, my final verdict? It’s a great city with a lot to offer, the safety and security concerns are over stated, but so-too is the city’s character and personality. Go instead for the food, the people, the dance, and the people’s culture.
Argentina is spectacular. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re a person drawn to natural beauty, rich culture, or food you need to put Argentina at the top of your list. The language barrier can be more pronounced than in some other areas, but its never insurmountable and always worth it. I’d go back in a heartbeat and know that for as much as I fit into my brief trip, there’s much, much more which I missed. I highly encourage you to peruse my videos, photos and previous posts documenting my time in Argentina and invite you to ask any question you may have. Have an amazing trip and enjoy the adventure!
With that keen sense of despair gnawing at the edge of my mind, I gradually began to internalize that my trip to Argentina was nearing its conclusion. Anything but ready to leave Argentina behind I relished every remaining moment I had, and to be fair, those remaining moments promised grand adventures including a visit to La Boca, a stunning tango show, live tango dancing with locals, a bizarre amusement park and of course New Years celebrations! After a 17 hour plus bus ride back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu I settled into my new hostel in the Palermo district. After getting settled I had the Hostel’s front desk call and book a reservation for me at Cafe de los Angelitos – one of Buenos Aires famous cafes offering live, choreographed Tango performances. While more expensive (the show was 300 ARS or about $75 USD and offered an option for 450 ARS which included dinner) my local friend and tango instructor Rodrigo had suggested it, which left little doubt in my mind. Eager to find a hole in the wall for dinner and already smarting from the sticker price of the show alone I opted for the show, sans the meal.
As a latin and ballroom dancer the opportunity to see a live Argentina Tango performance stood out as one of the key draws which had driven me to book my Argentina trip. Though my relationship with Tango has always been with International/American Tango I love watching Argentina Tango and have the utmost respect for it. In 2007 as a semi-accidental discovery I caught Tango Fire, a touring Argentina Tango troupe, while they were performing in London. The show was mesmerizing, simple, sensual, and a magical melding of love music, dance and physical artistry. It set a high bar and is a fond memory – one which I was eager to match or surpass.
Unsure what to expect and regretting the lack of more formal clothing I put on my black dress shirt, cleaned up, and hopped in a cab. I’d battled with the decision to take my camera’s with me, and given the semi-formal setting eventually opted (much to my later lament – the photos in this post are from their website) to leave them at home. As we sped through the streets and across town I chatted with my Cab driver, a gentleman who was as much tour guide as cabbie and every bit the proud Argentine. He extolled the virtues, history and reputation of Cafe de los Angelitos and then told me I absolutely had to return to the Cafe another evening for one of the live musical performances (next trip my friend!). As we pulled up in front of the cafe I hopped out, bid him goodbye and checked my watch. I was 40 minutes early – whoops! Never one to mind being a bit early, I paused to take in the Cafe before making my way inside.
Cafe de los Angelitos was founded in 1890 and is far more than just a simple cafe. With a formal, though more traditional, cafe in front the venue manages to secret away a large balconied dining room decorated in an ornate 19th century style. The dining room and the connected balconies resemble the general feel of your traditional opera or play house and are carefully laid out to offer a fantastic view of the raised stage. The stage is a beautiful two story thing, with a recessed space for the band and multiple layers allowing fantastic acoustics and the dancers wonderful opportunities to use the set as part of their performances. All of the wait staff are in traditional outfits which offer a turn of the century meets old Victorian Gaucho look.
I checked in and to my delight was escorted to the end seat directly off the center of the stage. Though located near the back of the ground floor it offered me a centered view of the stage and placed me close enough to see everything in perfect detail. I ordered still water and relaxed to people watch as time slipped by. I’d arrived right before the main course was served for those who opted to do the dinner, and I have to confess that the dinner looked superb. Multi-course with oyster appetizers, a large steak, and wonderful assortment of desert options it left my mouth watering.
And then the lights dimmed, plates were cleared away and the stage lights lit the stage. As the lights slowly came up the performers made their way through the crowd before finding their way up onto the stage. They giggled and laughed, chatted and teased each other in character while dressed in beautiful summer clothing. One jovially lugged an early model camera with him while others had umbrellas and tophats in tow. They settled into a group, posed briefly and then with a large flash the Camera went off. From there the picnic evolved into a delightful dance with the five partnerships spinning, twisting, dipping and pausing for a periodic corte. All the while the band, which was located in a recessed enclosure in the center of the stage, played piercing tango music. I was instantly drawn into the performance and found myself on the edge of my seat.
As the night progressed the performances varied. Some were group performances featuring all of the couples, while others were solo or duet pieces. Yet others were pure musical performances and featured one of the two main vocalists. To my delight I’d attended in the hope of seeing a great tango show. As an unexpected bonus I also received a fantastic concert. They sang piecing songs of tragedy, love, passion and desire all set to the heart stopping ballads of live tango music so full of power and energy that you could feel them pulsating in your chest.
With each new performance the women’s costumes changed from traditional gowns to incredible evening dresses that highlighted the dancer’s stunning physiques and left little doubt that they were every bit as sensual and attractive physically as their dancing was captivating. For the men’s part they demanded their place on the stage with puffed out chests, low sitting fedoras, and a mixture of suits that offered their own character and feel. Each time they took the stage a hush drifted over the crowd.
One of my favorite performances began with a dark stage and enchanting vocals. As a spotlight slowly drifted down, it revealed the female singer perched in the band box. Eventually, as though responding to a her song, a lone male dancer took the floor. After a series of solo routines showcasing his talent he appeared to win her over. She slowly walked to the edge of the 2nd story box, gently took a seat, and then to our shock and delight slipped off the edge and down into his waiting arms. From there the song gave way to pure music, and a story told by entwined bodies as they drifted – sometimes fast, sometimes slow – across the dance floor.
Another of my favorites began with a lone woman standing, posing, and then eventually dancing elegantly in front of a sheer curtain. As she danced, the light on the front of the stage would periodically switch from front to back, which in turn highlighted the silhouette of lone male figure. As the dance continued he eventually struck out from behind the curtain where he approached her and was accepted. They danced. Legs entwined in a maze of motion, I quickly realized that the curtain was as much dress as curtain. Made of the same material and color as her dress it found its way to the floor before drawing in to wrap up and around her as part of her dress. Then as he wrapped her in it, the curtain released and fell to the ground leaving the two to wrap themselves in the curtain, dance around it, and unwind themselves before that part of her dress fell away leaving them to do grand dips, lifts and catches. The interplay between light, shadow, the music and each other was fantastic!
Though most of the dances were in deed Argentina Tangos, they also mixed in a number of other pieces which varied from Sambas to sensual rumba-like routines danced in sheer nightgown-esq outfits on a stage obscured by billowing fog machines. The show was everything you would expect and more. Sensual, passionate, entertaining, playful, lustful, moving, and even at times slightly tragic. While it may not have been true street tango it was easily one of the most spectacular performances I’ve ever enjoyed live. I would readily put it head to head with the great musicals and other similarly spirited performances.
The one truly unfortunate aspect of the evening was the service. It was easily the worst I’ve experienced in a long time and by far the worst I experienced in Argentina. I’m not sure if it was due to confusion over whose section I was in, the fact that I was alone, young, male, didn’t purchase the dinner or a combination of all of the above. Regardless it took me more than 50 minutes to get my water, which included flagging down waitstaff 5 times and having them deliver gas water vs. the still I had ordered. During that same period (before the water arrived mid-show) I also ordered a hot tea which took two requests (combined with the water inquiries), over 20 minutes and frustrated complaints before it arrived. Keep in mind this all occurred at a venue charging almost $40 USD for dinner and with ample wait staff on hand. I eventually flagged down a waiter from another section, was forced to complain in broken Spanish, and after repeating my story several times was introduced to a manager who spoke English. She was apologetic, said she would work on it immediately and insisted I accept a free desert in addition to comping my water and hot tea. As the show started the fruit plate arrived, which was a wonderful mixture of sweet kiwi, grapes, mellons, strawberries and blueberries. Unfortunately, and perhaps somewhat comically, even as the plate arrived the one thing I truly wanted – a bottle of still water – took an additional 10 minutes to find its way to me.
While the service was disappointing, frankly rather insulting, and extremely unfortunate I will say that the manager made a decent effort to make it right once it was brought to her attention, was apologetic and despite it all did little to truly diminish the experience. In truth it became more comedy than frustration. Though I’d be far less patient with the service in the future I’d gladly attend the Cafe’s performance again as it was truly magnificent and an experience that was gently enhanced by the feel and ambiance of the venue. For more info feel free to visit Cafe de los Angelito’s website.
Ahhh Buenos Aires. I think I may have fallen in love with your charm!
Reminder: This post is a continuation in my Argentina series. Jump to the previous post: Puerto de Iguazu, Toucans and an Animal Rehabilitation in Argentina or if you’re itching for a bit of tango music check out Tango music on Amazon.
**Please note that all of the photos from Cafe de los Angelitos in this post are theirs and are from their website. As stated in the post, I did not have my camera with me. All rights are retained by the original photographer.
Howdy all! As a quick sidetrack from my Spain blogs this post includes two freshly recorded videos from this past weekend. What of? Why social Salsa dancing of course!
While each Salsa club is completely different the following videos were recorded at Paragon Dance Studio’s Sunday Night Salsa Function in Tempe, Arizona which trades the conventional restaurant/night club backdrop for plenty of space and a top notch dance floor. Make sure to select the HQ option when viewing both videos & remember – I love your questions! Have one? Post it in a comment response to this post and I’ll get back to you promptly!
Elektra & I Dancing:
Debbie & I Dancing:
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Christmas has made writing the last few days extremely difficult. Everyone has been engaged in one giant festival here in Cadiz with stores running odd hours, people everywhere, and lots of fun adventures to be had. As I wait for my train to depart Cadiz, I finally find myself able to sit down and share a bit about my time in Sevilla.
After arriving at the hostel, I unloaded my bag and began to get situated. Oasis Sevilla is a fantastic 4-story hostel with a bar and common area on the first floor, rooms on the 2nd and 3rd, and a rooftop terrace with a (cold) pool and nicely equipped kitchen. From the start, the hostel had a warm, friendly feel to it which built camraderie.
I immediately met two German guys and a Swede who were in my room. We made the usual introductions, I checked my email briefly and eagerly dove into the city. The hostel is located immediately off a large plaza containing a mid-sized cathedral. The plaza, divided into two park areas, was the site of one of the oddest pieces of construction I’ve seen in a long time. One half had been turned into a large walled-off construction zone as they assembled what looks to be some sort of flying sauceresque large building. I cannot for the life of me figure out how or what the end result will be, but it makes for a very odd addition to the skyline. As I was checking my e-mail I talked briefly with a guy who recommended walking down to the river and tracking down some of the graffiti which I put on my to do list for the following day. With no particular direction or location in mind, I set off picking up a bit of tapas in a small tapas bar along the way. I wandered around the zone immediately around my hostel, taking in the huge crowds of people in the streets, the chestnut vendors cooking and hawking their toasty ashen wares and the general hum-drum of a vibrant city alive with life.
By about 8:30 pm I got back to the hostel just in time to join up with a free Tapas and Flamenco tour provided by the hostel. The guide was a German fellow doing an extended stay at the hostel. With some 15 odd people in tow we set out and wound our way through the streets before arriving at a small tapas bar on a small stone square full of cafes and small shops. In a stampede we set upon the bar, scratching our heads, picking out tapas and passionately wolfing them down with the customary beer that goes with it. After glancing at a menu, I decided to take a different route than the others and asked the waiter/barman for a recommendation. Something different, exciting, and uniquely Spanish. An older gentleman – Fernando – who was sitting next to me at the bar jumped in, and after a quick conference with the barman they picked out a pork tapas for me. When it arrived it was delicious pork tenderloin in a mild olive oil and garlic sauce, over sliced potatoes with whole nodules of cooked garlic. All served with a basket of crunchies and bread and a glass of local beer. It didn´t take long to devour the entire plate.
As we drank and munched away contentedly we all exchanged stories and got to know each other. As it turned out it was our guide’s birthday was at midnight which added to the festive cheer of the evening. As we all relaxed at the table, I chatted with two brother and sister duos, both traveling from the states, as well as an Australian girl who knew one of the sisters. My buddy Rick, whom I´d met in Madrid at the hostel and bumped back into in Sevilla, joined us … as did several others, including the two Germans and the Swede from my room.
Eventually our guide rounded us up and we again meandered through the city to a bar entrance off a side street. The building was an odd thing. It had an old stone entryway with a fireplace and small stage. There was an outer room with a tin roof, bar, and an expansive set up of two-tiered tables. We quickly re-arranged the tables and in the second (higher) tier set up a long bench of seats. The venue was a kick with old fans hanging from the roof, propane tower heaters, a thick layer of cigarette smoke, fake plant vines, large movie-sized flamenco posters and other odd decorations. The place was dirty, grungy and packed with flavor. Before we knew it everyone had picked up a cheap pitcher of local beer and the tabletop was littered with pitchers, glasses and cameras.
The flamenco show was good, more traditional and with better dancing than the casual flamenco evening I´d stumbled into in Madrid … but lacked some of the character. The performers consisted of two men, one on guitar, one singing and clapping, and a woman who did the majority of the flamenco dance. Her movements were beautiful and flowing all done to an amazing rhythm. At one point the second man got up and joined her in a passionate, tangoesque flamenco which combined the power of a romantic tease with the feel of a bullfight and the paso doble. By midnight the flamenco was coming to an end. We wished our guide a happy birthday finished off the pitchers of beer and made our way to the door. Or next stop was northward to the bar and club section of the town.
The club part of town is around the Plaza de Hercules – a long plaza/parkway full of cafes and shops during the day. In the evening the place comes alive with bars, lounges and discotecas. About 10 strong, we found our way to a rather odd alternative club. The crowd was a bit edgy, and all of the bartenders were female, with short hair and a lot of piercings. Some had mohawks or other similar hair styles. It was all around interesting…if short lived. About 20 minutes after we´d arrived in the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder press some sort of smoke went off. At first we thought they’d teargassed the bar, but despite being unpleasant to breathe and having a slightly orange aftertaste, it didn’t overly hurt, beyond generally being unpleasant. Jostled by the press to get out of the bar, hunkering low to avoid the smoke/fumes, we joined the others as the bar emptied out into the streets. Some sort of fire extinguisher? Hard to know.
After purging our lungs and trying to figure out what had happened, we continued up the street a ways before finally finding another nightclub. Once there, we settled in until 4:30 in the morning when one of the guys got kicked out (apparently for deciding to water the bar). Laughing at the absurdity of it, we decided to round up the troops and head back to the hostel. The walk back was hilarious, with several games of orange dodgeball in the empty streets, using fallen oranges from the heavily-laden trees that line the streets.
Covered in orange juice and smelling of smoke we crawled into bed and prepared for the morning.
The next day started at 11 am. Time is up, I´m off to catch my train. More adventures soon!
As time rushes by the adventure has continued to be an absolute delight. After finishing my last post I set out into the city. In usual form I was more focused on the voyage than the destination. With my map stashed in my back pocket I picked a direction and began to roam. Through small alleyways, along major two lane thoroughfares and beyond I wound my way north across the city. The weather has been delightful, a little crisp but far from too cold. I’ve also been blessed with sunny weather and a total lack of rain. Eventually I found myself in downtown Madrid’s bustling tourist and business center. With beautiful old architecture thrown seemingly at random between new signs for major chains and newer buildings, the city was vibrantly alive with life.
I eventually found a large, beautiful park. I absorbed the beauty of fall-kissed trees, enjoyed the clean crisp air, and breathed in scents coming from all the vegetation. As I neared the center of the park, I came across a number of gorgeous cats who had seemingly laid claim to a small Galapagos monument. Walled away from the people by large wrought iron fences the cats had free reign of a fun, small set of pools and bushes. As I was relaxing and watching the cats frolic an old woman came up with a stroller. To my amazement, in place of the usual child the stroller held a cat strapped into an adorable little vest sitting regally in an unzipped jacket turned quilt. Though tied by its leash to the stroller, the cat was obviously far from interested in wandering off. As he sat there relaxing and watching the birds his mother pulled out a number of cans of cat food, began feeding the strays, conversing with each and calling them by name. The whole thing was adorable.
I watched the cats play in the bushes and harass the local pigeon population before I continued into the center of the park which was based around a small lake. The lake was surrounded by walkways on two sides, with the Galapagos monument on the third, and a large war memorial on the fourth. The memorial was a beautiful thing with a large central pillar, statuary and steps that led down to the water’s edge. Eventually I made my way around the lake’s edge and spent an hour or so napping, reading, and relaxing in the afternoon sun at the base of the steps near the water.
Rested and relaxed I continued my exploration of the park and eventually found a large, beautifully manicured garden which lead me down towards the Prado Art Museum. Despite painfully sore feet, I decided to make every moment count and picked up a ticket. The museum had a wonderful collection, all beautifully displayed. In addition to a number of the usual famous pieces, I found countless less renown works from masterful artists. Most memorable was a fantastic statue created in the 1400 or 1500s that had rich, pure colors and appeared to be almost 3 dimensional. The other pieces that really caught my attention were a series of stunning inlaid tabletops. The tables impressive in their weight to begin with, had tops that were completely covered in inlaid motifs depicting animals, wildlife, patterns, and flowers all created with gorgeous precious stones. One of the more impressive ones was also supported by 4 large beautiful lions.
In addition to their rather sizable art collection, the museum also had small, beautiful sets of Greek and Roman statues, and a number of marble slave masks that were infused with an amazing degree of expression and emotion.
After leaving the Prado I found my way back to the hostel where I rested for a bit before setting out to find some food. As I roamed hunting for a tapas or kebab shop I stumbled into a bustling market street lined with butchers, vegetable stands, and the like. A little further down it I found an entrance into an a large, two story market full of individual produce, fish, meat, olive, and sausage stands. The smells, colors, and assortment of food was absolutely fantastic. As I roamed, trying to decide what to pick up for dinner, I eventually picked up a persimmon and several tangerines. Not in the mood to cook meat, and unable to find seafood prices that fit my budget, I elected to continue my quest for a kebab shop. Eventually, kebab in hand I settled in back at the hostel for another night meeting new friends.
After a few hours spent in the hostel common area meeting, greeting and getting to know each other we set off to explore the city’s night life. As we meandered our way through the city and hopped from bar to bar, we eventually ended up at a fun downstairs club. The entrance was a small staircase where I had to watch my head, but the club itself was a narrow set of basement rooms with a vaulted brick ceiling. The place looked as though it had once stored wine casks. Eager to enjoy the evening, we danced, relaxed, and explored the particularly flavorful and peculiar club which was populated predominantly by locals dancing, smoking, and drinking the night away. By about 4:30AM we decided to call it a night and made the trip back to the hostel. The city at night is beautiful with vibrant lights, people wandering the streets at all hours, and a constant hum of activity.
The following morning I woke up early, explored the area around the hostel a bit more before hopping the tube up to the train station. The train station is a large, beautiful structure, with fun elements and a very flavorful style. One of the large common areas within the station has an indoor garden in the center of it with large palm trees, all sorts of vegetation and even a decent sized pool full of lilies and turtles. After taking it all in, I snagged a quick bite to eat and then made my way to my train. Interestingly I had to put my backpack through an x-ray machine. I then boarded the train through a terminal, as you would at the airport. An all around new process I hadn’t been through before.
I enjoyed Madrid thoroughly, though it´s without question a large city and lacks a lot of the charm of a smaller town. The people were friendly, but in a big city sort of way. The streets while beautiful are somewhat sterile and modernized, not to mention, land-mined with dog nuggets. That said, I enjoyed it immensely and my stay was fantastic, but the city cannot compare in any way, shape or form to Seville which I will write about soon.