The next several posts will outline some of the highlights and hilarity of my first trip to Europe.
As I briefly mentioned HERE, I signed up to teach English for a week on a resort in beautiful La Alberca through a program named PUEBLO INGLES. When I applied I linked the program site to a few of my friends and asked if anyone wanted to join me. After all, adventures on foreign continents are more fun with others. Right?? I was delighted to see my Penpal from Australia accepted my travel challenge. Now, I have known my Penpal since I was 11 years old, but never met her in person at this point. We began to plan our vacation while about 10,360 miles apart. The plan was for her to travel several weeks through the United Kingdom until a couple of days before the Pueblo Ingles program when we would both fly to Madrid. There, we would finally meet. Everyone I mentioned this plan to was in disbelief or made comments about it sounding like a movie. Maybe one day.
The morning of my first transatlantic flight, I was still frantically trying to figure out what I could fit in my luggage. Apparently, I tried to pack more clothes than I could squash into my suitcase. We were pressed for time so I ended up throwing items onto my bed until I could close it. We had a two-hour drive ahead of us to the airport. My mom bid me a tearful farewell at Dulles Airport and I was on my way. Thankfully, Aer Lingus flies directly from Washington, D.C. to Madrid. My flight landed at 7:30am (Spain time) in the morning. I was meeting my Penpal in the hostal around 3pm so I knew I had plenty of time to myself. I decided to take the metro from the airport, in the east, to the hostal near the Opera station, in the west. I found out quickly there are no escalators in Madrid’s metro so be warned if you plan on lugging two bags and a suitcase from one end of the city to the other (like I did). Instead of escalators, there are stairs! Lots of stairs.
Lesson One: You have to work your legs to get around the Madrid Metro system.
By the time I emerged from the station I was tired, warm, and sweating, but I will never forget that moment.
I am not sure why I expected my first glimpse of a street in Madrid to be anything like streets back in Maryland cities with their asphalt and tall, modern buildings. I was absolutely blown away with what I saw. Low buildings, scrolled metal for the windows and balconies, and terracotta roofs? I really hope no one saw me smiling like a crazy person.
Next, I had to find my hostal. I knew the name of the street I needed, but not the direction or how to get to that street. The streets jutted out in different directions and I couldn’t find street names for half of them. Many seemed more like alleys than streets. I was able to practice my broken Spanish to get some directions. Thankfully, after that, I was able to maneuver my way to the correct street. At least I thought it was the correct street, but still did not see my hostal. I approached the only human on that section of the street at that hour other than me. He seemed to be a backpacker (i.e. wore a large backpack and sunglasses).
“Excuse me. Do you know where Hostal Gala is?”
He pointed up.
Okay, well, that was a bit embarrassing. The only sign was on the top story of the building right behind me. I hurried inside hoping to find an elevator of some kind. I was greeted with beautiful stairs. I started to drag my two bags plus suitcase up those stairs. About halfway a woman,who was descending the stairs, came back up to me.
“Tuyo?” She pointed to a dark lump on the stairwell behind us. It looked like a piece of cloth.
“Oh! No…. No, pero gracias.”
She continued her way downstairs. I set my things down and stepped over to the lump for a better look. That’s my shirt! I peered further down near the entrance and spotted another cloth wad on the ground which turned out to be another shirt. After grabbing both I rushed back to my suitcase and tilted it so I could view underneath. It was split open! I saw shirts, socks, and a pants leg poking out from the bottom. WHAT exactly did I drop all over the airport, metro, and neighborhood!???
Lesson Two: Invest in luggage straps.
By the time I reached the receptionist I was tired, sweaty and smelled so, and felt numb to the world. It was almost 9am by this point, but the room wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. I launched into babbling a bit about my luggage and that I was just going to sit and wait in the lobby area. I’m not sure what the receptionist thought of me, but I’m sure she has seen some crazy spectacles before. I bought myself a Coke from a machine and pulled out my iPod to check my email. Should I assess the damage and tally my missing belongings? No. I forced myself not to look. I just sat, and sipped, and waited.
Luckily, my room was finished early so I was able to take a shower and rest before my Penpal arrived. It was a very clean and cute room. It even had a little balcony.
Have you ever been to a country or place which turned out to be completely different from what you expected? Do you ave any travel horror stories?