We didn’t really know where we were going to be in mid April when Ray needed to fly home (to look after (Greg & Monique’s poor, sweet, abandoned children). We figured maybe Southern Spain or Portugal, so we told him to book himself back from Madrid. It turns out that we barely made it West to Madrid just on time for him to catch his plane back early this morning. The city was pretty interesting Our hotel was called “Hi-Tek Castel Nova” and included free wireless throughout as well as a huge screen laptop in every room along with huge LCD TV’s and VOIP phones. Very cool indeed!

We only drove around in a seemingly fairly new area in the NE area of Madrid, closer (15 minutes) to the airport. It was still weird though, because no matter where we drove in about a four kilometer radius, there were no single family dwelling subdivisions. There were only apartments. Block after block after block of apartments with small basic little parks or “green areas” thrown in. To make things even weirder (to us North Americano’s at least) was that none of these apartments were more than seven or eight stories tall. Even the commercial buildings were seemingly restricted to this height. The roads here were wide with multiple lanes, with elaborate traffic control. The malls we saw were HUGE and plentiful. Just no houses…

The subway system here was fantastic. The stairways and walking tunnels were wide and well looked after. There were even three or four escalators at most stations we saw. We were riding around on the weekend and didn’t experience the workday crushing throngs of people. There were still one or two rides with people bumping each other and at one point a dark cloud fell over our happy family group. Ray realized that his wallet from the buttoned back pocket went missing on one ride. Luckily we had a smok’in net connection and he was able to use skype to cancel everything. It was still a huge disappointment to lose the $150 or so cash he had in there though, never mind the damper the experience put on our moods.

We didn’t do a whole lot of sight seeing in Madrid. In the two nights we stayed there was only time for a few spots including the Royal Palace. It was incredible, and opulent, and stunk so badly of excess that I quickly became sickened with the obnoxious display everywhere we looked. It was emphasized that the king had three meals a day in each of three seperate rooms. Each was more incredible and painted and furnished more extravagantly than the previous. There were marble floor and wall etchings done with craftsmanship just barely less grand than that of the Taj Mahal. One room housed several Stratovarious instruments of various sizes, and I didn’t even realize that he made anything but violins. The armory at the Palace was very cool. All kinds of different swords and fighting implements. There were a couple dozen suites of armor, all shined up nicely, and another several with armored dummy men on armored dummy horses. Ultra cool! All this came along with a few dozen security people also watching to ensure that no one attempted to take any pictures. Anyone raising a cell phone up received an immediate stern focus, never mind actually trying to whip out a camera from one’s pocket.

We had difficulty finding a place for supper on the 20th to celebrate Alex’s 14th birthday. The hotel restaurant where we were at was closed that night but there were a whole bunch of other options within a ten minute drive of the neighborhood. Or so we initially thought… It turned out that places were either a bar (packed full of smokers) or a basic hokey little bistro, (not worthy of a birthday celebration), or that they didn’t open until 9:00 PM! In the end we drove around for a couple of hours looking and came back to an awesome Asian place that opened at nine. The food and Spanish speaking Asian staff were worth the wait though, and we all enjoyed a scrumptious meal. Plus at the end, they brought Alex her cheesecake with a candle in it and we all boisterously sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to her.

Sadly the next morning Ray had to head off early to the airport. We all gave him big hugs goodbye, but not before loading the heck out of his huge (and half empty) and most importantly light suitcase. He still hasn’t told us if he had to pay any extra charges at the counter, but we temporarily divested ourselves of all sorts of heavy books, neat small rocks and ancient Roman pottery pieces from around Petra.

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