I am realising how complex human nature is. When we were in the British Virgin Islands we were desperate to go back to Europe and now I am in Europe I am desperate to get back to paradise, why is it that we are never happy with our current surroundings. Something has changed in us and the more I stay in one place the more depressed I am getting. How can it take 8 weeks to sort a visa out for the British Virgin Islands? I need to go back, I need to be around inspirational people who share the same love for the sea and adventure. I am tired of living out of a bag and relying on peoples kind hospitality, I need my freedom and not to feel like I am constantly taking but also giving. I was so happy being back in Europe for the first few weeks. The culture, food, family and friends, convenience and adventure all seemed quite agreeable but the time has changed, I have changed and there is no going back.
I remember reading numerous books before we began our adventure of how when you get back you are somewhat different especially when it comes to sharing conversations with certain people who do not know what you have done, the challenges you have faced and the beauty you have seen. I remember reading that when undertaking a conversation with someone who has not shared similar experiences that their attention lasts for approximately 5 minutes before their eyes glaze and you can see that they do not give a shit; basically the conversation is turned to the last episode of Downton Abbey, or the school that their children attend, or the hemorides problem they have or the aunt that has back trouble. It is true, this actually does happen and now after numerous conversations such as this I have switched off, I have nothing to say but to nod, smile and try to take in what they are saying. Only the people have completed such an adventure show eagerness to listen, learn and open their mind, it is sad but true and this is why human nature is so complex. I certainly cannot relate the above to all the people we have been with in the past couple of months. We have been with some amazing friends who have not only listened but have made us feel welcome in their homes and have given more than expected – thank you.
I have certainly had my fair share of Cities and City life as you will see below. The other day I was minding my own business walking towards a zebra crossing. I approached it and looked left and right, as you do, before crossing. Just as I was walking across some Muppet, who was more concerned with her mobile phone than what was going on in front of her, walked in front of me. I could do nothing but head-butt her accidently. The pain was intense and I now have a cracked bone in my nose that clicks at night. I only hope that her head still hurts and maybe I smashed some sense into her brain. Why do people walk around looking at mobiles, Ipads and IPods instead of where they are going? This put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
Anyway, back to far more interesting things. We had to go to Madrid as we had an appointment with the American Embassy and finally get our B1 and B2 visa’s. Those of you who have read previous blogs will know how stressful and annoying this process has been and we were certainly not looking forward to it. If we did not get our visa, we would not have a job as we will be sailing in and around American waters. Plus, we had heard stories of applicants being taken into a dark room and questioned for an hour or two why they wanted the visa’s and swearing on the bible that they would not want to settle down and live in the United States; strange but true.
So we left Oviedo on a sunny afternoon and began the 5 hour drive to Madrid. Asturias is really quite stunning. As soon as you head inland you are confronted by high peaks, sheer cliffs that rise dramatically, beautiful woodland, small villages and yet again empty roads. If we had a stereo in the car, I would have been playing some Toccatta in D minor by Widor or Bachs Fugue, but as we did not I just had to imagine it whilst savouring my dramatic surroundings. As you drive further up endless mountains you come to a tunnel spanning 4 miles and when you pop out the other side it is as if you have been transported to another country. The landscape becomes flat, yellow, hot and dusty; this is the Spain I had imagined before I had properly visited the north.
We arrived five and a half hours later in Madrid. After parking up we met Carlotta’s friends Astrid and Roberto, who would be kindly putting us up for two nights in their stunning apartment. Both Astrid and Roberto are kind, generous and intelligent people who speak excellent English and have a great take on life. Astrid is a Scientist and Rob an IT expert. We spent the evening eating dinner in a lovely Italian, talking about their recent wedding, our adventures, the state of Spain and the problems faced by the young generation here. It was a superb evening.
The next morning we had to wake up at the crack of dawn and head into Madrid city centre to the American Embassy. We managed to get to the tube but understanding the map was a different story. Luckily Carlotta’s Spanish saved the day and an hour later we were outside the Embassy. We queued for a short while before being ushered in to their security section. It was like boarding a plane. All bags were taken away and all metal removed under the watchful eye of an eager security guard with a big gun. We were sent to another room that resembled a doctors surgery. The place was packed even at 07:30 in the morning with all sorts of characters hoping for a chance to visit, or move to America. We were sent to one window, then another and yet another. More papers shuffled and numerous coffees drunk we were sent to the final window where a large American lady sat and looked at us with devious eyes. We smiled and answered the ridiculous questions that were asked like: why do you want the visa, why have you not worked for so long, what did you do before, why did you do that before, what is your new job, why have you changed career, why is the sky blue and how many states does America have. I may have made the last two up but I suppose you get the idea. After this we were granted our visa’s and our passports were taken away to be updated.
We were both tired after our ordeal and the fact that it was still so early. It is never good to see a new place when you are tired and I think that my state of mind may have had an adverse effect on how I saw Madrid. Yes, Madrid is a big city and it has some lovely buildings. Please bear in mind that Madrid were applying to host the Olympics in the next few years so you would have expected to see a city embracing cleanliness, sport and culture. I have never been to such a dirty city. I compare this to all other cities In have been to, which has been lot in the past couple of years. Everywhere you walked you saw dirt, the streets were black, the smell of urine filled the back streets and there was graffiti everywhere. The city felt so unloved. I hate to say it but Wolverhampton is cleaner, Lisbon is cleaner, Seville is cleaner. After dodging some vomit pools we decided to get a coffee in a lovely square opposite the ME Hotel Madrid. Maybe a coffee would sort me out. As we sat there enjoying the morning sun you could again see unbelievable amounts of grime. Glass panels surrounding the square were covered in phlegm, bird shit, and graffiti. Whilst sitting there for 15 minutes we were approached by seven beggars; yes seven. Carlotta went to the toilet in the café only to be greeted by the biggest cockroach she had ever seen. We left hastily to try and recue our already damaged impression of this historic city but it did not get much better.
There were no cycle lanes in the city; there was traffic everywhere all fighting for a small space on the roads. Even pavements were scares in areas and when you found one it was littered with cheap postcard stands and tourist crap; is this really a city that thought it had a chance to host an Olympic event? As the day progressed things got better. Some of the architecture is amazing, the Palace and Cathedral square are imposing and clean. The old fish market has been refurbished and made into a gastronomic centre. Madrid does have a wonderful park located in the middle of the city. We also found a great little tapas bar and sat for an hour resting and enjoying the old part of the city but shortly after we left.
I will visit Madrid again in a better frame of mind and to give it another chance. I hear so many people say positive things about the city and I intend to experience these positives later on but whoever is responsible for the city needs to get a mop out occasionally and take some pride in what could be a fantastic place to visit and live.
In the evening we met with Astrid and Rob who took us into the financial district of Madrid for dinner. We were surrounded by tall skyscrapers and new buildings, a stark contrast from our earlier experiences. We were taken to a lovely Mexican Restaurant and whilst sipping copious amounts of Margarita I saw Madrid in a more pleasant state of mind, it was not such a bad place but then I believe people make a place and not necessarily the architecture or pools of vomit. We walked back to the car slowly and full from our dinner; I even saw several cyclists, maybe there is a small chance of Madrid hosting the Olympics sometime in the future.