I don’t spend a lot of time in cars. And when I do, I’m not normally driving. I’m being chauffeured. Most of the time, the chauffeuring is being done by a taxi cab driver. But on Saturday night, Dad was driving. He and Mom were driving me to the airport in Philadelphia, after a few days in PA celebrating Thanksgiving. Nine hours later, I was sitting in a limousine on my way to the Ritz Carlton Madrid.
It’s a tough life…
I arrived to a plate of chocolates, nuts, and dried fruits. But I was too tired to notice. I crawled into my bed and awoke nearly four hours later. I proceeded to take one of the best showers of my life. The water pressure and water flow was amazing. Seriously, I felt like I was standing under a steady stream of buckets of water. Better be a good shower for 480 Euros a night, right?
At 9:30 PM, I met the team for dinner. These late dinners absolutely KILL me. Spain and food in general kill me. I’m rather certain that my meal cost about 100 Euros. And I would have been just as satisfied eating a salad from Whole Foods for seven bucks. I don’t get Spanish food, really. So much bread. So little meat. So much fat. At least they poured healthy servings of wine.
The next day, we had a large meeting with almost 100 doctors and scientists who would participate in this clinical trial. The meeting went very well, and the presentation I gave ranks as one of the coolest speeches I have ever given. I was the only American in attendance at the meeting. And even though the participants were doctors and scientists, not everyone is completely fluent in English. Hence, my presentation was translated into Czech, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Everyone wore headphones while I spoke. It’s how I envision the United Nations operates. I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in that idea. It was cool.
After the meeting, the group attended a fancy dinner out on the town in Madrid. We ate in what used to be a casino but is now a space for private parties. At the dinner, I quickly made friends with the Italian doctors. Or rather, they quickly made friends with me. They noticed that my last name ends in a vowel, and had to ask, “From what village is your family?”
(Now, Dad, before you get all excited and impressed by these Italian men, you should know they are very disappointed that you have not brought your family to your homeland. And their eyes nearly bulged out of their heads when they heard that your Irish wife has been to Italy but you have not. So, maybe you should get on that?)
After a brief meeting Tuesday morning, I found myself with a free day in España. So I packed my bags and headed to the train station, La Estacion de Atoche. Just a few blocks from my hotel, I walked there, suit case in tow, and purchased a ticket to Toledo. Toledo is a small town approximately 70 kilometers outside of Madrid. A thirty-minute train ride followed by a 5 minute cab ride, and I was checked into my hotel, Toledo Imperial, right next to El Alcazar.
As I stood out on my balcony, looking at the cobblestone, labyrinth-like maze of city streets, I couldn’t believe I had taken myself all the way from San Francisco through the Spanish country-side and into what is essentially a medieval town. All without speaking more than a few words of English. For anyone who has traveled abroad extensively, this little trip from Madrid to Toledo is no big deal. But to me, traveling on my own, in Europe only for the second time in my life... I was a little pleased with myself. But I've always been good at navigation!
And so I dropped off my bags, grabbed my camera, and set out to explore the town. I shopped. I ate. I took pictures. I realized I needed an adapter to plug in my electronics, so I hunted one down. No one spoke English, so my Spanish skills were put to the test, but I survived. And I bought an adapter for only 1,50 Euros. My fun was cut short by rain, but it was still a nice trip outside of Madrid. Toledo is a beautiful city, and I highly recommend this day trip to anyone visiting Madrid.I got back to San Francisco late last night. The return trip took roughly twenty-four hours, from hotel to train station to airport (Madrid) to airport (Philadelphia) to airport (San Francisco) to apartment. It is amazing how tiring it is to sit on your ass in an airplane all day. Especially after a few days of leisurely strolling around town barely speaking to anyone.
This month alone, I have traveled 23,134 miels on United. That's a lot of miles. And a lot of hours. A lot of time staring at the "Welcome to United Economy Plus" sticker. And a lot of time thinking about life. But as exciting as traveling is, it's nice to be home again. Nice to get back into the groove. Again. ¡Otra vez!