And even after college, I made sure I wasn't going to forget my Spanish. My high grades and exemptions from the final exams were not going to the basura. So, when I finished my Level 12 French at Alliance Francaise de Manille, I enrolled at Instituto Cervantes in Manila to review my español. And it paid off!
Yes, my spanish professors (Señores Sua-an y Billanes, y Señora Garde) in college and at Instituto Cervantes (Señora Lola Lazaro!) would have been proud! I was able to navigate 2,100 kilometers of Spain over 11 days armed with my confident español y una mapa de toda España!
Although the first leg of my journey (Incheon Airport to Istanbul-Ataturk Airport) to Spain was riddled with disappointments, I tried to forget it once I was up in the air en route to Madrid.
Arriving at Madrid Barajas Airport, I was a bit worried about my ruined tour plan because the two-hour delay of Turkish Airlines flight made me lose a day in Spain! But I just had to carry on. Well, it's the reality of travelling; sometimes, you just have to brush aside delays and disappointments that weren't part of your itinerary.
Hostal Las Fuentes
About two months before I flew, I studied Madrid's geography and decided to book at Hostal Las Fuentes because, one, it was at the city center and was close to tourist sites, and, two, it had reasonable rates. Señor Tomas, the owner, was very helpful and even told me about the history of the whole building, part of which serves as his hotel.
Hostal Las Fuentes was on Calle de las Fuentes, which is about eight minutes by foot from the royal palace. He told me that the building used to house those who worked at the royal palace, such as palace officials, writers and even prostitutes who catered to the 'royal needs'! Yikes! When he told me that, I immediately regretted I asked him about the building's history. I suddenly worried whether 'one' actually stayed in my room! Ja-ja-ja!
I got to the hotel mid-afternoon, and after checking in, I wasted no time and walked towards Plaza Mayor as my first stop. Plaza Mayor is the main square built in 1620. It's a popular hangout for locals and tourists due to the cafes and restaurants around it.
At Plaza Mayor, I asked for a Madrid map at the tourist information center. I then wandered around the alleys admiring the shops selling authentic spanish abanicos (some souvenir shops in Spain sell abanicos made in China) and shawls.
I had to stop at a shop selling cookies and bocadillo de jamon (ham sandwich). Of course, I also had to order Coca-Cola fria (cold Coke)!
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol literally means 'gate of the sun', and this square is one of the most popular in Spain as this has been a place where people gather since the 15th century.
That day, tourists, street performers, vendors, and probably a few pickpockets crowded Puerta del Sol. As I was advised, I kept my wallet in a sling bag and was aware of it all the time.
Even though the sights and activities during one's travel may occupy your attention, you should always be aware of your surroundings, and avoiding crowds is always a good precaution.
I have to admit I almost got pickpocketed right along Calle Mayor! The two college-age female pickpockets were really quick! Luckily, they weren't able to get anything. I caught them and shouted "Hey!". And their ready response? "It was open!" Then they just casually walked away. They struck during the moment when I let my guard down. I learned a lesson. From then on, I was always careful.
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Next stop, churros con chocolate for breakfast!