Monday, August 18, 2008

Madrid's Plaza Mayor, etc. 08-08-08

Before leaving for Spain, Andy and I heard a story from one of the other graduate students at the university he's working at concerning lost luggage and KLM Airlines. Apparently he's lost luggage with that airline at least two out of three times he's flown with them. Unfortunately, we had already booked our flights with KLM. Yes, they "lost" our luggage. Actually, we arrived at the airport, waited longer than necessary for the luggage to arrive, watched for our luggage, then saw that the belt wasn't bringing out any new baggage. Half the flight was still standing around, so we hoped they would bring more out. And they did. So, we waited much longer than necessary for our luggage to arrive (reminded us of Midway in Chicago), only to find that we were among several passengers left at the belt when the luggage well again went dry. One of KLM's representatives had arrived on the scene at that point and was answering questions, so we approached to inquire about our own luggage. She informed us that they had over 100 pieces of luggage, so that the plane was unbalanced and they were therefore unable to load everyone's luggage. There would be another plane at 3:30 from Amsterdam, and two more after that, perhaps it would be loaded on one of those. !!! UNBALANCED? So after standing around for at least an hour waiting for our luggage, KLM finally decided it should tell us, but only because we asked, that THEY had decided not to rearrange the luggage and left ours behind!!! Why they couldn't have posted a sign or made an announcement is beyond me. Not only were we not able to bring a carry-on sized piece of luggage on the plane, they couldn't fit it in the cargo hold! Now that we knew our luggage wasn't coming, we proceeded to stand in line for another hour with the other customers whose luggage wasn't loaded in order to inform KLM of what they already knew - that our luggage wasn't on the plane. !!! Two hours after our arrival, and at least a euro or two in text messages with our host Borja (who was waiting for us all this time), and we finally left, hungry and grumpy. KLM is a Dutch airline.

Having finally escaped the airport, we hit the ground running. Borja intended to show us all of Madrid in two and a half days, and it was time to begin! We started by taking a taxi to his aunt and uncle's lovely house where we dropped off our bags and soon took a bus "downtown" so that we could make our way to the Plaza Mayor, which you see below. The entire plaza is surrounded by a single building, which is now principally shops on the lower level and apartments on the upper levels. The main section, seen in the second photo was once the town hall, which was recently moved (more on that later). The plaza was beautiful, even if in need of some repair (as a historical site, trying to get permission for painting your shutters is probably both expensive and ridiculous). We enjoyed a few tapas - the tortilla espanola that I had been craving (sort of a potato and onion omelet, but with far fewer eggs than you're thinking, so that's it's mostly potato), chorizo (tasty Spanish sausage) and lightly fried potatos. We finished the meal off with *drumroll* coffee! Based on my observations from this trip, I think the Madriano (people from Madrid) blood is 10% water (it's hot and dry!), 20% chorizo cholesterol, 30% coffee and %40 Rioja mixed with soda (red wine from the Rioja region of Spain). It was great. Why oh why couldn't we have gone to Spain?!

Anyways, the same lamppost with Borja showing off his conversation piece - an Obama pin (some Europeans really hate the fact that they don't get to vote in our elections) - and us.

We walked down to another plaza type place where there was a statue of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda*. I'm not sure why I wanted Andy to take the picture... I think, though I'm not certain, that the lamppost bench thing was in the same area. It might have been in a long pretty section of grass and trees and benches that we walked through instead, though.

I promised above to tell you about Madrid's decision to move town hall. They decided an important governing body such as the city government needed a more elegant and illustrious building - they picked the building formerly occupied by the post office. Yes. The post office. This postal edifice, however, was not your usual drab affair, oh no, it was nothing other than that building portrayed in the middle photo below. Pretty swanky for a post office. You can also note that Congress and the Senate (which actually doesn't do anything apparently) have much, much prettier buildings. Or something.

*That is, of course, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. ;)

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