¡Hola! Hanging out at the easyEverything internet shop, and while it may have everything except delivery of cafe con leche to my computer terminal, it is lacking the character that some of the other internet shops that I have been to already. The one I went to the first couple of days was just a few paces from the Puerta del Sol marker in the basement of a money exchange office. Offered Internet, Fax, phone, etc, and looked like the basement of a money exchange office should. Okay connection, 400 ptas/hour. Next, I tried one up the street from our hotel, that is upstairs from a zapateria. Sparse furnishings, very friendly hostess, quick connection, smoking permitted, and the hostess was very friendly. 195 ptas./hour.

The place I am in now is looks like McDonalds crossed with Ikea. There is food available at the front counter, hundreds of computers, quick connection, advertising on the screen, pretty crowded (It is just after midnight here), and the mouses are sluggish – I don’t think they have been cleaned in a while, and the latch to pull the mouse ball out appears to have been glued shut. Very sterile, but the flat screen monitors are cool. The music selection is interesting – I’ve heard BeeGees, Eminem, and Del Amitri since I got here. 200ptas./hour, but you have to purchase a card for a minimum of 500ptas. I think they have variable pricing depending on the time you are in here – it is open 24 hours.

The good side of this? I am not lacking in inexpensive options to update my travel journal. ($1=190 ptas. according to Yahoo!, checked just now.)

Okay, enough atmosphere, on with the journalling…

Dinner at Gerwald and Julia’s was incredible. It was cool because we got to eat “everyday” foods at Mila and Alfonsonso´s, and “special occasion” foods at Gerwald and Julia’s. Much more formal – it was good for us to experience the contrast in meals, but I felt terribly underdressed when we got to their home – I was wearing my jeans and ribbed turtleneck touring clothes….

Their home is very beautiful – it would be to have such a nice flat that close to the city center. There is a terrace on the roof, and Gerwald´s office overlooks it. Julia’s kitchen is done up with very modern looking yellow and black colors, and it looks like it would be a fun kitchen to cook in. I could go on and on about how cool their flat is, but the food was even better. On this night, we also brought them our gifts from the United States, which included two picture books from the northwest, chocolate covered macademia nuts, jelly bellies, and a copy of our cookbook. The cookbook went over very well, which I was very happy about.

Watched a bit of TV tonight while I was writing in my paper version of the journal. You haven’t lived until you´ve see the Budweiser “What´s uuuuup?” commercial on Spanish TV, in English but with Spanish subtitles. Very amusing. Also amusing that there are so many American fast food joints in Madrid. I am grateful that I have not found any in the smaller, picturesque towns we have visited. Among those I have seen are Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin´Donuts, Burger King, and of course, McDonald´s. I found it interesting that when we were getting our key from the front desk earlier this evening, there was a young couple grilling the attendant for the whereabouts of the nearest Pizza Hut. Here? Huh? Why?

The one thing that I have found over here (and wondering if I can live without in the US) is Lemon Fanta. I won´t drink 7-UP or Sprite, but there is something very light and refreshing about Lemon Fanta… I am becoming quite the junkie.

We went to the Summer Palace and Segovia with Mila and Alfonso on Saturday. The trip there was very cool because we had to travel through the mountains to get to both places. The mountain scenics reminded me a bit of Tahoe with the pine trees and whatnot. The summer palace was awesome, although I find it difficult to imagine what the trip there was like from Madrdid when there were no cars or modern roads. We wandered through the gardens (designed like Marseilles!) and near the fountains, which surprisingly, are turned on mostly in the month of August and at no other times. (August is also the time when many Spanish people take their holidays… coincidental, no?) I liked that the statues were so clean and well cared for, as opposed to the statues in the Parque de Retiro, where many statues were vandalized. Mila and Alfonso told me that there is a large restoration effort being undertaken, and we could see evidence of such with some of the garden closed for re-construction.

After the summer palace, we drove to Segovia. Side note: I was asked today by two Floridian tourists at the Museo Thyssen which was my favorite: Segovia or Toledo. I can honestly say that I couldn´t come up with an answer for them – they are both so incredible. Visted the castle that Disney took their inspiration from, drove past the viaducts several times, and lucked into a table at the Jose Maria. Ate a soup with huge white beans that melted in your mouth, several types of jamon and chorizo, and blood sausage. I wasn’t sure what I would think of the blood sausage, but tried it and found it quite to my liking. For our main course we enjoyed young suckling pig – again, one of those things I may not have ordered on my own. However, when in Spain with an opportunity to try a regional delicacy with a host and hostess who haven´t steered us wrong yet, I tried the suckling pig. The meat was very tender and delicious, and the skin was crunchy, with a consistency almost like very thin toffee. The portions were very large and filling, so we missed out on dessert. Probably just as well… it might have been easier to roll me around Segovia after a meal like that.

Visited the cathedral in Segovia, which included beautiful tapestries and statues. The chilliness inside was a good contrast to the rapidly warming climate outside. I peppered Mila with many questions about Catholicism in Spain, and we sat in on the beginning of a choir practice in the little chapel. Cool that these cathedrals are still in use, even if it is mostly for holy days and not common masses.

Enjoyed cafe con leche at a cafe outside of the cathedral. We tried again (in vain) to pay for something, but to no avail. We’re noticing that if a tourist and a local both try to pay for the bill at the same time, the money from the local will always be accepted. We have raced Gerwald to museum ticket counters, tried to sneak ahead of Alfonso in paying for restaurant tabs, and offered on several occasions to chip in for meals, but have been turned down every time. Our revenge is that we are planning a end-all be-all excursion for when they next come to the United States. When they arrive, there will be no arguments about the bill.

Today we wandered through the Rastro, which is the flea market on Sundays. There were some very cool antiques (how do we get them home?), many items of questionable quality, and the occasional diamond in the rough, but it was mostly the experience of being in the market that I was after. (As MasterCard would say, it is priceless.) Also went through a cool paper items fair in the Plaza Mayor… many men trading stamps and coins, and we found these awesome cigar bands. I picked up ones with pictures of Spain, Star Trek, Pink Panther, and a few others.

Had paella at another “local’s favorite” restaurant with the family. Yummy salads, with a dressing I have to get from El Corte Ingles and take home with me. The paella was simply magnificent. Lots of fun to enjoy a family meal. The capper was the wine bottle that was passed around at the completion of the meal. Try drinking sweet wine from a small stream and see how little of it you can get on your clothes!

Also visited the Museo Thyssen – Beautiful artwork, although I most appreciated the impressionists and the modern art towards the end of the tour. (Organized in chronological order.) Met the tourists from Florida who seemed like they hadn´t done much reading before they got here. Had been pickpocketed twice, didn´t know where to eat, etc. We have not been targeted by pickpockets yet. Do we look like locals? Do we look like we shouldn´t be messed with? I don´t know.

I need sleep and my net card is running out of minutes. Off to Merida tomorrow with the bus trip! Adios!

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