Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More on Madrid

So here's what it took to get here. Originally the tour my mom booked left for Lisbon on Sunday June 18th and returns from Paris 10 days later on June 27th. So on Saturday night I packed all my stuff, and went to go get my passport from the drawer where I keep my passport. It wasn't there. So until about noon SUnday I tore my place apart looking for it, even drove to work in the middle of the night to see if my chance it was in my office. Anyway its gone, I even checked inside the microwave. Hopefully I don't come back wednesday, fix myself a bowl of quaker oats and find it in the container.

So after giving up on finding my passport and having already missed my flight, I went to the federal building in WWestwood on Monday to get a same day replacement. I called the US Passport Services appoitnment hotline and and they took my name and told me they would try to get in on what they call "special circumstances" appointment. I waiting from when I got there at 11:30 to when they closed at 3:00 and they never called. The guard told me to call the hotline at 7:00 am the next day and I might be able to get a cancelled appointment. They relist cancelled appointments for that day at that time. SO I called and after messing around with the appointment system for an hour I got an appointment and a confirmation number for 11:30. Without the confirmation number the guards won't let you in.

Back at the federal building I give the guard my number, suprise, he doesn't have it on his system. He gave me the run around telling me to call the appointment hotline again, which is useless, the hotline can't do anything. So I went back in but this time the guards had rotated and it was the same guy from Monday, he still can't find it but he remembered me from the day before, and I told him I did what he told me he finally lets me in. So after all the hotline bullshit in the end it was the guards disgresion that got me in. All of the other people who needed same day replacement went though the same thing. The appointment system give you an appointment for the following week and even if you did try to get a cancelled appoitmnet it screwed up. The system is completely flawed. On top of that, once you got past the guards it didn't matter who you were they don't keep track of the appointments beyond the guard's computer. You could have been Osama bin Laden and as long as the guard was your brother you'd get your passport. That federal database is yet another one of those useless systems that did nothing in the end except for keep track of who tried to get a passport when.

Once I got in the passport processing area they were able to get my passport processsed in about three hours and they got it to me by 3:30 on Tuesday. If you ever needed a passport the same day, here what you do. Well first if you're travellin on a weekend, check for your passport on a Thursday or sooner because the passport service is not open on weekends. Fill out a DS-11 form, and a DS-64 form if you lost your passport. Then bring your drivers license and proof of citizenship. Proof of citizenship can be a Certificate of Naturalization or an old invalidated passport. Also bring a passport photo, two of them. There is a photo studio in the cafeteria at the Westwood Federal Building. Then the morning before you go call the hotline to get a cancelled appointment. Hopefully it's before noon because if they process your passport too late you'll have to come pick it up the next day. Even if you appointment is late in the day come as early as you can like at 8 am and be prepared to convince the guards to let you in. Tell them the circumstance, flight out later that day or early the next morning and you need a passport now. Also show that you have everything you need and that there won't be any problems processing, or tell them the system messed up and garbled your confirmation number. Haha and if all else fails, wear something revealing and flirt.

Once I got my passport, which was still warm from the presses I drove to the airport. I got to the Northwest/KLM counter and after some haggling got the counter lady to put me on the KLM flight to Amsterdam which leaves in an hour. She charged me 200 bucks for missing my first flight though. Since I didn't ahve time to move my car from long term parking, Erwin called and offered to pick my up later that night. Thanks Erwin that was a big help. I got to the gate just as the plane was boarding and got put way in the back for my 9 hour across the atlantic. THe KLM plane was big and blue, it was kinda old, not as nice as the new planes on JAL or SAS, but the service was very good. By about 1:00 pm in Amsterdam our plane landed, it was the middle of the night, early Wednesday in LA. Once in Amsterdam I went to back to the KLM counter and tried to change my connecting flight to Lisbon but the plane to Madrid that afternoon was full so I went to Iberia Airlines and bought a ticket to Madrid on the 4:05 pm plane. Its a good thing I only had carry on luggage or else I'd never make these planes. I tried to sleep on the two hour flight to Maderid but I was seated next to a bunch of high school kids and they were loud.

Spain is about one hour back of Amsterdam and by about 7 am Madrid time I was in Spain. I went to the tourist info center and they tld me to take the 204 Bus and the metro line 4 and 2 to get to where I needed to go, the Plaza Mayor. It was only 1 Euro to take the bus and another euro to enter the metro system. So shortly after I popped out of the subway system at the Sol stop and was looking at a statue of some guy on a horse. There were also hostels right when you get out. I spent about an hour walking around with no idea where to stay for the night. So finally I got tired of walking and went into this place called Hostel la Macarena. I had no idea what to expect, but there happened to be an American friendly desk clerk named Alexis who had lived in New York City 7 years ago. He had a single room with private bath for 57 euros. Much less than a hotel but a little high for a hostel, but it was a private room and was right next to the Plaza. After getting settled I asked Alexis where to get some food and he told me not to go to any of the shops downstairs but to jsut go to McDonalds. Haha I guess he thought I was too clueless to order some tapas, but it was 10:30 and the prices were going to be high. After my Big Mac I called Bruno, the tour guide and arranged to meet the rest of the tour the next day at 4 pm across from the horse statue, its at the Puerta del Sol. I went to sleep, but the street didn't really settle down until about 4 pm, so the occasional drunk American woke me up with some drunkspeak.

The next day I got up at about 8:30 and took the metro to the east of the city where the Retiro, its like the Central Park of Madrid, and the Museum del Prado. The museum had a large collection, in fact impressive. The Bourbon Kings started the collection and the Prado has been around for a couple hundred years. Lots of paintings by Goya, El Greco and yesterday they had a special collection of Picassos. It was kinda weird seeing a few pieces that I've seen in text books or the internet and finally seeing the actual piece. Its amazing the volume of work that a lot of these artists produced. My favorites were probably Goya's Titan eating his children and the nude Maja. Its like one of the few nudes thats actually looked like a woman. What also amazes me is that some of these pieces were done in the mid 1500s and here, almost 450 years later they around for us to see. Its hard to fanthom that kind of history in America. You are seeing proof of an event in oil and brush strokes 450 years ago.

There was also an entire section on Picasso. Picasso got laid a lot. We should all foster artistic talents. THe guy was bald, kinda out of shape and was probably crazy but every piece in his gallery went something like, "Picasso painted this after a summer with his model/mistress in the alps." His collection was like a history of every woman he slept with. Its good to be an artist, its hard out here for programmers. "Hey baby, I dedicate this PERL script to your body," or "the last 7 days of trouble free operation, all for you." The Prado collection is too big to see in one day. I'll probably have to come back again one day.

After the Prado I checked out of the hostel and headed west to the Palacio Real. The royal palace ok. Its like all other palaces, a bunch of oppulent rooms. It is pretty crazy how oppulent everything was though. You can probably visit Bill Gates house and find nothing that will amaze you, but the royal palace, especially in relation to the time and how everyone else lived its on a whole other level.Perhaps these days such incredible shows of wealth is just not in fashion, or just not possible. I think the closest modern day equivalent that I could think of when I see Royal Palaces is Hearst Castle. I took a picture of the rear of the ROyal Palace, its another one of those come to life moments after seeing in in person.

After exhausting all the exhibits at the Palace I went back to the Peuerto del Sol to do some shopping. I still had about two hours to kill before the tour bus will come to pick me up. By now I was hauling my backpack around too so it was getting tiring. I went into an FMAC, a bookstore/electronic store and found a Black Nintendo DS lite, so I bought it on request from Scott Lee. Its pretty nice, I think I might buy one for myself if I see it at the airport. Finally the bus came and I got picked up, everyone was happy to finally see me, but they came to do some shopping so we walked around some more and went into a few more stores. I wanted to buy a bunch more stuff at HandM and Zara but I think I have too much clothes already, no need to get even more European couture.

After shopping it was dinner and check in at th hotel. I was pretty dead tired at this point but my family wanted to see as Flamenco performance. So I went along reluctantly. The flamenco bar was back at the Retiro at the Florida cafe or something. The act was pretty good, although I expected it to be more about a man dancng with a woman, instead there was more precussion and physical feats in dance and song.

Overall Madrid is a romatic city. Amsterdam is like a place you come with your friends, or with your girlfriend if you want to see exhibits in museums. The canals are nice though. But in Madrid there are secluded calles for kissing and even though everyone is out at 3 in the morning, it is better to hear the nightlife from your hotel window.

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