[ On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]
Okay, time for stories. “Day One” technically covers two days, but you get the idea. Enough prefacing. Let’s get started.
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I’m all about road-trips and long drives. As a licensed pilot, I obviously enjoy flying quite a bit, too. So normally I would agree with the sentiment that “getting there is half the fun.” But not this time. I flew from SLC to Denver, then to Chicago, then all the way to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there to Madrid, Spain. That is FAR too much time in planes and airports. A necessary evil (albeit a miraculous one). The flight from Chicago to Germany was just under 9 hours from take-off to touch-down. It’s not the longest flight ever, but it’s plenty long. One cool thing, though, is that on the way in to Chicago, I was seated so that I could see the sun setting behind us in a red ball on the horizon. Later, as I flew over Ireland, that same sun would begin rising on the horizon in front of us. At 38,000 feet, that is quite a sight. Airport security in Germany was a stark contrast to our own TSA clown-show. Now I’m sure there are some very good men and women working for TSA that I would hate to include in this blanket statement, but most of the TSA agents we get to see as we pass through airports here in the states are a bunch of poorly groomed, poorly trained, overweight slobs. In contrast, the Germans all seemed quite ready to kill somebody. I don’t mean they were violent or aggressive. I mean they were professionals. Fit. Armed. Multilingual, polite, and very helpful. Even friendly. But READY. They were ready to kill somebody. When we landed in Frankfurt, I thought the runway seemed quite bumpy. Later, taking off, it was unmistakeably bumpy. The plane bounced along faster and faster until we left the runway. I was surprised, at first, that the runway wasn’t more level. Then I remembered that we bombed the shit out of it back in the 1940’s. In that case, it was in great shape. On the way to Madrid from Frankfurt, we flew directly over Geneva, Switzerland and I laid eyes on the snow-covered peaks of the Alps for the first time at 30,000 feet, while listening to some Rachmaninoff in my headphones. Breathtaking. I’ll need to see Switzerland someday. Spain teased me from the air. Its colorful rolling hills and windy roads looked like just my thing, and I wished I had enough time to see Spain on the motorcycle, too. But not on this trip. I had limited time, so truly seeing Spain in a way that does it some justice will also have to wait. We touched down in Madrid and I was ready for a hotel at this point. I got in a taxi and tried out my Spanish for the first time in ages. It was a little slow, but it worked. Most importantly, I still understand Spanish better than I speak it. I got to the hotel without any trouble. I got checked in, left my bags, and went exploring. First, I went to El Museo Prado. Unfortunately, it closes early to visitors and only stays open late for local citizens. No matter. I kept exploring, and found my way to El Museo Reina Sofia. This one stays open late. Like the Prado, the Reina Sofia is another famous art museum. I was there for hours, and I only saw maybe half of it. It was huge. And a lot to take in. I got to see some originals of painters that I love, like Franz Klein, Mark Rothko. Very cool.
Outside, the kids were playing soccer in the dark. The city lights were amazing. There was a constant hum of traffic buzzing quickly down long streets and busy roundabouts. And there was a smell. Not necessarily a bad smell, but foreign. The smell of some place you’ve never been.
I got back to my hotel room truly exhausted. In fact, I felt that I might be coming down with a sinus infection (my immuno-arch-nemesis). I took a long, hot shower to relax and scrub off the cooties of five different airports. Once I got situated, I climbed under the covers and flipped on the TV just to see if there was anything I should know about on the news. *point remote at TV* *click* Boobs. Lots of boobs. I remembered that I was in Europe, and they have different feelings about big bare boobs on prime-time television. I clicked through to CNN, where the only boob was Anderson Cooper, patting himself and his fellow journalists on the back for a job well done in 2011, and making every effort to distinguish himself and his colleagues from the general public by referring to us common folk as “the civilians.” I’ve got news for you, Anderson. You’re a civilian. Even if you do have two last names. No one blew anything up today. Time for bed.