Bumper-to-bumper movement or none at all, we were caught in a traffic jam at the Yumbo Roundabout on our way to the airport in Cali, Colombia. We arrived just as our flight was scheduled to leave. My cellular buzzed with an announcement. Our flight was also delayed. Mechanical trouble, a new plane was en route. Mechanical trouble or magic? I dispelled my building anxiety with a smile.
From Cali to Bogotá with a four hour layover that became two and a half hours, we were off on our overnight to Madrid. We disembarked at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Friday afternoon we were caught in traffic and less than 24 hours later we were in Madrid. I know it’s a cliche but travel still fascinated me. Thanks to many moving sidewalks, escalators, and trains, we move from gate to immigration and then to baggage claim easily. Waiting for luggage, my anxieties always stir. Today they were broken by a voice.
“Are you from Cali?” I turned to see a young woman with a beautiful smile standing there with who appeared to be her mother.
“Yes.” Maybe I said, “Sí,” not sure.
“I think you’re our neighbor.” She speaks excellent English; very little accent. I wished my Spanish had been that good. “You have two Vizslas, right?”
“Yes! Abbie and Lucas!”
There is only one other Vizsla in our neighborhood. It’s hers. We each knew each other’s dogs -- our kids -- now we met face to face at baggage claim in Madrid. What a world. It was a nice wink as our journey got underway. Rental car picked up, GPS’ed to the hotel with only one missed turn and route correction, and we were resting in our room. After just resting a few hours, knowing better than to go to sleep in the daylight, we bundled up, it was in the low 50’s out there by 6:00 p.m., we headed out walking.
I find Madrid to be a fascinating city, more than most. There is something in the resonance, in the lay of the land, in the architecture of the buildings, in the green trees that line the streets and fill the parks, and in the energy of the people, that is mysterious and intriguing at the same moment. I just love walking the streets and just love looking, looking at everything. It fills me; I feel alive as I walk and look and listen. I think there just might be a common denominator of caring. I don’t think everyone cares about this city, but I think enough people do care, and care with a Latin sense of immediacy and passion, that it makes a difference. Madrid is a different city. Sure there’s some graffiti on the walls of vacant buildings or run down doorways, but not much. Otherwise the streets and the buildings and the windows are amazingly clean. There is a pride along with the caring and I think that matters.
We walked along these delightfully narrow stone slab streets. They are wide enough for single lane car traffic by day but in the evenings pedestrians take them over. Oh, occasionally cars come, but they move meticulously slow and with great caution. People own the streets as the sun sets. Street lights and shop lights and restaurant lights fill the night along with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of people coming alive and filling the nights.
Along the way, we encountered a group of men practicing for an upcoming Easter procession. During Semana Santa -- Easter Week -- there are many parades or processions where people carry huge religious statues for miles and miles. So they practice ahead of time. There were six rows of men. Four per row. They were marching slowly and in precision with each step in unison. They had a wood platform resting on their shoulders. On top of the platform were concrete blocks with a total weight equal to that of the statue they will carry during Semana Santa. See the accompanying photo.
It was early. We walked and meandered for almost an hour making our way along those narrow walkways through several plazas until we reached Plaza Mayor. It’s famous. A tourist attraction. And it’s still grand and majestic and warm and friendly. We found a restaurant and had an easy dinner of tapas and sangria. It was 10:15 when we walked out into the Plaza again. The night was now fully underway. Restaurants were full. Outdoor cafes under blazing gas heaters were full. Rapid fire talking and laughter and an occasional shrill laugh, the night was sizzling.
We walked through the Plaza to the San Miguel Mercado on the far side. Also famous. Also a destination for most tourists, and also a must stop place. It was after 10:00 and people were streaming out. We thought they must be closing.
Oh no. No way were they closing. The places was abuzz with hundreds of people. Four deep standing around a wine bar here or a sangria bar over there. People carrying plates piled high with tapas or other hors d’oeuvres were weaving their way through the jam of people. No, no one was closing. The night had just begun.
San Miguel Mercado is not a farmer’s market or a grocery store. It is an enclosed building with hundreds of vendors: I saw a Mozzarella Bar selling countless culinary treats with mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and each was an intricate creation. There were all sorts of tapas vendors, and salad vendors, and ... there was one display of tapas made with olives, just olives of all kinds, olives adorned with all kinds of delicacies.
We slowly made our way through the growing crowds of people. Everyone was smiling, laughing, celebrating, and eating. To me, this is Madrid. This is Spain. As we left the market and walked back through Plaza Mayor, we realized we’d left our street map in the restaurant. We used it to find our way to the Plaza and Market. We were on our own to walk back. A few wrong turns, but soon enough we were at our hotel. We stopped in the lounge for a night cap. Our first day of our road trip complete, now we could go to bed.