22 - 24 December 2009 - Betwixt 2009 and 2010, I explored Europe for the first time in my life. I spent nearly 2 weeks traversing Western Europe by land, crossing from Spain into France, then back again. My first impressions are enveloped in the shroud of timelessness possessing the dry, land-locked Spanish capital: Madrid. That, and the neon/LED splendor of a heavily-Christian Western city preparing for the year-end holidays. Strangely though, a fierce ethnic pride still gripped me quick by way of my parents' bloodline; a rare European pride that led me to keep a keen eye out for just one of 'our' heraldric crests (what is ownership anyway...?), to no avail by trips end. In the midst of the old quarters of Madrid I found the Spain of yore - cobblestoned streets, dark and dank hole-in-the-wall dives with entrances akin to those of an ancient catcombs, colonial-era pensiones and goverment buildings, medival-era cathedrals, moques, and synagogues - a cacophonous Spain but where multitudes of cultures coexisted (at times) side-by-side. Make no mistake, though: Spain's burtaul, repressive history was not invisible to one with even a tiny bit of history to draw from - and that's not to speak much of the recent fascist reign.
It was in Madrid where I partook in the first of many culinary delights so resplendent of this perfectly aged social rag-quilt of a nation. To say the food was 'good' would be an insult to the Spanish, if they weren't so damn chill and didn't offend easily. They may chuckle and only feel slightly sympathetic because they know the food-like substances most of us eat/can afford in America is nothing like the taste of fresh Spanish food. It was not only the diversity of food around but the authenticity infusing all I ate that I can recall my meals so vividly now. Authentic food and eating experiences (on the cheap!) so spoiled me from the start in Spain, so that now it hurts a bit at times to eat out state-side. Among my favorite Spanish eats: all types of Jamon, tapas to dip with bread, and sangria.
It was here also where I discovered first-hand the best of Spanish & so-influenced culture around the world - the Siesta. EVERYTHING shuts down from around 2 to 4pm, except for some cafes and the road traffic. While annoying at first, I came to appreciate the down-time, even if I wasn't up for but a few hours before siesta time. As soon as I arrived I was similarly enamored by the architecture, the city planning, and the smash-up of era's represented in the facades of the buildings everywhere you looked; a trait of cities I appreciate more after living in San Francisco. No two buildings looked the same. As I explored central Madrid, I could begin to pick out common styles of buildings based style, materials, colors, shapes, even the statues (ya, statues!). This magnificient buildings was pretty much all arrayed around the Royal Palace and Parque del Retiro, Madrid's equivalent of New York's Central or SF's Golden Gate Parks. This is certainly a city to stay in for a while, enjoying the night life and the culture - music and museums are certainly top on my list when I return again. That, and LOTS more food.