#1 Spain/Italy, June 16, 2005

Hello Everybody,

Like a bad penny, I ´turn up´ again and again—this time I’ll be gone for four weeks to Spain and Italy and will keep you abreast of my adventures.

I arrived Madrid without incident on Wednesday afternoon. At the airport I bought a subway (Metro) ticket for 10 rides for 5.40 euros (about $7.00), then took two subways to the Plaza Espania. My hostel turned out to be just a few steps away from the metro on Gran Via, a big, busy street.

As soon as I checked in I went on a walking tour which took about 2 1/2 hours. I walked to the Plaza Major (remember, Claire, when we ate calamari there in ’91?) and also the Puerto del Sol. Other sights were churches, although most were not open, a beautiful market building, other nice plazas, and the Royal Palace. I stopped at a sidewalk cafe and had the best beer I’ve ever tasted—of course I was pretty hot, tired and thirsty by then. I wound up at the newly renovated opera house where I bought a ticket to the opera for that evening (136 euros or $160). I lucked into the best seat in the house—9th row on the center aisle. Sometimes a solo person can do that.

I had a glass of wine and some tapas and then hurried home on the metro to clean up, and hurried back again. The opera was Verdi’s ¨Don Carlo¨ which I had never seen. Verdi is always a treat. However, my head hit my chest so many times I thought I would get whiplash. Still, staying until it ended at 11:45 was worth it. I noticed that I was the only casually dressed person there—oh, well.

My coed room ($19.50 per bed) has seven bunk beds (14 people) but we were only 13 the first night and 12 the second. Everybody was very quiet and considerate—the temperature was perfect and the mattress was great. However, when the person above me turned over, the whole thing rocked. Everybody in the hostel seems to be in their 20’s but are perfectly nice to me.

Yesterday I spent the day at the Museo del Prado, and also visited the Thysen B. Both had lots of Sister Wendy´s picks so I had fun searching for them. Sister Wendy is the artist/nun that lectures on the educational channel and has a book of ¨The 1000 Greatest Paintings¨ which I like to hunt for in the great museums of the world. I had a little rest in the late afternoon and then went to a a Tapas party for the English speakers that are going to Valdelavilla today for the language course which is my reason for coming to Spain. We will be the volunteer ¨talkers¨(not really teachers) that help the Spaniards practice their English—12 hours a day for 7 days. The group of ‘talkers’ are mostly in their 30’s, but some are in their 40’s and one is about 50, and then me. We had wine and tapas and lots of talk already.

We meet at 11:30 later this morning and go on a bus to this medieval town of stone houses that is owned by the English program called Vaughanvillage.com. I first heard about it through Lonely Planet on the Internet.

Last night I learned that two of the ´talkers´ had done this before and were returning to repeat the week, a good sign. There are 20 Spaniards perfecting their English and 20 volunteer English speakers. The majority of speakers are from the USA, but there are also several from Australia, a few from Canada and one from the UK.

I will be at this village in the mountains for a week and I understand that email is not available there so you´ll hear more from me when I get to Bilboa after next Friday night.

Hope you´re all fine.


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