Backpacking Across Spain!

(A Good Way to Go!)
Getting to Madrid

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

About the Trip to Spain
For several weeks after I returned from Spain, people kept asking me to show them pictures of the trip, or even write a book about it. So instead, I decided to write these short articles about the trip.

Planning the Trip
After years of living in the port of Veracruz, I'd wanted to go to Spain for a long time, but I never had the time or the money all at the same time. And now was the best time!

In late September, and at the last minute, I decided to take off for Madrid during the first week in October. Still, I didn't know what to expect.

What to focus on in Spain
On a trip like this there's so much to see and do, and every trip needs to have a certain focus of things to look for. Here are some things I hoped to see or accomplish:
  • To interview with a Spanish company in Madrid for a job on one of their international projects. European companies still ask for your date of birth, so I didn´t have much hope. US company's don´t have these questions anymore because of age discrimination.
  • Visit the National Archives in Madrid to get my feet on the ground focusing on the documents they might have about Mexico and Veracruz
  • Visit friends in La Coruña on the northern Atlantic corner of Spain and other friends in Elche, Murcia, near Alicante on the Mediterranean. Meeting friends is important.
  • See Cádiz, the sister city of Veracruz. For 300 years, the Spanish fleets had brought things from Spain to sell, and took back treasures from the Orient as well as gold and silver stored at the fort in San Juan de Ulua in Veracruz.
  • Visit Sevilla and Archives of the Indies to look for documents and maps about Veracruz.
  • Find the little town of Ágreda near Zaragoza, and look for the convent of the mysterious Lady in Blue who is said to have transported herself to Texas to introduce Christianity to the Jumano Indians and is said to have brought bluebonnets, the State Flower Texas.
  • Visit Toledo. A friend in Tampico is from Toledo and had been pestering me about going. He was right!
  • My friends who´d been to Spain told me I´d enjoy it. (An underestimate…).
  • I´d been to 27 other countries, and now it was time to go to Spain.
When to Go?
  • October seemed like the best month. In August I'd heard the weather in Spain beastly hot and uncomfortable. It was also saturated with tourists, and hotel rooms would be difficult to find, and restaurants would be full and service would be slow.
  • Air fares during the summer months were DOUBLE compared to October.
  • The weather wouldn't be as hot, nor would it be too cold. So, it would have to be October.
  • In spite of the US Dollar being worth $.75, I figured it was now or never. No matter how expensive it might be, I could always eat less.

What I discovered in almost 4 weeks
  • Spain is not what I had expected. It is a modern new country where everything works, and I´ve never found a nicer group of people in the world.
  • Spain was a lot more expensive. The Euro varied from €1.37 to €1.40 per USD. This means that each USD was worth from $.72 to about $.75. On the street money exchange houses where the real gouge is, one Euro would cost you $.61 to $.67! The upside to the low dollar is that it means American products are a lot cheaper than European which will make ours a lot cheaper in world markets than those from Europe. It's best to use the ATM machines, especially the free ones where your US bank has a partnership agreement.
  • More other tourists than I´d expected. Even in October, Spain was packed with tourists, mostly from Europe. I didn't know they had fall vacations in Germany during one week, then France the next. And I saw very few Americans.
  • A New Physical Energy. People in Spain walk a lot more than we are used to. After a couple of days, I noticed by bags didn´t seem as heavy as before.
  • A New Spiritual Energy. I also found a new unexpected energy from the spiritual nourishment that was given to me by the people and places I´d visited. And, this was the most important part of the trip.
  • I came back a different person feeling secure about my own uncertain future. I had spent a lot more than I had expected, but I had gotten more than my money´s worth!

Time to Get my Feet Wet. The Flight from Houston to Madrid
Day 1. Monday. Transatlantic Flight: Houston to Madrid.

The trip from Houston started at 2PM and arrived in Dallas, and was to leave at 5:40PM for Madrid. Mentally I began to get prepared to fly all night long.

A couple of days before the flight, the airlines had sent an email with my seat placement, and I discovered that I was in the middle in one of the back rows of seats in an Air Bus. The email said that I could change seats, and I prefer a window seat, or at least an aisle seat in the middle section of seats. There was only one seat left to change to. It was an aisle seat in the middle section! So, mentally I started getting prepared for the torture session that was yet to come.

The flight from Houston, to Dallas was normal, and I had a sandwich at the airport in Dallas. It's only a 9 hour flight to Madrid, but on these international flights, once I get on the plane, I always set my watch to the local time. Somehow it lessens the jet lag.

So, I moved the watch from 5:40PM to 12:40AM. We were scheduled to arrive at 9:55AM, or so, the next day. So, when the plane took off in the Dallas afternoon, mentally, at least for me, it began to be the next day

The couple next to me from Denver were nice people, and were part of a 10 day tour of Spain. For each of us it would be our first time to visit Spain. The 3 of us were excited, and didn't what to expect when we got to Madrid.

Although you try to sleep, it's just not possible. I may have dozed for about 10 or 15 minutes.

Day 2. Tuesday. Arrival in Madrid. The Basic Mechanics of Arrival
Slowly, as we came out of the night and daybreak came, we drowsily began to see land below. We were crossing over southern Galicia and northern Portugal. We were still pretty high so you couldn't see much. Still it felt like it was around 11PM the night before.

In another hour or so we landed in Madrid and disembarked from the plane. Then the confusing walk through the different levels of the airport began. Las Barajas airport in Madrid is a maze of floors, but from my previous international travel experience, I knew the drill.

First, it would be immigration, then Customs, but I had no idea where we were going, and just followed the crowd from our flight down the escalators, then up another set of escalators.

Immigration was a snap. On the plane they give you a 2 part form to fill out with the same information. The immigration official checks your form, then keeps the first part, and gives you the small part at the bottom, and now you are officially in the European Union. Easy as pie!

Next would be Customs, and I continued to follow the crowd through the airport, and out the main doors! Later I realized we hadn't gone through Customs! No big deal because I wasn't carrying any contraband.

Just before going out of the transit area, I had realized we were getting close to entering Spain! I needed to change some local money, and made the mistake of changing my dollars to Euros at the American Express booth.

But, I was desperate to get some local cash, and didn't pay attention to the exchange rate. I noticed later that the friendly people at American Express rate had given me 0.67/USD when the day before was 0.75/USD.

But, the next task was to get to the hotel. A friend had recommended the Hotel Felipe V on the Gran Vía close to the main sights in Madrid. The week before, I had emailed the hotel for reservations for Tuesday through Friday. They promptly replied that they had a room for me, so I was set.

In most countries, taxis are expensive, but I was tired, and got a cab for about 35 €uros´s. I was told that all the taxis in Spain use a taxi meter, I figured it was a fair price.

Now at last I was in Spain heading for the Hotel Felipe V on the Gran Vía. I needed to get settled in, and maybe take a siesta!

More to Come...

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