“There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day. Night life is when you get up with a hangover in the morning. Night life is when everybody says what the hell and you do not remember who paid the bill. Night life goes round and round and you look at the wall to make it stop. Night life comes out of a bottle and goes into a jar. If you think how much are the drinks it is not night life.”
― Ernest Hemingway, 88 Poems
3:00 p.m. the 1st of January, 2014. My heart jumps and my eyes snap open. “Where the hell am I?” The whole room is dark, besides a little bit of light shining through an open shutter. Around me, still sleeping, is about 12 other guys from places around the world; Brazil, Columbia, U.S., Canada.
By the looks of it, many of them struggled to get into their bunk beds the night before. Some lay with half removed shirts and single shoes. One lad even made the, soon to be regretted, decision to sleep on the floor rather than climb to the top bunk.
My head feels like it’s going to burst and my mouth is as dry as a desert. As I lay there in the dark room, that reeked of an impending hangover, I listened to two girls speaking in Spanish somewhere outside the Way Hostel on the streets of Madrid. Strange memories of Spanish clubs, pickpockets, and morning coffees with rum start to surface.
I begin to hear mumbling and crazy gibberish being spoken from the bunk below me. I then recollect a drunken memory of banging on a bathroom door, at 8 a.m., to see if a fellow compatriot, I had met the day before, was feeling after he mistakenly took 4 tabs of LSD while drunk at 3 a.m. New Year’s Day.
I quickly leaned over the bunk fearing that I would find a complete crazed madman drooling staring into the abyss.
“You alright man???”
“Yea. That was really stupid…I haven’t slept yet.”
“Have you seriously been laying here for five hours talking to yourself?”
“Bet you won’t do that again…”
This began the second half of my New Year’s Day.
The saying goes “When in Rome.” But, for this occasion it goes “When in Spain.” When in Spain, you stay up late and sleep in later. If you’re looking to have a night out you will be hard pressed to find anything worthwhile open before 12 a.m. and you will usually stay out till at least 5 a.m. That’s why the mid –afternoon siestas are so important to surviving Spain.
This lifestyle summed up the second half of my trip, but I began my trip in a more laid back environment. My first stop was the city of Cartagena located in Southeastern Spain. It is a port city with beautiful beaches, nice weather, and great food. Personally, I came to this beautiful land to visit a certain beautiful Spaniard amiga, but for the average traveler that isn’t driving themselves mad chasing foreign girls around the globe, Cartagena is perfect place to visit.
The Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Cartagena
Having my own personal tour guide helped me to experience a more Spanish visit, but the four things any traveler must do in Cartagena is
Visit the Roman ruins and Theatre in the city center. This is a history that can many times be a once in a lifetime chance to see.
Visit the many beaches. It’s the Mediterranean what more can I say.
Eat food and more food. Spanish food has been being refined through thousands of years of cooking. Always try paella, jamon serrano, chorizo, and I can honestly say I’ve never liked olives, but I have finally found a taste for them in Spain.
Buy tapas. For an average of two Euro you can get a beer which comes with a ‘tapa’ a.k.a. a small dish of food. This is a good way to drink and eat cheap.
After getting a taste of the real Spanish culture and food, I decided to trek it alone to Madrid for the New Years. A few hour train ride brought me to the city where, after using my broken Espanol, I bought a taxi ride to the Way Hostel located near Puerta Del Sol (a very clean and friendly hostel).
Immediately after arriving, I met others who traveled alone and we soon formed a gang of fellow hostel goers. One thing, that any person who has stayed in hostel has probably realized, is that hostel goers/travelers are a different breed of person. Many times they can appear to be completely crazy, and very well might be, but most can get along with anyone, because they all share the common passion for traveling.
During the day, I traveled to the world famous Prado Art Museum where I viewed art from around the world that dated back to Roman times. I recommend taking a day to view the Museum because it is so large, but if you wait till 6 p.m. there is usually free entrance.
A modern day adaption of Diego Velazquez’s painting(Las Meninas) King Philips IV’s daughters in1656
My first night in Madrid consisted of clubbing with an American guy and five crazy French girls. This particular club consisted of four floors, a DJ, and erotic dancers. The night went well until we realized that beers averaged 10 Euro in the club and the four floors, DJ, and erotic dancers weren’t that cool half sober.
In true Spanish style we stayed up till 5 a.m. and spent the rest of the night being woken up by drunken stumblers as they entered the room. We would all rudely proceed to cheer them on until they made it to bed.
Day 2 of Madrid a.k.a. New Years eve didn’t exist. I slept all day. But our night began by migrating to the Puerta Del Sol in the Centre of Madrid, where the main New Years festival takes place. From 9 p.m. we spent our time standing and looking for secret spots (away from the police) to pee.
New Year’s Eve in Puerta Del Sol
The large crowds, in Puerta del Sol, are a paradise for pickpockets. Spain, especially Madrid, is known for its Roma pickpockets and other common thieves, so if you are going to be in a large crowd like that be smart and hide your valuables. Out of a group of four guys, while traveling through the crowd, everyone had something stolen including an American whose wallet was taken with over 250 Euro. Luckily, I have experience with thieves in Dublin (where I lost 200 euro at an ATM) so all my money was intelligently hidden in my socks.
Miraculously, while we were on another pee adventure, the crowds in Puerta del Sol grew to the point where it was almost impossible to move through the crowd. We tried pushing through the crowd, but finally gave up and stood packed together as the clock hit midnight and the bell chimed twelve times.
In Spain, they have a tradition of eating twelve grapes as the clock ticks down to midnight. Being that I had forgotten my grapes back with the other group, I proceeded to beg for grapes from crowd members. Luckily, I was able to find enough generous people that I was able to stuff grapes into my mouth as the clock hit midnight.
The rest of the night consisted of partying and many other strange incidences that I will keep to my own personal story collection.
In a very fitting and way that Ernest Hemingway would be proud of, my whole Spanish experience culminated into a rum mixed coffee and Danish at 8 am at the hostel. As I sat there with an American, Colombian, and two pretty French girls drinking and eating my breakfast, while reminiscing about how it was a miracle we had made it back to the hostel, I decided that I loved Spain and it forever had a place in my heart. Viva Espana y Feliz Ano!
The Three Wise Men a.k.a. Dia de Los Reyes is on January 6th where the children receive their presents