This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

Madrid, Spain


Home to flamenco, chorrizo, Gaudi, lisped Spanish, and fantastically cheap boxed wine, Spain is a country that does not disappoint. Having overthrown a suffocating dictatorship (Francisco Franco) only a few decades ago, Spain is now reveling in freedom of expression, religion, sexuality, and pretty much anything under the hot Spanish sun. This makes for a country of people confused between relics of Catholicism and extreme right-wing politics, and the new influences of the EU, a large influx of immigrants, and hash.

Since most of my inebriated experience in Spain was in Madrid, I will focus on this, if you will, mystical city. Madrid has a population of over three million, and lies, quite strategically, in the middle of the country. During the time I lived there, I found it to be a friendly, easy-to-navigate city, with innumerable adorable squares, cafés and hole-in-the-wall hangouts for people of all ages. People there are so friendly that sometimes, if you're female and you look lost, strangers will buy you lunch and invite you into their house for tea.

Starting around midnight, and throughout the wee hours of the morning, you will find numerous drunk people stumbling around and playing in randomly placed swing sets erected around the city, presumably for the purpose of entertaining abandoned children. There are bars and clubs open at all hours of the night, and even when they close at 6 am, you can go to an after-bar to continue drinking until the morning before staggering into work. And don't feel like you can't continue nursing your beer during work, because it is common to bring your lunch beer back to the office with you once your lunch hours are over.

That wasn't a typo - in Spain people get at least two hours off for lunch, during which they go home to eat and take their afternoon siesta. Usually during this time, all of the stores and businesses in Madrid (except restaurants) shut down, and the streets are empty. In general, Madrid is a very relaxed place, where careers and jobs take a back seat to hanging out with friends, eating and sleeping.

One thing that amazed me about Madrid was how clean the city was. This is especially true considering all the kick-me dogs everyone in Madrid insists on having. No one in Madrid owns a regular-sized dog. Every dog you will see in Madrid is a yipping little shit, and the worst part is, they are allowed to defecate wherever they want in the city. There is no law against it, and their owner is under no obligation to scoop it up and dispose of it. Therefore, if you're ever walking around in the city, make sure you're keeping an eye on the ground to avoid stepping on the steamy little piles of crap lying everywhere.

Anyway, before you think I'm insane and incoherent, all this shit is cleaned up nightly, which prevents Madrid from smelling like a bag of assholes. Around 4 am every night, the city dispatches official street washers who drive their big green and yellow trucks up and down the streets of Madrid, hosing them down, and thus flushing all the poop down the gutters. City workers are also often found repainting various poles, streetlights, and fences throughout Madrid, and the parks and major tourist attractions like the Palacio Real, Plaza Mayor, and Retiro are always kept spotless.

Madrileños are a very open people, even though they can be strikingly traditional in some aspects, such as their cuisine and their holidays. (Here I should mention that almost every week there was some saint day or fiesta to celebrate, and so university was closed for the day(s) - but this announcement was written in chalk on the classroom blackboard, so I had to commute the entire fucking 45 minutes to school in order to find out that there were no classes that day…)

As far as Spaniards' opinions on America - they are very frustrated with our foreign policy (surprise!), and have staged countless rallies against Bush and his war for freedom, fried potatoes and mass use of alliteration. They also don't understand why Americans are so puritan, and why we have such a hard time accepting homosexuality, and other things which people in Madrid take for granted. In fact, one of the best neighborhoods to go out in Madrid is Chueca, the gay district, which is located just north of the city center. You can meet the craziest people there, from male hookers to future asshole boyfriends. Good times.

In short, great people, beautiful city, delicious food and wine, and a welcoming atmosphere. Someone should pay me for sounding so much like a travel brochure, but I'm being honest when I say Spain, and particularly Madrid, are definitely worthwhile destinations.

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