First Impressions of Madrid

Hola,
It is hard to believe that we have only been in Madrid for one week—so much has happened.  I apologize for such a long message, but there was so much to tell…
 
PROBLEMS WITH FINAL BILL
Saturday evening, Jon went to the front desk at the hotel in England to close the bill, so we wouldn’t have to deal with it at 5 AM, since we had to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM.  He had been closing the bill out each week (as is the regular custom in this job) with no problems, however, when they brought up the final billing, there was an additional charge of 745 pounds (nearly $1200 US) for me staying with Jon and eating their breakfasts.  We knew that we would be charged an extra 10 pounds per day if we added a second breakfast, so Jon ordered his breakfast as a single breakfast for room service and we shared it.  One day when they forgot to leave the room service order card, and Jon didn’t have time to go to the dining room, he had me go to the dining room and eat his breakfast–but there were NO extra breakfasts.  So Jon threw a fit and refused to pay the extra charge.  We spent several hours waiting for them to go thru the records and verify that we did NOT have any extra breakfasts to try to get them to put the bill back to what it should have been.  Jon was VERY upset, thinking we were going to have to pay this huge amount with no reimbursement, so it was not a happy several hours in our room as we packed to leave.  Eventually they agreed that they would hand write the bill as it SHOULD have been (without the extra charges) and Jon would sign it, leaving them to figure out how to get it changed in their books.  (Jon’s update: well – the reservation’s manager from the hotel has now sent a note to Jon, saying that we need to pay 17.50pounds per day for Vicki after all, and they want a total of 507.50 pounds (about $795) for the 29 days, so that episode is not over.  Meanwhile, IBM has initially refused to reimburse us for Vicki’s airfare to France, and we have since been told that our return tickets have expired.  Altogether, not a happy time for finances.  We are still fighting this–please pray it all works out.)
 
EXTRA BAGGAGE CHARGES
We arrived at the airport without problems, however when we went to checkin we were told that this airline only allowed 1 checked bag per person (we were hoping to check 3 between the two of us) and that our two rolling carry-on bags were too big, so we ended up with over $100 in extra baggage charges.  After paying the extra baggage charges we got on the plane and took the 2.5 hr. flight to Spain without incident…UNTIL…
 
AIRPORT BANK MACHINE
After arriving in Madrid and getting our baggage without incident, we located an ATM to use, so we could get some Euro’s so we would have money to pay the taxi driver.  After selecting English, and beginning the process of getting money, the machine said something in Spanish, that we determined was something about the machine being out of service and to wait one “momento”.  After waiting a few minutes, it then returned to the starting screen saying to insert your card—while still keeping Jon’s AMEX card (his business credit card).  Jon is getting really frustrated and stressed and “stands guard” over the ATM, while sending me to try to find someone to help. I don’t see anyone who works there, and the few I see, don’t speak English.  I finally find an airline employee that speaks English and she tells me to talk to them at the Information desk.  The guy there says to call the phone number on the machine (we had already tried using my UK cell phone and it didn’t work), so he told me to use the pay phone.  Fortunately I had 5 euro’s left from Paris, so I started looking for somewhere that would give me change for the phone—being sent up to the 2nd floor.  (Note:  ground floor in Europe is not the 1st floor—it is zero and the next floor up is the 1st Floor).  I finally find my way back down to Jon and see him talking to a woman who spoke English AND Spanish and she had called the number from her cell phone and told that the card was on hold, and was given a number for us to call to check up on it (and they spoke English).  So, we end up using one of our own bank cards to get enough money for the taxi and get to our hotel…talk about one long 24 hours!  (Jon’s update: after talking to American Express, we were able to take a taxi (23Euros each way) back to the airport where there was an American Express office in a different terminal building, and got a replacement card the next day.)
 
 
 
ATTEMPTED CARJACKING VICTIM
The next day, on Monday morning, we received a call from Tiara (our 22yo daughter) while Jon was getting ready to head to work.  Any of you who are in the Oregon area may have heard about the Happy Valley woman who had her 2009 Mini Cooper carjacked by two men with a gun and was shot in the leg during the incident.  Well, it turns out that Tiara may have been a second victim of these two guys.  Tiara is a manager on the graveyard shift at Taco Bell (in the Happy Valley area) and a little past midnight she decided to run home (a few blocks away from the Taco Bell) on an errand.  Her windshield was fogged up, so she started the car and was sitting in her 2008 car with her window down while waiting for the windows to defrost, when two men approached her car—one standing near the rear and the other came up to her window and began talking to her.  She said he kept fiddling with a small device that looked like an MP3 player and kept talking about how he it had been a horrible day for him and he couldn’t get his cell phone to work.  Little red flags went up for her because it DIDN’T look like a cell phone.  He continues talking about the “cell phone” and then without changing the tone of his voice, he pulls out a gun and says, “See this gun…I need you to get out of your car.  Since the car was running, Tiara immediately puts the car into reverse and guns the engine, nearly hitting the man in the rear.  This surprised them both so much she was able to speed away and dialed 911 on her way home.  The 911 operator tells her that the police want her to return to Taco Bell to talk and she tells them she needs to return to finish her shift anyway, however,  she will wait long enough to be sure the police are there first!  The police tell her about the carjacking and shooting the day before and show her the police sketches provided by the other victim.  She wasn’t sure the details from the sketch matched very well; however, later when seeing the newscast about the other incident (they found the Mini Cooper several hours after Tiara’s incident) she saw that the woman did not speak English as a first language and thought maybe the woman was not able to provide good details.  Neither of them got a good look at the 2nd guy, but Tiara is certain she could ID the one with the gun.  The best part is that the bullet only grazed the woman who was shot in the leg, and they are both safe, although both are quite traumatized.  The weird part is that I was watching the news on our Sling-box and had seen the newscast about the carjacking and they showed the woman from the neck down and she showed her leg where she was grazed…not having any idea that something similar would happen to Tiara.  This happened early Friday morning, Halloween day.
 
OUR NEIGHBORING TEAMMATE                                                                                
While in England, we discovered that one of Jon’s teammates was in the room below ours and the rooms were NOT very sound-proof.  At one point, she commented that she “heard you on the phone last night” and our sink had a leak which dripped into her bathroom (which the hotel never did fix).  This was rather awkward for us, and now we found out she is the room next to us here in Spain and commented that she “heard Jon snoring”.  We looked into the possibility of moving rooms, but we really like our room—it has a separate bedroom and living room with lots of closet space, drawers and cabinets.  We even have a door buzzer—it makes us feel like we have our own apartment. This teammate is going to be gone over the weekend (running in a marathon), so we are hoping that maybe they will move her when she returns, since it would be much easier for her to move. Update: They DID put her into a different room after her weekend away, in the newer part of the hotel.  This was the area that was shown to me if we decided to move.  A very nice area with modern design, and still has a sofa area, but all one room.  Fine though, for a single person.   
 
PEOPLE IN MADRID DON’T SPEAK OR UNDERSTAND MUCH ENGLISH                                                                  
We have discovered that the people here in Madrid are not nearly as likely to speak English as the residents of Paris.  We are really going to have to work on our Spanish skills.  As Jon said, it is pretty sad when his understanding of Spanish is better than their understanding of English.                                                  

NOTHING GOES RIGHT 
Saturday – Oh my goodness, what a day!  I still can’t believe how bad a day it was.  We started the day by buying two, 2-day metro passes good for the subway and the buses, with the idea, that we would go into central Madrid for a bit and then head out to a church potluck we had been invited to in a Madrid suburb.  First, I lost the paper I had written down the phone numbers I would need for the potluck and had to return to our room to look for it.  I never found it, so I looked the numbers up and wrote them down again and put them into the electronic translator case.  

We got back to the metro station and discovered we were missing the translator.  We then went BACK to the room and searched the room for the translator–no sign of it.  I don’t know if we dropped it, set it down somewhere (we only went to the bedroom to change Jon’s shirt because of a stain and walked to the front desk in between times).  I don’t know if we are getting senile or losing our hearing (wouldn’t we have heard it, if we dropped it?) or what…we wasted the whole day losing and hunting down those phone numbers and the translator, and didn’t find them–it should have been a warning of how the day was going.

MADRID METRO EXPERIENCE 11-08
We finally go to the metro and head toward the meeting place for the potluck (about 1 hr. away by metro).  We had to switch lines and Jon was walking ahead of me as he got into the next ‘train’.  As I step in I see he is surrounded by three guys and they have a hold of his pant legs and are shaking them like mad!  I look at what is going on and notice a metro ticket & coin on the floor, and think, “Their trying to steal his ticket!”  They run off the train and Jon reaches back to discover his wallet is gone–they had stolen his wallet!  He yells, “They got my wallet!” and runs out after them.  I realize that I don’t want to be on this train without my husband and try to follow as the door closes on me, squishing my foot.  I didn’t know how to open the door and it is squeezing my foot and I think, “The train is going to leave with my husband out there chasing these guys and me with my foot stuck in the door”, so I start hollering, “I need to get out!  I need to get out!”  
In the meantime, Jon had caught up with the guys (he had been yelling–“They got my wallet!  They got my wallet!”)   The guy with the wallet had removed the money from the wallet as they tried to blend in with the crowd, but as Jon continued yelling for his wallet, the one with the wallet handed Jon his wallet AND the money!  So, after checking to verify that his credit cards were still there, Jon comes running back to the train and pushes the button to open the door, releasing my foot and he jumps back on.  The door then closes and the train leaves.  
All this time there was a train full of people who just sat in their seats, not saying or doing anything.  Even as the train started moving, I looked around and everyone just sat there like nothing had just happened, with the exception of one man, who watched Jon start to put his wallet back into his back pocket and without saying a word, tapped on his own front pocket to indicate that Jon should put it in his front pocket.  He nodded as Jon moved it to his front pocket.  We were both in such shock we weren’t even sure how to react.  I told Jon my heart was racing and he said, he was just in shock.  It all happened so fast, yet seemed to be in slow motion.  
By this point, Jon wasn’t sure he even wanted to continue to the potluck, but I told him, the people from the church were expecting us at the end of the route.  As we continued riding towards our destination, I chuckled and told Jon, “It’s a good thing you had your belt on tight, otherwise your pants would have fallen down!” (Those pants are too big for him now, since losing 50 lbs.)

After getting to the meeting place, and telling them what happened, the people meeting us referred to him as a hero, because he saved his wallet.  Later another lady at the potluck said, “Welcome to Madrid”, like that was just normal.  Well, if that is normal, we are NOT impressed with Madrid!  First thing upon arriving to Madrid, the ATM eats his American Express card and now this!  
I think the thing that really got to us, is the fact that nobody did or said a thing, even though this was broad daylight with the seats all full!  I still can’t believe that they did it in such a way that brought such attention to what was happening and even so, nobody did or said anything.  Besides that, the people here don’t even seem to try to help you understand things.  It’s like they are thinking, “If you don’t know the language, what are you doing here. Don’t bother me with your problems.”  I know sometimes people accuse Oregonians of having that attitude, but I think our attitude is–“If you are a tourist–I will help all I can, but if you LIVE here…then you need to learn our language.  Don’t expect us to learn yours.”  As long as they are TRYING, I think we are pretty understanding towards those who don’t speak English very well.  (We are also totally unimpressed with the graffiti everywhere in this city.)
  
I guess you could say, we are NOT impressed with Madrid and will be very happy to return home in time for the holidays.  And we don’t have much interest in returning here anytime too soon.  We do have a nice hotel room with a separate bedroom from a living room area (making it feel like we have our own little apartment).  We even have a door buzzer!  Some people warned that people in France might be rather rude to Americans, but we found that they were far more helpful and friendly than here.

MADRID ON SUNDAY
After such a crazy day Saturday, we stayed up late and then slept in really late on Sunday.  But we did venture out on the metro again (we had a 2-day pass) after going thru Jon’s wallet and taking out extra credit cards he wasn’t using and making sure his wallet was in his FRONT pocket.  We went to Plaza Mayor which is a busy place in central Madrid.  There were lots of shops and restaurants.  We bought a few small things and split a suckling pig dinner, which was very good.  Later that night I was looking at a flyer for the oldest restaurant in Madrid, where we are going when Jon’s manager gets into town and saw a picture of their suckling pig.  EWW!  It still had the head…I don’t know if I can eat one that has a head looking at me…  We now have reservations there, for a birthday celebration for the team lead–and maybe a Flamenco Dance afterwards.  In general though, the food has been good. The people we came in contact with on Sunday were polite and gave us a much better picture of Madrid.
 
ENGLISH-SPEAKING LADIES BIBLE STUDY
Thursday, I walked to an English Speaking church that is closer to us and attended a ladies Bible study.  It was nice being with ladies who spoke the sme lnguage as me.  They were all very friendly and invited me to return next week for a potluck lunch and farewell party for one of the ladies moving to Germany with her military husband.  Also, one of the ladies (Elaine from Colorado), invited me to join her for lunch with the wives of men who also work with her husband at Fleur (all English speaking).  We had a very nice lunch at a chinese restaurant–although I ate too much, so I had a big salad for dinner.  These ladies also invited me for a ladies day at Elaine’s house for reflexology, haircuts and lunch–but I have a walking tour scheduled the same day.  It is a 6 mile rural walk with an english speaking guide (referred by someone at the church).  It will be a great workout for me, as well as a nice learning experience.
 

Again, sorry for the long message—there was just so much to tell…I’m still working on setting up a blog at blogspot.com.  Maybe, then I can write more frequently and not so long.

Looking forward to spending the holidays at home, with our friends and family. 
Vicki  (& Jon too!)
PS  Please send us emails telling us how things are going at home.  I would love to hear from you all as we travel–sometimes when it is day hours here, and in the middle of the night at home, I get bored–it would be great to have more mail to read besides forwards and junk mail.  Thanks!

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