To-ing and fro-ing from one place to the next, we were both convinced the hostale would refuse the phone call from the embassy, let alone accept their role as guarantors, and when we returned to the hostale to await the phone call, the vibe alone said it all. Without even understanding a word of the conversation, the non-verbal language was clearly hostile. I could see Sabine getting infuriated and when we left she relayed the basic conversation, and seemingly the same thing had happened before to a British tourist. The embassy had promised to send the money to bail them out, but didn’t, so they were burnt from that experience and cash was the only solution.
And, as a bonus, which I sensed from their pointing and expressions of disapproval directed towards me, they resented the fact that I didn’t speak to them in Spanish. They mentioned that I ‘wasn’t even trying’ to communicate with them in Spanish – as if I was fluent and had a choice! Anyway, I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to stay there at all now, but it was still the easiest solution if we could get some money. We returned to the Tourist Information centre, called poor ol’ Roy in Canberra, who’d been fielding my questions at 3am local time, saying don’t bother getting the Madrid contact to call the hostale, and gave him Sabine’s mobile. He seemed a bit reluctant about ‘interrupting’ the, I presume, head-honcho, again, but I insisted, “I wouldn’t be ringing you again if I didn’t think it was necessary. The hostale is refusing to negotiate.”
Having done what we can, we sit down and have a coffee, collect our thoughts and, well, get to know each other. We actually get on really well and I’m certain we were supposed to meet. Talk about reinstilling your faith in human nature, hours after being victimised by the very same species.
‘Tony’ from the Australian Embassy in Madrid does call me on Sabine’s mobile, and having spoken to the unrelenting hostaliers is so puzzled he quizzes me along the lines of, “would you care to fill me in on the rest of the story?” which suggests there’s more to it, that perhaps I’m a ‘trouble-maker’, a junkie or something. He’s as surprised as I am when I say, “No, that’s the whole story. If they don’t have cash, I can’t stay there, even if I get money wired/borrowed at the nearest convenience.”
We try calling my flatmate in Dublin, but she’s out. We call Norman again, knowing he can’t do anything either, especially as he’s now in Valencia, but just to make contact and get advice, and again, Luc, with the same limited options. I’d already paid for the Saturday night, so I was okay for now; Sabine ended up lending me the money for Sunday night and our hostaliers agreed to let me ‘leave my pack’ with them on Monday morning and if/when I returned with money from the embassy, I could stay that night. Unbelievable!
So, my guardian angel, continuing to fulfill her traits, insists on taking me back to her flat to have dinner with her, then takes me to a few bars to try and enjoy the rest of my Saturday night. Truly a goddess, and I nearly forget about my potentially ruined weekend. Sunday is perfect in that the El Rastro – a huge flea market that takes over the streets – AND all the museums and galleries are free, so I’ve plenty of commerce-free activities to enjoy.
Sabine said to call her once I’ve done my freebies, and to come around for a late lunch with her boyfriend, Inaki. I feel even more grateful as her boyfriend’s been in his hometown, San Sebastian, and I’m sure she’d much rather spend time with him than a penniless Australian stranger!
So after my stroll through the market, kinda cursing that I can’t actually purchase anything, and clutching my belongings with (warranted) fear of theft, I go to the fabulous Reina Sofia Gallery of Modern Art and am blown away by Dali, Picasso and some lesser-known but equally spectacular artists, to name but a few!
I then call Sabine as planned, meet up as planned, have lunch as planned, and, ditching her boyfriend, we head down to the massive Retiro to wander around. It’s a gigantic park with a manmade lake, gardens, buskers of all kinds, and generally a pretty cool place to relax and/or be entertained in. We go via the Crystal Palace, which is a fairytale-like building, made entirely of, as you can imagine, clear crystal, with a flooring of shattered crystal! Apparently it makes for a strange experience, altering your perception as you wander through its maze-like construction. Kinda sounds like the House of Mirrors at the old-fashioned Side Show Alley of amusement parks, but I can only imagine that – as it’s closed on Sundays.
Still, I have another lovely day in this lovely city, even though most people can’t believe it’s not been tarnished by my experience. I’d already decided on my first day how much I liked the place, but I think had I not met Sabine, then yes, my perception would’ve been slightly jaded.
Monday began with packing, even though I wasn’t actually leaving, but just to ‘vacate’ my room at the request of my ever-obliging hostaliers. Then I had to leg it, or rather, metro it, to and from the Australian Embassy, who I have to say were simply marvellous, verging on apologetic in lending me money, using the internet and enabling me to finally cancel my credit card (as it would turn out, 24 hours too late as my robbers had already managed to exceed my limit and spend five grand!).
I could then return to the hostale, pay my good people and head off to meet Luc, an English guy who’d been living in Madrid for two years. This was gonna be interesting – not having met the guy before, so not having much of a clue what he looks like! We exchange descriptions over the phone and arrange to meet outside the Town Hall. He then adds that it is the very centre of Spain and to meet him on the little plaque in the cement pavement that states as much. Okay, that seems easy enough, and I set out to do so.
I find myself trying to spot a small fair man in a green jacket and jeans, whilst trying not to unconsciously eye-up passers-by matching the same description. It’s not too long before I throw an expression with a small fair man wearing a green jacket and jeans that says, ‘Are you Luc?’ and is reciprocated with one that says, ‘Are you Jeanette?’ Sure enough, our recognition skills are successful.
Luc took me around to plenty of little hidden places I’d never have found without the ‘inside knowledge’. We went to a typical Spanish restaurant for lunch, which was nothing short of fabulous! He then left to attend a one-year-old’s birthday party, and re-met me later that night to sample some more bars, throwing me in the deep end of speaking the language. Our night ended in a fabulous little Lebanese café, for some more glorious food (I’d been craving Baba Ganoush for weeks, and Dublin is somewhat lacking in Lebanese food), sitting atop Moroccan-style cushions and little wooden carved tables, amidst the smoke of the hookah pipes! A fantastic end to a great weekend!
So, as I said, Madrid is a fabulous little city, and I saw no reason for daylight robbery to detract from its qualities and spoil my weekend. I’ll be back.