So, here I am in Madrid, after about 30 hours in transit. I flew Emirates for the first time, and Emily was right — they’re pretty good. Went via Changi where I didn’t have time to do any of the fun stuff you can do there if you have a long layover, a brief pitstop at Colombo which is notable only because it afforded us a Sri Lankan curry for breakfast (yay! I would eat curry for breakfast all the time if I could), and Dubai, where I found myself thinking a lot about the dark side of Dubai and how much of their prosperity is built on slavery. Then I remembered that I lived in the US, and, hey, the former British Empire. So. I don’t have any answers to that, but I will say that coming into Dubai around 5am, with the sun rising through a haze that made it impossible to see the horizon, I saw a lot of compounds on the edges of town, ringed with security fences and lights, before we got to the bits that are trying to look like Versaille and/or something out of science fiction.
We flew over Cairo and Alexandria before crossing the Mediterranean to Spain. After a lot of very dull desert, it was amazing to see the Nile and its fertile plains and the sprawl of civilisation that’s grown up around it. Most of the fields under cultivation are all long and narrow, like English ones before enclosure, and a fairly uniform dark green. I realised I have no idea what they grow there. Most of my knowledge of Egypt stops somewhere around where year 8 ancient and classical history and “curse of the mummy” type pop culture left off. Also on the ignorance list: Tunisia and Algeria, or at least the coastal bits of them, are way greener than I expected.
Crossing Spain from the Mediterranean coast to Madrid, I saw what I think must be citrus plantations: regular specks of dark green against the yellow-brown land like the dots on a Roy Lichtenstein piece. Couldn’t help thinking a lot about Stephen Maturin and about Sharpe. I suspect they will be my regular companions over the next couple of weeks.
After landing, there was a painful and frustrating episode at the airport involving trying to buy a SIM for my phone, which I’d rather leave behind me (albeit with a credit card chargeback against the assholes in question); the Internet, especially the Prepaid With Data Wiki, was entirely right and I subsequently went and got a working, non-phone-crashing SIM just like they said.
Finally Google Maps-enabled, I headed out for a few hours wandering round to keep myself awake and see a bit of the city. I didn’t go much further than a few blocks from where I’m staying, but here’s a picture of the Royal Palace:
That’s one end, not the front view, which is even bigger. Apparently Philip V, who built it (or rather, who decreed that it should be built, and then had others do it for him… at least I presume so) died before it could be finished; it was meant to be 4 times larger. I read that there is a guided tour of the “50 most important rooms” and my feet hurt just thinking about it.
Tomorrow I’m planning on a little more wandering, before I get aboard the train to A Coruña for GUADEC. Here’s hoping it goes through interesting countryside, and not just the back sides of industrial areas as all too often happens with passenger rail in Australia and the US.