The 6 am wake up call was unwelcome, but I was 3,500 miles from home and I had some traveling to do. So I put on some traveling clothes and stepped out into the Madrid morning sun. Holy week had passed, and Madrid was alive and well, even at 7:00 am. Descending into the Santiago Bernabeu Metro station I continued to be impressed by how clean the Madrid subways are. The #10 train, one stop to the Nuevos Ministerios station, from there the #8 train carried me the remaining distance to terminal T4 of the Madrid/Barajas International Airport. Climbing out of the subway, I was surprised to find it would cost me a euro just to enter the airport. I was there well before my departure time, so I found some breakfast. I checked in with Iberia, got my boarding pass, and braved the customs/security gauntlet. Scanned, inspected, searched and approved I arrived at the departure gate just in time for the boarding call. I found seat 25C and got comfortable. Soon a gentleman arrived, he held the ticket for the window seat next to me. I got up so he could get comfortable, and we waited. Our Airbus 600 quickly filled and we took off on time. When I booked the flight, I read several reviews of Iberia. Many were not flattering, claiming poor service or late departures/arrivals. But that was certainly not what I experienced, maybe first class is different. Once you step past the large comfortable seats into coach, everyone is just another sardine hoping for a safe arrival at the planned destination.
A few hours into the flight, a movie I had no intention of watching, started to play on the monitors. So I invaded the privacy of my immediate neighbor in the window seat. He was minding his own business reading a book, it was in spanish, titled Manolete. He was very gracious, had a passion for bull fighting, the book he read was a biography of a legendary matador. He taught me all about the subtlety of bull fighting, how it was like a play with three acts. Act One is about training the bull to charge a horse. Act Two is about training the bull to charge a man. Act Three, culmination, a metaphor of life and death. From bull fighting we moved on to the differences in the spanish and american life styles, and the changes that both cultures had experienced. I quickly grew to like my new friend, we shared similar attitudes. He is from Puerto Rico, grew up acutely aware of his spanish roots, but had never been to Spain. Until he joined the US Air Force. The USAF stationed him at an airfield south of Seville for a couple of years, he and his wife fell in love with Seville. They return to Spain, and their friends there, as often as they can. I envy my new friend Roberto, his bilingual talents allow him live in two distinctly different worlds. His american life as an officer in the USAF, with all its challenges and demands and rewards. His spanish life, with its rich history and passionate life style. Vaya con dios, Roberto!
Back in the USA, I quickly realized that getting out is a lot easier than getting back in. But eventually customs approved my presence and I was once a again Stephen Wittkop, american citizen taking up space on his home turf. Brother Peter once again did taxi duty, picking me up at the Atlanta airport. This time I didn't have oatcakes to share, only stories of the events of the previous days. I spent the night at Pete's house, sharing some smuggled black licorice and more stories of the trip. We got up early the next day, Peter gets to his office early to avoid Atlanta traffic, and I made my way home to Birmingham. My duty performed, my darling daughter delivered safely to her study abroad program. Once home, I got on my computer and sent her an email to tell her of my joys traveling with her and to reassure that all would be well. I know it will be, and she will return home enriched by the time she spends in Spain, with a new list of friends to keep track of. I am not a writer or story teller, it's over a month since Cait and I left Birmingham on a journey across the Atlantic. I have agonized over the wording and sentence structure of this travel log, each post my personal equivalent of passing an impossibly large kidney stone. I don't know what I'll write about next, I can only hope it can compare with the experiences I shared with Caitlin.