Proof that my jetlag is jetlag-ing. I typed “Spain, Madrid” on the title. Rest assured, it has been fixed.
I just came back, still freshly exhausted from a team meetup in Langkawi when the leads group went, “LET’S GO FOR TEAM LEADS MEETUP!”
I love traveling and meeting my friends. I really do. However, the travel anxiety due to the pandemic has been super real, and thinking about visa application for Schengen has been stressful (yes, stressful. Even just THINKING about it.)
Fortunately, the Schengen visa application process itself was not super tedious even though I asked for a business visa. I decided to go to the Spain Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and asked them about the requirements. I can’t trust Google because Googling “entering Spain from Malaysia” yields useless results. “Malaysians can just hop on the plane and visit Europe!” Those texts said cheerfully. Right. Yes, but I’m not a Malaysian. My country still needs to apply for tons of visas to visit other countries. Usually, at this point, my jealousy intensifies.
The staff at the embassy provided me a list of the documents needed (for non-Malaysians to visit EU countries.) In case you want to know the documents needed (for non-Malaysians. For Malaysians, I ENVY YOUUUUU,) here it is (for Schengen visa):
- Visa application form duly signed by the applicant (they will give you one when you visited the embassy, but you can also always download it.)
- 1 passport-size photograph (white background.)
- Original passport with a validity period of AT LEAST 6 months prior to travel and previous passport(s).
- Flight confirmation printed on the Travel Agent’s letterhead (visa will be issued upon presentation of a confirmed returned airline ticket.) For this, I use the saving feature on Egencia (my company is using Egencia for flight purposes) where we can “save” a trip (but not yet booked/paid) and use the printout.
- Original hotel confirmation/confirmation of accommodation. You can either use Egencia’s hotel booking feature or ask the hotel for a hotel confirmation letter that you will be staying at the hotel during the duration of your trip.
- Original company letter with a certified copy of Business Registration certifying the capacity of the applicant’s position, etc. I personally feel this point only applies if you are applying for a Business visa (not a Tourism visa.)
- Original contract.
- Evidence of funds:
- 6 months salary slips.
- Original or certified true copy of bank statements for the last 6 months: Current account.
- Original travel insurance for the proposed trip with a minimum cover of 30,000 EUR. This one is important and usually one of many things the embassy staff will check first. I even added Covid-19/pandemic coverage on my travel insurance, just in case.
- Original/certified copy of Marriage Certificate/Family Book/Birth Certificate.
- Purpose of visit: Invitation letter.
- Visa fees (80 EUR.)
The process took 10-14 business days (2 weeks) and, for Spain Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the interview happened during the time of document submission. The interview schedule/process varies between the countries where you stay (some need scheduled appointments, some might not.)
So! Visa secured, bags packed, tickets on hand, mask on my face, disinfectant spritzed, here we go!
Day 0: Madrid, here we come!
Kuala Lumpur – Dubai – Madrid
I boarded the plane from Kuala Lumpur in the afternoon. My tummy felt squeamish. This was the very first overseas solo trip I ever took in my whole life. I used to enjoy the luxury of having a company next to me, at least my husband and my kids. Now? I’m all alone in the airport, completely alert on all times because I will be damned if I missed any single airport announcement (then I got super exhausted afterwards.)
My family and Indonesiamatticians accompanied me while I’m waiting at the airport through WhatsApp and Telegram groups (thank you!) Hafiz, one of the Indonesiamatticians, popped in.
“Don’t forget to get yourself a (Starbucks) vanilla latte. Indonesiamattician’s good-luck charm to calm us down when we are lonely and tired.”
What a reminder it was. Vanilla latte was our go-to drink when we went to Florida for the Grand Meetup in 2019. Sure enough, I took a beeline to Starbucks (near the aerotrain in KLIA) for a warm latte.
Then, at 7 PM, we were off.
The trip took me 7-8 hours-ish. I used Emirates Airlines, hence the Dubai transit, and it was for the best. At first, I chose KLM for my flight, but after realizing on what happened in Schipol airport and many other Europe-based airports, I decided to change the flights to Emirates. I can handle changes and delays, as long as it’s going back home.
My layover in Dubai was 9 hours, and at first I thought I could go to a lounge and have some rest.
Oh, how wrong I was. The only available lounge at the terminal I arrived was Emirates Business and First Class Lounge, and taking into account of 8-9 hours layover, the expected cost is above 1000 USD.
I know Automattic is generous enough to cover some cost, but I can imagine Accounting will be chasing my neck should I even dare to THINK to expense 1000 USD for a lounge access in Dubai.
Tired and decided to go fuck-them-all, I waded my way to the waiting area where there are other fellow passengers sleeping and lounging on the chairs. I propped myself with my backpack, closed my jacket up to my neck, covered my face, then slept.
… Only to be waken up every 3 hours.
This is actually part of my evil genius plan, but not super genius too, so yeah, I feel conflicted: I decided to sleep next to a trash can.
Why? For easy access. I was super thirsty at that time so I bought a couple of bottled water from a 24-hour minimarket at the airport, and I feel I need to sit/sleep next to a trash can so it will be easier for me to throw trash, you know? And no, it’s not smelly or anything like that. That’s why I decided it was a great idea! You are so smart, Retno!
Every 3 hours, the cleaning service team will check the trash can and change the plastic. CRASH, BANG! You can guarantee me waking up from my slumber like a vampire.
At 3:30 AM, sleepy and stinky and unable to take another loud noise from my good buddy the Trash Can of Dubai Airport, I decided to look around for the shower room. I found one: Be Relax Spa, located at Concourse A area. The fee for 25 minutes of shower is 95 AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) and while I don’t need 25 minutes for showering, I decided to take it so I won’t feel in a rush.
Then, at 4 AM, I’m ready in the boarding room. For a flight that will be at 7 AM.
I know. I’m that prepared 😤
Then! Someone tapped me on my shoulder. It was Sarah! One of my colleagues! She, too, a team lead in Automattic and we are going to the same meetup. We chatted a bit then decided to take a stroll at the airport and got ourselves some breakfast and hot tea before we boarded the plane, en route to Madrid. Madrid, here we go!
Day 1: Madrid, finally!
All the food!
8 hours later, we landed at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport. Madrid is my first European city, and I’m so excited. I’ve been hearing so many awesome things about Madrid from my colleagues, especially about the museums.
One thing that caught me off-guard is the daytime in Madrid. Born and living in tropical countries all my life (Indonesia and Malaysia,) I’m used to the constant time of sunrise and sunset. 7 AM and 7 PM.
In Madrid? We went to a restaurant, and I commented to my friend, Oliwia, how the sun is really bright for 4 PM afternoon, when Oliwia looked at me, smiled, and said.
” We gathered at the hotel lobby at 8 PM, remember? It’s 9 PM now.”
Yes. 9 PM. THIS BRIGHT.
Also, I found out that our hotel is super near the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium! My husband is a Manchester United fan, but upon hearing how close my hotel is to the stadium (like… 500 meters,) he bugged me non-stop to bring him a Real Madrid jersey.
We spent July 18 as our travel day where folks arriving, so we don’t have tons to do other than exploring the eateries nearby and trying new food. The weather was warm and humid. Oliwia kindly accompanied me to explore the streets nearby our hotel, and when we opened the hotel lobby door, it felt like we opened an oven door. A gasp of hot, humid air caught us off-guard and I found myself coughing in surprise. As we walked, we got a breeze and the afternoon was not that bad after all (I know fellow Madridmatticians will kick me for this 😆) I particularly love the wide pedestrian walks!
Day 2: Meetup starts!
“I will never stop learning” — Automattic Creed
The next day, we started our meetup. I was so excited to meet everyone, especially after not meeting them for 2.5 years! We discussed product knowledge, a presentation from our social media and forum team, and learning more about efficiency. We also had an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with our colleague.
Throughout the meetup, I’ve been following our Spanishmatticians, especially whenever they said, “I’m going to find some Spanish food. Anyone wants to join?” 😆 Years ago, one of my good friends told me this:
“When traveling, keep your nationality and your culture on your ID card and passport. Be open and try new things on the new place you are visiting.”
Since we are visiting in summer, most of the dishes we have are cold dishes and simple fried dishes such as gazpacho and Spanish croquettes. I also tried oxtail — this one is actually not super new for me since I love oxtail so much, but it’s really interesting to see Spanish’ take on oxtail.
I’m also interested seeing Madrid’s Metro. Unlike in Kuala Lumpur, the metro stations in Madrid are always underground (in Kuala Lumpur, the train stations can be underground or upper ground.)
Day 3: Royal Palace of Madrid and Museo Nacional del Prado
“The first painting that I realised I liked was “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch, when I was six years old, at the Prado in Madrid. I still find myself returning there every time I am in the city.” — Carolina Herrera
This is one of the highlights of the meetup. During activity day, we explored Madrid and visited the Royal Palace of Madrid (ticket price 13 EUR/person) and Museo Nacional de Prado (ticket price 15 EUR/person). Our friend, Alejandro, purchased the ticket online to make it easier for us to enter. Thank you, Alejandro!
The weather was cool and breezy in the morning, so it was perfect for us. Although, yep, it turned super hot midday. We got ourselves icy cold lemonade and rest under cedar trees at the park. When we got back from the Royal Palace to the hotel, one of my friends, Victoria, a Korean-American, suddenly quipped. “Oh, what would I give for a naengmyeon right now…” I amen-ed her quietly while equally busy thinking about es teler.
In the afternoon, we went to Museo Nacional del Prado, but unfortunately, we can’t take pictures at all inside the rooms. Part of me understand the reason why (to preserve the artworks,) but another part of me went, “WHYYYYYYYYY 🥲” But yeah, when you look at the paintings, you can’t help not to be amazed by how good the conditions are. I even found myself asking, “is this a replica, or…”
However, you can still enjoy the artworks from the comfort of your room by visiting the website here: https://www.museodelprado.es/en (but yeah, nothing beats seeing it firsthand.)
Day 4 and 5: Sessions continued
Time to wrap it up
Day 4 and 5 are us back to the regular program with sessions and discussions. I won’t put the pictures of us working/presenting here for non-disclosure reason 😄
Other than that, we had awesome time bonding together and eating! I also (finally) dragged my feet to the Real Madrid stadium to get Ari and the kids some Real Madrid jerseys (I don’t buy one for myself. Just… Nope.)
I love meetups. I love seeing my colleagues and FINALLY personally thanking them for all the awesome things they do. Compared to others in the pictures, I’m a really new lead. I came into the position in mid-February and even now I’m still learning and settling into the role. These smiling faces, these folks, are the ones that are there and pulling me from the deep end.
Day 6-7: Travel Day and going home!
Madrid – Paris – Ho Chi Minh – Kuala Lumpur
On July 23, we went home (except me, I went home at July 24.) The reason I went home way later than the others was due to the flight change from KLM to Emirates that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
When I switched my flight from KLM to Emirates, I foolishly neglected to check the date of my going back to Kuala Lumpur. You see, the flight ticket prices during that time were INHUMANE. An Economy class can cost you, at minimum, 5000 USD to 12,000 USD. It was like… If it was a Business class or First class, then fine. But it was a freaking Economy class.
When I looked for alternatives after I canceled the KLM flight, I found Emirates’ flight (from KUL to MAD) that cost like USD$2000. I immediately grabbed it, only for me to realize the flight back home was on July 24. I decided to get along with it and stayed at the Madrid airport on the night of July 23 since my July 24 flight is a super morning flight (6 AM) anyway.
Some of us who have later flights (afternoon flights (Liz), traveling by train (Oliwia and Alejandro), and me,) decided to visit the Temple of Debod. An Egyptian temple from the 2nd century, gifted by the government of Egypt to the government of Spain, for the help in saving Abu Simbel temple. The process was tedious: They dismantled the temple and sent the bricks to Spain where they rebuilt it again in the heart of Madrid. The ticket price is FREE (yes, you read that right.) The temple’s space is quite small, so the number of visitors allowed to enter is limited. Please be mindful of the time you spend at the temple to give opportunities to other visitors! ✨
From there, we walked to Plaza Mayor and Plaza Sol. I don’t have tons of pictures since I already so exhausted 😂 Coming from Malaysia, the temperature in Madrid is actually pretty okay, even in the summer and in “one of the worst heatwave ever in Europe” (according to one of Madridmatticians on Slack.) Problem is: The humidity and the elevation.
Kuala Lumpur’s elevation is a mere 94 meters above sea level. Madrid’s elevation? 657 meters. Combine that with Madrid’s near 0% humidity (meaning, dry air is expected,) I wheezed and huffed and puffed when we walked while Oliwia, Alejandro, and Liz walked cheerfully while chatting. “Ye-s. It’s… WHEEZEEEE– beautiful. Can’t wait– HUFF PUFF– to arrive at the– ROYAL PALACEWHEEEEZEEEE.”
We also went to Chocolateria San Gines to try churros. Now, we are supposed not to eat churros in the summer because this yummy snack is for the winter/cold season, as pointed out by our Spainmatticians 😄 But yeah, we are glad eateries still providing churros for the tourists!
In the afternoon (or in the evening, precisely,) I went to the airport. At first, I thought I could just pop in to the airport hotel (I’m a dumdum and LIVING ON THE EEEDGEEEE yes) but all the rooms are fully booked.
I then searched for airport lounges and I’m glad I found some of them. Since my flight was from Terminal 2, I decided to check Sala VIP Puerta de Alcalá. However, there was a twist: I can only book the lounge at maximum of 4 hours before my departure time. Since my flight will be on 6 AM, I can only be granted access at 2 AM.
So, yeah, another nightly hours in the airport.
And no, I didn’t sleep. I had my baggage with me and I want to make sure my baggage is safe. I happen to sit in the area where folks passed through for their flights and arrivals, so I wanted to make sure things are safe. I spent the night editing a video, though.
2 AM sharp, I took an elevator to the lounge and booked the lounge for 4 hours. The fee was 37.70 EUR, and it’s including all facilities (sofa for resting, shower room, food, beverages, and free Wi-Fi.)
Definitely a better alternative than sleeping next to a trash can (ha!)
My flight back home had two transits instead of one, Charles de Gaulle (Paris, France) and Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,) since I’m using Air France and Vietnam Airlines.
In Charles de Gaulle, I had a video call with Wira and took a visit to the airport’s museum (Espace Musées) and yep, it’s FREE!
It was a really short visit and I didn’t take a lot of pictures (only two) but it has been really inspiring. I really love Frank Horvat’s method of combining movements and expressions in the pictures. I aspire to be that awesome.
By the time we arrived in Vietnam, I was too sleepy and too tired to think. A bit of highlight, though, during our flight from Paris to Ho Chi Minh, the flight attendance served us this.
Cup noodles with warm and spicy broth. Do you know that feeling where you are cold from the air conditioner, nearly unable to move your body, and you can hear all the CRACKS! as you moved your joint? Those are gone — GONE — with this one, single, lovely cup noodles. Hands down, the best airline food ever.
And now, I am home. Tired, still in jetlag mode, but happy and inspired.
And yes, Ari and the kids love the jersey so very much.
Bonus: The video that I made while waiting at Madrid airport.
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